As a child growing up in the deep south, I grew up with a clear distinction of Heaven and Hell. Good people went to Heaven and bad people went to hell. As a child, these labels seemed very straightforward, and I never thought to ask what makes a person good or bad.
Growing up in a sleepy, conservative town in South Carolina, there seemed to be a set way that things were done. You grew up, went to school, graduated, went to college, and then got a job. If you were a girl, you found a nice boy along the way to marry and have babies with. If you were a boy, vice versa. As crazy as it seems, I never gave a second thought to this because it was just the way things were done. After all, I was a level headed, smart girl who came from a happy family—why on earth wouldn’t I follow the protocol? This is what good people did—this is what got them to heaven, right? I never realized that I soon would ever be considered one of the “bad” people.
It’s not that people in my town hated gay people, but there were simply not enough openly gay people to have an active gay community. It was something people whispered about under their breath, “Did you hear so and so is gay?” I never realized it would be my name they whispered.
I was raised under the idea that God loves all of his children and wants the best for them. After all, if you create something, you’d like it to do well right? When I started to become more interested in the gay community, I quickly realized that people seemed to categorize homosexuals outside of “God’s children.” This really puzzled me because I was under the impression that God created everything, and therefore he created gay people too. When I asked this question, I was met with an answer I continue to hear (and disagree with) to this day:
They choose to be gay.
This never quite made sense to me—how can you choose your sexuality? I pondered this for many years, and when I finally realized I was gay, I may have been unsure of so many things, but I knew for fact that I did not choose to be gay. Because why would I? Being gay in a tiny southern town was like strapping a lightning rod to yourself and running around in a thunderstorm. All I wanted was to blend in with my peers in high school (like most teenagers), but instead I felt like I had a big “G” stamped on my forehead. While I’m proud to be who I am today, I wanted nothing to do with being gay then. Bad people were gay, and bad people went to Hell.
“Being gay in a tiny southern town was like strapping a lightning rod to yourself and running around in a thunderstorm.”
In the turbulent years that followed, I struggled to make peace with who I was, but also with a God I had been told to trust and love. Why would God do this to me? What had I done to make him so angry? Was this punishment?
In my being angry with God, I realized that I was angry with myself. I was angry that I hadn’t fallen into the cookie cutter mold that I had grown up with. I was mad that I was different. But I came across a quote one day that I’ve never forgotten:
“If God brings you to it, then he’ll get you through it.”
Faced with the options of being miserable and a liar for the rest of my life, I took solace in these words. And I asked God to get me through it.
The crazy thing is, he did.
While my years of self discovery were not easy by any means, as I began to accept who I was, I also began to realize that possibly my creation as a gay woman was not a cosmic or divine mistake. I began writing about my experiences on coming out, and in doing so, I realized that I had found a way to access my darkest and guarded feelings. And in hearing other’s experiences, I realized that perhaps I was not the only person who had felt this way. And one day, I found I could look in a mirror and say “I’m gay”. The only tears that rolled down my face this time were happy tears. In that time, I thought God had abandoned me. But really, he simply guided me.
When I met my fiancé, I realized that nothing that had happened in my past had been an accident. I realized that every heartbreak and bump in the road were really buffers, pushing me on the path that I needed to be on. And with an upcoming wedding, I can say I’ve never been more grateful for those moments.
While I still sometimes struggle with God’s presence in my life, I don’t believe he’s condemned me to Hell. I believe your actions determine your fate—not your DNA.
I think that God creates and loves us just as we are. I think the tricky part is learning to love yourself.
Celeste is a recent master’s graduate who continues to write about marriage equality. She currently lives in Charleston, S.C., with her fiancé Kaytlyn, and their pets.