Believe what you want

— By 26 February 2013

My name is Rachel Goff. I come from a Uniting Church background, I grew up in the country; Lake’s Entrance. The congregation in my town was mostly made up of people over the age of 70. Both sides of my family are of the preacher line. So my Dad’s Dad was a Minister, and my siblings are also in the Ministry. It’s very much ingrained. It’s the kind of Christianity where you don’t dance, you don’t drink, and don’t do any of those ‘naughty things’.

Growing up, I missed church twice; once when I had chickenpox, and once when we were on a holiday. It’s funny; church was always something I wanted to do. Christian values were instilled in my family, and in me.

When I was 15, I decided I wanted to be baptised. My religion was a real personal decision. Shortly after, I went into my ‘happy-clapper’ phase, with ‘What Would Jesus Do’ wrist bands, and a pretty conservative attitude. I would tell people they were going to hell if they didn’t do certain things. It was intense!

I’ve been through a long process of figuring out what I identify as – but I’ve settled on the term ‘gay’. When I left home, I joined the Christian Union at uni. In one of the bible study groups, I had a different interpretation of a Bible passage. It was part of Jesus’ teaching, and I said “Well, maybe it means this”. The group turned around and said, “no, that’s not right”, and that I had to leave. It was a shock, but helped me move out of that ‘black and white’ way of thinking. It made me realise that there’re a number of ways you can interpret what the Bible says.

It wasn’t until I was 20 that I actually realised I was gay. I moved out of home at 18 to go to uni. I was writing in my journal one night, and I actually wrote the words “I think I’m attracted to women.” And that really just confirmed it for me. Looking back, I realise now it had been an internal process before that, but it wasn’t until that point that I was like, “yep, that’s what I am”.

I never got the sense that God didn’t love gay people, and never got the sense that I was wrong in my sexuality. There was never a stage that I believed homosexuality was a sin. Even when I was going through my more conservative phase, there was never a moment where I thought that God didn’t love me because I was attracted to girls. So if I’m talking about my personal relationship with God, there was never a conflict. I know that’s not everyone’s experience, so I consider myself pretty lucky. I did leave the church when I realised I was gay though; I didn’t want to put myself through other people thinking I was wrong, or the pressure of conforming to other people’s beliefs. I knew that I would be attacked by members of the church that I was going to at the time.

What I did do was seek out a number of people who I considered to be strong spiritual figures, and I connected with them one-on-one, rather than being part of a larger religious community, which I didn’t feel part of. One of my friends also invited me to a regular Tuesday night dinner and discussion group with quite a progressive group of people. We would talk about things like what God wants for us, would look at Bible passages, and how we would apply them to our current lives.

For me, it was about changing my experience of religion to fit with me, and my own beliefs.

After breaking up with my girlfriend, I realised I needed more support from my friends, and decided it was time to come out. I told my friends in my Tuesday night bible study group one-by-one, when I was confident they would accept me. It went really well – while some people believed the bible didn’t support being gay, they still loved and supported me. There were lots of different reactions – but none were homophobic or hateful.

Telling my family was a different story. Some of my Dad’s family sent me brochures for ex-gay services. When I came out to my parents, I brought my second girlfriend home, and said “I’m gay! This is my girlfriend!” Haha. That must have been pretty full on for them. They said they loved me regardless, but they’ve found it hard to understand it from a small town perspective. Since then, Mum has been fantastic, and is so supportive. Her perspective on religion has changed, specifically what she believes in what God wants for people.

Mum’s side of the family were pretty full on about it – telling me I had the devil in me. They were pretty homophobic, and made me feel awful, leaving me empty and gutted. I didn’t want to see any of them again. I’ve had so much spiritual guidance and counselling over the years, and also mental health support. It made me realise that my upbringing and my beliefs don’t define me. I can actually define myself. My friends are also an amazing support.

When I’m with people who identify as both Christian and queer, I feel like I’m at home. They get it. They understand what it’s like to have to come out to both parts. When you’re gay, you have to come out to the community. But when you’re Christian, you have to come out to the gay community. It’s quite confronting that there are so many people in the queer community who are anti-religious. Don’t get me wrong, I can certainly see where people are coming from when they generalise Christianity, saying “God hates us, Christians hate us”, but that’s not actually my experience, and not the kind of Christian I want to be either.

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