I never realized how much my mind loved me. The way it sought to protect me when I would have been unsafe, instead safeguarding wellbeing by burying something so deep all I could discern was the uneasiness of something not quite feeling right. I felt like a phony constantly, showing only parts of me and never the full self for reasons I couldn’t quite explain. My mind didn’t ever allow me to be sexual, loving me enough to deliver crippling anxiety in basically every romantic situation and so instead I focused on being a really good friend.
At the core of it all I couldn’t grasp who I was or what I wanted to be, and it became much easier to play the chameleon. People loved me, or at least they loved how I made them feel. On the other side of the world I sat feeling like a Bachelor contestant, asking empty questions about the other person in the hopes that they would like me, yet deflecting so they wouldn’t see I had no clue about myself.
I guess it is empty to wonder what would have happened if my mind hadn’t loved me the way that it did. It would have probably involved a lot more parking lot sobbing. Closed bedroom sobbing. Maybe even some public sobbing instead of running to a bathroom. Because if my mind hadn’t loved me, it would have revealed that in addition to a distaste for LGBTQ people, my family didn’t love me. And according to them God would have followed suit.
So I lived a complex but happy life. Never even considering things until I was lying in bed with a girl after we had just had sex, my mind finally willing to give my first break from the mask and let alcohol take the lead. As she lay beside me I traced her back with my fingers, feeling the worst mixture of euphoria and dread. My mind had loved me enough to protect me, and now that protection dissolved beneath a desire I was entranced by but couldn’t understand. When she got up and left my bed, I realized my mind could never love me in the same way again.
With her gone I now had homophobia to sleep with, and I trace its influence instead of the curves that used to lay next to me. There’s the time my cousins yelled “Ew!” at a couple of queer woman kissing on an episode of Grey’s Anatomy. The time we argued over marriage equality in a restaurant and it was me against eight other family members. The time a member in a woman’s bible study told me she loved the sinner but hated the sin and was considering leaving the church. The time my aunt texted me out of the blue one day, saying she was earnestly praying I would change my heart. I get why my mind loved me the way it did.
My process of becoming and undoing wasn’t the only thing I had to go through when removing the mask. I had to fight new structures; a society that erased me by assuming I was a lesbian, friends who were now creeped out even if they didn’t say it to my face, a world that wanted me to confine myself to a label and stick with it forever. As I fought these battles I found myself wishing that my church would fight them alongside me and whisper in my ear that I was valid and loved despite what attackers may say. Instead my church gave me a new fear; the fear of being asked to leave seminary because I violated a chastity vow I had been forced to make. Because of that night, I was technically unfit for ministry and what I had done was not holy.
Meanwhile I rested in the assurance that our night was one of the holiest things I had ever been a part of. With fear and trembling I broke free from a world that encouraged me to be a certain way, and sex was the key that unshackled me. Had I not had sex with a woman, I would only be left with theories, my mind betraying me in ways my body just couldn’t. Finally my poor mind could be free from the web it had woven for my safety and I could celebrate by living into an authenticity I hadn’t previously known.
Liberating as this journey has been, my mind still isn’t free from the tiring process of protecting me because I am not done lying. Instead of lying to myself, I now lie to a church that claims to support queer people but is intolerant of the process by which I specifically became so. I now have a different mask to replace the one I once wore, that of the respectable queer who achieved her queerdom through respectable means, loving nothing more than the erasure of self in the name of that respectability. I am left to beg at the foot of a church that tells me this isn’t a big deal and rushes to veil my authenticity. I am overcome with this yearning to yet again be free, but find that I lack the keys to unshackle myself. So instead I sit and await my own freedom.