I’m proud of me. It took a long time to be able to say that but I take pride in who I am. I take pride in being different. I am proud of my ability to love people regardless of their gender or their body parts. I’m proud of the journey I took to self-acceptance.
Growing up evangelical it took a long time to make sense of my gender and sexuality. It’s easy to underestimate how integral those aspects of our identity are to the core of our being, how we see ourselves and how we experience the world.
It wasn’t just the outright anti-gay messages that made this process so difficult, it was also the lack of any variety, diversity or individuality whatsoever. It wasn’t just the strict “biblical manhood” and “biblical womanhood” indoctrination, it was also the stolen opportunities to know or love anyone living outside those limiting roles.
Everything was so binary, so black and white. You were either this or that. If you were this, you needed to like that and if you were that you needed to like this.
If you were seen as a girl, you needed to like dolls, and tea parties and pink dresses. And you had to like boys – only boys. You would be quiet and polite, of course. You would be scared of spiders and snakes and heights and going out after dark and you would need boys and men to help you and comfort you and protect you.
If you were seen as a boy, you needed to like trucks and army men, camo and baseball caps. And you had to like girls – only girls. You would be loud and rambunctious and no one would teach you manners because boys will be boys. You would like showing off and having big muscles and getting dirty and you would help all the little girls who weren’t as strong or brave as you.
As a little girl, it was absolutely predestined that I would marry a man someday. There wasn’t any question about it. Remaining single wasn’t an option ever discussed. Becoming a wife and mother someday was a give-in. When I was really young it didn’t bother me too much, my fate was matter-of-fact – that’s just how it was.
It didn’t take long though, for little Sarah to toddle around the yard helping her dad with stacking firewood and wonder my mommy was always inside cooking and cleaning. It didn’t take long for her to notice that her body looked more like her mother’s, even at 5 years of age and to notice a creeping fear of growing up and turning into someone she didn’t feel like she really was. My heart breaks now realizing how early the feeling of being trapped set in for me.
This was all still fairly sub-conscious though, until maybe 5th or 6th grade when I first reckoned with my sneaking suspicion that I didn’t totally fit in. It entered my awareness watching princess movies – realizing I resonated more with the prince doing the rescuing than the princess waiting around for it. I felt angry that the princess usually seemed helpless and weak. I was old enough to realize on some level that the generation I was born into was under no control of mine, and if I had been born earlier in history I would be forced to dress and behave as the princess I was watching. But I wanted to be strong, have a grand adventure, and save the day. I wanted to run mightily through the woods, feel my muscles ripple as they carried my frame, and let my hair stream out freely behind me. I didn’t want to sit around in a castle all day with no part to play in the story other than being a pretty thing to be admired. I couldn’t understand why some girls were okay with that.
It wouldn’t be until sometime in my twenties when I was able to hold the complexity of gender and face my trauma enough to know it didn’t have to be either-or. But for years I struggled with anger around being born female because I wasn’t allowed to see any other way of being a woman. I was kept from knowing anyone else like me existed.
Following those princess-movie-epiphanies, I wondered if perhaps I wasn’t supposed to be a woman. But that didn’t make sense either. I didn’t want to BE the man. I didn’t want to LOOK like the man. I just wanted to be FREE like the man. I liked being a pretty girl, but I wanted to be pretty AND strong. I wanted to play an important role in the story and be a fearless leader and I wanted a man to fall in love with me someday. But I wanted to rescue a princess too. I wanted the admiration of women and to feel their touch. I wanted to be able to take care of another girl and guide her and love her. I admired the softness and elegance of highly feminine women and I was drawn to the strength, bravery and outspokenness of fierce women.
Most of these feelings were hiding in the shadows of my mind where they were rarely seen clearly.
My church didn’t have as many anti-gay sermons as some, but that’s partly because 20 years ago no one was talking as much about either gay rights or depriving them.
I do vividly remember our pastor saying once “studies have shown that gay people don’t live as long, so we are actually helping them even though they don’t like it! We want them to live longer!” He didn’t bother telling us where these “studies” came from or what the evidence was.
My middle school youth group leader ignited rumors when she cut her hair short. My friends started whispering “is she, you know…?” All because of a haircut! Later however, she did actually end up coming out as lesbian. She was immediately forced to quit her job and leave the community. The scandal permeated the entire church for a bit. My sister freaked out because they had shared a hotel room when going on a mission trip. I remember being upset my youth leader was gone becuase she was the only one I felt totally safe with and I had really looked up to her and her faith perspectives. I remember thinking it didn’t make sense that one of the best people I knew was somehow bad enough she couldn’t be around.
I was in high school when it clicked that my uncle and his long-term roommate were a gay couple. I was very close to my uncle. He was such a delightful person who brought joy to my life, so it confused and distressed me that my family made him hide who he was around me. It never stopped bothering me that they acted like he was something to be ashamed of.
Once my teenage best friend randomly told me she wasn’t allowed to be friends with “gay people” in case it made her gay too. Around the same time, I noticed when leaning in to hug a close female friend how natural it would have felt to kiss her and I wondered why that would be seen as weird, if we both wanted it. To me it seemed a natural way to show affection to a person I loved closely.
When someone in my young adult years suggested I might be bisexual I wasn’t convinced. It seemed to far “out there” to be the true me, I thought. I didn’t feel that edgy.
In college I noticed feeling butterflies around some of my best friends and as I got older and enjoyed longer-term intimate friendships with women that nurtured my soul, I experienced feelings and attachment I could only really describe as being in love.
In my mid twenties I moved to a progressive city where I joined an inclusive and affirming church. For the first time I was part of a faith community where diversity was celebrated. I LOVED it! I got to do life with so many interesting people and I was accepted just as I was. I didn’t have to fit a label. No one asked or blinked an eye if I held hands with a woman or said “she” when talking about my date. I started noticing I didn’t only have crushes on cis-gendered people and the term pansexual floated through my mind. I learned about gender identity through casual conversation. Other people’s stories taught me I don’t have to identify as trans to feel out of place regarding society’s expectations of my gender. The term genderqueer was helpful. Lots of my friends identified as queer and there wasn’t even a need to “come out”, because no assumptions were made.
It wasn’t weird to anyone that I presented as feminine and “straight-passing” but often felt more masculine. No one was fazed by my attraction to men and women and people of all genders. It was just another way of being in this multifaceted and magical world. Around town I saw and interacted with so many people just like me and so many who were not at all like me and it was absolutely beautiful. It’s amazing how much healing inclusive community brings.
Nowadays I don’t really worry anymore about what labels or categories I fit into or what hobbies I “should” be interested in, or clothing style I’m going for or if I’m “queer enough”. I just do what I like and wear what I like and love who I like and I think that’s the best way to be.
I see now all I ever had to do was be myself and embody love.
It took over two decades to find this peace. I finally learned I don’t have to be someone I’m not in order to be me. It’s been a long journey and I’m proud of me.