I Never Became Straight. Perhaps That Was Never God’s Goal.

Why I embraced the Bible's sexual ethic before I understood it.
I Never Became Straight. Perhaps That Was Never God’s Goal.
Image: Ken Richardson

This is not a story of being gay and becoming straight.

But maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s rewind to the beginning. My parents met at a gay nightclub in San Francisco. My mother just wanted a safe place to dance. My father was the security guard. He abandoned my mother and me after abusing both of us physically. I didn’t even know he existed until I was 10, by which time my mother had remarried.

Growing up, I had no bedtime I can remember. I was allowed to watch horror movies at a young age. When it came to sex, nothing was hidden. There were jokes and stories and, when I was 10, I helped my mother clip images from an adult magazine for a bachelorette party.

At 14, I met my first boyfriend. We laughed at each other’s jokes, watched similar shows, and got along easily. But before long he and I broke up, as teenagers do.

A year later, I met my first girlfriend in an AP European history class. She was a senior, beautiful and popular. Since I excelled in the class, she asked me to come over and help her study. When we met at her house, something was different. Conversation flowed easily, rapidly, unexpectedly. I was struck by her beauty. The attraction felt like what other girls described feeling for a boy.

Over the next week, I began wondering, “Is it okay to feel this way about a girl?” I was vaguely familiar with the notion that church folk condemned such things, but as I tried puzzling out why, I came up empty. Little could I imagine ever understanding the Bible’s teaching on sexuality, let alone submitting to it.

The First Kiss

I set myself a goal: Before this girl went to college, she would kiss me. I lied about my sexual history, placed myself strategically in her path, and introduced topics to get romantic thoughts flowing.

Meanwhile, we were developing a deep and true friendship. She was the first peer with whom I could discuss ideas, literature, and other serious subjects. Soon enough, it ceased just being a game: I had fallen in love.

The following summer, she asked me what I wanted for my 16th birthday. My heart was pounding. I said I wanted her to kiss me. The moment it happened, and the many moments after, felt like a veil being lifted. The world I’d always seen in black and white suddenly burst forth in dazzling color.

Leaving my tiny high school for Yale University was exhilarating: I entered a selective humanities program for freshmen, met fascinating people from around the world, and enjoyed unlimited access to alcohol. It seemed too good to be true.

Then I heard the news: My girlfriend was cheating on me with an undereducated, semi-homeless guy out in Tahoe. When Christmas vacation came, I paid her a visit, but everything felt icy, still, frozen shut. On Christmas morning, as I read Don Quixote on her futon (while she had sex with her boyfriend in the other room), I wondered what my life had become.

Googling Jesus

Back at Yale, in my first philosophy class, we discussed Descartes’s famous statement, cogito ergo sum, “I think, therefore I am,” and how it influenced his understanding of reality and the nature of God. After some initial dismissiveness, I began compulsively wondering whether God could exist. Back in my room, I started Googling religious search terms like a middle-schooler searching for pornography. When my roommate entered, I would slam down the laptop lid and pretend I was doing French homework.

I couldn’t tell you what my search terms were. But in that wave of webpages, I started to encounter Jesus for the first time. It’s hard to describe the preconceived notions I would have been carrying; perhaps phrases like “ancient conservative” or “unthinking traditionalist” give something of the flavor. Yet the articles and Scriptures I found gave a decidedly different impression. Again and again, I saw how Jesus noticed, dignified, and served people I would have thrown aside. But I was troubled by a suspicion that my life was against his.

At the time, I knew two girls who were seriously dating each other. One was training to be a Lutheran minister. I wanted to know how they could reconcile their lives with Jesus and his teachings. They assured me that any appearance of conflict rested on historic misinterpretations of Scripture. They thrust a packet into my hands, and I ran back to my room to discover what the Bible really says about sexuality.

The packet had a neat internal consistency. It pleased me greatly. But as I looked up the verses it claimed to be expounding, I grew frustrated. These revisionist interpretations just didn’t line up with the plain meaning of the Bible’s words. Feeling duped, I threw the packet on the floor in disgust. Clearly, I had been foolish to hope that this old-fashioned religion had any room for me.

A few days later, I was in the room of a lapsed Catholic friend when I noticed an orange book spine bearing the name Mere Christianity. I knew nothing about C. S. Lewis or this book, but the title intrigued me—I quietly slipped it into my bag.

I read and read. One day, as I read between classes in the library, I set it down, mid-chapter, as it dawned on me: There was a God—my heart and my head could no longer deny it. Yet along with these glorious certainties came a panicked admission of my own wickedness. I had lied and cheated; I was cruel—I had even stolen that book from a sweet, unsuspecting friend! How would I face a pure and holy God?

But when I considered what Jesus had done—how he endured separation from God so that I could be joined—I knew I would be a fool to reject his offer. As my heart swelled with thankfulness, I clenched my eyes and prayed, surrendering myself to Jesus.

A Question of Trust

The following Saturday, Yale Students for Christ hosted a Valentine’s Day party. I still felt embarrassed about accepting Jesus, so I arrived late and pretended I had come by accident. When a sophomore girl asked why she hadn’t seen me before, I mumbled that I had just become a Christian two days earlier. She was a little stunned. She walked me over to some other freshmen, who invited me to freshman prayer Monday morning.

I showed up. They gave me a paperback Bible, answered my obnoxious questions, and invited me to Bible study the next night. I went, paperback in hand. Two juniors led us through a passage in Ephesians. This was amazing: real people, really examining the Bible and applying it to their lives.

Over the course of that semester, I followed these students around like a duckling, observing everything they did and said. But choosing Jesus didn’t answer all my questions. In particular, how would I deal with my natural, unshakable attraction to women? I knew the Bible was clear: What I wanted was off-limits. But I didn’t understand why. How could love, intimacy, and companionship be forbidden by this loving, intimate, companion-seeking God?

Thus I had to learn my first lesson of the Christian life: how to obey before I understood. My whole life had taught me to master a concept before I could assent to it. How could I possibly agree to something so costly without grasping the reason?

In the end, it came down to trust. I knew Jesus was worthy of trust, because he had made a greater sacrifice. He had left the bliss, the comfort, the joy of loving and being perfectly loved, to live a sorrowful life on earth. He took the pain and shame of a criminal’s death and suffered the Father’s rejection, all so I could be welcomed. Who could be more deserving of trust?

The obedience of faith only works when it’s rooted in a person, not a rule. Imposed on its own, a rule invites us to sit in judgment, weighing its reasonableness. But a rule flowing from relationship smoothes the way for faithful obedience. When a child doesn’t understand her mother’s command, the mother’s character plays a strong role in what happens next. A cruel, capricious mother is likely to meet resistance. But an affectionate, nurturing mother inspires trust, because you know she’s on your side, profoundly.

In one of Scripture’s most dramatic tests of trust, God told Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. If Abraham had considered this command in isolation, surely he would not have obeyed. Abraham, however, was a friend of God. When tested, he did not hesitate, because he knew God’s character.

God had shown up for Abraham, and I knew he would show up for me—but how? Would he remove my attraction to women? Those first years of Christian faith included relationships with women that were spiritual, freeing, and intimate, yet non-erotic. But in other cases, personal and sexual chemistry lured me back into old patterns. Why wouldn’t God just fix me?

Slowly, I came to understand that “making me straight” wasn’t the answer. There is no biblical command to be heterosexual. Through study, conversations, and prayer, I eventually arrived at a crucial truth: that sex wasn’t something God discovered, then fenced about with arbitrary restrictions, but something he made—to teach and to bless us. When his teachings went against my instincts, denying my desires became a profound way of saying, “I trust you.”

This trust got stretched near to the breaking. My high-school girlfriend wanted a fresh start, but I couldn’t oblige. Then I fell for a senior girl at Yale, but love for Jesus called me away.

Joy and Healing

God saved his biggest stretch for a moment of despair, after I stupidly went back and had sex with my high-school girlfriend. As I labored to convince myself that even then I was forgiven, he brought a man into my life. We had met the summer before on a Christian mission. We were friendly, but I was not attracted to him. He knew all about my past.

He asked to come visit me at Yale during my junior year. I had a sinking feeling he was romantically interested. And sure enough, he arrived with flowers. I reminded him that I’d slept with more women than he ever would. But he wouldn’t budge: If Jesus had forgiven me, he had no business holding anything against me.

I wrestled. I wasn’t sexually attracted to him, but I did admire his goodness, his warmth, and our shared priorities. Was it wrong to keep seeing him when it didn’t feel like previous love affairs? Was our relationship a pious sham? Yet I saw that he loved me, that he would be a good husband and father, that he would call me toward Jesus. I even felt we could experience genuine physical love, albeit more learned than natural.

Step by step, Jesus opened my eyes to a kind of human love I hadn’t seen, one steeped in commitment and spiritual joy, rather than passion for passion’s sake. Once again, I obeyed before I understood; I married that young man before I really fell in love with him, because I loved Jesus first.

This is typically the juncture where people jump to conclusions. I’ve had gay and lesbian people question whether I was ever really attracted to women. I’ve had straight Christians proudly declare that God healed my homosexuality. They’ve tried to use me as a mascot for something I don’t actually embody.

The truth is, even 10 years into my marriage, when I experience attraction to someone other than my spouse, that person is female. Still, my marriage has been a place of joy and healing. When people ask me my orientation, my most honest answer is “married”—with the same blessings and burdens of other married believers, and with the same source of hope and power, the Holy Spirit.

I would never insist that marriage is the normal or “correct” road for every (or even most) same-sex-attracted Christians. Heterosexuality is not the end goal; faithfulness to God, and the joy that comes from relationship with him, is what we run for. For many believers, faithfulness to God will entail a commitment to lifelong celibacy. But unless we cast a vision for full-bodied, joyful family life amid the church, celibacy will look like a dead end. We can’t say no to something good unless we’re saying yes to something even better.

The community God calls us to be—one of intimacy, affection, truth, and grace—is his tool for keeping us, shaping us, and preparing us for being in his presence forever. Whether we’re called to marriage or singleness, every story of transformation in Christ is meant to happen in this community.

That’s why this is not the story of my becoming straight, which has never truly happened and is beside the point. It is the story of my becoming whole, which is happening every day.

Rachel Gilson is director of theological development at Cru Northeast. She blogs at rachelgilson.com.

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