Queer in a Courtship: Charis’s Story
HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Charis” is a pseudonym. Also by Charis on HA: Hurts Me More Than You: Charis’s Story.
Sitting around the table surrounded by a beautiful family, someone passes me a slice of pie. I’m celebrating Thanksgiving with my boyfriend and his family, some of the most genuinely caring people I know. I’m happy, having a wonderful day with wonderful people. We played a card game later, laughing and enjoying the fun of competition. His family embraced me with open arms, loved me, wanted my company, and were supportive of my relationship with their son and brother.
This story is as I remember it, but it isn’t only mine. There are many people who were involved and observed; our friends, family, and community. This is the relationship the way I recall it, and is likely somewhat different than others would remember. I don’t pretend to write everything in perfect accuracy, but simply my experience.
So I’m gay. Like super gay. Discovered boobs and my-life-was-changed-forever gay.
How in the world did I end up in a heterosexual, super religious courtship?
Unlike most fundamentalists, my parents were not pushing for courtship. They didn’t really approve of my relationship, but I had just moved out so they couldn’t do much about it. My dad made it clear that he didn’t consent to me getting married. He told me he wouldn’t come to the wedding, let alone walk me down the isle. He said I wasn’t worth “ruining any man’s life.” And all this when I hadn’t even come out. Jeez. You needn’t have worried dad, I have no intention of marrying a dude, and you’re not invited to any ceremony.
How did it all start? I met the young man whom I would get to know at a homeschool speech and debate competition. There were many of these throughout the school year, and the third or fourth time I saw him we talked for several hours. Hitting it off and connecting on a lot of the same angsty issues that young people have, we talk about our values in life and anything and everything else. He asked for my email address. I said yes. We continued our conversation through email, lengthy letters about our thoughts and happenings of life. I was thrilled to have a friend with whom I could be relatively honest, few and far between at this time in my life.
We started meeting for coffee, and going on hikes together. It was on one of these hikes that he asked me about pursuing an intentional relationship, finding out if we were compatible for marriage. I agreed.
I found myself in love with the potential, excited for a bright future. I knew our life together wouldn’t be perfect, or even easy. My past had taught me that. But it was a wonderful feeling all the same. I was walking on air, he liked me! And I liked him too. I came to care for, and more importantly, trust this man. Being honest about my life and the things I was feeling became an incredibly healing and growing experience.
I was a wildly different person at the time from where I am now. I wore ankle length skirts and dresses, stayed covered up as much as possible. My long wavy hair went past my waist. I wore it up in a bun most of the time because I struggled with wondering whether wearing my hair loose was a “stumbling block” for men, or too sexual. Incredibly conservative in the way only an abuse victim can be, trying to protect herself from the world.
I was starting a journey of healing that I couldn’t begin to anticipate at the time.
Spending more time together, we developed our relationship over long walks, phone calls, and continued letters. There were conversations about marriage and parenting. What we believed, what we wanted. He speculated that our chances of a lasting marriage were pretty great. I thought so too. I wanted to do all of the right things, check all the boxes, start new. We would settle down and enjoy life together. It would be wonderful.
Together we visited my family. He took the opportunity to speak individually with my parents and siblings about his intentions for our relationship. I can’t begin to express how courageous this was, and incredibly respectful. Impressed my family, made interactions with them easier, and made it more than clear he cared for me.
We were invited to dinner by a couple from my church that were friends and mentors of mine. It was during this time that I had my first defining moment as a queer person. My friend’s husband asked us, and my boyfriend specifically, about how we would stay physically pure as a couple. I distinctly remember the first part of his response, and nothing after. He said “We will be tempted [sexually] but…” and continued. In this moment I realized I wasn’t “tempted” to be sexually active with my boyfriend. I didn’t want to mess around. “I’m not tempted…” The thought rang over and over in my mind. Thankfully the patriarchal culture I was raised in hadn’t too badly damaged my view of female sexuality. I understood that my lack of desire was a problem. That unlike some in the community taught, a wife should be sexually attracted to her husband. And I wasn’t.
Dear god, now what was I going to do?
Our courtship eventually ended. It happened suddenly, I don’t actually know what the reasons were, or understand the timing. I was in a conflicted state at the time, both worried about our relationship and comfortable with it. He spoke of desiring to do what was best for my well being, and that continuing to stay together probably wasn’t part of that. I don’t remember much from our conversations the weekend we broke up, but it was over. I took some time to process. Breaking up was a sad thing. But it was wise, I was somewhat relieved, and I didn’t regret it.
I moved forward, growing and exploring my sexuality. I was becoming more and more grateful that we were no longer together as I became involved in the queer community and found my place in it.Turns out a lesbian in a heterosexual relationship is not such a great idea. 🙂
Years later I am happily settled down with my domestic partner, a beautiful woman I love very much. We’re sharing life together, in a relationship of “mutual support, caring, and commitment” like it says on our registration. I’m working on my career, looking at going back to school, and completely out of the closet; all things I never dreamed possible.
I recently happened to see my ex on the bus, and not surprisingly he didn’t recognize me. My head shaved, wearing a suit and tie and a bunch of body jewelry, I look nothing like the person I was so many years ago. I sat there on my commute home contemplating how different life is now than it might have been. I could have been married to a man by now, with a child or two. Still the long-haired, dress-wearing, conservative girl that I was. But that’s not where I am. I’m sitting here on the bus, going home to my partner, happier and more whole than I’ve ever been.
The courtship was a positive experience in my life, but I am grateful it didn’t end in marriage.