Three weeks after I got married, I found myself in a desperate place. On my knees in prayer, begging God to make me love my husband. I figured I’d just made the biggest mistake of my life. Maybe there was still a chance to pull through.
Don’t get me wrong: There was nothing wrong with my husband. He was kind, attentive, a good listener, a considerate lover. Really, I had no idea why he loved me so much, and that was part of the problem. My disbelief, rooted somehow in deep feelings of rejection, caused me to test that love in obnoxious ways.
This is an intensely personal column, so if that’s not your thing, consider this fair warning. One subject that continually comes up every time I post Bible Girl are comments concerning same-sex attraction, along with epithets directed my way such as “lezbo.” That's probably because not long after I launched Bible Girl, I wrote a column about my struggle with same-sex attraction as a teenager and young adult, and for better or worse this column has been identified with that subject ever since.
I left many things unsaid in that early column. To be honest, I was kinda chicken. I had just enough fortitude to say what I did -- that Jesus Christ had “delivered” me from a struggle with same-sex attraction -- but no more. Since the subject and the accusations won’t go away, I’m gonna tell it: Just how this transformation occurred.
I can already hear a collective groan from several of my former colleagues at the Dallas Observer, and let me take a moment to reiterate that my views in no way reflect those of my former employer or Village Voice Media, which owns the Observer. So please continue to direct the insults my way and not theirs. I’ve come to enjoy getting whacked in the head with a shovel every week. Ah, the beauty of pain. Hit me again, you hatas, you. VVM believes in hosting alternative views, and mine is one of them. Check out Savage Love if you want the ol’ familiar fare.
Shortly before I got married at 27, a kindly Christian counselor administered the one and only premarital counseling session my fiancé and I received. During that meeting Arline Westmeier calmly prayed to break a curse of “sexual perversion” on my family. I don’t remember how it came up; I might have mentioned that a disproportionate number of my extended family members are gay or had been involved in sinful or compulsive sexual behaviors. I know I didn’t reveal that I’d struggled with same-sex attraction myself. I’d never told a soul, including my fiance; I was too ashamed. Mind you, I’d never acted on this attraction by getting involved in a romantic or sexual relationship with a woman, but still it was there, a frightening force that consumed my thoughts.
The nature of that attraction is a complex. I craved affection and affirmation from a woman, not sex. My sexual desires were directed almost entirely toward men.
I’ve wondered for years why I experienced this duality of desire, and I’ve never arrived at a satisfactory answer. It was just a fact of my life. The same-sex attraction started as early as 7, and to characterize it as a “choice” or “preference” in the life of a naïve little girl is simply ludicrous. It’s a lot of things, but at that age it ain’t a choice. Glad we got that out of the way, my fellow evangelicals, if you’re reading.
I believe that same-sex attraction is primarily a spiritual condition. Is there a possible genetic component or psychological predisposition? Maybe, maybe not. To me, this isn’t the central question. All of us inherited the condition of sin from Adam, and only faith in Jesus Christ can reverse the effects of this legacy and restore us to God’s original intentions for us as men and women.
It would be cruel if God established a standard for morality and didn’t give us the means to measure up to it. But when we enter into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, we tap into a force that transcends our physiology, our sexuality, our emotional makeup. That force -- the Holy Spirit -- has transformed my life.
When Arline prayed for me, the spiritual condition of same-sex attraction was broken as if a desiccated twig had been snapped. It wasn’t some big deal. A simple prayer, a simple result. From that point on, I didn’t feel crushed in the vise of sexual compulsions. Did I still have same-sex thoughts? Yeah, though not as often and not as intense. As long as I remained connected with believers who encouraged me in my faith, and as long as I kept my nose in the Word of God, I could dispose of those thoughts fairly easily. Plus, sex with my husband was much more enjoyable and interesting anyway.
Well, sex might have been easy, but everything else wasn’t. I had a difficult time expressing affection, for one. And those feelings of rejection, wherever they came from, threatened to sabotage every close relationship I formed. I would usually end them first: Call it a pre-emptive strike. I wanted to protect myself from the pain of being rejected again.
In my unguarded conversations with men and women who’ve experienced sexual identity issues, rejection always surfaces at some level. It could be the rejection of a parent, or the rejection of personhood implicit in sexual abuse. I can’t point to the precise origins in my life; a few things probably figure in there. I was born with an incurable skin disease that caused a lot of embarrassment for me as a child, when the condition tends to be at its worst. Compounding that was the fact that my father was a dermatologist; it’s as if God had slapped the irony button when I was born. Other wisps of cause and effect? My parents were divorced; I’d later suffer from depression; my family moved around a lot, and at one point I just stopped making friends. But who knows?
What I do know is that I found it very hard to accept my husband’s love. I couldn’t understand why he loved me so much. In darker moments I doubted he was for real; his kindness confounded me.
Looking back now, I recognize that he modeled the love of Jesus Christ: patient, tender, full of hope. Hey, I still don’t know why he did it, but I’m glad he did. No one has played a greater role than my husband in walking me toward sexual wholeness -- and most of the time he didn’t even know it. I didn’t reveal my struggle with same-sex attraction to him until we’d been married 10 years. I broke down in tears, crying for years of pain and pent-up shame. As always, he accepted me without question.
God quickly answered my prayer about loving my husband. I couldn’t tell you exactly how; it just happened within a matter of a couple months. We became the closest of friends as well as lovers. (Did I mention that the sex was really good? Oh, I did already?) I can talk to him about anything. I can’t delineate precisely the meaning of Paul’s words in Ephesians 5:26, and many scholars have wrestled with them too.
But whatever it means I can tell you that my husband does it: He washes me in the Word of God. When I’m frightened, he prays for me. When I’m discouraged, he reminds me what God has said and gently pulls me back to a stable place. Most of all, he continues to love me as I am. (My husband read this and complained that I make him look too good. And yeah, I do recall a few flying objects -- none directed my way -- as well as a smashed chair and a squished laser printer, which prompted me to say, “Next time, can you pick something cheaper?” Really, though, my lasting impression is of his love. And, y’know, I might have launched a flying object or two myself. Hmm. My mind has suddenly gone blank.)
For many years of our marriage this love was enough. But I realized somewhere along the way that my relationships with women had been stunted. Deep inside I feared that I would somehow fall back into the trap of same-sex attraction, so I avoided close friendships with women. One woman, my pastor’s wife, pushed past my standoffish vibe and befriended me anyway. She always told me the truth about myself, even when I resented it. A lot of church folk run away from that kind of accountability -- I’ve learned to run to it. Being intricately woven into a single church family for 18 years has kept me from ducking the big issues in my life. She helped me stay on track.
I also had “sisters” in my church who persisted in loving me. One always smiled and gave me bear hugs; there was another who’d just look at me and exude loving strength. Come what may, I knew she understood, I knew she had my back. And vice versa. The walls of rejection were slowly coming down.
I have another close Christian friend who’s like a sister to me, and she pulled me the final mile to wholeness. This time, though, I did something daring for me: I initiated the friendship. I risked being rejected. And as soon as I did that -- don’t know how else to explain it, goofy as it sounds -- the Holy Spirit scooped me up with a whoosh. All of a sudden I was the recipient of supernatural strength. When I made a decision to love her as a friend, I found myself able to love all the women God had put in my life.
It reminded me of something that happened when I traveled to Nigeria six years ago. On my way into the sprawl of Port Harcourt for the first time, I was stunned by the masses of humanity everywhere. Not only did this immense city never begin and never end, but every journey by foot or by car immersed me in numberless peoples--children darting into the street to sell newspapers, women with baskets who shifted mere inches to keep from getting thunked by passing cars, swarms of men and women slogging through the muddy marketplace. I was perplexed: How could God possibly possess enough love to love them all? Yet everywhere I went, and to every man, woman or child I’d set eyes on, I could hear the voice of the Holy Spirit saying, “I love her.” “I love him.” “I love him too.” “I love them all.”
There’s a counterintuitive spiritual principle that applies here: God cares for us first, pouring out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. When we, in turn, take the risk of pouring out unconditional love into someone else’s life, God pours love right back into us -- except it’s immeasurably more than we ever gave. A person wrapped up in rejection, however, thinks he only has a finite amount of love to give. And if he gives too much, he risks losing it forever.
Today I can say with honesty that I am free -- free to love as God called me to, free from the bondage of rejection or same-sex attraction. Haven’t been this way for long, but it sure feels good. I get it now, what Jesus said to the Jews, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
Yeah, look it up. Get the context, y’all.
I’ve tried to explain this the best I can in less than 2,000 words. I’ll be glad to answer any honest inquiries on the comments board -- in other words, questions to which you sincerely want answers. If you want more privacy than that, click on my byline and shoot me an e-mail. --Julie Lyons