This story was written and performed by Amanda Rodenborg for the live, personal storytelling series Oral Fixation (An Obsession With True-Life Tales) at the Wyly Theatre in Dallas on May 5, 2014. The theme of the show was "The Whole Enchilada."
Oral Fixation creator and director Nicole Stewart says, "Amanda was only weeks away from her wedding when she appeared on our stage, and since that night she not only married the love of her life but she has had many opportunities to share her story and was even the subject of a magazine feature. Read her story here, and don't miss her brave telling of it in the video below."
Six years ago, I drove from Dallas to Illinois for my friend Jonathan's wedding -- my first gay wedding. It was emotional and confusing. Jonathan and Christopher seemed so in love, but I was taught that being gay was a sin.
My own experience with homosexuality began in college. The summer after my sophomore year, I took a job at a Sandusky amusement park. One night, I went out with a co-worker and then back to his place, where he forced himself on me. I felt violated and for weeks walked around visibly shaken.
One evening, my roommate Shannon cornered me, asking, "What's wrong? What happened to you?" I told her I was raped, and she put her arms around me. "I'll punch him! Just tell me who he is!" she said. She begged me to file a report. I never did. But the rest of that summer, we talked on the beach every night until the sun rose over Lake Erie.
I soaked in her friendship, and I believed her when she said it wasn't my fault. I slowly healed from my assault. She came out to me, but nothing changed when I learned she was attracted to girls. In August, we went to a concert, and while Sarah McLachlan sang "Adia," I leaned in and kissed Shannon. I loved her. Maybe I was a lesbian too. Our relationship lasted into the fall, and I decided to come out to my parents.
Now, I had been away from home for nearly two years, and my parents had become evangelicals. So when I burst in saying, "Mom, Dad, I'm gay, and I'm in love!" they were unsupportive. We fought, and I returned to school confused and hurt. We didn't talk for a few months, but I ached for their love and support. I wanted to make my parents proud, and being gay was clearly a disappointment. I wished I could go back to the way things were before. So I abandoned Shannon. I dropped out of school and moved home, committed to healing the rift with my parents.
At their suggestion, I met with a pastor and told her I was gay. She introduced me to Exodus International, a ministry whose leaders claimed homosexuality was a sin. They believed with conversion therapy, God could change my orientation. I bought in. After all, my short relationship with Shannon had followed a sexual assault, and coming out to my parents nearly destroyed them. I equated my lesbianism with wreckage, and I was desperate for healing.
I joined both a local Exodus chapter and an online forum. There I met Jonathan and others from all over the world who struggled like me. We poured out our feelings over the Internet, meeting up at conferences and retreats. Exodus taught us our homosexual inclinations were a sign of arrested psychosexual development, that we hadn't properly bonded with our same-gender parents. In order to reorient us to traditional gender roles, the boys played football while we girls had makeup consultations. We prayed fervently for the Holy Spirit to cast out our homosexual demons, and some of us even took part in a controversial episode of "holding therapy," where, although we were in our teens and 20s, our director held us like newborn children, speaking "gender-appropriate" affirmations.
Meanwhile, at home, since I wasn't gay anymore, things with my parents got better. I grew out my hair and traded my biker jacket for a pink plaid skirt and matching pumps. God had worked a miracle in my life. I began telling people I had been "cured." I dreamed of marrying a pastor, having a family, and sharing my redemption story that change was possible.
I moved to Texas in fall 2001 to partner with an Exodus chapter in Arlington. I worked in the ministry office, attended weekly support meetings and became a leader. Time passed. I looked to be thriving, and I even got a boyfriend.
David also struggled with same-gender attractions. We thought that made us the perfect match. Now, we were celibate, but in time we believed God would give us appropriate desires. So for eight months we were like best friends who held hands and sometimes kissed a little. David represented a kind of normalcy it had taken me 10 years to achieve. So when he broke it off because "God told [him] to," I felt devastated and betrayed. Hadn't I done everything right? I became angry with God and wondered if I had ever seen any real healing.
And I wasn't the only one. My "ex-gay" friends were cutting themselves, turning to substance abuse, pornography and anonymous sexual encounters. "Conversion therapy" only deepened our shame and depression. I tired of being a show pony for a ministry whose seedy underbelly often traded in heartache. By the time Jonathan's wedding invitation appeared in the mail, my religious fervor had soured into confusion. I left the Exodus ministry.
The ceremony was beautiful. Jonathan and Christopher held hands and looked at each other with adoration. The small church was full of people who supported them. Their relationship didn't fit the stereotypes I had been sold; it hadn't brought destruction. Their love was real, and they were making a covenant commitment. My heart cracked open, and part of me wondered, "If it's OK for Jonathan, could it be OK for me too?"
Though a series of circumstances, I took a job with SMU's Perkins School of Theology. My colleagues were Christians, but they were so liberal. They viewed the Bible not as a set of clearly designed rules to follow but as a book written thousands of years ago that helps us understand the role of deity in our human experience.
I joined a group at Perkins for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students and allies, where I learned that I had perpetuated the false assumption that homosexuality is something that can or should be changed. As an ally, I became a safe person for students wrestling with their sexuality, approaching them with humility and confronting my own prejudice. A colleague told me that for a lesbian or a gay man to deny their nature and force themselves to be straight, that was sin for them. It blew my mind. Refusing to embrace myself as the lesbian woman God had intended had been my sin, not my attraction for women.
I explored my new self and found that faith and homosexuality weren't mutually exclusive. I trolled Facebook and found a small church of lesbians who met in a Dallas yoga studio. There I made friends who were healthy, monogamous, and also had faith lives. They showed me what it was like to live unashamed.
I felt secure in who I was becoming, and I'd even begun to love myself. So when my mom asked, "Are you gay?" I came out to them again. It was difficult at first, but my parents now embrace that this is the healthiest and the happiest I have ever been. They love me and are proud of the whole woman I've become. And they adore my wife-to-be.
I met Heather at Perkins. She was a third-year divinity student, and when she asked me out, I was over the moon. She was beautiful and smart, and she had a sound spiritual life. She wanted to serve God vocationally. I never imagined a relationship could be so perfect.
One night, we returned to the theology school, not far from where we first met. The labyrinth was lit with candles and covered with rose petals. As we walked the path together, she said to me, "Our relationship is like this labyrinth. We've grown through twists and turns. God brought us together, and we bring each other closer to God." At the labyrinth's center, she took a knee and pulled out a ring. It was the kind of proposal I always dreamed of.
That was over a year ago, and now we're just weeks from our wedding. It's going to be the whole enchilada: Heather and I will wear white satin dresses and carry bouquets. Our minister will pronounce us married in the presence of our gathered family and friends. I can't wait: the flowers, the church, the minister, my beautiful bride, our first married kiss, our first married dance.
We invited everyone, even friends and relatives who believe that this kind of love is something God is ashamed of. We'll show them that our love is real. On June 14, we'll add to the trail Jonathan and Christopher blazed before us. I'll get to marry the most amazing woman, and soon, she'll be a pastor, and we'll have a family. My dreams weren't that far off after all. Here I am sharing my redemption story: of reconciling faith and sexuality and finding a love I never imagined possible.