Thursday, March 27, 2014

Full Circle at the GCN Conference

This January felt incredibly significant (and I think the next few January's will feel this way also). I can't believe this past year with Hannah flew by like it did and that we're here facing another year together. This reality became especially poignant to me when Hannah and I attended a day of the Gay Christian Network (GCN) conference which was hosted in Chicago this January. While telling the story of our relationship to a woman we met at the conference, I realized that Hannah and I had come full circle.

Each week of January 2013 was distinct. During the first one, Hannah and I became more intentional about expressing our attraction to one another. During the second, we began dating but soon both felt that something was awry. You see, I had a plan for how I was going to proceed with the exploration of my sexuality. I was frustrated with the guidance I'd received from my friends, family, and church community for the past four years and with my own  prayerful efforts to be "straight." They'd failed to end  my attraction to women or help me deal with my attractions in any useful way and more so damaged my sense of worthiness as a child of God and, therefore, my sense of self in general. So, I wanted to try something different: meet a woman, have fun with no reservations, and see how things worked out. Hannah obstructed this plan almost immediately. 

Hannah has a way of bypassing frivolity and getting to the core of a person when she senses the need to and from our first date she was too deep, too serious, and too intense for my plan to take effect. She was also overwhelmingly charismatic, funny, and pleasantly weird, but her serious intensity always simmered right below the surface, ready to pour out at any moment. I was simultaneously turned off and intrigued by her desire to discuss the troubles in my relationship with Jesus on our first date, and  by the way she picked up on a few of my [non-gay related] struggles, without me sharing a word about them, on our second date. I didn't want  her to see into my soul; I wanted her to make out with me. But I liked her too much to just dismiss her because of the discomfort her seriousness made me feel.

At the end of that second week in January, we had a conversation about our mutual uneasiness with the way our dating relationship was developing. I told her I couldn't handle the woman I wanted to date trying to be my counselor, and she told me she couldn't operate at surface level with me.  In the span of ten minutes we went from talking about taking everything more slowly to talking about not proceeding in a romantic way at all. And it  blew me. I'd been obsessed with this woman  for over a month--she was beautiful and perfectly dykey, goofy, intelligent, and incredibly strange and unique, while still maintaining an aura of "cool." And she was a Christian-- I eventually hoped to learn from her how to follow Jesus without shutting down my sexuality. She seemed to be actively pursuing God and I was curious about how she was managing that-- although I didn't want to talk too much about it in a way that would prevent us from having all the fun I wanted us to have first.  Our mindsets were different but I wasn't actually prepared to let Hannah go. And when it began to look like I would have to--when she suggested that maybe she wasn't meant to be in my life as a romantic interest--I was sad, disappointed, and confused--even panicked. I didn't want this door to close before it had even fully opened.

I wondered if God had dangled Hannah in front of me and then yanked her away to get my attention. Later that day, however, I began to think that I'd interpreted the conversation too hastily. God wanted my attention, yes, but was he taking Hannah away or was he telling me to not proceed with my careless mindset? I started to believe the latter--maybe the point of that hard conversation hadn't been to completely shut everything down, but, before things went any further, to adjust my thinking about Hannah and the kind of relationship we would have. I think God wanted me to clearly know that I couldn't leave him out of any efforts I was going to make to work out my sexuality. Han and I decided to try to figure it out together during the third week of that January, and we're still immersed in that process.

At her mother's suggestion Hannah and I went to the Gay Christian Network (GCN) Conference on January 11, 2014. The experience was surreal. I've been to many Christian conferences, so the general format and atmosphere were familiar. But to look around and know that I was worshiping God with people who openly shared a sexual identity with me--who, like me, at a  "regular" Christian conference would have been made to feel that something was so wrong and impure in them that they couldn't worship God wholeheartedly--was amazing. We weren't being told (explicitly or implicitly) that we had to change part of our identity to be acceptable, to even ascend to the same level as sinner as a straight person. We were being told that we belonged to Christ because we chose Christ and Christ chose us and that he called us to worship him and be in a relationship with him as we were.

It was also great to meet other women in same sex relationships, and hear their stories, particularly about how they reconciled their strong faith with the outworking of their sexuality. As Hannah and I told our story to a woman named Amber, it hit me that this was the day. On the same day last year, the second Saturday in January 2013, we'd had a pivotal conversation about our relationship, both hearing from God in different ways, and had spent most of the day (and the start of the fourth week) trying to figure out what we were supposed to do about our relationship and our feelings (me particularly wondering how I would survive going back to the old way of dealing with my sexuality). Now, a year later, here we stood together at a conference with people like us being affirmed in our equal worthiness to follow and worship God

Overall, the conference had some issues--mainly scant  POC, queer, and trans representation--and I did not feel completely at home, but the realization that I'd found part of the answer to a question I'd despaired about exactly a year ago, and the fact that I could now look back and see the faithfulness of God and how he'd continuously brought me closer to him through the year, was almost too great and meaningful for me to handle. I wasn't aware of  this growth happening throughout 2013 but the evidence is that in January 2014, my heart was turned to God, my desire was to keep seeking him,  and my goal was to keep walking with him, growing in my knowledge and experience of him. And feeling free to do so as a queer woman.

The majority of people I know, will disagree when I say that God had/ has a good purpose in my being with Hannah. Many think I'm being disobedient to scripture and simply doing what I want and casually believing what makes me happy.  But there isn't and hasn't ever been anything simple or casual about this undertaking and happy is only one of a wide range of emotions I've experienced since last January. I can't deny how God has worked in this relationship--in my heart through this relationship-- and honestly made a path for Han and I to continue to be together.

Hannah and I haven't done our relationship perfectly or always in a God-glorifying way and I'm not convinced of the rightness of it. But I'm also not convicted of its wrongness and I'm certain there's a reason for that, a reason I'm still learning. Overall God's grace and love has so far trumped our mistakes. I'm closer to God and more committed to seeking him than I have been in the last five years and my journey with Han over the past year has a lot to do with that fact. We both have a ways to go and a lot to learn before we're settled in our choices concerning each other, but so far I think we've borne some good fruit together.

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