Finding my voice as a queer Christian means being comfortable about being a queer Christian.
Being black feels vulnerable already. Being queer and Christian feels vulnerable and scary as well. Being a woman anywhere is scary. Being queer and black and a woman who wants to be a Christian… help me, Jesus. Being queer, black, Christian, woman and ME makes me want to pass out!
I know that many people in my community know that I am living in my identity as both Christian and queer and that I do not see this “bothness” as a contradiction. I’ve never really struggled so much with believing that it was good to be both, which is different from a lot of people’s stories. There was a time in which I didn’t believe being a queer Christian applied to me, because well… I didn’t know bi+ people even existed until I was 19 going on 20. It was then I met for the first time in my life an “out” bisexual person. That is a story for another time.
I find that I have to practice being known as someone who is queer and Christian in the same way a person has to practice feeling comfortable wearing make up or wearing a new clothing style. Knowing that God loves queer Christians is one thing… It made sense to me. But being confident as someone who is a queer, Christian black woman is another story! Because I am an (awkward) black queer Christian woman, I feel the need to assert myself a lot. I often tell myself that this asserting myself is unnecessary… that people get it. However, my inner voice tells me otherwise: You need to assert yourself more, Rachel, because asserting who you are more is how you grow more comfortable in your skin. If I assert myself over and over again, it is only because I am trying to get more and more comfortable with the fact that being queer and a passionate Christian is my reality. THIS is my reality. I can never go back. I often imagine what it would be like to go back. And by “back” I mean going back to a life where I could convince myself that I could fit into what the Christian church wanted for me to be.
“Going back” is impossible.
It might sound ridiculous that I would entertain such an idea as “going back”, but it is one of the many tapes that play inside my head. “Everything would be easier if people still believed you were only attracted to men”. Sometimes I think that I would feel better– that many of my inner anxieties would cease if I had never told anyone, but I don’t think that confidence happens by “going back”. I began telling people that I was queer slowly and gradually because despite the risks of telling people, it felt lonely keeping it to myself. So, instead, I’d tell folks in passing, non-nonchalantly at times, in hopes that if I did not draw attention to it, it would feel less awkward and vulnerable and instead feel “normal”. I did it gradually, because an all or nothing “I’m queer, y’all!” Facebook-style announcement or haircut reveal on a day like National Coming Out Day feels too vulnerable for me. Emotionally impossible. “Coming out” gradually and selectively is all I could muster. It often still remains all that I can muster because it is not a small feat to trust others with your queerness, especially in a world that already is hostile to you for existing as a black woman.
I find a lot of common ground between my personal relationship with my queerness and my relationship with clothes. When I practice makeup and outfits, I get compliments for some of my outfits, and I struggle not to shake them off. “It’s okay I guess” or “It’s not my best dressing day, but thanks!” I don’t fully feel comfortable in the clothes that I wear, because I haven’t fully reckoned with who I am supposed to be within a human body. My human body. In the same way, I get told by peers that I’m brave for sharing with them about who I am and why I still want to be a part of the Church. I get complimented for my identity based work. I don’t always receive these comments well because I’m still trying to come home to my voice and to accept my flavor. I hope to someday see myself the way that I want to see myself. I hope I can live up to the kind words that people say about me.
In the past three years, I tried to come home to my voice, my queer voice, but it was difficult. I did not always feel supported enough to come home to myself. When I went to The Reformation Project conference last month, it kept coming up, even during my presentation.
“This is my first time presenting ever.”
“REALLY?” many would say.
I felt like I could give myself permission to have my voice — MY voice, not someone else’s — at The Reformation Project Conference — this conference where I was surrounded by queer Christians, with so many of the keynotes and speakers being queer people of color like me. I don’t necessarily need permission to come home, but I wanted support. I needed support.
I think what made being able to present at The Reformation Project feel so special was because it was the first time I felt supported enough to show up as “me” and for it to be okay. More than okay. Therefore, I felt the courage to present what I have learned in my few years of life at the conference. Despite this courage, I still felt nervous, especially when I had started my presentation. Of course, the record tapes went wild: “why isn’t anyone responding? Is anyone connecting to what I am sharing? Am I even making any sense? Are my lived experiences even relevant to the Church? Do I have anything to bring to the Church?”
“I don’t sound like what I’m ‘supposed’ to sound like,” ran the inner tapes.
I don’t sound like a gay Christian who has been in the Church my whole life.
I don’t sound like a gay Christian who had a church home.
I don’t sound like a queer Christian who always knew they were queer.
“Maybe that’s why no one is saying anything. Maybe that’s why my audience is so silent,” sang the record. “I don’t sound like how I’m supposed to sound like.”
But as I finished my presentation, I was surprised to hear so many positive words and to see so smiling faces. My modest audience were thankful for my words. They told me they were glad that I presented, that what I shared was necessary. That there were other queer youth Christians who struggled in activist spaces like me. That there were even old, white men who connected to my words, even as we exist within the world in very different embodiments, separated by power and privilege. That felt so special to me.
To be able to sound like me and to know that my stories and revelations resonated as meaningful to others–this has an impact on me. This is why I share, why I speak, why I write.
I sound like me and it is important. I sound like someone who has her own story of being queer and Christian. It’s a story that is still unfolding. It’s as story that has its own flavor and it is a good flavor. It’s tasty.
I sound like someone who hasn’t found a steady place to call my church home both past and present.
I sound like someone who found my best friend and my first love outside of the Christian faith.
I sound like someone who struggled to find her place in non-religious activist spaces for 2-3 years.
I sound like these things and so much more.
These things are part of my story and they have and mean something to someone.
I want to strive to keep from comparing myself and my story to that of other Christians, whether they are queer or straight. I can’t or else it will drown my heart. I can’t, because I can’t anyway. The LGBTQ+ community is so diverse, despite the ways certain narratives get raised above others inside and outside of the Church.
I have my own voice, my own stories, my own flavor and I’m trying to remind myself that this is a flavor that I can like. It will take time. I might not be a pistachio queer Christian or a moose tracks gay Christian. Perhaps I am an elderberry sorbet queer Christian. If God already likes my flavor, I should be able to as well.