I’m sorry this post is rambling and fragmented, but I’m trying to connect the dots in my shift in religious mindset.
Life occasionally brings those Oprah-style “aha moments.” I remember watching an episode of Rules of Engagement with my wife about two years and one child into our marriage. I never found the show that entertaining or funny, but it was one of the few shows at the time that we both liked to watch. Right after the episode was over, my wife initiated sex, something that didn’t happen a ton at the time. After the sex, I recognized a pattern – she initiated sex after every episode we watched as far back as I could recall. The insecure person I was at the time, I just had to know if it was Patrick Warburton or Oliver Hudson who was getting her all hot and bothered – and of course I couldn’t converse with her directly about this. So, the next time we watched the show, I was tuned in to her reactions to the show. But, I noticed something different, she was more focused on the show when Bianca Kajlich’s character was on the screen. I found Kajlich’s character, while attractive, to be the least funny on the show, but I noticed that my wife found all of Kajlich’s character’s jokes to be hilarious. And then, as usual, we had sex after watching the show.
It got me thinking about my wife and our relationship from the beginning and I realized, “Oh my God, I’m in a gay marriage.” I thought back to her freshman year of college when she told me of a fellow freshman on her sports team who she didn’t want me to meet because she was jealous at how attractive was. She talked about this woman a lot, almost like an infatuated 13-year-old (side note: funnily, this friend of my wife’s ended up coming out as a lesbian two years later). The next year there was a new freshman, who resembled the other one in many ways – dark complexion, perfectly proportional and athletic body, etc, and once again my now-wife was giddy around her and when talking about her, and even said some stupid things to her (once again like an infatuated 13-year-old). Then I thought about the guys she had been attracted to – all of them (myself included) had a lot of characteristics traditionally associated with “feminine” – both in appearance and in personality. Then I thought about how there was something different in how she talked to and about attractive women compared to attractive men. Then I thought about how relatively easy putting off sex was for her before we were married. And it all kind of came together for me.
After a few weeks of thinking about it, I asked her something along the lines of, “Do you think you might be sexually attracted to women?” She immediately shot down the “accusation” and wasn’t happy that I’d say something like that. So, I dropped the subject completely for a while.
Now, my wife grew up differently than I. Her household was not as religious as mine – her (very socially conservative) dad attended a mainline Protestant church down the street, but her mom wasn’t religious at all, her family never prayed together, and she basically only attended church on Christmas Eve and Easter. But, her family never talked about sex or sexuality. Ever. As she explained later, this led her to be very repressed (way more so than I ever was) because if something wasn’t talked about it must not be something people should do. And, that definitely extended into the LGBTQ realm – it was something that wasn’t discussed, so clearly it wasn’t something that was up for discussion. She apparently wondered once when she was thirteen if she was a lesbian because she fit a lot of the stereotypes, but she immediately dismissed it and refused to consider the possibility for more than a decade. When she converted to Catholicism, the whole “no premarital sex” and “no gay sex” thing was easy to reconcile with how she was raised – in fact, she doubled-down on it when she converted.
Fast forward a bit here – we had been married for a little more than 3 1/2 years, had our second child, and I had already come to accept LGBTQ people for who they are. One night, we were talking about LGBTQ stuff and I casually quipped, “I still think you’re queer.” And, to my surprise she said, “You know, I think I might be a little bi.” I was shocked that she would say something even as mild as that. I told her that she should explore that and that I’d be supportive no matter what the outcome. 6 months later, she was sure she’s queer (I use the term “queer” here because sexual orientation is so broad and complex that I’d rather not label it). She started going to LGBTQ-related groups, meeting new people, and, most importantly, she began to accept herself for who she is.
I’ll go into how that affected my marriage (and how I think of marriage) in a later post, but her coming out also had a profound impact on my faith. It made me realize that the anti-LGBTQ messages in conservative Christianity have profound real-life impacts. I internalized that there was something wrong with me for years because of how my wife related to me. My wife internalized a lot of shame and self-denial that affected how she related to others and gave her a general attitude of refusing to explore who she is, even outside of sexuality. Both of our lives would’ve been much different had she felt like she could be true to herself.
Conservative Christianity’s message on sex and sexuality has profound effects on people’s lives. And their solution? Pray, be celibate, replace sexual love with love for Jesus, etc. Listen, you can’t pray away the shame any more than you can pray away the gay. It takes a complete mindset shift – it takes thinking outside of religious structures and thinking inside your own self. Religion can’t make me happy or bring fulfillment to my life – it can only do that if I decide that’s what makes me happy or fulfills me. And, if that’s not what fulfills my life, then I need to look within myself and explore to figure out out does.