A year ago, I’m sitting in a library study room with four new friends: Beck, Ellie, Rae, and Kendra. We’re all laughing, putting our feet up on tables and chairs, sharing stories about being queer and Christian, about hating the people in the church but loving Jesus too much to leave. In the middle of my story, I say, “I lost three of my best friends, all at once.”
My new friend, the small blond Mennonite gay trans boy, leans across the table, smiles at me, and says, “Well, we can be your best friends now.”
He is now. His name is Beck, he likes birds, and he is gentle and well-spoken. I see God in him more than most of the people in my life before him.
You don’t know what it feels like to walk down that street to that church by yourself this time last year and this time now, some passive aggressive homophobic bitch walking to the bus stop beside you today, or another one giving you rides home two years ago, telling you how she feels about your identity being sinful, or just straight up avoiding the subject.
Ellie is hard to talk to. Tall, awkward, and struggling constantly, she knows how to make a silence follow her comments. It’s rare she says something I know exactly how to respond to.
But she is gentle and caring, and is the reason the group I created got off the ground. She is the reason we were sitting in that study room for the first time, and all the times after. She sits with me to talk about plans for meetings. She comes to all of them, even the ones that no one else attends, that end up just being me and her having dinner in the university cafeteria.
She is delicate, angelic, and sensitive, and she cannot see her own beauty.
People like us keep running around people like you in circles, or to bus stops in the rain after church, or to friend’s houses to drink wine and laugh in dim light, or down downtown streets holding hands with drunk friends. We run into excuses, run into people who told us our sexuality was a disease, run into people like you at the edge of the woods, with our scarves bundled round our throats, tight. Suffocating.
Rae is the one that usually fills Ellie’s silences, when she’s around. She almost always knows what to say, to everyone. She is comforting and self-sacrificial. She will pray over us, in that library study room, her hand blessing our shoulders, or hold us when we’re about to cry, her hug blessing our hearts.
When she’s there, I know God is too. I just know things are going to get better for us.
She is everything prayerful and poetic, everything Marian and subtle, complicated and connected.
Three years ago, I was part of something beautiful, affirming, and small. It wasn’t Catholic, but I had friends from school that went, and it was one of those dimly lit coffee shop sort of places, worship music I didn’t know pounding off the walls, off my ear drums, off my very spirit. It was everything the church I grew up in wasn’t, and everything I thought I wanted back then. It was there I realized these were things God wanted me to feel.
I knew Kendra before I knew they were queer or Christian. They were an acquaintance, just someone that I thought was cute. We stood next to each other on the bus once, two years ago, hips pressed together in the crowd, on our phones, not knowing how well we would know each other months later.
They were friends with my friend Holly. We hung out together at Holly’s other friend’s place once, before my queer group’s first meeting. We gave each other first, awkward hugs, drank tea, and pet said friend’s cat.
The week after, they dyed their hair red and came to that first meeting. They taught me how to pray. They are a warm, comforting constant on cold winter days.
Two years ago, I was part of something else beautiful. I fell back in love with Catholicism because of a Catholic group of girls I thought understood me, wanted me as their friend. They invited me over to their houses for tea and meals, sang hymns with me, knelt next to me, held hands with me. This is where holiness met everything else in my life, until you ripped the rug right out from under my feet, told me you didn’t believe I deserved to be part of what you were.
A year ago, I made something that I could be myself in, that queer Christian group in that library study room. This time, it is the most beautiful of all. There are more of us now, and once a week we bring candy and hugs into an empty classroom, and talk about ourselves, our families, our spirituality.
We’re all reaching across the table to hold each other’s hands, and we’re the most vulnerable, blessed, vividly joyful and holy thing I’ve ever been a part of.
We meet Thursday nights at six.