Those of you who know me well already know I’m not straight because it’s a part of my identity I’m proud of- but I’ve never felt safe to put it online. Why? Because I’ve spent 5 years working in churches and for faith based agencies. So I came to know that public declarations like this were high risk for losing my employability.
I took these pictures months ago at Pride, with my best friend, but I finally feel in a good and safe enough space to share them. I speak about my partner here and on instagram but until I put this to the world, I didn’t want to share more about them- now I can’t wait to bore you with details about them.
Time to spill some tea.
There is a wide spectrum of Christian beliefs including plenty that recognise me as welcome, valid and with the right to love and be loved. I had minimal experiences of these churches. Instead I found myself for years questioning my own attractions, my own integrity and making sure anyone who googles me for a job won’t find out I’m not straight.
The concept of ‘coming out’ is inherently sort of problematic as it highlights the fact that everyone is assumed straight until stated otherwise. In fact each generation is getting less straight! Learning French I’ve not enjoyed because everything is gendered- there is not a French equivalent of ‘partner’. I’ve always referred to my partners as… my partners because in all honesty I’ve spent a lot of my time in zones its not safe to be straight.
I identify as pansexual- which if you didn’t know falls into the + of LGBTQIA+. The working definition is an attraction regardless of gender and when I heard this- it fitted. Some people want to get deep into the semantics of the differences between bisexual and pansexual and sometimes they can seem minor on paper but when you find the word that makes your identity make sense it’s a joy and a relief.
For me it’s pretty accurate- men & women, cis or trans, non-binary people, agender people- my preferences are for people who are funny, multi-lingual and have brown eyes. Beyond that- anything goes.
In my life I’ve been part of three big church communities who have shaped me- one as a teenager, and two that I worked at.
Most of the big, mega-churches you’ll find are the same flavour- charismatic evangelical churches focused on family and getting you involved and seeing membership there as part of your identity. The pastors wear jeans and the coffee is good. The music is professional level. Some of these churches are like being at a concert. They’re honestly cool. These are the churches that run six services a day because they’re so popular and students in London flock to- and if you scratch not very deep at all- they’re homophobic. Being a part of a church like this really consumed me, it filled my schedule, my social life and it was so -loving- that I started buying into their beliefs- they were good, reasonable people- not screaming blatant homophobes. Besides, they didn’t believe not being straight was a sin- it just meant you had to be celibate.
Celibacy for some is a season and for others is a lifestyle. For those it’s right for, it’s amazing. If you crave love, intimacy, a family, a romantic relationship- being forced to be celibate is cruel.
More than that the world (including the LGBTQIA+ community) can be horrifically dismissive of bi and pan people. Biphobia- which panphobia falls under has always caused me a horrific integrity crisis.
I am pan. So I am not straight. This means I should be celibate and alone. But sometimes I date and love men. When I love a man I’m not part of these conversations. People don’t suggest being alone forever- in fact they encourage marriage and babies. None of these conversations have space for pansexuality or bisexuality. Integrity is one of more core values and whilst forced celibacy is crap that should not be preached, the fact that no one had an answer to the reality of bisexuals and pansexuals proved a major flaw in logic. I’m not gay. I’m not straight. When I date a man I am still not straight. When I date a woman I’m not magically a lesbian. Those arguments shouldn’t be applied to anyone but they definitely don’t leave space for anything other than gay or straight.
For years I loopholed it. Statistically it is more likely for me to date or even marry a man. That’s just maths. I could swipe through all the female options on Bumble in a day- and have weeks worth of men to sort through- please excuse the gender exclusive language but Bumble doesn’t have a non binary option!
When I moved onto the first church I worked at, I didn’t -have- to mention my sexuality to anyone. It’s my business and I happened to be dating a man so I let people assume and avoided having difficult conversations. I told my boss and whilst he’d mentioned some dodgy things around sexuality- ie that bisexuals are greedy but being gay isn’t a choice, I knew we were a team and never felt less valid because of it.
Except my boss left, and when it came up during a pastoral meeting with my new manager it was made pretty clear that this was wrong and if everyone else at church found out I’d be asked to leave. Because I couldn’t be a good youth worker and pansexual. Mid-way through my degree I had to up and leave because I didn’t feel safe anymore. Not just about people finding out- but because I could no longer avoid the truth. The people I worked with, the people I loved, had meals with, cried to, celebrated with- would turn and walk away in a heartbeat because my sexuality was a dealbreaker- no matter what we’d been through.
Before this I was sure it would be different- because instead of being put off by a sexuality label they knew ME first. But I wasn’t. So I had to leave. My university protected me, said it was academically best for me to change placements. On my departure almost no one knew the truth and as much as I wanted to publicly rally against the homophobia- I slinked away knowing the conversations would leave me exhausted.
A month later I was signing a contract with a national youth work organisation. The code of conduct included the fact that I could be dismissed for plenty of things- being involved in the occult, having sex outside marriage- and oh yeah, being in a non-heterosexual relationship.
My new boss assured me that those were the national rules and despite it risking his own job- it wasn’t how he ran his branch. He was honest about the flaws and he said he’d protect me. He kept to his word. Anytime he was in the room he protected me from colleagues who thought I shouldn’t or couldn’t be working there and as long as I didn’t scream it in a place where national would find out I could slip under the radar. I did, and I challenged a few beliefs, but in all honesty, I put myself in a dangerous position. That boss was amazing but my colleagues made me doubt my own skills and competence and would continually bring me down- not from malice, from their perspective where they wanted to save me. A toxic workplace is more likely to change you than you will change it.
I had one colleague I only ever worked one project with me. By the end he was amazed. Why? Because I was a good youth worker. He told my boss and several other staff members- the kicker being because of my sexuality he was confident I couldn’t be called to youth work or able to do it well. Seeing me in action was a huge challenge to him. He was 26 years old and in charge of a group of teenagers himself. I could cry when I think about the toxic ideas they’re consuming. I once visited this colleagues church for a heartbreaking talk about homosexuality, which included the sentiment not to worry about celibacy being lonely because ‘everyone dies alone anyway’.
Finishing uni I remember some visitors from a youth work agency who came to advertise jobs to us- amazing jobs that were well paid and interesting. Sick and tired of hiding myself at work I went over to them- and they loved me. They were so excited to give me an application pack and were telling me about relocation packages so I asked if they’d happily hire someone who was publicly not straight. Immediately they became shifty and told me that unless that person was actively working on being celibate and seeking ‘pastoral support for their inclination’ then they would not be eligible to work there.
I ended up working for an inclusive church- there is a network of churches that pride themselves in not being homophobic, biphobic or transphobic. Being able to be myself was a huge liberation but it wasn’t without flaws. Whilst I was welcome I was constantly reminded to tone myself down and not become obsessed with a single-issue aka homophobia. When I asked about publicly speaking against homophobia they told me they preferred more private chats with people. The inconsistency with welcoming the LGBTQIA+ community but constantly moderating my volume- particularly when I was criticised for speaking with the teenagers I worked with about values that the church I worked for claimed to have I recognised that this was simply another way -I- was not fully welcome.
Queer theology is a whole subject of thought and was the focus of my dissertation. I can passionately share why my belief in God is not threatened by my sexuality and a rich long history of people viewing it the same.
But homophobes are not interested. They don’t want a discussion. They know their beliefs and more often than not they’ve memorised them to be unshakeable.
No longer working in the church is hard for me. Flawed as it is I really do believe in community and believe it can be the most amazing system of love and support.
Regardless of my skills and experiences, I walked out of my degree less employable than I went into it because despite my qualifications, I’m no longer willing to hide myself. Putting something online with my name attached contains the acceptance that with an easy google plenty of jobs in my field will no longer hire me.
But hiding is not worth it. Loopholing is not worth it. Hoping that I fall in love with a man and have babies and can never directly tackle the question is not worth it.
For my peace and my mental health I’m glad I’m no longer working in a faith based environment. I’m glad I don’t have to hide. There will be other jobs. There is only one me.
Maybe one day I’ll be back working for churches and I’ll feel strong enough to be there or completely safe. Hopefully one day that will be true.
This ended up a long and difficult post but it was cathartic for me to write. For a long time my digital presence has edged around my identity avoiding the difficult topics. Hopefully for lots of you this will be a crazy read because those who aren’t exposed to these circles often believe the world has moved on.
But it is freeing for me not to hide. Whoever I love or marry I am pansexual.
Whatever my employability is, I’m still pansexual.