I recently read a Facebook post from someone I knew from church when I was younger. We didn’t attend the same church, but we attended church camp and youth events together, and ran in pretty much the same circles. It was a beautiful post from a beautiful person with a genuine heart for God. Brandon Beene is my friend and I wish so much that we had gotten to know each other even better when we were younger because we share some very common struggles. Another of Brandon’s friends shared the entirety of his post on his blog, and it was so impactful that I put a link to it at the bottom of this page because it’s worth reading, especially if you grew up in church.
Something that Brandon talked about in his post was the way he was bullied growing up, much of it coming from the fact he was not a masculine guy. What Brandon doesn’t realize about me (or hasn’t until he reads this) is that I experienced many of the same things. Maybe some weren’t to the same degree because I didn’t get beat up physically, but I got beat up in every other way. The bullying and teasing and humiliation I felt drove me to the point of standing on the edge of a bridge, picking which car I was going to jump in front of in case the fall itself didn’t kill me. I understand Brandon better than he probably could have ever dreamed. We’ve shared very eerie similarities on the opposite side of the same issue. First of all, I couldn’t agree more with what Brandon said. His comments about love and what it should be are spot on. I’ve often written about what love really is and what it means to truly love others. I’ve written about what God’s love really looks like and how greatly we can affect this world if we would strive to love as God loves. The problem with loving that way is that it often bothers or even offends most “religious” people today. It also doesn’t sit well with people who are not religious but who consider themselves to be superior because of their own moral compass. The interesting thing is that our problems are an epidemic that only genuine love itself can resolve.
Most of the people who are around me know I’ve never been a girly girl. I don’t like cooking or sewing. I don’t like pink. I hate dolls. I didn’t like to read love stories. I didn’t like to watch sappy movies. I liked watching the creature from the black lagoon, and my favorite author was Edgar Allan Poe. I burned bugs with magnifying glasses. I spent all my time outside playing football with the boys. I participated in all kinds of sports and was good at them. I even cried when I realized that I wouldn’t be able to play football in high school, because girls weren’t allowed on the team. I got teased all the time because I was scrawny and gangly, and hadn’t developed physically. I hate dresses. I never wore them unless I was forced to. There were some pastors I encountered that insisted women wear dresses or skirts, and all I could think was how miserable it made me in church. When I was a kid, probably about 6 or 7, I told a friend at church that I actually WAS a boy. She pretty much believed it until the day she told me to prove it, and of course I couldn’t and had to pony up to the truth. My opinion of girls was that they weren’t strong. They were concerned with makeup, hair, nails and shopping. Blech!
I got teased and was the brunt of a lot of jokes. I suffered privately and tried to find other tomboys with which to hang out. I liked being rough and tumble. I am glad that in this day and age, it is more acceptable for girls to be that way, but it wasn’t so in my generation. I even got teased in my family for not cooking or not knowing how to cook. The truth is that I can cook when I try, and the things I have cooked have turned out well, but I still don’t enjoy it. I go shopping, but I don’t like it. Another thing Brandon mentioned was that he didn’t really like sports or know the rules of all the different types of sports and I thought, “I know the rules of all the different sports. Heck, I even know the rules to curling!” I love sports. I watch them and play them, and would much rather hang out with a bunch of guys watching a game and having a great time than sitting around the kitchen table with the girls talking about “girly” things.
Brandon also revealed in his post how he was called gay on many occasions and had to endure many times when he was called a fag or faggot. It was painful to read his experiences. While I do think that men and boys can be much harsher outwardly than girls with that kind of name-calling, the truth is girls are just as mean and brutal; they just do it behind your back. Where Brandon had to deal with people calling him those names, I had to deal with the looks and snickering that people thought I didn’t see. I certainly felt the awkwardness of being excluded because I wasn’t a “normal” girl. I got teased unmercifully for wanting to hunt with all of my cousins and uncles. I didn’t get called gay or “dike” to my face, but I found out later it was going on all the time behind my back. I even had an experience where I was called into my school counselor’s office because a friend (who I trusted completely and considered to be one of my closest friends) told a teacher that I was a lesbian. I’m sure it came from the fact I wrote very expressive poems and writings all the time and shared them with the people I loved. I loved everyone. It didn’t matter if it was men or women, or from which walk of life they came. Unfortunately, that was unacceptable to the people around me.
I would often write how I felt about my friends and my mother even warned me to be careful about what I said to people or wrote to people because they would start to think I was lesbian. I ignored it and you know what? It happened. I really struggled in high school. I think everyone does. We struggle with figuring out our true selves. We struggle with who we are and who we think we should be, and that struggle is made so much worse when we don’t fit the mold of what our family, friends, or religion thinks we should be. We get sideways glances. We get rejected. I had one friend in high school who always understood me as much as anyone possibly could at that age. She knew that I was just emotional and expressive and was not a girly girl…and she didn’t care one single bit! I liked to dress odd and funny. I was a little bit of everything and never really fit into one particular group. But the rumors apparently continued, and have throughout my life. Even now, I manage an exceptional team of people on the job and have been successful professionally. One day a few years ago, we were sitting at the end of a meeting just visiting a bit, and I made a comment about being such a girly-girl and my team all laughed because they all knew I was the opposite. The newest member of the team made the comment, “Oh, you don’t wanna know what I thought when I first met you.” She went on to say she thought I was gay. When I asked why, she said, “ I don’t know. You just seemed that way. You are always in a suit and the way you walk….” I just laughed it off because the truth is I LOVE suits. I wear them continually and I don’t carry myself in an extremely feminine manner. I walk heavy. I’m not one to sit around and say, “Oooooh…aaaah” when babies come into the office. This woman told me it wasn’t until she saw me with my husband that she realized differently. She said anyone who sees me with him would know I wasn’t gay. But me by myself? Apparently I still give it off. And you know what? I’m ok with that. I had to get to the point where I didn’t care what anyone else thought or I would have to remain captive to their opinions forever.
Brandon mentioned how he didn’t have a gender identity crisis. I will echo that statement. I didn’t/don’t have a gender identity issue. I had a comfort issue. I was uncomfortable because I didn’t fit in. When I was small, I didn’t think there was anything wrong with it, but as I got older, I realized how rejected and judged I was by others. I knew I was a girl but I didn’t like anything girls liked. I never owned a Barbie. To this day, I hate them. I walk into something girly and just cringe. I can’t stand baby showers or wedding showers. I feel like a man when it comes to those things because I have the same reactions to them. I’d rather do pretty much anything than spend hours at them. Over the years, I’ve had countless people tell me they thought I was a lesbian. Of course, they never divulged that impression until they had known me a while and figured out I’m just me, that I’m just quirky…but it still hurt. Feeling like you don’t fit in is one of the worst feelings in the world, and it can drive you to some very dark places. When you add on top of everything else that I have a form of bipolar disorder, you can see how my brain chemistry issues complicated things for me. It made me highly creative and highly connected and intense, but this world doesn’t understand that.
I mentioned earlier that I was constantly the brunt of jokes about my lack of traditional femininity. It was a struggle when I tried to square what society expected me to be vs. who God created me to be. It was so difficult that when a member of our high school choir touched me in very inappropriate ways as we sat waiting to go on stage for a performances, I was frozen and didn’t know what to do because the wounded side of me thought, “Well maybe I am ok as a girl because at least I’m not unattractive to him.” The vast majority of my boyfriends were guys who liked to hang out. They weren’t terribly romantic and I was fine with it! I liked to do the kind of stuff they liked to do. I eventually married someone who is a man’s man but who loves me because I’m not such a girly-girl. He is the perfect partner for me because he loves me exactly as I am and actually embraces it. He is a gift from God, himself.
I have friends of all walks of life, including friends who are openly gay or lesbian…and I love them dearly. I love them because God created me to love people – all people – passionately…because HE loves them passionately. I don’t have to agree with their politics, religion or choices in order to love and appreciate them. It has nothing to do with that. It has to do with loving people exactly where they are. And maybe I’m even more passionate about that fact because it felt like it happened so rarely in my life.
The truth is that God made me this way for a reason. When Brandon said God doesn’t make mistakes, I couldn’t agree more. I have said that for most of my life but it wasn’t until I was older that I realized God wired me this way for a reason because there are certain people out there that I can touch as a result. As a matter of fact, there are some people out there that only we can touch because of who we are and the experiences of our specific individual lives. We can reach people that others would have a hard time connecting with because they can’t understand their situation or personality. I’m different. I’ve always been different. I’ve also been ridiculed and mocked for it. I’ve been called all kinds of names for it. I’ve almost died for it. On the outside I may have looked like a fun, carefree, and well-liked person, but in my heart I struggled with many of the same things as Brandon did. It is time for us to get over our fears and live exactly as we are created to be! Stop judging each other. Stop labeling each other. Stop bullying people who aren’t like you and call it something else. It doesn’t matter how we try to rationalize our behavior, it is still wrong. Don’t say you are a Christian and then spend your time making the people around you feel less than you. God doesn’t do that. Jesus didn’t do that while here on earth, and He certainly doesn’t expect us to do it either!
It’s time to be who God called us to be, not who our parents, friends, bosses or churches are trying to call us to be. I teach this to my Sunday school class all the time. The things you like, you like for a reason. The things that don’t interest you, don’t interest you for a reason. God created us with our likes and dislikes because it’s those likes and dislikes that connect us with others in different ways.
So I’ll close with something that came up for me when Brandon said he can relate to the struggle of Caitlyn Jenner feeling like an outcast. I thought to myself, “I can’t imagine any man wanting to give it up to become a woman and everything that is supposed to come with it.” But I can sure identify with the same things about it with which Brandon identifies. I can identify with hiding mental health issues. I can identify with hiding suicidal tendencies or attempts. I can identify with struggling to just be who we are and let God sort it out because NONE of us have a right to stomp on someone else. Let me just add that Chaz Bono encountered a lot of the same things even though he wasn’t as well-known in his life as Chastity as Caitlyn Jenner was in his life as Bruce. I could better identify with her struggles because they were closer to mine. If I were a child today, raised in a more liberal home, I would be “pegged” as having a gender identity issue. And if I continually said that I was a boy or wanted to be one, I guess I could more easily become one. But you know what would be a million times better than labeling a child (or adult) as having a gender identity issue? It would be saying, “It’s ok that you don’t like all that girly (or boyish) stuff. It’s ok that you want to do what you like to do.” Maybe we should sit down with our kids, as well as with our adults who are still struggling and say, “It’s ok to not fit into what our society has defined you to be. You just be who you were created to be because God loves you just exactly as you are.”
It’s scary to think of how far left of center we have become. We’ve started labeling people as one thing or another instead of looking within and seeing them as they are. We have actually started crippling each other by embracing the new politically correct labels instead of dropping the labels all together. It used to be a shame to be called gay, where now it is embraced by society. Now it is a shame to be called other things. In some circles it is a shame to be called a Christian. It doesn’t matter what era of time we look at, there are always people who did not fit in, who were bullied and mistreated because of their differences. Society and humanity is cruel because we are continually looking for labels to put people into boxes where we can look down on them and feel better about ourselves. What an absolute contrast to what God does and what He has asked us to do. We need to drop the labels and embrace each other. It doesn’t always mean we will agree, but love goes so much deeper than differences. It would be so much better if we just simply loved each other. I realize with an imperfect world and imperfect people it will probably never be that way, but we can hope. And we can, through the telling of our stories, change the individuals who can eventually change the world.