I started reading more than just blogs, more than just people’s stories.
I found articles on homosexuality in Ancient Rome and Greece and Egypt, and for the first time I didn’t open them in incognito tabs to read them.
I found essays on the interpretations of those six verses (my six clear verses, the six clobber passages). I found discussions on the meanings and origins of the terms translated as ‘homosexuality’: etymologies and word studies of ‘arsenokotai’ and ‘malakois’, alternate positions and vying views.
I was searching, poking, looking for any kind of holes or flaws, any weaknesses in the arguments I had always made, searching for one stray peg I could pull free to bring the whole thing crashing down. Looking for anything that would let me out, in a way where I could truly be free.
And for the first time I really let myself think about what I believed. For the first time I didn’t shy back from the parts that didn’t quite make sense.
When Paul says “'homosexual offenders' will not inherit the Kingdom of God", he uses a word that he coined, 'arsenokotai'. The word only appears twice in the Bible (once in the middle of a list of other nouns, which means that it really only appears once in a meaningful context.), and never in any other document until the church fathers start quoting Paul a century later (and even they seem to prefer other, more common terms).
And I read people's dissections of this word, people from both sides, and I doubted.
I admitted it was strange that Paul made up a word to describe the act he was forbidding, that it was a little bit of a jump to assume we knew what it meant when he was the first person to use it and never used it again. I admitted that the way he waffled between equally condemning and completely forgetting about lesbians seemed inconsistent.
I admitted that Paul had never seen the thing that I wanted.
He had never seen the warm way our bodies fit together, felt the support of his hand on my back or the safety of his arm across my shoulders, the gentleness of his fingers drifting over my forehead as I laughed because it tickled.
But another voice would roar back.
He invented a word because there was no word, because all they had were words for paedophilia and slavery and rape, and he needed to go further, he needed to say more, he needed to cover all of it, anything where two men (or two women, maybe, if he remembered) touched.
And Paul hadn’t seen your heart skip, hadn’t felt the buzz in your chest when you thought of him, hadn’t watched you talk until the night became the morning,
—But God had.
And God said it was wrong.
I read the explanations, I heard a sermon series on it, in the middle of all of this, in a squat, dark walled little German church on Capitol Hill that I wandered into, thinking (wrongly)—with my heart in my throat and a suspicious, nervous chattering in my stomach—that this would be my first time in an affirming church.
I read about marriage being for procreation, I heard about marriage being the image of a relational God, and requiring different gendered partners to be the image of a triune God: different genders for the different persons of God. A coupling as man and woman, husband and wife, was the way to fully represent God. Two people of the same gender? Not diverse enough, not to capture the full complexities of a multi-person god (never mind that that was only two people, two genders, representing a god who was three persons, and one substance).
It took so much effort just to get this far, just to get the courage to ask “why”, instead of just saying “because” in a quiet voice. It took even more effort to find someone who would answer that question of "why" with more than just a bible verse, who would actually try and explain God’s reasoning, the philosophy behind the commandment, instead of just saying the commandment again with a bible reference. Who would try and explain what it was about the inherent order of the universe that left this outside.
But the answers didn’t make sense.
Maybe it was because I was raised protestant, but the need for marriage, and sex in general, to be about procreation never really stuck for me. What if your wife was barren? What if you were barren? Does your marriage become less real and true after menopause? Was it immoral for a woman to marry after menopause (or anyone else who learned they were infertile), knowing she would never bear children again?
“They may not be fertile now, but they are open to miracles” was the explanation I’d always heard.
Jesus was born of a virgin. If we’re leaving room for miracles, me or my husband getting pregnant doesn’t feel like that much of a stretch to me.
There were too many exceptions, and too many of the explanations for those exceptions felt like they recognized the validity of those non-procreating marriages inherently, and then figured out a way to make them fit with the rules.
And if the point of marriage was to be the image of a relational God, where did that leave me now?
I wasn’t married. What did that make me?
“I need to stress that singleness is equally valid” the (married) pastor said.
But those words didn’t match the rest of what he said. If the rest of what you say is true, that God is inherently relational, and the only way to represent that is with a relationship, than I’m not equal. I’m not quite valid.
"It takes two genders to really capture the full complexity of God." If I can't even do that with another man, how am I supposed to do it myself? If I can't even be a complete enough symbol of the trinity with another man, how am I supposed to carry that by myself? If marriage is supposed to be that, then I'm not quite valid. I can't be. I’m just a little piece of what I’m supposed to be, a fragment of an image, a cheek broken off from the rest of the face, wandering fragmentary and alone and unfulfilled. And you can’t wave that away by just saying I’m fine.
And maybe that would be alright, if I was just a piece waiting for the rest of me, if there was someone out there who would fit together with me and make a whole person.
But you just said there wasn’t. You said that I could only match together, only fit perfectly, with a woman.
I can’t love a woman.
I had spent such a long time trying. I had met so many incredible, wonderful women who I loved to talk to, who I loved to listen to, who I wanted to spend time with, and enjoyed being around. And I had imagined talking to them when they weren’t around, I had imagined meet-cutes and ways to ask them out and ways to propose and cute dates—and I'd had a good time doing it. That was a crush, wasn't it?
It didn’t matter that I never looked at their bodies, it didn’t matter that I’d never actually followed through on any of my hundreds of resolutions to “look at straight porn next time”, it didn’t matter that, if I was honest with myself, I had never actually fantasized about a woman sexually. Every time I'd tried I'd thought about a man, at least for a little while, at least for the parts that really captured my attention.
I didn’t know anymore. I didn't know what I was or what I'd felt. But those little words, by Ashely, “I think you might just be gay”, had cracked something open inside of me, and doubt came pouring out. And it was a doubt that was slowly becoming a new certainty.
Because all of those crushes— even talking to those women in real life— nothing had matched the feelings that I still had for David. They didn't even match the nerves I got imagining talking to him, the thought of him. The nervousness I’d felt talking to those women was nothing like the nerves I felt talking to him, and even the thought of him looking at me that way— the fantasy of his eyes meeting mine— dwarfed any feeling I’d ever had from talking to a woman in real life.
“Maybe you’re just gay.”
Maybe I was.
And if I was?
I would be single forever.
I would be alone forever.
And, these people, they said I would never be whole.
If I met someone I really wanted to be with, someone who would really make me feel true attraction, someone who could truly mesh with me—if I met a man—I would be an abomination. Just like it says in the good book.
And if I was alone?
Then I was just the wandering masculine piece of what was supposed to be a masculine-feminine coin, a lonely, mangled reflection of a relational being. A half-image of God.
If I believed that this need for a feminine balance was why God wouldn’t let me be gay, then no matter what I did I would always be a half-person. I would always be less than what I should be. I would always be less than what God made me to be. And He would never fix it.
But singleness was still supposed to be something equal to married life. Paul said that, it was supposed to be equal, it was supposed to be better, even, and more holy.
And if that were true (and I wasn’t going to disagree with Paul) then all these reasons I heard, all these mystic, speculative reasons—they didn’t make any sense. I held them up against singleness and they broke. This couldn't be why God wouldn't let me be gay.
In the book Perelandra, by CS Lewis, there is a world covered in water. The world is Eden, perfect before it’s fall, and it is covered in floating islands of tangled vegetal mats that roll and float on the waves. And the people on the planet, on Perelandra, follow a series of commandments. That’s how they show their love for God. They follow his commandments.
But all of the commandments are sensible rules. If they broke them (ate the wrong fruit, maybe, or didn’t cook it properly, or handled an animal roughly) they would get sick, or hurt someone. And they know that. So they follow the commandments, because they know that’s the best way to live the best life.
There is one only one point of real land on Perelandra, a single island, called the Fixed Lands, and the only commandment that isn’t common sense is not to sleep, not to spend the night, on the Fixed Lands. The commandment is arbitrary, there’s no reason for it. The commandment is there to give the people of Perelandra a way to show their love for God (and to therefore truly love Him) by following the one commandment they wouldn’t otherwise just follow anyway.
And so maybe this was my Fixed Land.
This was the only commandment that didn’t make sense. Don’t commit adultery, don’t murder, don’t steal, even don’t swear and don’t have sex before marriage—they all made sense. There were all sensible reasons for following them. Maybe this was arbitrary, maybe this was so that I could really prove I loved God.
But this wasn’t just a here-or-there thing.
This was hurting me.
This was hurting me a lot.
And I couldn’t help but think: why don’t straight people have to do this? Why don’t they have a Fixed Land?
We have the same list of commandments, the same law to follow. All the things they have to do, all they things they have to give up, I have to too. Why don’t they have to deal with this one? Why did I get one extra? Just because I was born?
None of the “whys” made sense.
So what was I left with?
I was left with my mother, quoting Job: some things you just don’t get to know.
Why did Job suffer? Why am I suffering now? Some things only God knows.
Sometimes you just don’t get to know.
If I was going to do this, if I was going to change my mind, if I was going to change my life, if I was going to step out into the risk and the fear of this new life, this new thing, this new way of being— I was going to need solid ground: something so irrefutable, something airtight, something built with such strong logic that it would never break or unravel again. Something undeniable and clear, logic and reason and knowledge as hard baked as clay.
Instead everything was murky, and I couldn’t tell if there was ground in front of me at all.
And I could feel it starting to erode beneath my feet now.
And then I began to dream.