Nathan Froehlich: Out of Hiding

August 13, 2018

 

From a young age, I knew there something that made me different. I didn’t know quite what it was; a society saturated in toxic masculinity taught me to believe I would only be “enough” if I fit western culture’s ideal mould for a man. Although those who know me well enough will know that is a mould that I have never quite fit. Growing up, most of the boys around me wanted to go hunting, fishing, talk about girls, and spend their time on other stereotypically “masculine” activities. By contrast, I gravitated towards shopping, creating miniature plays and performances for my family, and admiring Chris Pine in Princess Diaries 2. I bought into a lie that told me that because I didn’t fit the ideal male characteristics shared by my male counterparts, that I was less of a boy, and I would never be enough of a man.

 

I remember waking up one morning and going into my family’s living room where my Dad sat reading his Bible in his usual spot. He invited me to read with him, as he so often did. Together we read Genesis 19—the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. He read aloud, “All the men from every part of the city of Sodom—both young and old—surrounded [Lot’s] house. They called to [him], ‘Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.’” With the familiar sensation of shame burning through my chest, I sat confused and full of fear, wondering how I, an eleven year old boy compared to those terrible men in Sodom that God wanted to destroy.

 

Coming into my teens, while many of my friends were having their first kisses, and talking about what girls or guys they liked, I was hiding, and fearing a future of loneliness. Having grown up in the Christian church I was taught that homosexuality was sinful but was never really explained why it was so sinful—it just was. I had so many unanswered questions about the relationship between one’s faith and sexuality that no one else around me was asking. I searched for answers but I wasn’t willing to let go of the traditional conservative view of marriage, which seemed so foundational to the Christian faith. I felt as if I had to choose between my faith and love—heaven or hell. My teens were some very depression-inducing and secretive years. Loneliness and isolation creeped its way through the barriers I put up to protect myself. I longed to confide in someone with whom I could share my pain but felt suffocated in an environment that was overtly cold to homosexuals. For several years, I refused to call or even think of myself as “gay” because of the heavy shame associated with the term. Gay people weren’t talked about much but when they were it was often to lament on gay-related politics, or to praise those who had turned from their sexuality. They were of the greatest “success stories” that avid church-goers loved to hear which fuelled the flames of a movement that seemed to hold heterosexuality in higher regard than my wellbeing.

 

The language often used by Christians to describe homosexuals made it seem as though gays shared more characteristics with Shelley’s Frankenstein than they did with actual people; as if LGBT people are a purposeless and irreparably broken people beyond redemption. The church promoted a culture of love, hope, vulnerability, and authenticity, but only within comfortable lines; they held an attitude of hostility towards homosexuals that kept me silent in my pain. Sharing a negative view of homosexuals caused me to view other gay people through a distorted and loveless lens, developing a ‘hate the sin, not the sinner’ attitude that left me feeling better than the superiorly broken “worldly” homosexuals. For twenty years, I sat in church services where I heard messages of God’s goodness, His ability to heal those who are sick, pull people out of sin, and radically alter people’s lives. I’ve witnessed healings, experienced the power of God’s presence, and seen radical change in the lives of others so I pleaded with God to change me too. I prayed relentlessly, hoping for just enough faith to release me from my sexuality, but my prayers fell as empty words and I was left confused, questioning God’s silence.

 

In 2016, I spent the winter working for Big White Ski Resort which was an incredible and transformative experience that I will never forget. I went to my first party, got into a bar and had my first (hella illegal) drink (sorry, mom), looked after a Paralympic snowboarding legend’s prosthetic leg for an afternoon (yes I kissed it, yes I have photos), got paid to go snowmobiling, eat at 5-star restaurants, went on some amazing road trips to neighbouring resorts, and met some amazing people. On the outside I had it pretty great, I was only eighteen and was already working my dream job, lived in a ski-in/ski-out chalet, rode world-class terrain all winter long for free, was learning from industry professionals, AND I got to hear Aussies talk all day. But as amazing as this experience was, I remember it as one of the hardest periods of my life. For those months, I was living one of my biggest dreams but the whole experience was tainted with a deep sense of loneliness. I often walked around the snowy resort late at night, lamenting at the sight of the towering chalets glowing with laughing families having the time of their lives—knowing that was an experience I would never have.

 

Before my start at Trinity Western University at the end of the Summer of 2017, I became intentional in reconciling my faith and sexuality in hopes of finally putting my questions to bed. I was comforted by the freedom to ask hard life questions in the academic environment, but unbeknownst to me, these questions would soon lead me down a path to one of the hardest and most fulfilling periods of my twenty years of life so far.

 

During the early weeks of my first semester at TWU, I shared my burdens with a friend and mentor who encouraged me to join the on-campus LGBT student support group One TWU. I went to my first meeting and sat down in a room of twenty or so randoms, silently shitting bricks, acknowledging that by entering the room these strangers inevitably knew my most painful secret. But being vulnerable is often rewarded with intimacy and it wasn’t long before I made friends in the group who became a key support to me. During the early stage of our friendships I repeatedly caught myself turning off the filter I used to screen my thoughts before I spoke to avoid saying something that might sound ‘gay.’ It was during this period that I realized how much lying I had done over the years in hopes of going under the radar to avoid being found out. Only when I was with friends from One TWU could I finally be transparent in navigating my sexuality and comfortable in my faith, while being treated as a fully accepted equal.

 

As the semester progressed and assignments accumulated, I was unrelenting in my efforts to reconcile my faith and sexuality: striving to find answers about sexuality and figure out how I would live my life. I had taken a good look at my view of homosexuality, and realized it didn’t give substantive answers, nor offer much hope for gay people. It was the opposite, really. I no longer saw homosexuality in a negative light but I still felt stuck. I supported my One TWU friends in their relationships but I still didn’t know what living out my sexuality looked like—or even how to live with it. I was so fearful. I continually wondered, “If God is good, which He is, then why does He create people who are gay, but condemn them from marriage? Even if God doesn’t make people gay but they somehow become gay, it doesn’t fit God’s character to condemn them over their sexual orientation which they have no control over. Does He expect them to abstain from the same love and companionship that everyone else so freely experiences? Does God expect LGBT people to live their lives alone and to die alone?” It seemed unjust and out of character for God to put a ‘straights only’ rule on love and intimacy.

 

Later, I was invited by a TWU professor to a group called Generous Space, a Christian support group for LGBT people and allies holding to various beliefs and convictions on gender and sexuality. Growing up, I believed the notion that LGBT people were generally the same: left-wing, pro-choice, hippie liberals with no real sound arguments or good reasons for expressing their sexuality. Being at Generous Space shook my jaded view through the cries of those who I was subliminally taught to ignore. I was relieved to see other LGBT Christians experiencing similar trials as I was, but their stories broke my aching heart. I felt the Lord bringing me up to His perspective and two things became boldly apparent: God loved each of these people relentlessly, and His heart was aching over their pain and rejection, as if He was saying, “These are my people.” I left that meeting with a heavy heart and a greater understanding of God’s grace and sorrow over His rejected beloved.

 

I continued searching for a conclusion on the gays vs. Christians debate, searching for even an ounce of truth, and I found myself deeply depressed and anxious. I spent so much time caring about others’ opinions that I began to bare the weight of them, and I wore myself out mentally and emotionally. The deeper I went into the conversation, the more I realized how far I was walking down the path to finding answers, but more so that I was walking it alone. Everyone else around me had their minds made up, or it didn’t affect them enough to question it. Unlike so many other hardships I had faced such as loss, family problems, and financial issues, the church didn’t have my back. I wondered how God could create me with such a large desire and capacity to love but call it an “abomination” if I did. I became exhausted of people telling me to “have faith” and to “give it all to God” because my wells were dry–I didn’t have anything left to give.

 

The pressure between my natural desire to love another human being, and living in an unsupportive Christian community was crushing. I felt like I had to choose between love and intimacy with a partner over my community, friends, and future possibilities to work in ministry—a choice that no one else around me had to make. It felt unfair. The pain began to consume me and I questioned if life was even worth living in the first place. I questioned if the same people who said they loved me would still say they loved me if they knew who I really was, or if it was something that was said out of obligation to just to appear more Christ-like. I yearned for authenticity and became weary of fake superficial interaction.

 

As Spring semester began at TWU, I found myself living nearby in Fort Langley, unable to enrol in classes due to lack of finances. Leaving Trinity was a very difficult transition but it gave me the opportunity to continue working on my mental health and establish my beliefs without the pressure of academics, nor living in a non-supportive environment. And although I did not get the answers as quickly or as easily as I wanted them, after months of prayer, reading books, searching my heart, studying of scripture, and enough tears to sink the Titanic, I’ve come to a supportive conviction of same-sex relationships.

 

I’ve come to understand that scripture is not black and white when it comes to discussing homosexuality. As any churchgoer understands, it is important to investigate the context of the Biblical text to come to an accurate understanding of what is being taught. This same approach must be taken when it comes to discussing same-sex relationships, such as in 1 Timothy and in 1 Corinthians. Such verses, share the same Hebrew word (arsenokoitas) that was originally translated to “homosexual,” used to describe male prostitutes, is not what we define homosexuality as today (i.e two men in a loving, consensual, monogamous relationship). I believe that God blesses monogamy between a same-sex couple just as much a heterosexual couple. What I had thought for so long were scriptural tenets, were actually North American Evangelical cultural  standards. When I brought myself back to the bible, and away from these standards, the answer I had been searching for became a lot more clear

 

And although I have used the descriptor “shitty” on several occasions when discussing the past year, I’m glad I have gone through what I have. I am thankful for the growth I have experienced, for the family I’ve gained through this process, and I’m proud of myself for being brave—for asking the hard questions, refusing to succumb to societal pressure in my search for truth, and for facing the music by finally coming out.

 

My journey’s greatest blessing has been the ability to listen and relate to other LGBT people, and to help those who are navigating their sexuality. The more I’ve chosen to be vulnerable about my sexuality the more others around me have come out to me in search of support. Someone recently asked me, “What breaks your heart?” While my immediate thought was Grey’s Anatomy (RIP Derek Shepherd, you beautiful man), I thought of the church’s rejection of the LGBT community. Through my journey I have developed a deep love for the people on both sides of this debate and a passion to bridge the gap between the church and the LGBT by promoting education and encouraging conversations. Upon my return to Trinity Western University this Fall, I will be facilitating support and conversation by taking on the role as Student Leader for One TWU and will continue to foster a supportive environment for LGBT students and allies of various convictions on gender and sexuality.

 

I once told someone that one of my greatest longing is to be fully known; to no longer be in a constant state of reclusion. So, here I am, Nathan: a son, a brother, a grandson, a nephew, a friend, a lover of snowboarding and of traveling, of music and of photography. I am brave, I am kind, I am strong, I am loved, and I am gay. My identity is in Christ, being gay doesn’t change that. I am enough just as I am. I no longer live under the fear of the opinions and convictions of others, I am loved by God, and by my family. I am owning my faith; I am done living in fear, and I am out of hiding.

 

So I invite you, whether you’re in the midst of reconciling your own faith and sexuality, are a parent, relative, or friend of someone in the LGBT community, to partake in this conversation and dig deeper. Scripture is not as clear on this issue as you think—it is anything but black and white. For those of you who are struggling, know that you are not alone. You are LOVED, you are not an abomination, you are not disgusting or repulsive, you are His beloved, He delights in you, and He rejoices over you with singing. This is not the end, just keep going—you’re going to be okay.

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