About a year ago, I was Internet bullied on Facebook and my bully wasn’t a stranger. He was someone I’d known a long time ago and who I used to refer to as “friend.” Now, nearly two decades later, he was telling me how it would have been kinder had I succeeded on at least one of my suicide attempts.
He didn’t stop with wishing me dead, though. He held a deeply rooted hatred for other members of my family as well. Even my former best friend received a hunk of his hate speech in the message for sticking up for me as long as she did.
I didn’t respond to him. How could I respond? We’d spoken over the phone a couple of times since high school graduation. Each time it had seemed like we were on the verge of rekindling our friendship. But after this round of unpleasantness, I had to draw the line and block him.
What had caused him to hate me so? The last time we’d seen each other face to face, we were teenagers. But as it turned out, those adolescent years had been much more challenging for him then they’d been for me.
We were the same age when we met only I was in seventh grade and he was in eighth so we really didn’t have any classes in common apart from choir and the school musical we both had a part in (his was a lead role and my part was silent).
We became fast friends because we had one rare common interest: musical theater. For the first time ever, I’d found someone my age I could talk Cats, Phantom of the Opera, Les Misérables, Into the Woods, and Miss Saigon with!
The novelty was exciting for both of us. At night we’d call each other up on the phone and sing Broadway duets together. I was also a church girl back then and very eager to see others get saved. My friend accompanied me to church a couple of times, but it really wasn’t his thing.
Around that time, he began to develop a deep and troubling depression. Suicidal threats from him became a common occurrence. I wanted to help him. All his friends wanted to help him, but we were kids. What could we do?
He wrote me a suicide note once and I immediately took it to a teacher. She was a grown-up, after all. She’d know what to do.
We continued our nightly phone chats and he’d often times break out in tears. He played this song for me once from a new musical called Rent. It was a love song between two guys: I’ll Cover You.
Once he asked, “Do you think it’s okay to be gay? What does the Bible say about homosexuality?”
It was easy to see what the Bible said. Not only was our bookshelf full of almost every available English translation of the Bible, but my parents had a little book entitled Armed and Dangerous that categorized just about any controversial topic that might come up in conversation and laid out the Bible verses pertaining to each topic. Homosexuality included.
From what my teenage mind could make out, homosexuality was wrong and I told him so. This, of course, brought him more tears. Soon our phone calls about Broadway musicals stopped and we went our separate ways. I felt I was doing the right thing and telling the truth. Years later I’d learn that I’d hurt him more than words can say.
When I was 18, I went on a 10-week singing tour across the Northwest and Midwest United States with a bunch of young people from all over the nation. It was a Christian singing tour and the group was called The Continentals. But because we were spending a significant amount of time in close quarters with people of the opposite sex, there were strict rules as to how we were to conduct ourselves so as not to arouse anyone sexually.
It was here I was introduced to the popular Evangelical Christian “side-hug.” Frontal hugs were okay if it was with someone of the same gender, but guys and gals had to hug from the side so as not to have too many body parts touching. Also, on long bus drives, we had what was referred to as the “Continental divide” in which all the guys sat on one side of the bus and all the girls sat on the other to keep the sexual tension at a minimum.
Even for someone as uptight as me, this seemed a little much. But I didn’t protest. I was going through my own emotional crises anyway. Three guys, at different times, offered me comfort in my moments of distress, whether it was a simple arm around the shoulder, letting me cry in their presence, or just choosing to spend one-on-one time with me. Years later, I’d learn that all three of those guys had come out of the closet and were happily being themselves. Perhaps more of the guys on the tour, maybe even some of the girls, were gay as well. I don’t know for sure because I never asked.
My first year in college, I studied at a Christian university and experienced dorm-life for the first time. My first roommate was very different from me, as most my college roommates would turn out to be. She listened to this song that used the F-bomb over and over again. It was sung by an artist called Ani DiFranco. I wondered whether or not we, as Christians, were allowed to listen to such lyrics. But she didn’t seem bothered at all and she was a Christian. She also found it utterly delightful to poke fun of my prudishness and naivety. The entire year she continuously referred to me as “fudge-packer” because she found it oh so amusing that I had absolutely no idea what that meant.
When I switched to a secular university my sophomore year, I lived in a female-only dorm. Besides myself and a few other prudes, there were quite a few lesbians and bi-curious girls on the premises. One of my closest friends, who’d recently quit Christianity, encouraged me to get to know some of these ladies; to talk with them and listen to their stories.
Up until then, I’d been of the persuasion that homosexuality was a choice and it was a sin. Of course, I didn’t believe it was any worse than extra-marital sex or anything. But it was still a sin.
Then I met Star. She was beautiful, petit, with worry lines across her face spelling out a difficult life. Over spring break I chose to stay in my dorm-room on campus. Almost all my friends had taken off for the week and were either home with their families or living it up on the beach somewhere. It was quiet.
Star remained on campus as well. One day, I saw her sitting on the front porch of the dormitory, smoking a cigarette as usual and watching the leaves dance in the wind. Feeling curious and emboldened, a stepped out the door and sat beside her.
I knew she was a lesbian. She made no secret of it. I was beginning to feel I knew very little about anything, let alone what it was like to love someone of the same sex. So I greeted her and asked her to tell me her story.
I wasn’t prepared for what I heard. Such pain and heartache! Soon I’d learn her story was all-too-familiar in the LGTB community. She’d been raised Mormon but when she came out, her family disowned her and she had to endure many hardships on her own. I knew now why her face seemed so weathered for someone so young. But there was one thing she said that stuck with me more than anything else. She said, “If this life were a choice, I would never have chosen it because of all the hell I’ve been through.”
After I graduated from college, I began to meet more and more people from the LGBT community at places of work and social functions. Each person had his or her own heart-wrenching story and yet despite it all, they couldn’t deny who they were. It brought me even more sadness to hear of the unfair judgments placed upon them by evangelical Christians. Many had been disowned by Christian families, kicked out of churches, and oft told they were going to hell.
This was difficult to take in. I kept wanting to say, “It’s Christians who did this, not Christ! Jesus loves you!” But I knew it wouldn’t go over well.
My own sexuality fell under scrutiny a time or two. Sex is a strange thing. I’ve been celibate for a long time and, in the secular world, celibacy is almost more unnatural than homosexuality. Just watch any popular TV show. It’s frowned upon if a character goes a month or more without sex. I’ve gone pretty much my entire life and I’m in my mid-thirties. I must be terribly screwed up.
Once I told a girl friend of mine that I wasn’t attracted to any guys at the moment.
“What about women? Are you attracted to women?” She asked.
I thought that was a strange question. “No. I’ve never been attracted to women.”
“Well have you tried?”
Peculiar. I’d never heard of a man having to “try” another man before discovering he was gay. Why was it that way with women?
Then, of course, comes the bisexual question. A friend came out to me as bi once and I talked to my therapist about it because I didn’t know a lot of people who were bi and I wanted to learn more. She said it’s really tough for them because if you’re bi, both teams want you, but nobody wants to share you.
The first two people I met who were transgendered I’d met while I was in the mental hospital. Apparently transitioning from one gender to another can be very stressful, not to mention all the bullying and hatred you receive from the cruel people in this world who don’t understand and don’t even try to understand.
In my own quest to understand sexual orientations different from mine, I saw one thing quite clearly: It was extremely rare to find someone who described himself or herself as both gay and Christian. Even I’d begun to shy away from that label. But I didn’t shy away from Jesus. Jesus seemed nothing like the Christians who had hurt many of new friends from the LGBT community. And yet people were turning away from Jesus because of those very Christians.
In 2009, Derek Webb, a Christian artist who’d left the Christian folk-rock band Caedmon’s Call to start a solo career, came out with an album called Stockholm Syndrome. Developing a reputation for stirring controversy in the Christian subculture, he released a free track to his album online called What Matters More in which he accused Christians of being too judgmental, unloving and hurtful to anyone who’s not straight.
Derek Webb also wrote a song on the same album to Fred Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church pleading with him and Christians like him to change the way they think about people who weren’t straight. The song’s called Freddie Please.
When he went on tour with his new album, Webb invited another singer/songwriter of Christian music fame to join him. Jennifer Knapp was a popular Christian artist in the late 1990s early 2000s who stopped making music and went off the grid for a little while. But, by 2009, was ready to rejoin the music recording industry.
Knapp had been living with her same-sex partner during her music hiatus and travelling the world with her. But she hadn’t come out publicly yet. She was a celebrity in the Christian music industry after all. She knew that, because she was a celebrity, there would be a significant public backlash, particularly from her Christian fans.
In her memoir, Facing the Music, she writes:
Through both the anger and the pain, all I could think of was divorcing myself from Christian culture. I didn’t want to live with people who insisted I was a failure. Rather than being the community that reflected the compassion that I had experienced in Christ’s Christianity, it had transformed into the one place where I felt most unsafe and unwanted. Christianity had turned into the place where my faith, my loves, my personal experiences were constantly being assessed and judged instead of being nurtured.
In recent years, churches like the Presbyterian and the Episcopalian have begun ordaining openly gay ministers and officiating gay marriage ceremonies. As great as that may sound, I don’t see all the people who were hurt by the church in the past returning like the prodigal son. I can’t blame them. I’ve not committed to a church for a long time, although sometimes I’ll attend with parents.
Some churches, like Community Church of Hope in downtown Phoenix, are actually created as safe havens where the LGBT community can worship God together without being judged. I visited Hope once. The pastor gave a lecture there about homosexuality and the Bible, but it wasn’t what you’d expect. He not only discredited the usual verses meant to condemn gays, but he actually found several verses in the Bible that supported homosexuality (so long as it was in a committed relationship).
A girl I knew was there. I’d known her in college through the Christian club I’d been a part of. She told me how she actually came out in college but had to keep it on the down-low so the rest of us Christians she was hanging out with wouldn’t give her a hard time. But she was happy now. She’d met her life partner, a beautiful woman, and eventually the two of them got married.
In my generation, labels have often been seen as the real demons. My friends and I don’t like to be labeled anything. Then again, maybe the labels aren’t so bad so long as we truly own them and allow ourselves to be vulnerable yet confident in who we are.
To my Internet bully and old friend, I just want to say again and again, I’m sorry. But please remember, we were very young. I can’t speak for you, but I know at that age I’d experienced very little in life. I was often told I lived in a bubble. I didn’t know what that meant back then, but I know now. I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me.