by Carissa Hanson
Be born into a Christian family. Accept Jesus into your heart at four years old. As soon as you can control it, never wear dresses or skirts. Think girls rule and boys drool.
Be six years old. Overhear the two boys sitting behind you call one of your classmates “gay.” They’ll spit the word like poison. Wonder why.
Sit on it for a couple days. Try to find the word in dictionaries and old books on high shelves. The dusty pages will reaffirm what you thought you knew.
Ask your parents after church what “gay” means. They’ll ask you what you think it means. It means “happy,” doesn’t it? They’ll say, that’s right. But that isn’t what the two boys in class meant. There’s nothing wrong with being happy. They’ll tell you again that no, you’re right. There are no other meanings. Believe them because of misplaced pride in your six-year-old intellect and fervent trust that your parents love you and would not seriously lie to you.
The twist: your parents love you and would not seriously lie to you.
Make a habit of accepting Jesus into your heart, just to be sure it stuck.
* * *
Be ten years old. Talk with the other girls in your class. They’ll talk about boys they like-like. Are you already supposed to like-like boys? Boys are weird. Even the ones you regular-like are weird. They’ll ask who you like. Need an answer, fast. Pick a sweet boy from another class, a quiet one whom you don’t speak to much. Wonder what distinguishes like-liking someone from regular-liking someone.
Be twelve years old. Be convinced that “gay” has another meaning besides “happy.” Ask your best friend what it means. She’ll ask why. Tell her because you don’t know. She’ll tell you what it means. She’ll ask if you are gay. Say no. You don’t think so, anyways. She’ll say OK. Go get frozen yogurt.
Meet a girl at church: a ninth grader. Be fascinated by the girl. Think the girl is cute. Everything will feel exciting and dangerous when you are with the girl, even if you are just talking about movies in the church sanctuary. Call the girl your friend. Tear the heads off your old Barbie dolls with her and slingshot them across the basement floor. Hope she doesn’t realize you are not nearly cool enough for her. Feel a strange emptiness when the girl disappears.
Go to the library. Find a book of skits that read like afterschool specials. Read the one about the gay man coming out to his family. Be baffled by the idea that others would think he would be interested in every single man on the planet. Think about the allegation that he is not normal. Think that God is creative and God is love.
The first time a boy asks you out, say no. He’ll ask why. Say: “I don’t like you.” (Because you don’t, you are thirteen, and you are tactless.)
Hang out with some old friends. They’ll mention a girl they know. She’s a “lesbo.” The new term will catch you off guard. Not that it takes rocket science to figure out what it means. Say: “She’s what?” They’ll say it again, this time with the question if you’re a “lesbo.” Say no. The answer is confident for them, but you can’t feel it in yourself.
* * *
Be fourteen. Go to the mall with your mom and younger sister. It will be nearly deserted. See two women holding hands. Your mom will click her tongue against her cheek. She will say, “Do you see them? They’re lesbians.” She will say it like the two boys in first grade said “gay.” Be confused.
Go to the Family Christian Bookstore. See a pamphlet on “Homosexuality and the Bible.” Remember the skit you read. Think the pamphlet will say more or less the same thing. It won’t.
Pray like you’re accepting Jesus again.
Rethink everything. Read and reread the Bible verses late at night under your covers. Accept what this means (what everyone around you says this means). Bury that meaning deep in your head, and hope it reaches your heart. Believe it when the pastor says there are lots of couples with people who used to be gay. When he says that most same-gender couples still follow heteronormative gender roles, and that meant something.
Be young and be trusting. Believe the adults in your life are intelligent, capable people who do not want to mislead you. Here is the funny thing: They are intelligent, capable people who do not want to mislead you.
When your youth group is told to start praying for their future spouses, pray for wisdom instead.
* * *
Start high school. Listen to the debates around you about politics, about relationships, about food, about your classmates. Make friends. Keep your head down. Really, keep your head down so no one catches you staring. Don’t give anyone any reason to accuse you of being something you shouldn’t be.
The second time a boy asks you out, pretend you don’t hear him, and walk away in quiet horror. Don’t think too deeply about this. Still have no tact.
After homecoming, spend the night at your best friend’s house. She will ask if you like anyone. Delay because you don’t know. She will pressure you, so pick a boy you never talk to but everyone likes. This will satisfy her—but not for long. Pick another boy. One you do not talk to much, but think you like the best. Lather, rinse, repeat ad nauseam.
Write stories for the Internet, and read them too. Learn keywords and how to find very specific plots. The backdrop of “stop, stop, stop, stop” will disappear within just a paragraph or two. Your heart won’t stop pounding, but the weight will disappear from your stomach. Find yourself coming back to the same stories like a lifeline.
The pastor will warn against living two lives: one fit for church, one not. Be nervous. Think about the stories. Think about praying for salvation again, but decide against it. Close your eyes and say, “Dear God.” You won’t know what else to say. Be still and wait.
* * *
Dream a lot about girls. Dream about girls you know telling you that they’re gay. Dream about girls you don’t know holding your hand. Kissing you. Whispering things that leave a pleasant sort of queasiness inside you. Be angry at yourself when you can’t stop thinking about them. (The dreams. The girls. The feelings.)
Try to convince yourself it doesn’t mean anything because you like [boy x]. If you keep telling yourself that, then it will eventually be true, right? It’s like the placebo effect.
At age sixteen, a boy will ask over AIM if you like anyone. Fight and argue to change the topic. Win. Talk about movies and school and everything but her.
(You don’t like her. She’s your friend and you have a close bond. And she has the prettiest eyes you’ve ever seen.)
Love a girl as only a seventeen-year-old can (selfishly) and hate yourself. Hate her a little too. Be angry when she gets too close to you or calls you beautiful. Wish you weren’t a girl. Think that if one of you were a boy, you would have gotten together. That doesn’t make you gay though. It makes you someone who, in another world, would be a romantic-comedy lead. Think about how when you were born, the doctor thought you were a boy because of your shoulders. Feel self-conscious about them.
Pick boys who are like her in small ways. Attempt to like them. Really give it the old college try. But don’t actually, like, do anything that would indicate you were interested in a relationship or dating or anything that came near it.
Pick one more boy to like after high school, someone who’s interesting and fun. When your friends ask about him, say: “He’s good. We’re friends.” They want you to ask him out, but they know you never will. And you won’t.
* * *
With time, start saying: “I don’t want to date” and “I’m too busy to date.” and “I don’t want a boyfriend.” Blame factors like your less-than-ideal living situation, school, work, everything under the sun. Say you’re happy without a boyfriend—which is true enough.
Go to bible study. Someone will say that she knows a same-gender Christian couple who have sound theology, but they “still live in sin.” She’ll think it’s bizarre. Something in you will click. Be cool. Don’t tip anyone off yet that you have a million questions and you need answers as of last decade.
Consider the argument that a person can’t be queer and believe in God. Consider that your faith is contingent on your orientation. Consider that people are not meant to be complex and diverse and fearfully and wonderfully made.
Think people are flawed. Think truth can be found somewhere in dissent.
Google “bible and homosexuality” in an incognito window. Find what you expect to find. The verses you’ve read, the commentary you’ve heard over and over again. Also find essays hosted on what looks like Geocities with points no one has let you hear before (especially yourself). Find similar essays and speeches all over the Internet. Go back and forth on it for ages. Read essay after essay and instead of just reading the verses, read the chapters and books. Read the histories. Try to understand.
(For the record. You’re interested because you know a number of GSM folks. Keep telling yourself that you’re definitely heterosexual, and you just want the facts, well, straight.)
Read about every sexual orientation and gender under the sun because you want to get this right. Call yourself asexual because hey! You did like boys, but you didn’t want to like, do anything with them. Ever. And actually, you had a hard time seeing yourself in a relationship with a guy or marrying a guy. That’s asexuality, right? (Right…)
Meet a girl who’s passionate. She thinks you’re cool and funny and talented. Make her laugh because that is what you do, and you like when she laughs at your awful jokes (you really, really like it). Laugh at her awful jokes too. Only they’re not awful; they’re hilarious. She’ll change the way you see humor. Think if she wanted, you would probably kiss her.
(Maybe you’re bi?)
Think about it some more. The penny will drop.
Whisper the truth in the dark in the dark. I’m gay. Think maybe it’s the most honest thing you’ve said about yourself. Think that maybe you just came out to Jesus? Wonder if that’s possible?
Wonder where you go from here. Wonder how many people you’ll lose. Wonder if they’ll see you differently, if they’ll treat you differently. Wonder how you’re supposed to tell everyone. Wonder if anyone will believe that you still believe.
BIO: Carissa Hanson is a gal from Kalamazoo, Michigan. She graduated from Western Michigan University from 2011 with a bachelor’s in creative writing. She is currently writing a book about two sisters trying to find each other across different dimensions, blogging, and doing other freelance work.