At QueerPHC, we welcome guest posts that are affirming and relevant to LGBTQ students and graduates of Patrick Henry College. To submit your own guest post, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’m an alumna of PHC, and I’m going to tell you how I – finally – came out of the closet. If you are at PHC, you probably haven’t heard a lot of narratives from people in the LGBTQ community, let alone happy ones, let alone from someone who shares your background.
I was home-schooled overseas; the fundamentalist, non-denominational Bible church that my grandfather founded was the locus of my social life. I never fit in with the girls at youth group and preferred to shoot hoops with the guys. Boys were my pals, not my crushes. I pushed down any inklings that I was gay. I told myself that I had more important things to think about than love, like college admissions. I remember catching myself staring at bikini-clad women on the beach. This is wrong, I told myself. Not only is it a sin, but if I tell anyone of these inclinations, even my parents, I will be seen as an abomination. And so I didn’t. I didn’t even fully admit these tendencies to myself.
Altar calls were frequent at my church. They were agonizing. No, I was not sure I was going to heaven. I had a secret. I was different. But I could not go down and admit this to the pastor or the elders because to do so would be to admit that I was not just a regular sinner, but a pervert. Looking back, I pity the young girl who was afraid of telling her deep secret to the grown men, mediators between her and God, standing at the front of the church.
I went to PHC because my family belonged to HSLDA and we began receiving mailings about the new college. I thought it would be a comfortable environment. I was afraid I would be ridiculed, raped, or worse at a secular institution. I might be placed in a co-ed dorm – yuck! It was in college that I first received grades, which were good. I found other people who were interested in books and ideas. My intelligence and diligence were admired. And my academic obsessions allowed me to ignore a missing dimension in my life: romance. The thought of dating – sorry, courting – my male classmates was absurd. I remained sexually pure, per the honor code – in fact, I avoided thinking about my sexuality at all. While my roommates talked about cute actors and classmates, I distracted myself with identifying ablative absolutes and reading Hesse’s Siddhartha and Huxley’s Island (both of which, I understand, have now been struck from the curriculum).
Psychology, gender studies, and other social sciences were not deemed fit to be part of the liberal arts curriculum at PHC. I felt that thinking too much about my own needs – particularly as a woman – was selfish. Instead, I should be thinking about how to serve my family and my God, and how to change the world. I cried perhaps once a year – ugly, frustrated sobs. To me, emotional expression was feminine. And femininity was candlelight engagement ceremonies, Liberty Ball gowns, ladies’ Bible studies and all those other things that made me feel like such a misfit. I was proud of my stoicism. I developed a chronic disease that I partially attribute to my inability to acknowledge the stress and anxiety I was internalizing. I wasn’t happy, but I was successful. I graduated from PHC summa cum laude and went to graduate school at one of the best public universities.
In graduate school I met other queer people for the first time. I sensed a kinship, but also the danger they posed to my carefully-crafted persona. I pushed the stirrings in my heart deep down, protecting who I thought I was. I focused on my career and got my first professional job. I was quickly promoted to a managerial position. But I was unable to distract myself with my job in the same way I did with my studies. I had spent my life proving myself: I could be successful and disciplined, soli Deo gloria. I was a winner, or, as a speaker once told us in chapel, I was “top shelf.” Now, under less stress and naturally introspective, I began to explore not what I could achieve, but who I was and what I wanted. This was when I began to awaken, and to feel the ups and downs of an authentic emotional life.
Now, seven years after graduating from PHC, I teach at a small liberal arts college where there are many LGBTQ people who are out of the closet, who are married or partnered, and who are thriving. I have realized that gay people are individuals, not stereotypes. In sermons, I had heard gay people equated with child molesters. I was not a child molester, so how I could I be gay? So finally having friends and role models who were gay was instrumental in allowing me to accept my own sexual orientation. They did not “turn” me gay. Gay people will always be a minority. It’s easier to be straight, no matter how accepting the environment. But, until I met these people, I didn’t have any idea that one could be gay and kind, or gay and happy.
Realizing I was gay was transformational. It made sense for me. Many things about my life fell into place. I began going to counseling to deal with my ingrained sense of shame and worthlessness. The first time I kissed a girl was revelatory, as was the first time I fell in love. It was like all the love stories I never let myself believe in were happening to me. And when my first relationship ended, my heart broke. I started crying fairly often. But at least these were tears of sorrow and love, not of stress and confusion. And the recovery made me stronger and wiser the second time around. I’m now in a loving, committed relationship with a kind, smart, attractive, strong, sensitive woman. My family recognizes my orientation and still loves me. Of course, my deeply religious father would rather I were straight. He has said, I accept you; what you do is no worse than adultery. This hurts, but he is my father, and I will continue to work on our relationship.
I have lost my faith in the Christian God, and I’m now agnostic. Christianity, for me, is closely associated with the fear and shame I experienced as a child and young adult. But I have many queer friends who are still Christians, who feel that God loves and accepts them, and blesses their relationships. I have studied the passages in the Bible about homosexuality, and I believe they are misinterpreted by many fundamentalist churches. I have listed some resources below for those of you who are trying to reconcile your faith and your sexuality. I still believe in Jesus’ core message: do unto others as you would have others do unto you. I think we often forget that we need to have empathy and respect for not only others, but also for ourselves.
If you have questions, please direct your emails to email@example.com, and they will be forwarded to me. While I am out and proud, I do not wish to be targeted with frivolous lawsuits or other harassment from the PHC administration.
Further Readings & Viewings
For the Bible Tells Me So. [Available on Netflix Streaming].
An award-winning documentary that presents Biblical interpretations of homosexuality from Christian leaders such as Richard Gephardt, Desmond Tutu, and Gene Robinson.
This web page is one person’s interpretation. I encourage you to examine these verses for yourself.
Sullivan, Andrew. Virtually Normal.
In this book, Sullivan – Roman Catholic, founder of the Daily Dish, and gay married man – addresses how society should deal with homosexuality.
Wright, Chely. Wish Me Away. [Available on Netflix Streaming]
Documentary about a top-selling country singer who came out of the closet and remains a deeply committed Christian.