“You are a disappointment. You are a horrible person. You are self-absorbed and mean. No wonder no one wants to be around you. You don’t even want to be around you. You are a sinner, who deserves to burn in hell.“
As a teenager and young adult, those thoughts played on repeat over and over again in my head. Every single day I found a new excuse to justify why I was unlovable and why I was so messed up.
Growing up, I believed in a God that both seemed to love me beyond measure and also despise me. On the one hand, God loved me just as I was. God would never abandon me, even if other people did. God loved me so much that “he” (and growing up, God was always a “he”) became human and died for my sins. On the other hand, my sinfulness and selfishness killed Jesus. Like, all of humanity, I was inherently broken. I deserved to spend an eternity in hell. Jesus died to satisfy the wrath and anger of God I so justly deserved. And every time I sinned, it was like I was personally crucifying Jesus.
This theology fed into my sense of shame. Even before attending church on a regular basis I already felt a deep sense of shame; as if I were unworthy of love.
I grew up in a household where neglect and emotional abuse were common. Where I was told on a daily basis, in one form or other that I was deeply unworthy of being loved.
I was a burden. I knew that even before going to church. Church simply affirmed what I already knew: I was broken and I deserved God’s anger.
This shame was made even worse by the fact that I was bisexual/pansexual (though growing up, I only knew about the term bisexual). Sex and sexual attraction, was, already a shameful subject. Sex was considered holy and good only within the confines of a monogamous, heterosexual marriage. Premarital sex was a sin. Christians, both men and women, were to be holy and pure and trust that God would bring them the specific opposite sex partner they were to marry.
In this theological framework, any form of same sex attraction was a sin. If a person “struggled with same sex attraction,” as I did, we had to make a choice: act out on our attraction or remain a faithful Christian. I had to choose between accepting my bisexuality/pansexuality or God.
If I chose to freely accept my sexual orientation, then I was leaving and rejecting God. If I made the decision to follow God, then I would need to make a decision to repress the part of myself that found women attractive. I could never be in a sexual or romantic relationship with a woman.
The problem was that both my faith and my queerness were central components of my identity. I tried, at various points of my life to choose...and I was miserable. If I chose to repress my sexuality, my self-loathing intensified. I wondered, “what is wrong with me? Why can't I be normal? Why can’t I just be attracted to men?” Plus, I always worried that God would see through my attempts at repressing my sexual orientation and reject me anyway.
If I made the decision to celebrate my queerness and walk away from God, I felt as if a part of myself was missing. And my self-loathing never went away. I would think to myself, “yeah, of course you chose the world over God. You are nothing but a broken, sinner.”
But the beautiful thing is that even in the midst of my self-loathing and hatred, God’s love broke through.
As a child and a teenager, I thought there was only one way to interpret and understand God: as a firm but loving judge that demanded complete and unthinking obedience. I assumed that what I had been taught by my church was not just true but the TRUTH. If my church said that one could not embrace queerness and faith, then I assumed that was just the way things were.
But after I left the church (the shame and turmoil of hiding my queerness as well as my struggles with mental illness, made leaving a necessity) I was exposed to other ways of understanding God. I met Christians who showed me that God’s love knows no bounds. They taught me that my queerness was a beautiful gift from God, not something that needed to be repressed in shame or fear. I was taught that God delighted in my queerness. The deep-seated shame that told me that I was irrevocably “bad” and deserved to spend an eternity in hell, were toxic messages that I had assumed were from God, but were really from other human beings who had their own struggles with self-loathing, judgement and
Of course, the realization that God’s love is much more inclusive and expansive than I had been taught as a child did not occur overnight. It has taken years for me to embrace that I am fully loved. But the knowledge that I do not need to hate myself nor do I need to choose between my queerness and my faith, has helped free me from the cycle of self-hatred and shame that I was trapped in for a good chunk of my life.
Naiomi Gonzalez is a self-described Brown, Puerto Rican, Bisexual/Pansexual woman who affirms a radical God that calls out homophobia, transphobia, sexism, imperialism and exploitation of all types. She is contributor to The Salt Collective, a Progressive Christian blog. She also has her own blog: Faithfully Radical Christian that can be found at: https://faithfullyradicalchristian.wordpress.com/
She has a BA in Religious Studies from Moravian College, an MDiv from Brite Divinity School, an MA in Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies from George Mason University, and an MA in History from Texas Christian University. Follower her on Instagram @faithfullyradicalchristian