On the cusp of 25, I stand proudly in the mirror, paisley shirt buttoned to the top, denim jacket tied around my waist. My loose black pants end snuggly at my ankles, where they meet a new pair of Clarks. I smile at myself before adding an essential accessory to my outfit: a pair of mismatched earrings. I walk out of my apartment confidently, effortlessly, completely unshaken by the way queerness is adorned all over my body.
This was not always my story.
My journey towards accepting my queer identity is a winding tale. One that begins with the Pentecostal-Evangelical idea that homosexuality is sinful.
When I was 13, my mother sent me to a Christian summer camp. Appalled by the fact that I concealed a MySpace from her, she encouraged me to become involved in our family church.
The Sunday following the MySpace scandal, my mom instructed me to hand a check to our church’s youth pastor. He met me with a kind smile and told me he was looking forward to getting to know me and the other new kids at camp.
Unexpectedly, camp transformed my life. Perhaps some of the people reading this essay know what Pentecostal church camp is like. Pentecostal church camps are indescribably charismatic. The Pentecostal tradition prides itself upon a bodily relationship with God.
For Pentecostals, faith is not only about communing with God, but also about cultivating a tactile relationship with God. This often manifests in dancing, shouting, crying, kneeling, and shaking.
For a young middle schooler, this kind of worship proved intimidating, but I was also curious. I loved that within this tradition God is ascribed a tangible quality. As an adolescent plagued by feelings of not belonging, cultivating a relationship with God made me feel impermeable to loneliness. In fact even now, though I no longer engage with the Pentecostal faith, that is one truth I still believe, that God is always in the room, that we are never alone.
This same year marked my introduction to homophobic theology.
At 13, I watched a man a few years older than me confess to the sin of homosexual thinking. At that moment, I felt terrified for him. In the Assemblies of God tradition, not even the act, but the thought of homosexuality itself is enough to send people into depression and isolation. In this denomination, homosexuality is thought of as an insidious demonic spirit.
At 14, I watched multiple pastors pray the “spirit of perversion” out of one of my friends in my youth group. I went home and pushed the event out of my mind.
At 15, I regurgitated this rhetoric to an out queer person at my high school. In our conversation I perpetrated violence, and I acted out of fear and religious trauma.
Ironically, 15 marked the first time I found my eyes lingering a little longer than usual on a girl attending my high school’s homecoming dance. Recently, I found my journal entry about the event, apparently, my 15-year-old self felt so ashamed that she promptly scribbled it out. I smiled when I saw it; I’ve come a long way.
On my 19th birthday, I looked into the mirror and sobbed.
Two truths sat squarely in my throat, one a revelation and the other a lie gilded to resemble an ontological fact: I loved a woman and God no longer loved me.
Over the next year, I moved in-between self-acceptance and extreme depression and paranoia. Uttering the words, “I am queer” made my soul sway in agreement.
Yet, I also hated myself.
How could I not? After being conditioned from the age of 13 that homosexuality is a perverse sin? After watching pastors and elders from my church pray a spirit of homosexuality out of people I cared for deeply?
Over the next two years, with the help of my siblings and some wonderful classmates at the University of California Berkeley, I stepped into self-acceptance and self-love. At Harvard Divinity School, I moved past self-acceptance into a new framing of my queerness.
I now conceptualize queerness as a sacred identity, as a holy space.