Around the time I turned 19 I remember being in the car with my mom, en route to see my grandparents. It was 2012, around the time Obama won his reelection. Washington State had just legalized marijuana, as well as same sex marriage. For the latter I’d been a huge advocate. I couldn’t think of a better cause to lobby for with my first ever vote than equal rights for my queer friends. It was super moving when my friend who is pansexual ran up to the dorm room I was celebrating the results in crying tears of joy because she would be able to one day “marry whoever she loved.”
Cut back to that car ride. Macklemore and Mary Lambert’s “Same Love” is playing through the car speakers via the Bluetooth connected to my phone. It was an anthem of that election, and apparently I’d played it enough around my mother for her to say:
“So, you’ve been really into advocating for same sex marriage lately …”
That was all she had to say, and I knew where her train of thought was headed.
“Mom,” I said, annoyed. “If anyone was going to know first that I was gay, it would be you. No.”
And as suddenly as she raised the topic she dropped it.
She wasn’t the first or last person to assume or ask if I was gay. In college more than one friend of mine was shocked to learn I was straight. For reasons they never really articulated, they just assumed I was a lesbian or at least bisexual.
I never quite understood what led people to make those assumptions, and I still don’t, but I’ve also just never really understood why orientation is such a big deal.
I’m not ignorant. I know that many people have suffered because of an intolerant world or from an upbringing that made them feel “wrong” for not being heterosexual.
But why the fuck does it even matter?
Around the beginning of March I started going to a new church. I’ve been Methodist now most of my life, and my alignment with that faith community has only grown stronger in the years since I learned that many of the United Methodists groups I worshiped with were what we call “reconciling.”
Reconciling congregations are those who openly welcome LGBTQIA+ people. We accept them, love them, think they should be able to serve God in ministry as they please. We treat them the way I can only imagine Christ himself would: as wonderfully made children of God.
Within the first few weeks I attended, the congregants of my current church met to discuss the future of their reconciling ministries team (RMT). When no one offered to co-lead with the soon-to-be outgoing chairperson, I threw my hat in the ring. I told the pastor later that even being drawn to come to that UMC felt like God telling me “Okay. You’ve had your break. Get off the bench. There’s work to be done.”
That work has been more internal than I expected.
It’s been interesting as people from the congregation have come to know me how often this scenario plays out:
RMT member: “I think it’s so great you took on this ministry. You know, I would’ve volunteered to do more, but I just wasn’t sure as an ally (straight person) I should be leading the group.”
Me (internally): “Wait … do they think I’m gay?”
Me (externally): “Well I have experience doing outreach for a reconciling congregation, and I wanted to help.”
Me: “Well, I’m straight, but I don’t see that as a reason not to help.”
In the last few months those occurrences have really started to wear on me and I didn’t fully understand why.
I do believe that allies have a place to advocate for their LGBTQIA+ friends and family. But what I didn’t believe anymore was that I was straight.
When my current boyfriend (who we’ll call Merlin) and I started dating about five months ago I had already been questioning my sexuality. There was never a question of if I still liked men, but there was the question of if I only liked men.
The answer to that question had already become clearer one night as Merlin and I discussed the end of his last relationship in which his now ex-wife came out as being gay. I started to articulate the line I’ve used numerous times:
“I identify as stubbornly heterosexual, as if if I could not date men, I would not date men.”
My brain went into overdrive as I realized I didn’t feel like those words were true.
So, I dug deeper and said:
“Listen, I don’t think if I had a really strong connection with someone that gender or gender identity would keep me from being in a relationship with them.”
He got what that meant even if it took me a few more months to come to full recognition.
And, the only fact that really needed to be clarified that day was that regardless of my sexual orientation, our relationship would not end like his last one did. If our relationship ended it would not be because I had found someone else: male, female or non-binary.
Hell, with the way Merlin has responded to my somewhat awkwardly timed self discovery, I’m currently not thinking about our relationship ending anyway, but because I tend to be loyal (sometimes to a fault), I feel confident in saying my sexual orientation doesn’t change our relationship.
However, I definitely can’t say “If I had the option to not date men I wouldn’t date men” anymore. I have the option, but I also have a pretty wonderful boyfriend.
I know for some the fact that I’m still in a “heterosexual” relationship might make them wonder “So why come out at all?” and the reason is strictly this:
I need to be 100% true to myself, and by telling people I was straight I wasn’t doing that.