I was raised in an “American Christian Household”, but I guess I should qualify that. My family was a bit controversial before I was even born; my mom was 9 years older than my dad, divorced with 4 kids already, and was NOT Catholic. My dad, who was only 23 at the time, had been raised in a very Catholic household even though is father was Methodist, was the only son to my grandparents, and divorce was a four letter word back then in the 60’s. Ironically, though my maternal Grandma was Italian, she had converted to Protestantism, which apparently is a big deal as well. My paternal Grandma was very against my parent’s marriage, though was a very big part of my life despite this rough start. For my own life, I was never taken to church by my parents, although religion touched many aspects of my life; my dad read Luke each Christmas, held to many of the tenets of his faith such as not using the Lord’s name in vain, and would reference God in stressful situations or as thanks for good happenings. My mom was less rigid in her beliefs, though both made sure we prayed before meals, were kind to others, etc. They never withheld church from us, allowing us to attend with friends, etc. And I always remember they both very clearly had an ethos that said, “we believe in Jesus, but your faith is your faith and we support you finding what that means for yourself”.
I have always considered myself protestant, though my paternal grandma made sure to take me to mass with her whenever she visited, or I visited her. I didn’t mind it, but I was never baptized in the Catholic church, and honestly the horrible stories that my dad did share about how cruel the nuns were to him during his years in Catholic school didn’t make me interested in seeking out more. I always remember “knowing” God through His Son, but at this point in my life it was more ambiguous and ethereal based on my limited learning. But, sometimes I look back and think perhaps that was one of the most pure times in my interactions with Him, because I just KNEW He was there for me and many of the burdens religion brought to my shoulders did not yet exist.
When I was about 7, my sister – who is 10 years older than I am – got involved with the Jesus Movement via Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa in California, where we lived. It was a fun and crazy time, with all these people that looked like leftover hippies playing rock music, being friendly with each other, and being “on fire” or “Jesus Freaks”. I can’t say that my parents resonated with it per se, but again they were pretty liberal in their approach to letting their kids find their own way in the faith realm. My sister was definitely on fire; she did several local missionary trips, was very involved in church activities, made Jesus seem even more personal to me, and was very instrumental in bringing me into the fold. I still have the bible she gave me in 1977 – The Way – the first time I had read the bible and it actually made sense!!!! These years were foundational for my own walk with the Lord, though it was still very dependent on my sister, who soon moved out and began her independent life and didn’t consistently like having her little sister tagging along.
Another path of my life was my sexuality. It would be erroneous to suggest I “knew” I was gay during this time, but I was definitely a bit different than my friends. My parents were also very advanced (I believe) in avoiding gender roles, and never were ones to say girls or boys had to act certain ways. I was encouraged to be myself just as my younger brother was (I can’t speak for my 4 older siblings really). I was always a tomboy, very athletic, hated fancy clothes and dresses, would prefer to be playing sports, running and getting dirty, or building things with my dad than anything that would fall under the traditional female gender umbrella. My brother, though athletic in his own way, preferred cooking, art, and such. We never felt “weird” by this in our household, but as I got older and started visiting my friend’s houses, spending the night, etc. it became clear that our family – and my own way of living – was not the same as my friends or their siblings. And even more puzzling, the girls WANTED to do “girl things” and the boys WANTED to avoid them in place for “macho” things. I was internally repulsed and extremely confused. Even still, I began to realize I was different, though was not aware of all the points until I grew older. However, it is important to note that at about 9 or 10 was when I started to put on masks to morph myself into appearing to be “like everyone else”. I toned down some of my tomboyishness, etc.
As I moved into my pre-teen years and puberty arrived, it became clearer to me that my differences were much stronger than being a tomboy. I distinctly remember having a crush on a female teacher and that caused me great concern. While my mom’s oldest brother was gay and had been with his husband my entire life, it was not a huge topic of conversation and I had no other point of reference otherwise. Additionally, my dad would make comments such as “Jodie Foster is a lesbo” whenever she’d come on TV and I picked up the fact that was not a compliment. I had already established a strong “I must be compliant” M.O. in my life, and it was clear that liking girls would not meet that requirement. So I kept it to myself and worked harder to act more like my friends. I would talk about the boys I had crushes on, etc. I really DID like boys, but more because we had more in common, played sports together, etc. I would be lying if I didn’t say that I actually was attracted to some too, though in retrospect they often had longer hair, were not macho, etc. But some were just pretty great guys that I enjoyed being around. I was also very fortunate to have a very outgoing personality, so getting their attention was not very hard despite my proclivity of being more of a tomboy (and being super skinny, flat chested, etc.).