How can a fundamentalist explore beyond her upbringing?
April 17, 2016 8:18 PM   Subscribe

How can I respectfully explore the possibility that, as a woman, I'm attracted to women?

I'm a woman in my mid-twenties. I have a fundamentalist Christian background and have been gradually liberalizing. I'm still Christian, but my theology on GLBT* questions has shifted. I've become closer with queer Christians and explored the ideas more. The more I read, the more I think non-heterosexual relationships might be sanctioned or just not addressed in the Christian Bible, meaning they aren't a sin. This is kind of a huge shift for me personally and I'm still working through it. In some ways, my head is catching up with my heart.*

In practical terms, the possibility of God being cool with gay relationships brings up a question I never allowed myself to ask: whether I have any attraction to women. Before, I didn't even want to open the door because of the deep grief of having to live a life that didn't match my gender or orientation. I headed the question off way before the pass.*

So, practically, how can I explore this? I checked out some online dating profiles and saw a few women mention they aren't interested in someone going out with them as "exploration." I don't want to do this as a sort of sexual tourism, but... I also sort of do. I mean, I want to visit that town so I can know if I want to move there. Sometimes you visit a place and it just clicks.

Is there a respectful way I can approach people to let them know where I am with things? Is it as simple as just going out on dates and at some point describing where I'm coming from? I don't want to lead anybody on. I want to respect myself, too, and the process of finding out who I am.

Where would I go and how would I start this conversation? I'm not sure where to meet people. I live in a pretty big city that's gay-friendly.

I also think I'm a little concerned people are just going to laugh at me if I'm honest about where I'm coming from. I worry about that in the hetero relationships I already get involved in (I've been mildly sexual with guys but never gone beyond first base; I don't usually tell people how little experience I actually have). I'm exploring my hetero side right now, too. I know that anyone who's not down with who I am isn't right for me, but it's hard to get myself to believe that. I know whoever I wind up with will need to be a gentle, patient, awesome person.

Am I overthinking this? Am I framing it in an offensive way? Please give me a little guidance.

*I know for many people this part of my journey is foreign, terrible, violent, antiquated, and more. I'm giving it for context, but fundamentalist teachings on homosexuality isn't the main gist of my question.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

When I was in a similar place, I looked around online and found a support group for people questioning their sexuality. It was one of the best things I ever did for myself - it made me feel normal. All the things about my experiences that I thought invalidated my sexuality turned out to be so incredibly common. See if there's something similar near you!
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:33 PM on April 17, 2016 [4 favorites]

Check out Removing the Fig Leaf. This blog is relatively new, and therefore doesn't have a ton of content yet. Perhaps it or its parent site could point you to other content that would help with your transition from fundamentalism :)

As a cis het woman, I'm sorry I don't have any advice on the exploration front, but your attitude seems to be exactly as it ought to be. Don't be discouraged from the journey!!
posted by wwartorff at 8:33 PM on April 17, 2016

Good luck with your journey, and how brave for you to open your mind and heart like this! I know it can be scary but also bring you closer to greater happiness, whatever you ultimately find is works and doesn't work for you.

I agree with the suggestion to find support with people who have similar experiences. Unfortunately, there are some LGBTQ+ people who don't respect Christianity just as there are some Christians who don't respect LGBTQ+ people. Ideally, you'll want to be in spaces and with people who accept you as who you are and don't make you feel uncomfortable for your beliefs or identity. It's one thing to have a discussion and another to feel unsafe: you always can leave a situation if you feel uncomfortable or unsure. Is there a meetup for LGBTQ+ Christians in your city? I'd start there, at least for friends.

I'd try to meet potential dates in person: people may be very picky on paper (or online) but are often much more open-minded in person. A woman who lists she's not interested in dating people who are "experimenting" in an online profile might totally be interested in dating or at least becoming friends if you meet in person where your personality and vibe come first. While I'd be honest with people you are seriously dating, you also don't need to immediately share this with every people person you're crushing on the second you start talking (unless you really want to.) One thing to consider is if you have any preferences for the relationship status of the people you may date or make out with. Are you OK with dating someone who is an open relationship or would you prefer to only date someone who is single? There's no right or wrong answer but is something to keep in mind.

I'd do a mixture of things: go to queer spaces with friends, check out online dating and apps, and see what feels comfortable. It sounds like you are open to seeing what happens but perhaps aren't quite ready to make out with a stranger at a bar yet (but, hey, if it feels right then go for it.) "Questioning" is absolutely part of the LGBTQ+ spectrum; I agree that not everyone is supportive of it but it's a valid identity and place to be. I can tell you're coming to this from a place of respect for yourself and others, and that's really awesome. I wish you luck!
posted by smorgasbord at 9:09 PM on April 17, 2016

I'm going to give you a brief answer/non-answer since I think it applies to your situation. Others will be more specific...

Deep down, spirituality and culture/religion are two different things. You personally must parse your spirituality vs your values vs your beliefs. Then, you can make your way in the world while being true to who you are, or at least exploring who you are honestly.

My spouse is from a vastly different culture and religion from me - spiritually we agree - practically sometimes we are at GREAT ODDS when actually, we still agree with each other! My spouse comes from a more regimented culture than I do, our religious backgrounds are equally muddy and neither one of us thinks that religious stuff is OK. We're both deeply spiritual. Granted, our cultural differences have emerged after 8 years of marriage and 5 years of shared parenting - but OMG! This is a lifelong exploration you are taking on. Do not think you will be unchallenged. There will be challenging times.

Should you do it? YES. YES. YES.

I'm telling you this now so that when the road ahead gets hard, you have inspiration to stick it out. It's difficult to examine cultural conditioning that is negative towards your inner self or best life choices. Don't let this hard self-work stand in your way. Keep pursuing personal excellence. You be you.
posted by jbenben at 9:29 PM on April 17, 2016

I'm glad you're willing to evaluate, explore, do things that are scary. Hopefully, you will be true to you- I think that's all God really wants; hurt nobody and be true to yourself.

Google LGBT and your city, and you will find some hits, almost certainly.

Your local colleges also have LGBT groups you can join.

LGBT bars/clubs might be a little intimidating now, I'd probably dip my toes in the water a little first.

I'm not denominational or particularly religious, but I always seem to recommend Unitarian Univeraslists. In my experience, they were extremely LGBT friendly- from the laypeople to the pastors- and welcoming of all ages, faiths, and status in life.

I think you are over-thinking it some. You seem earnest, kind, and brave. Everybody is new and exploring something, sometime. Most people will see that, I believe, and respect that. :) It will be ok. Have fun!
posted by Jacen at 9:52 PM on April 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm a cis guy so I can only speak from that perspective: in general, in the queer world, the ethical way to go about "I am figuring myself out" is to be upfront about that from the get go.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:54 PM on April 17, 2016 [4 favorites]

Is there a reason your step is directly to dating? Explore yourself before bringing other people into this. Look around, do women catch your eye? Are there women who make your tummy flutter? Have you spent any time fantasizing about women or a woman? There's loads of space to explore your inner universe and own body before you involving strangers and their expectations. Many queer people spend ages as a circle of one before they even meet another queer person.
posted by Iteki at 10:54 PM on April 17, 2016 [8 favorites]

You say you've been talking to queer Christians. Have you tried joining a more progressive church? A few places to look would be the United Church of Christ or The Episcopal Church (nearly all of which are very progressive) or groups within other denominations like the More Light Presbyterians or the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists (depending on your branch of fundamentalism, the latter two may feel more familiar and comfortable in other ways than UCC or TEC). Many of these churches will have a "young adults" group that maybe does things like Sunday School together but also maybe does things like hang out at bars or coffee shops together.

This really is a great way to meet people who will be comfortable with your exploration of your sexuality and your Christianity simultaneously. Some of them may even be on the same journey as you right now, or have taken that journey before, from fundamentalism to a more open and affirming Christianity as well as from heterosexuality out of fear to an exploration of who you might be.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:36 AM on April 18, 2016 [3 favorites]

It sounds like you've already made the hard step of thinking about the context that the explorations you want to make would have for other queer people, and valuing how that might not necessarily be positive. Really, honestly, there will be a lot of people for whom exploring someone in your position will be exactly their thing and the way to find them will be being open and honest about exactly here you are at.

I'd also recommend watching this lecture by Matthew Vines
posted by Blasdelb at 5:25 AM on April 18, 2016

Can you also attend events for queer people/queer women? If you look around online, you may be able to find book groups, meetups, etc, and you can always attend those to see how you feel that you might fit in. This would probably have a clarifying effect in re being attracted to women, if I may speak from experience. And if you're going to a book group, for instance, you don't necessarily need to share a lot about yourself because you can talk about the book instead.

You don't so much need to go on a date with a woman to figure out if you want to date women - merely spending time around a variety of women who you could in theory date [if they were single and interested] should help you with that.

Also, again, why not read some light romance? If you google around for "lesbian romance short stories" you should find some appropriate stuff - or at least, there was appropriate stuff in the nineties when I read such things. If you feel like you'd rather cut to the chase and read erotica, of course, there's that too.

I think there's practical ways to get more clarity about whether you want to have a romantic relationship with a woman before actually dating. Doing that will make it easier to get dates, since many people are way more comfortable with "this is new to me but I am sure that I want to date women, maybe you!" than "I am not sure I want to date women, let's try it!"

Also, have you read Alison Bechdel's work? Fun Home, of course, is the one most people have read - but actually, her Dykes to Watch Out For series is great for
just normalizing queer womanhood. (Also, it's full of fascinating historical trivia, since it ran from the mid-eighties through the 2000s.) I found her autobiographical stuff in The Indelible Alison Bechdel very moving.
posted by Frowner at 7:02 AM on April 18, 2016 [4 favorites]

Meetup and Facebook groups might be a good place to connect, socially and otherwise, with women who are similarly inexperienced. For example, in my area, there are Meetup groups specifically for women exploring their sexuality. Finding your people and realizing that you're not alone will help with this process. Good luck!
posted by acridrabbit at 9:33 AM on April 18, 2016

You might get some additional ideas by asking on the forum. Lots of respectful, supportive people there who will understand where you're coming from.
posted by Short Attention Sp at 12:28 PM on April 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

From the spiritual side of things, I'm from a fundamentalist background that I have progressed greatly from, so I know what it's like to have to rethink what I thought I knew about the Bible's teachings. God and the Gay Christian is a good place to explore this, even if it's just to see that there are more ways of looking at what you've seen before. A quick search turned up these recommendations which you may also find helpful. I also like the advice already given to seek out and surround yourself with people that understand what you're going through. I have faith you'll figure yourself out in time.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 12:31 PM on April 18, 2016

There's lots of great advice above about other ways to explore this question, but I also want to explicitly say that while some queer women (especially lesbian-identified women) will be resistant to dating someone who isn't sure yet if they're queer (or even someone who is sure they're queer but also dates men), we're not all like that. After all, we all had to start somewhere, too.

I also want to affirm your intuition that anyone who laughs at your inexperience or careful exploration is not for you. You're doing a big, complicated, and important thing, and you're trying to be considerate of others while you do it. You might also find it helpful to read the many questions here from people worried about how others will react to their sexual inexperience (including a few from women who have just realized they're queer).

And yes, definitely read some Alison Bechdel!
posted by dizziest at 3:41 PM on April 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

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