I still have difficulty remembering exactly how it happened. We were standing by the food table, talking above the noisy crowds, smiling. And then, in an instant, I could taste her; soft and sweet – her hands around my waist were gentle but firm. I traced mine down her cheek, her collarbone. A familiar ache crept across my thighs. I stepped back and looked at her; she was still smiling.
All at once, fear overcame me. I had kissed a girl. I made my excuses, pushed past the drunken crowds and locked myself in the bathroom. Sitting on the toilet, I felt light-headed and struggled for breath before giving in to tears. My tears were uncontrollable, and I clawed at my skin trying to make sense of what had happened.
Kissing a girl was the most natural thing I had ever done, but here I was at a party, hiding in the bathroom, sobbing. I messaged her a few days later, apologized for disappearing:
“It was all a bit new to me,” I explained.
“I completely understand,” she replied. “I’ve been there myself!”
Once again, I found myself crying. She understood. I was not alone.
My queer friends always told me that they hate being asked when they first realised they were queer. Most people, they explained, would struggle to pinpoint the first time they felt any kind of romantic or sexual attraction, regardless of whether they identify as straight or queer.
Looking back, my attraction to women started years before this experience, however, I used my attraction to men to somehow invalidate it. Liking men meant that I could join in on the gossip about crushes, giggle through Songs of Solomon, and make my purity pledge, knowing that God had a husband waiting for me. Liking men meant that I was preoccupied with issues of navigating the male gaze, how to be a “Biblical” woman, and not causing my brother to sin.
My attraction to women was merely appreciation, I reasoned. I wanted to look like them, to be like them. When I felt turned on by women, I was merely sexually frustrated or horny. There was no room in my understanding for bisexuality. There was no room in my life for queerness. I had grown up in a conservative, evangelical environment, where the “gay agenda” was one of the largest threats to the integrity of the church and family life. Men liking men was an abomination and women liking women was what happened when “men stopped being men.” God help those of whose sexual identities dared to complicate things further. “Biblical” womanhood and manhood was not just revered but actively pursued. After all, it was our job as Christians, not only to preach the gospel, but to demonstrate holiness.
I, too, had spewed much of the same dogma. I had repeated the catchy phrases and cherry-picked the Bible verses that were used to invalidate, dismiss and dehumanise those whose identities were seen as “worldly” and of the “flesh.” In the latter part of my teens, my knowledge-base grew, widening my perspective. I outgrew many of the books of my childhood and discovered larger libraries and the internet. For the first time, I could immerse myself in the worlds of people who despite being different to me, were articulating ideas that resonated with me. I read about other ways of being a Christian, ways which showed me Christ from angles I had never seen before. A more compassionate, yet ever-radical Christ.
However, my attempts to convey what I saw as the faults in the dogma I grew up with, were deemed misguided at best, heretical at worst. I remember one evening, while sitting in the dining room with family and friends, someone got out their phone to share a video showing queer people being verbally abuse. As my family joined in the laughter, my heart started to race and my eyes blurred with tears. “This is not funny,” I tried to explain, but I was told to calm down and my rebuttals were dismissed. I cried that night, wondering why things had to be like this; why they couldn’t understand and why I couldn’t just let it go.
As I entered by twenties, my own queerness was becoming harder to ignore or rationalise away. I crushed on and dated men, yet continued to meet women who I crushed on and wanted to date. I started to read about sexuality more widely, I dissected numerous articles and saved countless opinion pieces. I listened to podcasts, spoke to friends and reached out to strangers online. Once, I signed up for a Sozo, an inner-healing ministry with waiting list that was months long. Within twenty minutes, tears were streaming down my face as I confessed the isolation and confusion I felt from being a closeted, queer Christian and was met with nothing but love and acceptance, no suggestion that this was another bind to be broken. It was at times like this that I found some clarity and peace, yet at other times, I despaired; I did not need another marginalised identity to add to my blackness and womanhood. My queerness was a threat to the refuge I had found in my family, church and black communities.
And then I did something unusual. One day, as I was meditating and praying, I uttered the words:
“Jesus, I like women.”
“I know,” he responded.
There was no reprimand, nor the conviction to ‘change my ways.’ There was no surprise, nor disgust. None of the reactions I feared coming against from family and friends. There was instead, only peace.
He knows, and he always knew.
Before I knew I was queer, Jesus knew.
Jesus knew and still loved me. Jesus knew and still called me. Jesus knew and still answered my prayers, and showed me grace and gave me hope.
My theology is still patchy, and my heart is still fragile, but the one thing that gives me some hope in this attempt to make sense of all this, is this that Jesus knows.
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