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Coming out as queer in a conservative Christian family

Coming out as queer in a conservative Christian family

Abby Bliss talks coming out to her Christian parents

My younger sister was the first family member I came out to. Her incredibly anticlimactic response to this was, ‘Huh. That’s cool. Got a girlfriend?’

I told her first because I knew that, one, she could keep a secret, and two, she wouldn’t care.

She’s only 18 months younger than me. Growing up, we got along, for the most part. But as we got older, we turned into opposites.

I’m touchy-feely and observant to others’ feelings, and because of her Asperger’s, well, she’s not. By the time I went to college, we didn’t hate each other, but we weren’t as tight as we once were.

Sometimes we would bond over how obnoxious our ultra-conservative, religious father was and how one of our little brothers was a big dumbass.

It took both of us being in college to bring us a little closer. Even though we lived more than 200 miles away, we suddenly had a lot more in common.

Coming out via letter

I was a theatre major and her love for live shows was growing. So last year, on the Saturday before Easter, we went to see Wicked.

We were killing time, walking around downtown Minneapolis before the show. (One thing we have always had in common is our need to be hella early to everything.)

She’d ordered the tickets seven months in advance and I couldn’t have been more excited. I’d waited to see this show since I had heard about it as a freshman in high school.

When the day finally arrived, I should have been ecstatic, but I was carrying a letter that felt heavier than lead.

I’d been dating my girlfriend for almost a year, and I knew I wanted to marry her.

That meant coming out to my parents.

Months before my trip to Minneapolis, I starting making notes on my phone. It was mostly word vomit about how I was still a Christian, how I identified as this odd-sounding thing called pansexual and how I knew this would hurt them.

About a week before visiting my sister, I found the courage to sit down and hand-write this letter. While I felt relieved, it was also the most terrifying thing I had ever done.

‘Nothing would be the same’

For some reason, I thought sending it from Minneapolis would be better than sending it from Orange City, Iowa. I would have more time until the news reached my parents in Colorado. I needed more time. As soon as they read what I wrote, nothing would be the same.

I grew up in a conservative Christian family. I dated boys in high school and generally tried to be a good girl, and well, good Christian girls like me weren’t queer. The summer after my sophomore year of college, I fell and fell hard for a fellow female counselor at Bible camp.

Looking back, I can see times when I had felt that way before. When I was younger, my mom labeled those feelings for me. She called it, ‘Putting people on a pedestal.’ So the idea of being queer just never entered my mind.

I didn’t think it was even a possibility for me.

My letter ended up being two or three pages, front and back, of me trying to explain myself as best I could. I sealed my fate, stamped the envelope and took it to Minneapolis in the passenger seat next to me.

Before Wicked, I told my sister that I needed to find a mailbox.

We wandered the streets and finally found a row of them behind a CVS. I took several heavy steps in that direction, each step feeling heavier than the last. My sister said, ‘It’s now or never. You just gotta do it.’

So I did.

I heard the envelope hit the bottom of the blue bin. No turning back.

Abby Bliss talks about coming out to her Christian parents
Abby Bliss talks about coming out to her Christian parents (Photo: Supplied)

Awaiting a response

After we saw Wicked, I dropped my sister off at her dorm in Bloomington and made the three-and-a-half-hour drive back to Orange City. I had been back in class for about a week and had almost forgotten about finally coming out.

Until my mom sent the heart-stopping text: ‘I got your letter.’

What followed was both parents sending messages about how they still loved me and how I’d always be welcome in their home, but also, they said that they felt like they had lost me.

Mom thought maybe this was just because I had a lot of past pain that hadn’t been dealt with and that’s how I ended up in a same-sex relationship.

She kept repeating, ‘This isn’t what God wants for your life,’ and mentioned more than once that this was because of undealt with grief over the loss of my beloved grandfather.

Dad sent Bible verses taken out of context and told me, if I didn’t change, I’d go to hell.

Telling my Christian parents of my engagement

The semester was almost over. I had already planned on spending the summer with my girlfriend in St. Louis. We had internships there. I’d have plenty of time before I had to face my parents. They knew now and despite their condemnation, I felt free.

On September 23rd of last year, I asked my girlfriend to marry me. And she said yes.

I had been avoiding contact with my parents as much as possible over the summer and early fall. But you’re supposed to share good news with your parents, right? Especially about an engagement.

So I texted them the next day. Part of me hoped they’d somehow change their mind because they’d see I’m not changing mine, but that wasn’t the case. They said, ‘Well OK… but we still think this is wrong, and you’re not OK.’

I didn’t go home for Thanksgiving.

A few months later, I graduated and moved back to Colorado, into my family’s new house. If I hadn’t felt enough of being a stranger to them, living in a house I didn’t grow up in certainly did the trick. Despite our strained relationship, my mom said it was an option, and well, I was broke.

But living with my family for four months nearly killed me. I couldn’t be myself.

Moving back home after coming out

Before I came out, my mom would always compliment my feminine looks. But now, when I put on a button-down shirt and tie, she said nothing. Any time I’d wear my engagement ring around the house, I’d catch her withering stare. Eventually, I just stopped wearing it.

Not to mention, they left books out about dealing with a gay kid as Christian parents.

After four months, I packed up and came back to Orange City. I had a temporary place to live and a job interview. That was enough for me.

My fiancée was going to work in Omaha for the summer, and I was positive we were going to make it. We would save our money, plan our wedding and get married right after she graduated in May of 2019.

But when I moved closer to my fiancée, she became more distant. I was driving to Omaha every other weekend to see her. She never seemed very happy to see me. Within three months, she broke up with me. Over a text message. We had been dating for two years.

Starting over

All of my new beginnings came with some painful endings.

Coming out of the closet ended what my parents thought of me and started a difficult new reality for all of us. Moving back to Orange City after I graduated was a new beginning. It was my first time on my own. But that new beginning ushered in the end of my engagement.

So here I am, starting over again.

I’m still grieving. It’s a small town and my ex spends a lot of time at two of my favorite places in Orange City and that’s awkward.

I’ve had to slowly rediscover who I am.

It has taken me a long time to accept my sexuality and gender identity, but in accepting myself, it’s started a new journey that I finally feel confident on.

‘I know how it feels to be an outcast’

I am slowly becoming who I was always supposed to be. And it has caused hurt. My God does it hurt sometimes. But it’s worth it. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

I am me: I still strive to be a light for those around me. A safe place. A listening ear. A beacon of hope. Because I want people to know they are loved and they matter. Because I know how it feels to be an outcast.

With me, friends, you are safe. You are loved. Even on our darkest nights, I will find a light, and we will journey through the dark, together.

This column first appeared on Medium. Originally told live at Beacon Story Lab in Sioux City, Iowa and published at Founded by award-winning journalist Ally Karsyn, Beacon Story Lab creates more courageous, compassionate and connected communities through the healing art of storytelling.

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