How I Came to Terms With Being Queer After a Religious Upbringing

·4 min read
Rear view of young woman with rainbow flag
Rear view of young woman with rainbow flag

In the LGBTQ+ community, coming out is often a critical part of both understanding and accepting one's sexuality. For some lucky folks, it can be a simple and even beautiful process. Those cases tend to result from having an open-minded, unconditionally accepting group of loved ones. For others, not so much. Whether they were raised in a strictly conservative household or a religious environment, many members of the LGBTQ+ community struggle both with coming out and feeling accepted for who they are. While my personal experience with coming out as queer was more unconventional, I resonate heavily with the latter circumstance.

Growing up, my family was always heavily involved in the church. I can't remember a time when I missed a church service, youth group, or Bible study. When it came to forming my own opinions, my beliefs were aligned with my parents' views. When I turned 18 and voted in my first election, my dad filled out a sample ballot for me to take to the polls and copy down exactly. To the outside world, I was the perfect image of an obedient Christian daughter. Internally, though, I was experiencing a lot of turmoil about who I truly was.

Being raised in a religious and conservative household doesn't allow for the kind of exploration and self-reflection that LGBTQ+ youth need.

Deep down, I think I always questioned my sexuality. Although I repressed it, I was curious about what a romantic, and even sexual, connection with another woman would look like for me. I found myself in a serious inner battle between my faith and my sexual identity. I even had a hard time thinking of it as a "sexual" identity because any physical contact with the opposite sex outside of family was strictly forbidden. Every time I entertained the thought of being remotely attracted to another woman, I immediately shamed myself and felt horrible guilt for being a filthy sinner. As far as I knew, I would go straight to hell if I ever tried to date or be intimate with a woman.

Being raised in a religious and conservative household doesn't allow for the kind of exploration and self-reflection that LGBTQ+ youth need. While I was allowed to be creative and unique in my involvement in music, theater, and fashion, I was never allowed to stray from my identity as a "child of god." My faith had to come before it all, and it caused me to lose out on great opportunities and relationships with others.

Related: 11 Things I Learned When I Came Out as Queer After a Heterosexual Breakup

In my theater classes and rehearsals, I was close with a lot of other students who weren't religious. I vividly remember walking out of musical theater class with a gay friend who was excited about a cute guy who messaged him on Facebook. I immediately went silent in judgment, and he quietly said, "I can feel your Jesus senses tingling."

Looking back on moments like that now, I feel awful. I could have supported a wonderful person in his excitement, but instead, I projected my guilt and shame onto him. If I had the chance to speak to him as a queer woman now, I would tell him I am so sorry for who I was then and that he is perfect and valid and worthy just the way he is.

Having that unconditional love in my life, the kind that I wasn't raised with, was what truly helped me discover and learn to love who I am.

In October 2019, at 26 years old, I came out as queer after posting a picture of myself at my local Pride event. I simply made an Instagram post of myself with the caption, "The future is queer, and so am I!" No confetti, but also no vitriol from family. I was surrounded by my chosen family of loving friends who accept me for all that I am, no matter what. Having that unconditional love in my life, the kind that I wasn't raised with, was what truly helped me discover and learn to love who I am.

Reconciling my upbringing with my queerness took a considerable amount of time. It isn't easy for everyone, especially when they're raised in the kind of suppressive environment that I was. I'm lucky that my involvement in the arts has exposed me to diversity and a lot of different lifestyles - particularly during my college years. My eyes were opened to the beauty of the fact that people can be so different, and I became an incredibly accepting and open-minded person.

I'm no longer religious. I believe that every person deserves a life of dignity, equity, and well-being, no matter what my family's beliefs may be. Sometimes I wish I could go back and hug teenage Lexi. I wish I could tell her that it's more than OK to be who she is and that one day she'll learn to love herself enough to be strong, free, and proud.