Dear past self,
I don’t have a specific iteration of you in mind right now, but I imagine early twenties you is who will likely hear this best.
So, hi me.
This is really hard for you to hear, I know. You started noticing your attraction to girls when you were 14 and it scared you. All through high school, you kept a tight lid on it, trying to eradicate from yourself these thoughts and feelings. You told yourself you were straight, that this was sin and temptation and that it would go away. That you were just a late bloomer and your desire to eventually be with someone and impatience with this late bloomingness led to you making up reactions that weren’t there. That your discomfort at seeing girls in swimsuits was because of society oversexualizing young women, and not your own arousal.
I know the moment you thought that you had sorted out your sexuality once and for all and… well that part is complicated and beyond the scope of this letter, but no. Still not straight.
And I know the guilt, the shame, the secret churning of feelings inside you, the utter denial of what was there because it couldn’t be true. It couldn’t. You read a book once that ended in the main character marrying another woman, a development you didn’t see coming, and you felt sick and didn’t know why. You watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer and although you kept telling yourself it was wrong, Willow’s relationship with Tara, you couldn’t stop yourself from watching, stomach knotted with guilt over the fact that you longed, you longed…
You grew up believing that not being straight was wrong. That it was a perversion of how God had created people, how he had created you. Anything you felt or experienced that wasn’t straight was because of this world being broken. It was wrong. You had compassion for it, because after all we all have things we struggle with. But that compassion didn’t erase that constant, pervading sense that you were wrong, broken. Maybe if you dated a guy, you thought, all this would end. Maybe if you prayed, kept your focus on the correct things, stayed around the right people, any of a number of things, you would find whatever wound(s) causing this would be healed and you would no longer feel attraction to women.
Because, at your kindest, you saw this as coming out of wounds to the heart that caused fear and misunderstanding of what was good and what you really wanted. And at your least kind, you saw it as depravity, as demonic, and tortured yourself with the thought that maybe you’d brought this upon yourself somehow.
The justifications you had were labyrinthine. Remember our first year astronomy class, how we learned that the earth-centric model of the solar system grew so complicated over time to try to explain all that people were observing in the heavens until finally they saw that the sun-centric model had to be correct because it actually explained things without people having to bend over backwards to make it work? That’s you right now. Bending over backwards to hold onto a model that never applied to you to begin with.
I won’t get into all the walls of logic you built to keep yourself from feeling. You know them all too well.
But I’ll get into a few.
You’re homophobic and transphobic, my dear self. In the most literal sense, you’re afraid, terrified out of your mind.
You believe God loves everyone, yes, and that one should love everyone. I believe you would be kind to the LGBTQ people in your life, as kind as you could, if given the chance.
But that kindness would be limited because you believe that they are broken. You believe that they should not marry. That the gender they are is a lie. That it would be bad for them to raise children. And while you have mostly remained silent on these thoughts, they do come out sometimes. You’ve said each of them at least once out loud.
You hold to these beliefs with an almost startling tenacity, thinking through all your convoluted trains of thought and logic, a castle on the sand built… for what?
What, really, would happen if you called a trans person by their name? Used their pronouns?
What would happen if you went to a gay wedding and congratulated the couple?
What would happen if LGBTQ people were happy, thriving, truly themselves in your presence, loving each other the way you’d seen straight couples love each other all your life?
You’re conflicted, too, I know that. Because you also truly believe in treating everyone with love. And that belief clashes with your homophobia and transphobia all the time. It is a contradiction you can never resolve.
You hold to the phrase “love the sinner, hate the sin” as much as you can. It gives you words to hide behind. To point to because you’re sure that other people will hear it and understand that you’re really a good person underneath. That maybe your views are controversial and perhaps unpopular, but at your heart you love people and will do your best to do right by them. That you’re really on their side.
Please hear this with the gentleness I’m saying it: you’re not.
It’s true that you would never advocate for the extremism of people like those at Westboro Baptist Church. It’s true that you want all LGBTQ people to live happy, fulfilling lives.
So, please, listen to my question right now and don’t shy away from how it makes you feel. Sit with your reaction to it. Ask yourself what it is and where it’s coming from and don’t, don’t hide from the answers like you always do.
Are you ready?
Okay, here it is:
Why don’t you call your trans sibling by their name?
You know it hurts them when you don’t.
And even if you want to cling to someone being trans as a lie or a delusion, I know you’ve seen Lars and the Real Girl. I know you remember how much that story made you feel. And I know that the therapist’s advice in it to treat Lars’s delusion as reality cut you deep. You know what love looks like.
And you know it.
What does it cost you to call someone by their name? To use their pronouns?
Don’t hide behind what it costs the world.
Don’t you dare throw up your walls of “but then I’d be saying that this is right and would be contributing to the eroding of good in the world.”
It’s very easy to hide behind the abstract and the global when faced with the fact that you are causing someone harm so that you can be right and you know it.
Again, I say this gently. I say this so gently, with all the love in my heart. I remember being you.
Suppose that your sibling ends up realizing that they’re not trans, the way you hope they will.
Would treating them the way they ask to be treated make that road easier or harder?
You think, in your defense, that it would make it harder, because it would entrench what you see as a lie.
The truth is that when people are treated with kindness, when they get the love they need, free of conditions or judgement or suspicion of their ability to make decisions, they are freed to go on their path as they need to, to work through what they have in front of them to work with, to come to their truth and healing without complication.
But if they are hurt along the way, they will resist anything else that comes from that direction, no matter how well meant. And even if they come around to your way of thinking in the end, that doesn’t make the wounds they’ve sustained turn into butterflies and disappear. The wounds remain because those wounds come from emotional language, not spoken language, although spoken language can carry it.
If you treat people as though they are broken, as though their existence as they understand it in that moment is wrong and terrible, as though they are falling into depravity and unvirtue, as though accepting them as they are now in ways that really, truly cost nothing, I promise you, would be the same as committing the most grievous of sins… that causes the heart to bleed. That causes rejection, shame, guilt, blame, all of which they already have in spades, and makes it harder, so much harder to heal.
(And, oh, I know you don’t understand those last three paragraphs yet, but you will one day. You will.)
So even if you’re right about your sibling’s gender, even though you’re making concessions and trying to meet them halfway, you’re still not acting in love.
And you know this, dear one. You do. You and I both know that you know this. You stop just shy of admitting it and run away to hide in other, safer thoughts each and every single time.
Because, my dear self, while I said that truly treating LGBTQ people with love costs nothing (and it doesn’t in the objective, general sense, to the general you of people in the world), you and I know exactly what it will cost you, and that price is so high that you have run for years from it to hide, curled up and sobbing, begging God to help you find another way through.
You are living the agony of a cognitive dissonance that you will never be able to resolve so long as you hold onto this belief that being LGBTQ is inherently sinful.
All these elaborate thought-fortresses, all these trains of logic, all these unresolved tensions that you leave open as you run from them in fear of what resolving them would tell you, they aren’t about treating other people well. I know you tell yourself that the crux of this is how to treat others, and I know what need that meets for you, but it’s not true.
I know that if you were to remove all these intellectualizations, you would have to admit that you’re gay.
And you can’t.
Because if you did, then you would have to feel, without filter, without escape, all the pain you have around that. You would have to give up this picture you have of marrying a man and having children with him. You would have to be someone that people around you have already shown through their words and, in some cases, actions, that they will act and speak wounds onto your heart. You know that your faith will be questioned, that people will try to convince you that you’re wrong, that they will try to tell you that God loves you as if that’s all you needed to know to be straight.
You know that it would mean becoming what most of the modern Christian world deems unclean. And while they would be as kind about it as they could, you know that they would start treating you, whether they realized it or not, as an outsider from their circle.
And that circle has been your life. You’ve gone to church your whole life. Your grandpa was a pastor. Your dad went to Bible college. You went to a Christian school from grades 8-12. All your friends are Christians. Nearly all your family are Christians. And you already saw what happened when your sibling came out as trans.
Admitting that you’re gay means potentially losing your whole world.
And that is not small.
And neither is it right.
I wish, I really do, that all the things you did could have eased your suffering. That you could have been straight and not gone through this utter rejection of self, that constant injury you inflicted on yourself, thinking it was the right thing to do. For the sake of all the turmoil inside you, I wish that.
I wish I could hug you, too, but I know that you would flinch from that. Touch is so, so hard for you, terrifying. Your friends in high school were once on the topic of places that, if touched, aroused them instantly, and you told them that if they touched you anywhere it would arouse you. They joked, and you still wonder if they thought you were joking (I don’t know either), but you were being perfectly serious.
So start there. I know you will. But I’ll say it anyway. Start with touch, with being okay with it again. Address your fears around sex, around intimacy. Work through as much of the shame as you can handle. Look sexuality into the eye and let yourself heal.
When you’ve healed, you think that you’ll find you’re straight.
But you won’t be afraid of what you find anymore, because that was the whole point of the work you’ll do on yourself.
It’s not going to be an easy journey. You’re not always going to be proud of how you behave, what you say, or what you think. But you’ll get there. And you’ll find yourself dating quickly after. Years of trying to get yourself to date, of knowing you want to, of wanting to be with someone, and you’ll start dating within a month of realizing your sexuality. It’ll confirm for you that the reason it didn’t happen before was because you always knew, deep down, what you were looking for, and couldn’t get yourself to start looking if you were going to head in a direction you knew was wrong.
And you will find someone wonderful. Our first Valentine’s Day is coming up this month and we’re both so excited.
I can’t say that you’ll get to this place without wounds to do with God and Christianity and church, and deep, painful ones at that. But they’re about a whole lot of things, sexuality not being the main one or even what I’m dealing with at this point. And I’m coming through to the other side, slowly, to be sure, but it’s happening. Because we always come through. No matter how many times we fall, we get up. You know this, and it continues to remain true.
So I won’t tell you right now what to do or how to be. I understand where you are right now because I was there, and I know how you got here. Which means I can’t send this to you, even if I had the opportunity, because I know that it wouldn’t help you in any way. You need the walls right now because you can’t imagine a life without them that’s in any way good. And I grieve for that, and for all that you will have to go through before you can finally see what’s outside of this fortress you’ve hid yourself in—and hid yourself so well that at least one of your high school friends will tell you that they would have thought you were asexual! At which you will tell them that if you’d felt pressure to declare a sexuality, you’d have said you were a lesbian.
Because you’ve always known, dear self.
And it’s okay you won’t let yourself see yet.
You will one day.
So instead of this letter, I send to you something I believe can cross time and that would reach you somehow in a way that would do you help: all my love.
We’re all works in progress, us human beings. So thank goodness that God is patient because we’d be pretty screwed otherwise, huh? 😉
You’re going to be okay,
Your present self
P.S. Okay so this part I’d send to the past if I could: you ever notice how when God would talk about your future someone, he’d always be gender neutral about it and you’d just add gender because of your assumption you’re straight?
P.P.S. Yes, our girlfriend fits those hints he dropped all over the years and we didn’t even know she did until after we’d started dating.
P.P.P.S. Remember that time near the end of high school, before you heard any discussion from actual LGBTQ people about LGBTQ things, you were praying and God was like, with utter clarity, “love is love”? And all the logic you put around what he was saying with that? And how you told someone about that and their sorta shocked expression? And then later you found out what that phrase meant to gay people and that drop you felt in your stomach? Followed by some hard core rationalization? I know oblivious lesbians is a thing, but come on now 😂
P.P.P.P.S. I don’t know where this idea that if you’re a Christian and come out as gay then that means you’re on your way away from Christianity and God comes from (except, I dunno, maybe the hurt that LGBTQ people receive from Christians causing them to feel unwelcome and head off elsewhere to find an atmosphere that isn’t hypocritically unloving *cough*) but yes, you’re still on board with God stuff and, because I know this is what you’re really looking for when you wonder about this whole thing: you’re okay. You’re just fine and you have a future open up to you full of good things you can’t even imagine right now. And sorting out your sexuality is just one part of you getting here ❤️