Isaac's Story: A Bisexual Tale of Self-Loving Liberation

At first sight, my mother thought the nurse had brought her the wrong baby boy. To my Hispanic parents, I, this little blonde-haired, light-complexioned baby, was a bit surprising.

Although I was cherished by all the members of my large family, I grew to harness a deep intuition that suspected my authenticity was somehow displeasing, dissatisfying, and disappointing. And as puberty settled in, I realized that my worst fear was true: I was attracted to the same gender. Me and my sexuality were offensive to the world.

From age 9 to about 26, I prayed every day that God would take away my sexual cravings, femininity, and anything else that would distort my sexuality. I was attracted to woman from time to time, but men caught my eye more often than not. My continuous prayers and persistent fasting had no effect on purging my sexuality of any deficiencies. I grew increasingly angry and hopeless. God was not willing to accept my petitions for change.

I met a girl during my sophomore year of high school. We spent my sophomore and junior years talking every night on the phone for hours. Those were special moments for me. She showered me with affection, attention, hope, and a sense of being valuable. At the end of my junior year, she finally agreed to be my girlfriend. The two years of wooing and investing had finally paid off. I couldn’t have been happier. I was in love, and authentically in love. As two teenagers commonly do, Victoria and I became sexually involved.       

Although I was completely smitten, my attractions for men never waivered. I felt damaged and I could not stay in a relationship with Victoria. The shame was too intense.

Searching for a temporary wave of happiness, belonging, and a reprieve from the deep sorrow encasing my identity, drinking was the perfect elixir. Drinking made me courageous and I liked that people enjoyed me, even if for the entertainment.

A month before my 21st birthday, I tuned in to watch an episode of Oprah. I watched a man talk about being straight, but acting out sexually with men. I sat there in what many call a “come-to-Jesus moment.” Up until then, my plan was to become a worship pastor, marry a beautiful woman, and have children. However, after hearing his story, I knew I had to address my deepest secret. My temporary plan for a closeted life crumbled.

My first date with a boy was, in many ways, delectably euphoric. Sitting on his couch in pure delight, we watched a movie, Good Will Hunting to be exact. I remember experiencing an extreme excitement, but also a pulsating fear. On one hand, I was scared that I was offending God by enjoying his soothing company and sincere affection. On the other hand, he smiled because I smiled. He wanted to know me. He was muscular and having him hold me released the sorrow holding my identity hostage. I felt an unexpected sensation. Some call it vitality; I call it effervescence.

It was not long after my first experiences with that strapping lad that I had to come out to my parents. I drove home from Boulder, Colorado with tears streaming down my face. I was petrified. When I arrived late that night, my parents weren’t home. I sat in their driveway, saturated in shame and worry. Their car came around the corner, pulled into the driveway, and their headlights shone right on my pain. My tears, terror, and truth were exposed in what felt like broad daylight. Instinctually, my mother said, “I knew this day has been coming for a long time. Come on, let’s go inside and talk about it.” Clearly, she had known.

In thinking it was the best option, my mom and dad sent me to a reparative therapist through Exodus International. What if all of those ex-gay stories were true? What if help was right around the corner? I would imagine my years down the road with panging fear. Being bisexual might be an irreversible sin. So, I promised that I would grit my teeth a little harder and deny my flesh a little longer. I would be stronger.

After realizing that conversion therapy was anything but reparative, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I would study psychology to figure out the missing pieces to my puzzle.

Ironically, I met a very kind man at work who treated me like a prince. Our four-year relationship was filled with my ambivalent dance. I loved him, but the idea of us made me feel dirty. I was embarrassed of the way I loved, and of the cravings of my heart. My boyfriend at the time got the worst of those two worlds.

Bruised and battered, I persistently drank to the point of blackout. Waking up in the mornings, I was angrily bombarded with stories of how I had yelled and cursed at him. He recounted how I would shout things like, “It’s your fault I am unhappy.” Projecting my anger, hurt, and pain onto him, I would berate his love for me.

As a last attempt to change my sexual orientation, I applied for seminary. And it was sitting in classes like Human Development, New Testament Theology, and Human Sexuality where I began sincerely questioning the presence of any God. If God truly existed, why had God allowed the son of a pastor who was so sincere in his faith to develop a sexual orientation that was described as perverse?

Driving to those seminary classes while screaming at God became my morning routine. Tears running down my face and fury pumping through my veins, God’s silence felt like the ultimate abandonment. Why wasn’t God willing to help?

I had spent years digging through research articles in the seminary library and thousands of dollars on my therapist’s couch. Up until then, my fight had been in vain.

Luckily, I found an incredible therapist who was more invested in teaching me about my God-given value than promoting what any pastor had to say. I studied the character and “personality” of God all throughout the Bible. I was hung up on the notion of “God is love,” contemplating this day and night.

During one particular drive home from seminary, I was so utterly consumed with self-hatred. I prayed that God will kill me in a car accident before I reached home. I wanted to die before I made an irreversible sin. I would rather die a clean specimen than live a dirty life. When I arrived at my house, I couldn’t understand why God had allowed me to live. And I kept feeling those words, “God is love,” swirling within my soul. I had loved my high school sweetheart with every fiber in my being, but I also remembered that the love I had for my boyfriend felt exactly the same. There was no difference, such as love versus lust, or love versus compulsions. I had loved both of them the same. It hit me like a ton of bricks: There can be no righteous version of love and sinful version of love if God is love. There couldn’t be a sinful version of God.

After all those years of fasting, praying and feeling disgusting and despicable, I finally felt liberated from the slavery of shame. I had experienced a moment of true communion with my own authenticity and God’s love.

From that moment onward, my work was cut out for me. I had to learn to trust God with my entire, vulnerable being. I slowly cleared out the behavioral patterns that stabilized my low self-esteem and began practicing patterns that revealed my beautiful, natural relational offering. I slowly found a sense of connectedness with God that was not based on my behavior, but rooted in the creative design from which God created my essence.

Ultimately, I realized that God was not ignoring my prayers, fasted meals, and episodes of rage. God had been waiting for me to accept myself as the child created in their image.

One of the more profound lessons I learned along that segment of my spiritual developmental path is this: I can not determine what aspect of life God is going to reconcile next. God may be focused on my pride in one chapter of life and my sexuality in another. And for my neighbor, God may be establishing belonging or unconditional love before approaching anything related to human sexuality. I realized that because we all possess inherent value, I could not judge another’s authenticity. It all belonged to God; we all belong to God.

We are people who constantly participate in evolution. Each moment of the future arrives to welcome the next step assured by God. One by one, our steps take us closer to our authentic selves if we are willing to conspire with God.

As a child of God, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I don’t just tolerate my “same-sex attractions.” I love myself BECAUSE I’m same-sex attracted. I have come to see the beauty in my human diversity. I have fallen in love with its offering to masculinity, femininity, our understanding of love, but also the lessons of unconditional love it forces me to embrace. Because I have plunged into the depths of self-hatred, abusive drinking, debilitating shame, and uncontrollable rage, I have had the opportunity to learn the most liberating lessons of self-acceptance and love never fettered by conditions. God truly loves me, just as I am, and I have vowed my life to teach that lesson to as many as I can.

The Great Communion is a constellation of all our journeys. From Side B or Side A and beyond, we are all sojourners. Let’s embrace God’s redemption, because God invites us all to a specific and tailored journey. We are being called back to our truest identities, as God’s fearfully and wonderfully made children (Psalms 139). That is the liberation Jesus celebrated during his last meal.

Welcome to The Great Communion.

Bukola's Story: Blessed Choice: A Love Story

Picture this: A studious, driven Christian girl spends 18 years studying to get into Ivy League schools. She not only gets in, but also thrives within rigorous academic environments, and earns engineering and law degrees. She cultivates a strong faith and leads praise dance ministry and church Bible study groups. Forget Kiss Dating Goodbye; she had nothing to kiss away. Working diligently as a lawyer, she appeared to be the perfect Nigerian-American daughter. But when this 29-year-old Jesus-loving virgin, anxiously awaiting Christian Prince Charming, instead meets a sporty and funny Jewish girl, falls accidentally in love and comes out to her family, everyone really gets thrown for a loop…

“How can you call yourself a Christian?” demanded family members who had previously referred to her as “too religious.” Her every word and action was scrutinized for a possible diagnosis and cure for the gay sickness being displayed. “Why are you ‘choosing’ this life?” they asked. “We know you and this is not you,” they repeated over and over, “Something must have happened!”

I suppose something did happen. I grew up and realized I was bisexual. But of course, it is never that simple. Everyone assumes that if it is real, then you should have always known. But I had no inkling about my attraction to masculine-of-center women until I fell pretty hard for my friend who lived just down the street. I kept wondering why I was flirting. Why did I keep finding reasons to stop by her house? Why was I jealous when she mentioned her ex? I thought to myself: you are sending mixed signals and you need to set her straight. “You know we are just friends,” I announced out of the blue. She casually agreed. I brought it up again and insisted, “I am not trying to start anything.” Every time I experienced the pull of attraction, I would bring it up, thinking I was clearing the air and being a mature adult. I patted myself on the back, thinking now that is that. Little did I know I was forcing the issue and letting her know just how hard I was fighting to keep her in the friend zone. Who was I fighting, though? She was not the one who kept pushing the issue. When I agreed to meet her halfway between our houses one evening for a simple hug goodnight after a long phone conversation about the Old Testament, I knew I was in trouble. As we parted, I blurted out, “But you’re a girl.” She nodded sagely. I knew then that I was falling in love.

Yet self-preservation compelled me to deny my feelings. I knew that this relationship could ruin everything. Relationships between me and my family. My entire Christian sphere, including the Bible study and Fellowship ministry that I led; it would all be at risk. I knew they would not understand. I didn’t even understand. I broke things off, citing my faith as the reason.

Meanwhile, I prayed for clarity, for a clear sign from God. Hearing nothing at all close to clear, I kept fighting my “attractions.” I even tried to engage my conservative church, and they sent to me to an addiction group meeting. After reading through the material, I was baffled at what addiction had to do with anything I was experiencing. I started seeing the counselor affiliated with my church while I continued to try to mull through what was going on. I thought that if I were to pursue this, I must first figure out how to reconcile my feelings with legitimate and sound interpretations of Holy scripture. In obedience, a good Christian resisted being ruled by the flesh.  So I steeled myself. I continued to pray, but still no clear answers came to me, not about scripture, not yet. But gradually over time, an odd sense of peace passed over me. Peace that entirely surpassed my understanding of what in the world was going on.

Given this peace, I ended up pursuing the relationship. The feeling was too strong to ignore and I came to believe that I owed it to myself to figure out what this was. If it bore bad fruit, I would always be able to turn back. I was on the lookout for it to reveal itself as wrong. I was so afraid—but my faith never actually wavered. My experience of God had always assured me that God was big enough and God’s grace was sufficient for even me. My strongest theological belief was that there is no honest mistake that could ever separate me from the love of God. My theology has also always been informed by my engineer’s logic. Having taken women’s studies classes in undergrad, I had already begun to develop a nuanced theology as it relates to gender. In this very uncertain time, it gave me comfort to know that if there can exist individuals without a clear sex at birth (i.e., intersex), even if it was just a tiny percentage of the population, then surely God had a plan for their life and the rules cannot be as black and white as evangelical churches teach. But what that plan was, I could not fathom.

Even as I pursued the relationship, I continued to pray, read Bible passages, search for books and articles that addressed ethics concerning sexual minorities. But nothing too crazy, I thought, only balanced ones with authors who submit to the authority and holiness of scripture.  I didn’t want to just seek out books that would tell me what I wanted to hear. Slowly, as I walked with God across choppy waters, things began to fall into place. I found a new church, which I had been meaning to do for quite a while, and met with the pastor there. I was able to find reconciliation between my beliefs and my experiences, not because I wanted to justify my actions, but because I wanted to understand what is right in God’s sight. I wanted to seek understanding in a safe space. I found that my reading of the Bible was consistent with what I know about Jesus, who cavorted with adulterers (Acts 4), prostitutes, and lepers (Mark 14), and a Holy Spirit who leads to the baptism of sexual minorities like eunuchs (Acts 8). My understanding of the Word pointed me towards Jesus’ teachings that the fulfillment of God’s word is to love God and neighbor (Mat 22:36-40; Gal 5:14). I began to feel a strong sense of God’s blessing over my sexuality and came to believe that “if you let yourselves be circumcised [or in my case, forced to repress God-sanctioned aspects of my sexuality], Christ will be of no value to you at all” (Gal 5:2). I started to read scripture in a way that strongly suggested to me that the overall arch of God’s Word celebrated a full expression of my sexuality.

But then the relationship abruptly ended. After I had loved and lost for the first time, at age 31, I spent time thinking about what to do next. I now knew about my bisexuality. I couldn’t unring that bell. Yet it would make my life so much easier to pursue a man. Why make my life difficult? But then I had a nagging suspicion that I could only be physically attracted to men, but might never form an emotional bond like I had with a woman. I had never loved a man. Again, I decided that I owed it to myself to pursue love in whatever form it came. I was unwilling to deny myself love and fulfillment just to satisfy other people’s fears and theology. I didn’t choose male or female. I chose love.

To this day, my family continues to believe that someone must have preyed upon me or misled me into this “lifestyle;” surely those female tackle football players that I cavort with.  Alternatively, they postulate that surely I just was so desperate for a relationship that I accepted whatever attention I could get. Little did they know that I had been content to wait for just the right man or ultimately stay celibate. To choose love is not about succumbing to sexual deviancy or desperation. It is about being bold enough to claim love for yourself.

Seven years after discovering my sexuality, I find myself happily married to Christian Mrs. Charming, a patient, thoughtful seminarian who desires to become a church planter. She is such an unexpected complement and blessing to me that I know that only God could have dreamt up such a quirky match. We married in a snowy rustic ceremony in the mountains surrounded by loving supporters. None of my family was present. And it was one of the best days of my life. We now have a young exuberant tike who joyfully stirs up our lives in every way.

Despite the heights of marital and mommy bliss (aka mayhem), it is difficult to process the relationships that have been lost. I have been treated very poorly by people that I love and only through regular counseling have I managed to keep my sanity and learned to exercise much needed boundaries. I struggle with unforgiveness, and yet my faith compels me to show love and forgiveness, regardless of whether it is deserved. I pray every day for the strength to do so. I have faith that the story is not over. I am grounded in my belief that God is abounding in love and mercy, and that God seeks reconciliation, always. This is the hope I have for those who remain estranged.

My freedom has come at great costs, but I can only be who I am, who God fearfully and wonderfully created me to be—an authentic person who loves Jesus and her wife and son very much. I have grown into myself within the past 7 years and in doing so, I have learned to more fully embrace diversity in others. I no longer yearn to simply fit in. I embrace my quirks and value difference in others, experiencing them as beautiful colors reflected in a prism. I cannot wait to witness the fullness of all the hues and shapes that life has in store for me, my family of blood, and my colorful family of intention.

Sam's Story: Unexpected Grace

Making the choice to come out was hard—easily the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But, I’m lucky. My story has far more happy moments than sad ones. If only I had known it would unfold this way. If only.

In many ways, my story could be a case study in how family, friends, colleagues and, yes, even the church, can do things right. This isn’t a narrative common in our community, but it is a narrative I’m humbled to be part of. You won’t find any church-related trauma; my communities of faith were so supportive, my spiritual journey was actually enhanced. You won’t find family and friends struggling with my coming out; nearly without exception, every important person in my life has shown their love so boldly, my relationships have grown by the power of being truly authentic with one another.

What you will find in this story is a boy so insecure and uncomfortable he couldn’t see his true self, a boy who would build so many walls—in the form of life plans, goals, and ambitions—he couldn’t even see they were walls at all.

Instead of recognizing these feelings, I was busy building a plan. One of those obnoxious plans a teenager makes, projecting his entire life. Mine was different, though; I was going to do it. All of it. I was your run-of-the-mill kid who thought he was going to grow up to be President, or, if he had to settle, a member of Congress. Somehow, I got closer to that dream than many are able, but I’d come to realize those details were all part of the wall I was building internally.

I grew up in a family well-known in a small context. Several family members were local politicians, my dad was the chief of police, and my grandfather was one of the last old-school political party bosses—he embodied the good and bad of all the images that term conjures up. I have vivid memories of being in smoke-filled rooms (literally and figuratively), observing the political process as a little boy. Existing in this world became a bit of a safe space for me, before we started overusing the term. In those settings, I found a thrill. A thrill that allowed me to briefly escape whatever turmoil surrounded me.

My family, like all families, had (and has) our fair share of “issues,” especially related to alcoholism and depression. I have been disciplined enough to escape the former, but not the latter. My plan served the dual purpose of helping me to withdraw from these situations while building up the resume I’d surely need to execute the plan. I did it all—music, theater, and sports (though I wasn’t particularly good at any of those things); political activism, service clubs, and academic teams. I was a state speech and debate champion and an Eagle Scout at 16. You name it, I did it and, of course, added it to the list of achievements. After all, if something can’t be tracked in a spreadsheet, it probably isn’t worth doing (only partially joking).

The other way I escaped was in my love for church. I would spend the night with my grandmother nearly every Saturday night until it became uncool (this is also the setting where I had my first exposure to the Golden Girls, knowledge I didn’t know would be so helpful a few decades down the road). In the morning I would go to church with her, usually opting to attend her Sunday School class as opposed to my own because I liked the content better and, if we are being honest, probably enjoyed the attention I was getting from the elderly women. I became really involved in my small-town Disciples of Christ congregation—a congregation likely on the conservative end of the mainline, but those distinctions were far from my stream of consciousness at the time. Central Christian Church was no doubt a loving and caring community, but diving into deep theological questions about life—and certainly sexuality—was not in the cards.

Soon enough, I graduated and moved to Bloomington to attend college at Indiana University. My pattern of involvement to escape would continue and grow. I was in the Air Force ROTC program as a means to pay for college and was quickly drawn into a fraternity. My future wife was literally the first girl I met at IU; she became my best friend and a few years later we began to date and were engaged. It felt like the right thing—the evolution of our relationship felt so normal, like it was part of the plan. One of the things you hear in coming out stories is people hearing the phrase: “you just haven’t met the right girl yet.” I did meet the right girl, on literally the first day of college. She is an amazing woman and we share(d) many amazing things together.

After I completed my active duty Air Force commitment, I moved to Michigan in order to be with my fiance, and our plan—my plan—continued to unfold. We had a beautiful wedding, finished grad school, moved again for great jobs, built great careers, bought my dream house and, most importantly, we welcomed into our lives the two people that would become the most important things in the world to us: our two kids.

My closeted life—though, again, I didn’t recognize it as such—was great. It was a life most people would long for; it was the life I had longed for. But, something didn’t feel genuine. I continued to rationalize away reality. I interpreted this disingenuousness as being tied to my political ambition, a cost associated with running for office on a statewide and congressional scale at such a young age. In the midst of living the life I had longed for and pursuing my dreams, I did the only thing that seemed plausible, the only thing I had been taught: to ignore and move past feeling different, feeling other. Consciously, I didn’t lament this at all. Subconsciously, with the power of hindsight, it’s so obvious that this closet I was not-so-blissfully unaware of was taking a mental and physical toll on me.

Things started to fall apart when I lost my statewide race in 2010. I knew I would lose; losing was part of the plan. But then I lost … and was devastated. I couldn’t figure out why. I tried to cling on to any relic of that experience—finding other projects to capture my attention, pursuing other interests even when I knew they wouldn’t be fruitful, and becoming addicted to people associated with the campaign—hoping they weren’t ready to move on, either. I started to lose my mind—in both the figurative and clinical senses of the term. One of the closest people to me in that campaign had the courage to tell me that I wasn’t acting like the person he respected and that I should talk to someone.

It took a long time to get in the swing of things related to counseling. I would make appointments and not show up, or I would go and sit in the parking lot, lacking the courage to go in. The truth is, I probably knew what I needed to say, I just wasn’t ready to say it quite yet. I worked with a few counselors, but ended up firing three of them. I’m self-aware enough to disclose that I have a tough personality—if I don’t want to let you in, you probably aren’t going to get in. I finally connected with a counselor who knew how to ask me the right questions, who made me feel safe enough to let my guard down. The easy part was confirming what I already knew: I wasn’t mourning the loss of an election. I was, however, mourning the loss of my plan. I was mourning the loss of my identity—an identity that may not have been genuine, but was mine. I had spent every moment of my life living into that identity, and a few cracks sent the entire enterprise crashing down. So, what was my genuine identity? What had I been suppressing for thirty years? That took a long time to come to terms with. I walked through this same story and was able to begin seeing all of those details I had missed—intentionally or unintentionally—over the years.  

Rather unceremoniously I accepted the conclusion I should have accepted all along: I was gay. I had never had an official “gay experience,” but I knew, I was gay.

I’ve always thought I could control things, and this was no exception. Now that I knew this about myself, I could live with it forever. There was no good reason to mess with a life that many would die for, right? I would simply hide this away and forget about it. I probably could have done it. In a rare moment of true authenticity, however, I chose not to.

Once I decided to come out, my wife was the first person I told. As you might suspect, it was a tumultuous moment. In an instant, I lost my marriage, my best friend, and the picture-perfect family and lifestyle I had worked my whole life to achieve. It wasn’t clear at the time that it would be worth it and, on bad days, I still ask myself that sometimes. But doing so opened a path to authenticity I am thankful for; it opened a path for genuine happiness, even in the midst of struggle.

My best friends are my still my fraternity brothers from college. They are mainly stereotypical fraternity guys—very straight, very “masculine,” and very conservative. I was terrified coming out would somehow change things. It didn’t; they have all been wonderful. To them, this wasn’t a grandiose idea of justice, they will never be found marching in the Pride Parade, but their friend—their brother—needed them and they were there, no questions asked.

My family, too, has been wonderful. Without exception. They have always loved and supported everything I’ve pursued and, however tough adjusting to my newly accepted identity might have been, they were there for me every step of the way. It is my prayer that my children, young enough at the time of my coming out to never remember another reality, will be the main benefactors of a parent who can be more comfortable and confident in his own shoes.

My faith community, Second Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis, was hardly on the forefront of achieving advances for the LGBTQ community within church politics, but became a refuge for me—a place where I could meditate and think about what God was doing in my life. Processing my self-discovery in this sacred place is where I first sensed a call to ordained ministry and where I knew I wanted to devote my professional career to helping others find the support I found myself lucky to have.

My post-coming-out story has been full of twists and turns, all over the place on the spectrum of happy to sad. But I’ve been able to approach each turn with the confidence of knowing that I’m doing so as my full self—as a human loved unconditionally by God.

I’ve been lucky. Or, maybe more so, I’ve been the recipient of a lot of grace—from God, from others, and, most recently, from myself. I’ve fallen in love with the notion of irresistible grace from my reformed tradition of theology. It is easy to conceive of the grace coming from God as being irresistible—much harder for us to be irresistibly graceful toward our own selves. My coming out has helped that scared boy focused on an oppressive plan move further along on the journey of self-acceptance. A journey I look forward to continuing in community with my other siblings in Christ.