When I was in high school, I always prayed for empathy, and I thought I understood the world perfectly:
There were us humans, created for good but with destructive tendencies.
And there was God.
The world was black and white. Right or wrong.There was a cut and dry answer to every question ever.
Homosexuality was a choice, and it was a sin.
Evolution was a stupid worldly thing that in no way existed. Like global warming.
All of the Bible was objectively, literally true and did not contradict itself whatsoever because if it did, it would delegitimize itself.
A spirit was for sure imbued at conception, and abortion needed to be illegal at all costs. (Darn that liberal agenda.)
American Christianity was the “right religion.”
I knew all the words. I believed them all.
And then college happened. Little by little, what I thought I understood at the ripe old age of 18 was dismantled. Gently, quietly.
Until it wasn’t so quiet anymore.
Halfway through my fall semester senior year, I was sitting wedged between people in the bustling meeting room of a coffee shop. Even more members were due to arrive. It was a jovial space, a safe space. We were going to talk about gender this meeting. I was still trying to feel comfortable in this group, who I sensed had grappled far more than I had, regarding far more difficult questions I still had my collection of easy answers to—although these answers were considerably more tentative than in previous years.
These people had been eschewed from the system I had previously thrived in, hidden under. I knew I had so much to learn and I was terrified of that.
About this time, the pro-life club on my private Christian university campus had made an innocent, but very negatively received mistake regarding flyers in campus bathrooms, and on this particular evening, the college students around me were freely deriding this mistake as I sat among them. I knew they didn’t mean any harm, but I froze.
What seemed so obviously naive and assumptive to them, I had just realized maybe wasn’t a good idea.
They didn’t know I hadn’t thought in depth about this yet.
And in that safe space, quietly, I didn’t feel so safe, anymore.
It wasn’t their fault. It wasn’t anyone’s fault.
But in that moment, I began to understand what I was doing to myself that semester. Something necessary and terrifying and rife with sharp growing pains.
Earlier that summer I’d realized I was asexual. For those unfamiliar with the term, asexuality describes a person who does not experience sexual attraction, as separate from romantic attraction. I’d always thought I was just a late bloomer, and I faked crushes to fit in. I remained sex repulsed for most of my known life up until that point. And it was nice to find out there was a label that fit me better than the assumed one. It was like, after years of adolescent size changes, finding that one pair of jeans that fits like a miracle.
And after that realization, my point of view shifted. I understood, like a pound of concrete settling into place, that alternate sexuality was not a choice. The question of alternate sexuality vs Christianity was no longer just an intellectual topic. It was me. It was the friends who had just come out to me, as well as friends I intended to meet.
And I understood the world was not as black and white as I had presupposed. I felt it as close as my own skin.
As soon as the fall semester started, I reached out to the LGBTQ club created by students from the school; a club which, despite the invaluable support and solidarity it offered other gay and trans students at the university, hadn’t received official recognition by the university.
The leaders enthusiastically welcomed me into the fold.
Also that semester, I was taking a professional writing class, in which there was an overarching public relations project. My friends were starting up a pro-life club on campus, and they agreed to let me do some PR for them.
I sat through the meeting that night, feeling like a complete liar, and bombarded by a confused, panicky sort of shame (self-inflicted, of course). By affiliating myself with the LGBTQ club, was I somehow betraying my conservative Christian friends? And by affiliating myself with the pro-life club at the same time, was I betraying my LGBTQ friends?
I was more afraid of what the latter would think of me if they found out. These people who had endured so much hatred and fear from people like me, finding out that the dictionary illustration of a proper American Christian sat among them. Asexual but still hanging onto ideas she herself hadn’t arrived at on her own.
I didn’t want to hurt anyone.
But I’d stepped off the dock and there was no denying I’d gotten wet. I couldn’t go back. The mechanism was in motion, and I had no choice but to press forward (or shove my head in the sand but we all know that wasn’t an option).
My attendance of both groups dropped. I was too exhausted and confused to put myself through that anxiety every week, but I grappled long and hard with everything I’d thought I’d known.
I contacted one of the leaders of the LGBTQ club, a friendly political science major named Jen. I admitted my current position regarding the pre-meeting conversation the other day, and said I wanted to know more and hear what her perspective was on the issues of “pro-life vs pro-choice.” Something was off kilter and I really, truly wanted to understand.
We had a long coffee date, and as I walked back to my house on campus through the wet, leafy Oregon autumn, the framework I’d thought was impenetrable–obvious and logical and unquestionable–was breaking.
I talked to my friend who was helping lead the pro-life group, and she, too, was having doubts about how the “pro-life” movement, as it was, currently operated. We sat on a bench one afternoon in the center of campus, which was deserted for the weekend, and talked it over until we didn’t have anything else to say. Neither of us had reached any solutions, but we had at least admitted to ourselves that there were things that needed to change in the way we tackled the issues of maternal health.
I tried to apply more sensitive tactics into my PR material for the pro-life club, most of which weren’t actually used. Which was all right. It was just an assignment, and the club was still young, so it didn’t need much in the way of brochures. I have no idea how it’s doing currently, now that its founders have graduated. I hope maybe it has regrouped.
The LGBTQ club at my alma mater is still going strong, and I am very grateful to everyone who welcomed and supported me. I was asked to say a few words at the club’s graduation ceremony my very last semester, and that was extremely hard for me, since I did not feel the least bit worthy after how absent I had been. Even though I was trying to figure myself out and find some solid ground again.
Then I moved away to the San Francisco Bay Area for graduate school, effectively leaving the white-washed Christian suburban bubble of northwestern Oregon. This led to my current grappling with racism and how to help the violent racial tension in the United States, even though I grew up in a rather benign area. Being out of my home environment has considerably furthered my development into someone that may have shocked my high school self. She’d think I’d have backslid, gone completely off the deep end.
Maybe she’d despair that this version of me looks so different than she envisioned. Maybe she’d be intimidated, but I like to think she would understand, after a while.
I marvel at how much of a difference 6 years make. How a dutiful prayer has turned to genuine desire. When I was a kid, I didn’t fully understand what my pleas meant or why I made them. Only that I wanted to make the world a better place. I wanted to care. I wanted to think. I didn’t want to be left behind.
I’m pleased that this journey, for me, began on a conservative Christian university campus. The familiar space combined with all the people I had the honor to meet and speak with there was the perfect springboard into my adult life, into the deep end that grows ever deeper.
That evening in the fall semester of 2014, I began to understand what it is to be in the middle ground. What it is to think hard about things with a logical, open mind. To not be afraid of nuance and confusion and lack of answers, but to pursue empathy and compassion over being “right,” and to have the courage to show up when I am needed.
I firmly believe that if you search for truth, you will find it, and this is where my own search has led me.
And lately, I’ve been reflecting on how everything I’ve done in my life has fed very deliberately into where I am now, though I didn’t realize it while it was happening. Looking back, I can see the ties, trace the wires, and I stand amazed.
Be careful what you pray for, kids. God does not confine himself to the neat and predictable, and He may just bust your life wide open.