A Christian comes out
Marching in the Pride Parade has helped me understand who I am,
‘Jenna, I don’t see what’s the big deal of you walking in the Pride Parade,” my friend said. “No one will even know you’re gay.” “Isn’t a huge part of walking in the parade to show you’re proud of who you are?” I replied. “I’m not proud of who I am right now, but I hope one day I will be.”
That was two years ago, and the thought of being seen in the Pride Parade was overwhelming for me. I wasn’t comfortable in my own skin, and I was still ashamed of who I was. I wondered if I would ever be OK with being gay.
A huge part of that guilt came from my upbringing in a Christian church. I attended church every Sunday and went to Christian school and was involved in a number of faith-based organizations. Although Jesus never measured sin, there were some “sins” that were often seen as the worst in some Christian communities, such as being gay.
When I realized there was something different about me and I was attracted to people of the same sex, I tried to ignore and suppress my feelings. How could I be gay? This label didn’t seem to fit the “Jenna” package I had created and thought I had to be.
Even though I was successful in many areas of my life, from school to music to sports, I believed this piece would overshadow all the other parts. I hated myself, and I lived in shame and silence for a very long time.
Since I couldn’t accept my sexuality and saw myself only through that limited lens, I believed others would also reduce me to that label. I needed to love and accept who I was before I believed others loved me.
Coming out as gay was the most painful and difficult time of my life, yet the most beautiful, healing and creative. I had to let go of who I thought I should be, and slowly learn to embrace and love all the pieces of my story.
When I started coming out, I also began writing poetry and have been performing spoken word for the past several years. It was frightening and amazing to break the silences in my life, and to see the power of vulnerability and sharing my story.
I’ve also become passionate about helping other people through spoken word workshops and a poetry show I started and co-host, Words to Live By. People who have never written poetry or shared in public have stepped out in courageous and beautiful ways.
Telling my story through poetry also encouraged me to publicly come out on my blog and in speaking engagements. Many people have been surprised to find out I’m gay because I “look girlie,” wear dresses and I’m a Christian.
However, this has opened much dialogue in many communities. I’ve spent a number of years embedded in Christian and LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer) communities and have seen a huge disconnect in these spaces. Despite the outward differences, there are many similarities within these groups.
Both these spaces claim to be open, safe and accepting, and yet I’ve seen people judge and marginalize dissimilar viewpoints. There is a lack of dialogue happening among these groups and instant judgment without hearing the other side. I’ve seen and experienced these conversations first-hand.
I know that many people will never believe that being gay and Christian can be compatible. Some of those people are very close to me, and said God didn’t make me this way and the Bible is against homosexuality. Their comments caused me to instantly put up my walls, and I didn’t foster any dialogue.
In one of those experiences, the person told me they chose being what they saw as right instead of having a relationship with me. I also realized I was doing the same when I wanted them to feel guilty for the way they treated me.
If we want real understanding and change to occur, we need to talk about these issues and actually listen in a respectful way. We must have the dialogue and validate one another’s voices, even if it’s difficult, uncomfortable and painful. These conversations are crucial if we hope to move toward understanding and change.
Many people who are LGBTQ are still suffering in silence and do not believe they are worth loving, especially those in communities that tell them they are worthless. I was one of those people, and I want to help foster conversations so other “Jennas” do not have to suffer in silence.
It’s important we continue to tell our stories, especially those ones that are challenging and scary. Hopefully, we will recognize the power of our voices and be proud to share who we are with those around us.
It has taken a long time, but I can finally say I’m proud of who I am.
Spectators wave rainbow flags at Vancouver’s Pride parade on Aug. 4. Ottawa’s Capital Pride Parade is scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 25.