Growing Up Gay in the Church

By Grant Underwood

I’ve been trying to rectify my sexuality with my relationship with G-O-D since I can remember. Not that I’m singular in that. I mean, I’m sure I wasn’t the only gay boy growing up ecclesiastically.


I come from a Jesus-heavy family. At least four members of my family are currently pastors. Church attendance was mandatory, two times on Sunday and once on Wednesday(midweek sabbath).

But that was ok. I loved Jesus, I loved going to church. I loved singing and dancing during praise and worship. I really enjoyed the moments where I could feel connected to something bigger than myself. Even as a kid, believing that whatever that “something bigger” knew all about my secret affinity for Toby Mac(hottest member of DC Talk), and didn’t care.

When I was in 7th grade, my parents decided that we would switch churches. This decision was met by tears, anger and fear. They wanted to move our family to a church closer to home. Closer by 20 minutes. My siblings and I were told that this new church was better for us because there were more kids around our age for my sister and I to associate with. I didn’t see it like that. I saw myself being taken out of the only community I knew, a community that understood the effeminate, talkative, redheaded boy. To me, it meant I’d have a whole new set of peers wondering what my deal was.

Middle school boys can be shockingly intuitive. They’re often times very good at delineating things or people from whom they differ. And boy, did I differ. I mean, I wasn’t waltzing into bible study with a kaftan and turban, yelling “hey, sailor!”, but I also wasn’t into playing basketball in the gym with them. I was never invited. They could probably tell it wasn’t my thing and I was probably busy gossiping with the girls, anyway.

I didn’t know why I was pulled in one direction and not in another. I just knew where I felt comfortable, and I knew it was not with those boys. I would get up an hour early at church camp so I could avoid showering with the other boys. I would always be in the middle of a bunch of girls so I could avoid the boys. I didn’t know how to act like them. I didn’t feel like I was one of them. I was intrigued by them, and also afraid of them.

My only hope at this point was that G-O-D knew what was inside of me and that somehow, I was an exception to the “abomination” rule. Even at 13, I could kind of recognize in myself the things that are preached as forbidden. Guilt sets in at young age.


My high school youth group was kind of like a social club about Jesus.

We were constantly going on “youth retreats” and “mission trips”. These were excursions were always a mix evangelizing opportunities and just hanging out. Or as the Christians call it “fellowship”. My fellowship mainly revolved around my girlfriends in youth group. In my mind, I was constantly trying to convince myself that maybe one of these girls was meant to be my girlfriend. Like an actual girlfriend. A girl that G-O-D had placed into my 16 year old life to fix me and make me acceptable. Of course, that’s a lot of pressure to put on the shoulders of one girl, so I found myself with a few girls who let me try them out in the role of Christian girlfriend. I went to so many proms as the token date. In hindsight, man, was that unfair to those girls. I KNEW that it wasn’t their job to “fix” me. But, I doubt they knew they were being auditioned for that part. I only kind of knew. I wasn’t willing to see who I was. I could only see who I wasn’t.

I didn’t have to tools to confront my worst fear. The fear of the feelings I always had. That who I was at the very core of my being was wrong and condemned by everyone in my life.

Heavy stuff for a Junior in high school. I mean, human sexuality is hard enough to figure out for everyone, but add to that the idea that you’re going to burn in hell because Lance Bass made your pants tingle, and you have the perfect storm of confusion and internalized guilt. I HAVE NO CONTROL OVER WHO MAKES MY PANTS TINGLE, BELIEVE ME, I’VE TRIED.

So I went stealth. Just didn’t talk about it. Plausible deniability/actual deniability was the game. If I could hide out under the guise of purity, I could blend in. G-O-D was actually a good cover for a while. I wore my promise ring(way before the Jonas Brothers made it cool)and my Reliant K t-shirts. When Mom asked, “When are you going to bring a girl home?” I’d say, “When the right girl finds me.” That was a little trick I’d play on myself. A trick that made G-O-D the scapegoat. It became His job to find me a girl and until He did, it would relieve me of the guilt of not being interested in girls. Maybe I’m not interested in any of these girls because they aren’t the ones I’m ordained to be with. When SHE comes around, I’ll know, and all my worries will melt away and I’ll be CURED FOREVER PRAISE JESUS HALLELUJAH. Once again, so much pressure to put on a girl who doesn’t know that she the key to my salvation. I had hope for this magical girl. G-O-D never sent her.

I graduated high school while maintaining the outward denial of my own sexuality. I say outward, because internally, I knew what was really going on.

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