For the first time since I moved out, I was coming home to a place where I didn’t have to label my food in the refrigerator. We were a little family, the four of us. I’d come home to the smell of curry, and we’d all sit in the living room and watch YouTube and drink gin & grapefruit soda while we ate. I’d brought my piano, and I was writing music again. It was a golden summer, where I was just as likely to smoke weed in the park with my friends as lounge on sheepskins drinking $200 bottles of wine with millionaires.
I let myself fall. Fall from grace — moving in with my girlfriend and these other two amazing humans, all raised in Christian homeschooling families, all asking questions. Having sex, lots of it. Sleeping in on Sunday mornings and waking up to morning breath kisses until I forgot I should be in church. And fall in love — with my partner, with my own changing heart, with my life spilling out of the bounds I’d built brick by brick since I’d first prayed the sinner’s prayer.
It was the summer of my first Pride. I sprinted across Etsy grabbing handfuls of rainbow stickers and tattoos and body glitter. The night before the parade I stood on a roof above the city with friends and strangers belting out coming out songs I’d only ever heard in my bedroom with headphones. In that moment, I could have sworn I heard something like God saying: Well done, my good and faithful servant.
But at the actual Pride parade, the hot humid sun blazing down the back of my neck as we pushed our way through the crowd, we ended up stuck beside the Christian protesters. “God hates fags!” a man bellowed into a megaphone, his friends pumping signs up and down. “Repent and be saved!” You could see hellfire behind his eyes.
Behind all the progress I was making, no matter how much happiness I found in my new life, there was always an old man with a megaphone saying: “You’re not one of us anymore. Repent! Or you’ll burn in hell.”
The Christians I know and love would never picket such hateful messages, but even in the most gracious Christian spaces, there is still a strong biblical message of us vs. them. Ever since I’d accepted Christ at three years old, I’d been told unbelievers couldn’t experience real love or joy or peace because those things only came from the Holy Spirit. At best, their goodness was the leftover sputtering sparks of the image of God created into each of us. They wasted their lives slaving to feed their ever growing selfish desires. They lived half lives, just shadows soon passing away.
That perspective never felt restrictive to me before, after all, everyone was invited to the cross. But suddenly I was “the other.” That was quickly made clear to me. I may not have ever fully separated myself from Christianity, or at least not nearly as soon, if that summer didn’t end the way it did.
I was newly engaged when my then-partner came out as a trans woman. It was a celebration, I felt so incredibly lucky to get to watch this beautiful woman come into her own. But the inevitable happened. One by one, my bridesmaids told me they couldn’t come to my wedding. We both knew there was no anger between us. They believed I was killing myself. They wouldn’t hold the knife.
This was it. This was my choice. Either I repent of my happiness, or I embrace it.
I found to my surprise that I had no hesitation. I chose my new life.
That relationship ended, and we all made new nests in separate places, and now once again I have to write my name on my milk. But my life is only opening into more freedom and even joy — that quality of peace unshaken by either happiness or unhappiness.
No matter where I go or who I become, that summer will always be part of me. It’s my lighthouse warning me away from the unmoving shoreline and toward the endless ocean.
Image: Stephen Downes