When you’re little, everyone’s married. Especially when you’re little and you’re in church. The minister and his wife. The Sunday School teacher and her husband. No one over the age of 20 is single, and everyone over 25 is married. That’s just how it is. When you’re a teenager, you pair off with another teenager. And those couples stay together, grow up, and get married. I mean, what else would they do? Be alone? Not have kids? Not have someone to kiss and cuddle? No way. I was terrified of ending up alone, like old Betty down the street. She never got married and now she lives alone with her three dogs and two cats. That wasn’t going to be me. I started early, thinking about the boys in the playground. Who would be a good boyfriend, a good husband? I wasn’t sure what would make someone good at these, so I wasn’t fussy. There were lots of boys I liked. There was Jamie (tall), Michael (dark), Robert (funny) and loads of others. There were some I didn’t like, obviously. One’s who smelled bad, or talked funny, or were stupid. I had very high standards. For years, each boy was evaluated and put on one of three lists: “Definitely Yes”; “Absolutely No”; and “I’d Settle For Him”.
Until, at eleven, I listened in on the new girl talking about her crush. That was when I discovered a dark secret, a single word no one had ever dared to tell me about: Lesbian. A girl who likes other girls? It didn’t make sense. Women married men, and men married women. That was just how the world worked. And then I thought about it, and I realised that just because I’d never seen a lesbian, didn’t mean they didn’t exist. I mean, I’ve never seen a panda, but they exist. But I knew one thing for sure. I wasn’t a lesbian. I couldn’t be! I liked boys. Only boys. Always boys.
I learned a lot in the next few years. But I was still confused about one thing. Everyone I knew in church was straight. So I went online and searched ‘Gays in church’, and I clicked on the first link that came up. I didn’t understand much of it, but I was pretty sure it said that being gay was a sin, that God hates gay people, and that all gay people were going to hell. And that just confused me more. If God is about love, why would he hate gay people? Is being gay a special kind of sin? Can’t gay people become Christians? I eventually decided that, no matter what, the God I knew didn’t hate anyone, even gay people. So that was easy. “God loves gays!” After I’d decided this I started learning more and more about gay people, and what I learned to be the LGBT community.
So that was my life: pro LGBT, but definitely straight. Absolutely, completely straight. Thirteen, fourteen, fifteen. Straight. And then I saw a picture of Natalie Dormer. Oh boy. Nope, nope, nope, nope, nope. This can’t be happening. I cannot be… But I am. It was clear now. The reason I cared so much about the LGBT community. The reason it made me so upset that they weren’t accepted by the church. I was one of them. But I still liked boys, so I wasn’t gay. I didn’t want to label myself, because that would make it true. That would make it real. So I just carried on as I was. Completely and totally straight. Except I definitely wasn’t.
I was terrified. When it was about other people it was easy to say that God loved them no matter what. But now that it’s me he might hate, me that might be going to hell, I couldn’t trust what I had been so sure about. What if I was wrong? What if God wouldn’t accept me if I even thought about girls? I was so afraid I didn’t tell anyone. I spent months hiding, hurting, terrified of what would happen when people found out. I could be kicked out of church, kicked out of my house, ostracized by my friends. No one could know.
But eventually, I couldn’t lie to myself anymore. I had to figure out who I was and what that meant. The perfect opportunity arrived in the form of the church trip to Soul Survivor, a Christian youth festival. I spent two weeks praying, and praying, and praying some more. But I didn’t get an answer. I didn’t know what else to do. So I went up for prayer. Bad plan. I didn’t want to tell the person what I was struggling with, just that I needed an answer from God. But she pushed, and I caved. And she was not having it. Instead of asking for an answer, she asked for a cure. I didn’t need a cure; I didn’t want a cure. All that did was make me uncomfortable and defensive, and even more confused. So, as a last resort, I went to one of our youth leaders. Terrified, nervous, and all around totally uncomfortable, I talked to her, and she agreed to pray for me. I thanked her, and walked away. And then I waited. And waited. And the next day when we were walking to the main meeting, she stopped me, and told me God had given her a message for me. This was the moment. This would change everything, for better or for worse. And then came the word. The most important word. Even more important than lesbian was, all those years ago. “Yes”. And a weight was lifted from my shoulders. It didn’t matter if I was going against the norm, if I was fighting the “rules”. No matter what, I could be who I was (whoever that was) and love who I loved, and I was definitely not going to go to hell. Well, not for liking girls anyway.