Early on, rejection led me to deny who I was. Because I saw women as victims, the last thing I wanted to be was a girl.
It started out like any other Sunday morning. Mom was in the kitchen finishing her breakfast before heading off to the golf course.
I stopped to chat with her briefly before going to church. Only this time our conversation turned sour.
"What do you want from me?" my mom asked abruptly.
Without thinking I shot back, "I want a mom!"
"I don't want to be a mom," she said curtly. "I didn't plan to have you. I didn't plan to have any of my kids."
Her words were like daggers to my soul. Tears came. I knew I couldn't stop them if I tried, but I didn't want her to see me cry.
"And don't start crying to make me feel guilty," she rebuked.
Her words hung in the air with the thought reeling through my head, I didn't ask to be here. Suddenly a veil lifted as I realized, at age 22, that what my dad had been telling me for years was true: My mother didn't love me.
I don't know why I bothered going to church that morning. I didn't hear a thing and couldn't even see the pastor through my tears. I cried all morning over the stark reality that I was nothing more than an inconvenience to the one person whose affection I craved the most.
Months earlier I had become a Christian and begun my journey out of homosexuality. As a young adult I was now attempting to connect with Mom for the first time in my life.
THE WOUNDS OF CHILDHOOD Growing up, my alcoholic father had a violent temper and would often hit my mother. I saw her as a victim and rejected anything to do with femininity, which to me represented weakness.
I looked to my older brother and decided I wanted to be just like him. I hung out with him whenever he would let me, wore his hand-me-down clothes and even copied his handwriting style. I wanted to be anything but a girl.
As early as I can remember I preferred sports to playing with dolls. I played Little League baseball when I was 10 and tackle football for years with the neighborhood boys.
I was seen as one of the guys because I was as strong and tough as they were. "Tomboy" didn't begin to describe me--I walked like a boy, talked like a boy, dressed like a boy and even played shirtless like a boy. Most adults thought I was a boy and often called me "son" or "young man."
I hated my name, Christine, because it was obviously a girl's name. I went by "Chris" instead.
My dad and brother had an obsession with sex. My dad had pornographic magazines stacked under his bed, and my brother was preoccupied with my developing body.
My parents divorced when I was 12 and sent me away to live with relatives, where I was sexually abused by an older cousin. For years I hid my secret in my heart. Meanwhile it took its toll on my mind, shaping my beliefs about men and women. Life already had taught me that men were interested only in sex and that being a woman was a liability. Being molested reinforced my already warped view of men.
From then on I wanted to conceal whatever shred of femininity I had left, believing that if I weren't attractive then things like this wouldn't happen to me. Yet there were numerous other occasions on which men took advantage of me.
I never felt safe as a girl because every man I met treated me as the object of his desire. I resented this and desperately longed to be loved for me, not for my female body.
FEEDING AN EMOTIONAL NEED Though my feelings for women had not become sexualized yet, I had a deep hunger for feminine love. Throughout elementary school and junior high, I would linger in the presence of a particularly nurturing teacher, craving her attention and seeking to obtain it whenever possible.
In high school I was still routinely mistaken for a boy because of my masculine appearance and mannerisms. Some people assumed I was gay because I looked the part, but the thought never really occurred to me. This was the mid-80s and nobody talked about homosexuality.
One day in my sophomore year, I discovered that my best friend, a senior, was in love with me. I loved her, too, but was confused about the possibility of a sexual relationship.
Eventually I overcame my inhibitions and became lovers with Kate. I was 15 and she was 17. Our lives revolved around each nother.
I became jealous and possessive of her, wanting her all to myself and viewing other friends as a threat to our relationship. These were all characteristics of emotional dependency, which was the hallmark of my six years as a lesbian.
I wanted to spend the rest of my life with Kate, even to marry her. But my mom discovered our affair and worked to put an end to it--she was embarrassed to have a gay daughter.
At 17 I began experimenting with guys sexually to find out if I really was gay. Each encounter left me feeling degraded.
In college I resumed my lesbianism and reveled in it, believing it was innate and inborn. I settled into the idea that I would be gay the rest of my life.
My junior year I fell in love with Jane, a married woman who was seven years older than I. Her husband worked long hours, leaving Jane emotionally needy and vulnerable to looking outside her marriage for ways to meet those needs. I was there for her.
Jane also regularly attended church. She felt guilty about our relationship because she believed homosexuality and unfaithfulness in marriage were sins.
I struggled with guilt about being a home-wrecker, but I was powerless to stop our relationship because she satisfied my hunger for love. Jane continued her involvement in church throughout our 18-month relationship.
Having felt judged by Christians in the past, I wanted no part of her church life. However, my love of sports motivated me to join the church softball team. I was there for one reason only--to play ball. But God had other ideas.
During the course of three softball seasons, I was drawn by the love my teammates had for one another and for me. It seemed so pure and so right. I felt accepted even though they knew I was not a Christian. My profanity and unsportsmanlike conduct made that obvious to everyone.
The coach never once scolded me for my behavior. Instead he prayed for me and encouraged my teammates to do the same when they complained I was ruining their Christian witness.
One teammate, Kelly, could tell I was gay, but never let on. She didn't preach to me or confront me about my lifestyle. Instead she reached out to me in love and friendship all the more.
I began to desire what my fellow teammates had. They were sincere, kind, loving and peaceful--different from any other Christians I had known. I started attending church and Sunday School because I wanted to know their God.
THE HEALING BEGINS On a Sunday night in November 1989, Kelly led me in a prayer of salvation as I knelt beside my bed in my dorm at the University of Tampa.
I didn't feel any different, but deep down I knew something had changed. I knew I meant business with God. I wanted Him more than my homosexuality.
Becoming a Christian didn't instantly resolve my lesbian orientation. It was only the beginning. I broke up with my lover yet continued to suffer in silence with my homosexual desires, blaming God for making me gay.
I didn't understand that God was not responsible. Like many lesbians, I was on this path because I was trying to protect myself from further hurt by men and to compensate for the love I didn't receive from my mother during childhood.
Thankfully, I found out about Exodus International, a ministry that helps people overcome homosexuality, and began attending a local support group. That's where I discovered the root causes of my homosexual desires--things such as sexual abuse, breakdown in the relationship with the same-sex parent, gender confusion, abusive father and peer rejection.
I met with a counselor to deal with the sexual abuse and rejection issues. Several Christian women became my adopted moms and showered me with the love and affirmation every child craves growing up.
Change happened gradually from the inside out. First, the misguided beliefs about men and women were put to rest as I met godly, strong women in the church who dismantled my belief that to be feminine is to be weak. I also met men who treated me with dignity and respect, which freed me to embrace my gender.
For the first time I felt safe as a woman. I even started going by my full name, Christine, because I no longer wanted to hide the fact that I was a girl.
However, I still looked very masculine. I wanted to embrace my femininity but didn't know how. All my life I had struggled with intense feelings of inadequacy about being a girl.
Now for the first time since I had been sexually abused, I wanted to look pretty. Slowly I began to outwardly identify with women, experimenting with makeup, clothes and purses.
Others noticed my progress and encouraged me. I'll never forget the time Robert approached me in church and said, smiling, "Christine, this is the first time you don't look like a boy in a dress." Though it didn't come out right, I knew he meant well, and it let me know I was making progress.
As I worked to overcome my feelings of inadequacy about being a girl, I learned that straight women struggle with insecurities as well. I used to think I had nothing in common with them, but I discovered I was more like them than I ever dreamed.
The key to my healing was developing healthy same-sex friendships. As I did this, my sexual attractions for women naturally diminished because I found what I was looking for all along--love, intimacy and connection.
With God's help and the support of caring people, I have been walking in freedom from homosexuality for more than 12 years now. We live in a society that says homosexuals are born gay and can't change. But I am living proof that's not true because I am a changed person with a changed life!
WHEN SOMEONE YOU LOVE IS GAY
Pray, pray, pray. We must never underestimate the power of intercessory prayer. Pray faithfully for your homosexual friend or loved one.
Share your testimony. Look for opportunities to tell this person about Jesus and what He has meant to you.
Remember that gay bars are filled with people who already know what the Scriptures say about homosexuality. What they don't know is that God loves them. Present the Savior, not just a code of ethics.
Don't focus on his homosexuality. See a person, not a homosexual. Understand that God wants to redeem the whole person and not just his sexuality.
See this person as you would any other unsaved friend--as a lost person in need of a Savior, not a new lifestyle.
Demonstrate love and acceptance. To love a homosexual friend is not to compromise your Christianity. Remember that Jesus was criticized for being a friend of sinners.
Actively love your friend by spending time and being willing to listen. If you are hoping your friend will open up at a deep level, you may need to be vulnerable first.
Get educated. Learn all you can about homosexuality. Several organizations provide a wealth of information and resources to help you understand why people develop a homosexual orientation.
One of these ministries, Exodus International, can be contacted at P.O. Box 540119, Orlando, FL 32854-0119, (407) 599-6872. Or you can visit their Web site at www.exodusnorthamerica.org for helpful information.
STEPS TO FREEDOM FROM HOMOSEXUALITY
Give yourself time. Freedom from homosexuality is a process, not an event. When we expect instant freedom or a quick fix and it doesn't happen, we become disillusioned and despair sets in. Commit to God that you are choosing Him and His ways no matter what your flesh wants or the world says.
Seek help. There are numerous resources and agencies, including the worldwide network of Exodus International (www.exodusnorthamerica.org), to assist you. You do not have to do this alone. Also, you may want to enlist the help of a professional Christian therapist who understands this process and can guide you.
Make a break. If you have been steeped in the homosexual lifestyle and most or all of your friends are gay, you will need to separate yourself from them. Chances are, your gay friends won't support your decision to break away from the lifestyle and will be a hindrance to you on your journey.
Get connected. Cultivate an intimate relationship with the Lord through the spiritual disciplines of daily prayer and Bible reading. Then get connected to others.
It is important to establish yourself within a local body of believers. We need fellowship in order to survive spiritually.
Seek accountability. Remember there is no accountability without honesty. Find someone you can trust who will love and support you even when you fail. In order for us to be emotionally healthy, we need to know that we are loved unconditionally, and we need to be free to take off our masks.
Christine Sneeringer is a conference speaker and freelance writer. She is the executive director of Worthy Creations, which is part of the worldwide network of Exodus International.