If I’m Queer But I’m A Preacher, Maybe He’ll Love Me

Unless I was sick, I spent almost every Sunday from the time I was a baby until the time I was 18 in the sanctuary of someone’s church. Both of my parents are licensed ministers, which in some Black churches is just as important as ordination. Together, my father and mother taught me the basics of Christianity. I learned “Jesus Loves Me” alongside the “ABC” song. We read morning devotionals together before running off to work and daycare and said the Lord’s Prayer before bed. Through his words and actions, my father taught me that Christianity is rooted in love, and while I’ve since learned a lot more about the religion, that idea has stuck. It’s become one of the greatest influencers in how I practice my religion.

I’ve had a complicated relationship with the church growing up as a queer person, but church has always been home. It taught me first and foremost about love, justice, and acceptance; the other things I’ve picked up there I blame on “Church Folks,” not Christianity. Going to church is something I’ve enjoyed doing my whole life and as I’ve started building my own faith traditions, it’s something I want to keep doing.

The love I have for church definitely came from my father. For as long as I can remember, he’s wanted to pastor a church. This desire to lead stems from church being one of the few places he was praised as a child. It’s a family non-secret that my grandmother spit on the doctor when my father was born. After two boys, she wanted a girl, not my father. He was teased at school because he was Black. He was the only child my grandmother didn’t send to private schools. He was fat. But in church, people listened to him. And so for him, religion became a way for him to be heard. Church was where he was valued and where he was loved. It held him in ways his own mother wouldn’t. He built a relationship with the church and with Christianity that kept him sane through difficult times and filled him with love.

Somewhere, my father got off track. It was like everything he taught me stopped being real once I got old enough to disagree with him. Christianity for kids is all about love, but now that I’m 24 and talking about potentially loving a human who isn’t a man, Christianity is about something completely different. His Christianity is fueled by hatred, not love. His Christianity is rooted in righteousness, not justice. He cares about proving that he is the most like Christ, but he’s so stuck living inside of a rigid interpretation of the Bible that he isn’t actually being like Christ at all. The Christianity he believes in is the Christianity that would have me, a non-binary queer person, not exist, or at least not be welcome into heaven. And there’s this sad inner child part of me that wants to believe that he loves me too much to believe in that Christianity. But when someone shows themselves to you, you have to believe them.

One of the only memories I have of my father before my parents got divorced happened at church. Sometimes I’ll randomly remember it and laugh to myself about. Part of the reason I hang onto it so much is because the father from that memory is so different from the father that I grew up to know that I’m partially convinced it isn’t real.

We were loitering in the sanctuary of Mt. Moriah Baptist Church after service one Sunday when I was 5 years old and I was sitting on a bench by the door. My dad was talking to someone, probably some uncle or adult male cousin who made me uncomfortable in ways I wasn’t able to articulate yet. I was a bored kindergartner who’d just learned the Blackstreet song “No Diggity”— probably from my father. So I started singing it, obviously. And I remember my father’s face as he registered what I was singing. It was something between horror and amusement. He rushed over to me, knelt in front of me and said something along the lines of You can absolutely sing that song in the car, but you can’t sing it in church. He laughed and called me Suga’ Bear. He picked me up, we left church together and sang the song in the car on the way home.


This is not the father I grew up to know. When I was young, even immediately after the divorce, I was known as a daddy’s girl. I loved and admired my father so much. He had an infectious laugh and he was kind to everyone, most of all me. I’m his first child, so there was always something between us that felt special. So it hurt me when he moved away because I felt like he was leaving me. Once my father moved, he started looking for a new wife and a new family.

When he started dating the woman he would eventually marry, that’s when I started noticing the biggest change. Despite the difficulty distance made in maintaining our relationship, one thing I could count on every year was my father visiting us in Connecticut for my birthday. It was one of the most cherished traditions that we’d had after he moved away. His new wife’s birthday happened to fall two days before mine, and I will forever remember the day he told me he couldn’t come see me for my birthday anymore. He mentioned something about the Bible and the covenant of marriage and told me, “She’s the most important woman in my life now.” If I was hurt when my father moved to Virginia, this crushed me. I’d felt like I lost him.

I kept trying to stay close, though — even though with his new wife, the new son that came with his new wife and the new baby they’d had together, he kept getting farther away. He slowly stopped visiting Connecticut in general, and the only times I’d get to see him were the two to three weeks I was mandated to see him over the summers. I’d call to try and keep him updated on my life; I told him about my basketball games and plays. Adolescent me tried so hard to get him to just pay attention to me. For a variety of reasons I eventually stopped trying — and wanting — to be close.

One year, my brother and I were scheduled to stay with him for three weeks but actually stayed eight. My father refused to buy us plane or train tickets back home until my mother agreed to give him sole custody of my brother. I was shocked: both that he’d held us hostage for five weeks and because he had no problem hurting my brother and I to get what he wanted (even though he eventually did send us home). Another year, he threatened to spank me — something my mother, who was my primary caregiver, hadn’t done in over five years — over a run of the mill argument with my brother. He was out of touch with me and my life and he didn’t even care. Everything was about his new wife, his new family, and the new church he was starting. My brother and I didn’t fit into that life; it was hard for him to reconcile two children from his failed marriage with the new ‘holier than thou’ life he lived.

Based off of our history, I waited longer to come out to him than I did to my mother and other immediate family members. I expected that to be the end of our relationship, and so it was surprising when he reacted so neutrally to it. During one of his visits when he took my brother and I to a local diner for breakfast, I threw in the fact that “y’know, I’m gay,” as something that was influencing my college choices. He said something about loving me forever and being proud of the woman of God (a phrase he loves and that I hate) I was becoming. When he didn’t completely lose his shit when I came out to him, I took it as an apology for being so crappy for most of my childhood. I thought it was maybe the beginning of our healing process.

The day the Supreme Court ruled that marriage equality was a constitutional right was joyous for almost everyone I knew. Straight friends put rainbow filters over their profile pictures and I turned off my cynicism for a day and let myself be happy. We’d won an important battle. Somehow, I found myself on my father’s Facebook page where I saw a long paragraph which ended with, “We don’t care about man’s law because God’s law will always reign supreme!” I was sad and angry in a way I didn’t expect to be. Sure my father had been disappointing me for most of my life, but he said he’d loved me when I came out. How could he say something this hurtful?

I confronted him about it, telling him that it hurt me to know that was how he felt about a day that affected me in such a positive way. I said something about my future wife, our children, his grandchildren, and other buzzwords that generally work to steer the conversation in a positive direction after a misguided and homophobic comment from a family member. I expected an apology and a reassurance of his love. One of the most disappointing things about my father is how he falls through on his commitments, but is able to seem like the World’s Greatest Dad to the public. I thought I’d caught him: to me, his apologizing felt like the only way he could maintain that public persona. He wanted his friends to know that he loved his daughter, right?

He never apologized. Instead, he said, “Like God, I love you as my daughter, but don’t love everything about you, or the lifestyle you choose. I’m being Godly in not approving of that part of you. I’m sorry you’re not spiritually mature enough to see that yet.” To his conservative, Christian friends, my father just maintained his position as World’s Greatest Dad. He told his daughter that he loved them, but he also maintained his “biblical” position on queerness. I told him he wasn’t God, and that he could either love all of me, or none and after tiring myself out and getting more and more hurt by the conversation, I ended it by blocking him. I also blocked his phone number.

Our falling out was expected and surprising at the same time. Our relationship had had a shaky foundation from the start. There was always a part of me that wondered if we’d stop speaking one day, but I never honestly believed it would happen. Something I grapple with every year around Father’s Day is that my father is a really good spouse and parent in his new family. As his new marriage grew stronger, our relationship weakened. I think he didn’t know how to improve our relationship and have a strong new marriage; he couldn’t do both because growing with my brother and I would have conflicted with his new life. My brother and I were becoming stereotypical liberal New England democrats while he became more and more soaked in conservative Bible Belt culture. Eventually, we became too different to coexist peacefully.

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My father has very few admirable qualities when it comes to our relationship: he doesn’t follow through on his promises, he doesn’t compromise, and he has a God complex. But, there’s still a part of me that is holding onto a shred of what he used to be. And so when I think about the man he used to be, there’s a lot I admire about him, especially his commitment to his religion, as misguided as I think it is today.

It’s funny because even though I find him misguided, we’re essentially traveling the same path. I’m applying to graduate school right now, and recently, I’ve felt called to look at seminary programs. The path I’m hoping to travel will lead to ordination, and maybe a leadership role in a church. I’m not really sure what “called” means, but it felt different than deciding I’d apply for a PhD in Performance Studies. Seminary feels like something I need to do because it’s bigger than me. It feels important academically, spiritually, emotionally and developmentally. And I think a part of it has to do with my father. I think there’s a part of me that hopes that if I go to seminary I can fix it so he loves me again — that I can fix us.

Religion is the only thing that can win over my stubborn father. If you can prove something to him biblically, he will believe it. While I hope to impact far more than just my father in whatever work I decide to do, whether faith based or not, I know that part of me wants to go to seminary because then, maybe, my father will listen to me. I mean, how much more “spiritually mature” can I get than literally getting a professional degree studying religion and spirituality? I think I’ll feel validated by him if I can prove to him that I am both spiritually mature and queer. I think I need to prove to him that I can be both and that God loves me just as much because I am queer as They do because I formulate a strong spiritual relationship with Them — even though that’s something I’ve already reconciled for myself.

I also know that I shouldn’t have to earn my father’s love. I learned that from my father — I learned that God is like our parent and that God loves us unconditionally, and that like a parent, we can’t do anything to earn God’s love. So it’s weird, me trying to be good enough for him. If I’m queer but I’m a preacher, maybe he’ll love me. If I become an ordained minister, maybe he’ll dance with me at my wedding. If his friends know I’m going to seminary, maybe he’ll be okay with me being queer. I am only human though, and so I don’t beat myself up too badly when I think things like that; it’s a hard habit to break.

Looking at seminary hasn’t just caused me to think about my father, though. It’s connected me with radical, queer activists who are reclaiming Christianity in the name of justice and love. It’s introduced me to queer women of color theologians who center their Christianity in Black womanhood. My top choice school has a history of rooting itself in Black liberation. My faith is radical, and seminary searching has reaffirmed that for me. My faith has deepened because of this search, and I’m finding myself in places I didn’t know I could exist.

These radical faith traditions contrast to my father’s beliefs. His is a mainline evangelical Protestantism that says that if you believe hard enough and rebuke those who aren’t like you loud enough, that health and wealth will come your way. My faith tradition centers itself on those of us who have been hurt by the church, and uplifts them because that’s what Jesus would have done. It recognizes that the Bible is, according to the UCC in a recent campaign, “like GPS. A brilliant guide. All-knowing. Occasionally wrong.” This Christianity practices the way Jesus taught: with room to change and grow.

Some days it feels so important to help my father get it right. If he can be reminded of the beautiful and loving possibilities of Christianity, like those that attracted him to it as a boy, maybe we can begin to heal. When he started forming his relationship with the religion, he was attracted to it because he was an outcast, just like Jesus.

I want to help remind him of the unconditional love that Christianity offers — not just for fat Black boys in Connecticut during the 70s, but today, for his Black queer non-binary daughter. I want to find the words to show my father that I forgive him. We are so similar that it destroys me sometimes, because I could end up like him. But we are also different. I am strong in ways that he isn’t. I love harder than I judge. I forgive easier. Hopefully, my journey through the depths of our shared religion can help to heal our broken relationship.

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Ari is a 20-something artist and educator. They are a mom to two cats, they love domesticity, ritual, and porch time. They have studied, loved, and learned in CT, Greensboro, NC, and ATX.

Ari has written 330 articles for us.


  1. This was awesome and you’re awesome. Thank you for sharing; this resonated with me. Good luck with seminary programs and grad school and I hope you publish follow-up essays on AS in the future!

  2. Thank you, Alaina, for sharing this with us. It was beautiful and honest. Sending lots of love.

  3. At what point do you decide it’s not worth it anymore? What you wrote about your father was so incredibly familiar in terms of my own father and my relationship with him. I feel like for me, I don’t see my father changing at all, because how can I argue with God? I’ve largely gone without speaking to him since I came out, because it inevitably descends into a lecture about my heathenry. I made plans to go to my parents’ over the holidays to visit but a few weeks before, my father sent me a Facebook message telling me I needed to repent and that I was selfish and the only reason I haven’t repented and turned to living the right way is because I can’t stand not getting my way. My brother tried telling him it was hurtful, but in his rigid head, he’s just speaking the righteous truth. He’s just doing what God says to do, saying what God says, being a good Christian, being like Jesus. Etc. He’s made it very, very clear that he would rather die then attend my hypothetical future wedding. Mind you, he didn’t even want me going to prom with a gay guy because he didn’t want me in a friendship with a gay person.
    My mother follows his lead, because, you know, conservative approach to marriage.
    After the letter situation, I blocked their numbers/social media/etc. I feel like there’s nothing I can do that would ever chip away at my father’s narcissistic/legalistic approach to Christianity/the Bible/right and wrong/me. I feel like I’d be fighting a losing battle to try and change his mind. A losing battle in which I come out way more wounded than I already am.

    • oh dear…what a big question. i think deciding to cut someone off is super personal and a decision you have to make on your own, but what helped me make the decision was that I realized he was lying. To himself, to his friends…he was pretending like part of me didn’t exist in order to make his life work out the way he wanted it to, and I couldn’t have that. I hope that whatever decision you make with your family that you are able to come to peace with it…cutting someone out of your life is huge…I’m still figuring out how to navigate a life without him, even though his presence was never a good one. I definitely feel like I made the right choice, but it wasn’t easy, it still isn’t easy…

      I’m glad this resonated with you <3

  4. Thank you for sharing this part of your journey.
    You consistently open my eyes and heart. I love you.

  5. This is beautiful. Sending you lots of love and luck as you continue on your path.

    Your description of how Christianity went from love and rainbows as a child to hate and brimstone as a teen/adult really resonates with my experience.
    I always love to hear about queers who are reclaiming Christianity.

    My wife was raised with very little religion and barely knows the basics of Christianity and I keep trying to explain that if she gave it a chance Jesus is probably someone she would agree with, calling out the establishment on their hypocrisy and welcoming the poor and outcasts. All she’s ever seen of Christianity is people being self righteous and hating on anyone different from them… so she doesn’t really believe me that there’s anything good underneath it all. :(
    We need more ministers like you! If you go down that path and have eventually have a church I’ll come visit!

  6. This is such a beautiful piece! I am humbled by your strength, courage, and forgiveness. I truly hope that you can reconcile with your father someday.

  7. Thank you. My honorary second mom is a minister working for acceptance and equality in the church in a homophobic country and I often think about how many problems would be solved if all people who call themselves Christians were preaching the same messages of love she does, instead of hate.

  8. oh wow. thank you for writing this. you write in the midst of a storm and we’re grateful for it. like others have said, so much of it resonates with my own relationship with my father.

    mark jordan, a white queer theologian, talks in his book ethics of sex about how it takes so. much. labor. to not feel like we’re children talking back to our parents, or sinners defending ourselves in front of a judge, when we talk about our sexual and gendered lives and loves – it can feel desperate and disempowering. i find this rings really true to my experience. i’m a sullen adolescent again every time i have a conversation with my uber-religious parents about this. (for anyone looking to understand how the bible works re: sex, it also has a nice chapter on that.)

    maybe going to seminary will prove something to your dad, but i went to seminary and am now getting my phd in religion – it didn’t work for my parents. just a caution.

    but seminary can, of course, be a great journey regardless of whether or not it changes our parents! :) i hope you have some folks to talk you through this decision; and i’m sure you do! but if you’re interested in hearing about my experience as a queer seminarian and some of the communities i see doing vibrant work, feel free to dm. i’d love to hear which schools you’re considering and what kind of path you feel called to.

    • i think i’ve read some of jordan, but now i definitely want to check out some more of his work! i’d also love to hear anything and everything about your seminary experience, I’ll hit you up!

  9. What an interesting, nuanced and thought provoking piece. Thank you for sharing your story with us.

  10. Thank you for writing this beautiful piece, it resonated with me on so many levels. I was raised Roman Catholic and all the different aspects of my faith seemed beautiful and wonderful when I was younger. And I think that’s what faith is supposed to be like when you’re older too, but people use faith to govern how other people are supposed to look, act, feel, etc. and that’s where my problems with faith began. I still look at Christian and Catholic doctrine and see an ultimate message of love, understanding, and compassion towards the rest of humanity which resonates with me deeply, but churches and congregations are no longer spaces that I feel safe in.
    I went to an amazing round table discussion at my university about faith and sexual diversity, I heard so many pastors and preachers beconing the LGBT community back to the church, for a variety of different reasons, but then I heard the pastor from my branch of faith say “the church has standards, and we must abide by those standards”. He compared gay sex to having sex with animals, and was spewing messages that were full of microaggressions towards the LGBT community. It broke my heart.
    I’m still trying to come to terms with my beliefs and how I’ll practice them, but for now, I’m keeping my distance from my church of origin until it’s more welcoming towards people who don’t identify as straight or cis.

    • i hope you’re able to find your place in a faith community one day if that’s what you want. i’m glad you got something out of this :)

  11. Is your top choice school Union Theological Seminary in NYC, by any chance? I’m a former theater major too, headed there in fall 2016. Maybe we’ll be classmates!

    • top choice actually isn’t union–i’m looking at chicago theological seminary as my first. i love union; one of my professors actually told me I should look there before i even thought of seminary, but I’ve done the living in new york thing, and I’m not ready to do it again, at least without tons of money in the bank haha. good luck on your seminary journey!! so many AS divinity school students!

  12. Amazing piece and really good read. Reminds me of the struggles I went through growing up in a catholic household. I studied the bible everyday since I was little, even the older versions that included books that are now gone from the modern bibles. I understood what God was supposed to be but I also knew that God was something more personal. Being a former homophobe and dealing with my sexuality always felt like a punishment that could rip me apart from my family and my mom already said many times that gays burn in hell (she doesn’t say it anymore).

    It wasn’t until my first year of going to college and actually getting away from everything, that I was forced to face my relationship with God and religion. I was depressed, suicidal and was desperate for answers. So I turned to a Christian friend online and we talked for weeks and she would always do a prayer for my healing. One day I just asked her to pray that I have someone that will be there and understand me and above all, love me. I didn’t think anything would come from it.

    The next day I a girl randomly messages me on Facebook and we became really close. She is now my fiancé and we have been together for 6 years. That’s when I realized that what ever God is or isn’t, was never meant for us to decide. The only important thing is to listen and to love regardless of religious beliefs. Now every time a bigoted Christian asks me how I know God approves of my relationship, I point to my future wife and tell them I got what I prayed for. What’s even better is that my mom approves and I fear her more than the holy ghost.

  13. omg thank you thank you
    i get so sick of trying to explain my father
    because our relationship is impossible. but you explained it understood and you don’t even know me.
    i cried the whole way through reading this.
    Thanks for sharing your story

  14. I’m late to this, Alaina, but it’s profoundly applicable to my history and parents as well. Thank you. I desperately needed this today of all days and it just showed up at random in my feed. Thank you… so much.

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