Finding my safe space
TFT: Anna, I know you experience same-sex attractions. Can you tell me what other challenges you have faced in life?
I have dyslexia and, until they diagnosed me, my teachers just thought I was being lazy. I actually knew that I wasn’t being lazy because there was a family history of learning disabilities. So primary school was pretty difficult. Secondary school was all right. When I was a kid, I didn’t know what it meant to be ‘gay’, so I didn’t really think there was an option. Plus, I wasn’t the kind of kid to have crushes or anything.
TFT: When did you first recognise that your feelings were more towards other girls than boys?
When I was about 14, but I had so much other stuff going on in my life that I didn’t have time to get too stressed about it. I just pushed the feelings down and pretended that I had a crush on one guy at school who was way out of my league so that no one else would pester me! I also started having epileptic seizures at around that age, and I was getting bullied. Everything started happening about then. Being gay really wasn’t the top of my priority list, if that makes sense.
TFT: You could kind of just put a lid on it and just get on with everything else that was happening?
Yeah, although it affected me one time because the crush I had was in my church youth group. I became a Christian when I was five, so I’ve always been part of the church. We went away for a weekend and I caught her kissing a boy. I got so upset! I didn’t tell her who I liked until four years later, after I finished having a crush on her.
You have to understand I was being really badly bullied, and as a side effect, I had an eating disorder. I was self-harming, and I hid that as well. So, I was pretty good at hiding stuff.
TFT: Do you remember what you were being bullied for?
I was being bullied for pretty much everything. Mainly it was just the way I looked. And if they could find something they could bully me for, they would, including my grades. In fact, everything. I definitely found support in my church youth group. The church was my safe place. One of my friends from church rode the bus with me. She didn’t stand up for me on the bus. But she just sat next to me. And she didn’t stop sitting next to me. The bullying went on from the last term of year 9 to the beginning of year 11. My dad drove me to school in year 11, and I caught a different bus home.
TFT: Okay, so you avoided the bullies. Do you think your same-sex attraction was contributing to your poor mental health?
I think so. In the background, I knew it was there. I had a friend who was out at school but not at home. This was because he went to a church, which wasn’t accepting. It was a Catholic church, and he knew his dad was very homophobic and, if he came out to his dad, then he would kick him out. And I thought, what if that happens to me? I was sitting there in church, and the people were talking with hate, not hate towards people but hate towards what these people want and their lifestyles. And I felt like this was the lifestyle I wanted. So, this place, which had been very safe, now became a place that felt hateful. They weren’t hateful people in my church. They were really loving; they still are really loving. They’re very supportive of me now, but they had never met anyone who was a gay Christian.
TFT: So, what happened? How did you tell someone?
So fast forward a couple of years. I was around 18, maybe at sixth form college. I came out to a couple of my non-Christian friends as “bi”, and I told them not to tell anyone else, which they respected. And I had a few boyfriends that didn’t last! Then in the September of that year, I told my entire church youth group in one night, one by one, going around telling each of them. I didn’t tell them I was gay. I told them I was ‘bi’, which wasn’t 100% true, but it meant that I might still marry one day. And I also said, “Oh, and I’m not acting upon it”, which also wasn’t 100% true. I didn’t tell any of the leaders. I just told the young people that I’d grown up with.
TFT: How was that received?
Really lovingly. But when two people told me to call one of the youth who was missing that night, I ended up telling her, and she said, “I’m the same, and I have a girlfriend!” So this was my friend who had protected me from my bullies at school, so we both thought, “this is crazy!” But it’s weird now, because now she’s still living with a girlfriend, and I’m part of TFT. So we both respect each other, and she even came to my baptism with her girlfriend a couple of years ago.
TFT: When did you tell others about your same-sex feelings?
A few months later, I told the church, but I had told my parents only a day before. They were loving, but they did ask if I had to tell the church. They worried about negative comments. However, I think our pastor had prepared the church enough. We had someone from ‘Living Out’ come a few weeks before. And our pastor preached a sermon or two on it. I did a question and answer testimony with the youth coordinator. I wasn’t scared because I knew I was following the church’s beliefs. I knew that the elders, the pastor and everyone were backing me. I knew I could handle any questions. I could either give an answer, or I could point to resources. I know that my pastor and the elders had also prepared themselves for questions. One thing, my parents hadn’t prepared themselves for questions, but they were the ones who got them! And my mum was told by someone in unpleasant terms that I shouldn’t have done my testimony. They thought it was a shameful thing, and that people should keep silent.
TFT: And how did your parents deal with this?
My mum cried. My dad got angry. My dad told me, and I got angry and told my pastor. And my pastor spoke to that person. We got a really lovely apology from his wife, and she was one of my biggest prayer partners and financial supporters when I went on my mission trip the following year.
TFT: Good to hear that there was some healing there. What about the epilepsy, dyslexia and mental health? Did these continue to be challenging as well?
After all of that, the church felt like a safe community. Mental health has always been a challenge, and still is. Self-harming is behind me. I’m still recovering from an eating disorder. With epilepsy, I’m a year and 14 days clear of seizure. So, I can legally drive as soon as I get my provisional license through the post.
TFT: That’s exciting. A few years ago, with your dyslexia, would you have believed that you’d now be a student at Bible College?
No way. I don’t even have any GCSEs. The college said that they would accept me, but I’d need to write a book review and gave me lots of books that I hadn’t read just five days before the deadline, because I applied really late. I said the only book that I’d read recently was “The Plausibility Problem” by Ed Shaw, because we had just studied it in our Barnabas Group. So I did an essay on that, and got into Bible College. At the end of my review, I wrote a bit about how the book relates personally to me. So that is something where being same-sex attracted has helped me.
TFT: And in terms of in terms of relationships, are you expecting to remain single?
Yeah, probably. Right now, I’m okay, and I’m used to it. Sometimes it can feel really lonely. But I live with my parents now, so I’m not constantly alone. I struggled a few years ago with the thought of it. As I said, right now, I’m okay, because I’m still quite young. But I go through waves of being like, “Oh no, I don’t want to be single for my whole life.” Being single doesn’t mean that I can’t adopt kids and stuff. But that is way into the future.
TFT: It is helpful to hold on to the idea that being single doesn’t mean you’re isolated or alone.Thank you, Anna, for being so open and honest about the various challenges you’ve faced in life, as well as how God has surprised you and opened doors for you.
This article was originally published in the spring 2022 edition of the TFT magazine, Ascend. Click the button below to download your copy.
Download the spring 2022 edition of Ascend
A conversation with the author...
Articles in Ascend often need to be ruthlessly edited down to fit within the required word count. To give space to discuss certain articles in greater depth, the TFT staff team will be recording occasional podcasts under the banner “Ascend Higher”, covering the issues raised in a more conversational style. To hear it for yourself, you can use the audio player below.