Space For The Spectrum
By Sarah Murphy
19th March 2017 - 04:44 pm
As a young Christian Wez van der Linde found himself struggling with his feelings for the same-sex and coming out was both the most difficult and rewarding thing he has ever done.
Now, he’s written a book to help other people, particularly young people, reconcile their sexuality and faith and launched a Kickstarter campaign to help raise the necessary funds to send the book to print.
“From a young age growing up in the church, I quickly learnt what was acceptable and what was not,” says Wez. “Even if something wasn’t strictly spoken against, it was often implied. For example, it was expected that you’d grow up and find the right woman and wait until marriage to have sex and then have children and bring them up in the ways of the Lord.
“And so, when I discovered that I had feelings for boys and not for girls, alarm bells began to ring. The problem was that I couldn’t keep myself from feeling the way I did, I couldn’t just choose not to feel the way I felt about boys.”
We says these feelings led him to believe that there was something wrong with him, that something had happened to distort God’s plan for his sexuality.
“The more involved I became in church life, the harder I tried to change my feelings for the same sex. I found myself praying more fervently, studying the Bible more devotedly and getting involved as much as I could in youth ministry and mission work. It got to a point where I honestly believed that something had possessed me, that some evil spirit had entered my life and was tormenting me with these feelings for the same sex. I hated myself for the feelings I had, and I thought God was angry with me. And the hardest part was that nobody knew. I didn’t want to tell anyone for fear of losing my reputation as a godly devoted Jesus follower. I was spending a lot of my time mentoring helping younger people that I didn’t want anyone to think that I was perverted and evil and misleading.”
When he first came out to someone, Wez says he did so as a confession of ‘sin’. “I thought that by telling someone of my ‘great sin’ I would start to become free from it. But my feelings for the same sex remained, which got me to a point in my life where I needed to make a decision. I decided that I couldn’t carry on living the way I was. I decided to believe that God did love me, just the way I was, and that there was nothing wrong with me and that I had done nothing wrong. I decided to stop fighting, to stop beating myself up for feelings I didn’t choose.
“A massive weight was lifted off my shoulders, and I began to learn that there were many others out there in a similar situation. I heard stories about how people were reconciling their faith and sexuality, and I also learnt that there were pastors and churches out there that were affirming and welcoming to the gay community.
“Hearing others share their stories gave me hope, gave me confidence to accept that this part of my life was okay, in fact more than okay, beautiful.”
Growing up dealing with my sexuality, especially in a religious context, was a dark and lonely affair for Wez.
“I didn’t know of anyone who was going through a similar situation, and I was too scared to enquire about it.”
He says it is important he shares his experiences with other because he knows that if he had access to something similar, he would have saved himself a lot of pain and heartache.
“The stories and experiences I share in this book are both humorous and saddening, but altogether inspiring and hopeful. Unlike some of the heavy scripture focused LGBTQ books available today, my book is more conversational and accessible to people of all backgrounds and ages as the stories are quite relatable in many instances and challenging too. This book is also illustrated, which adds to its accessibility. It’s not intimidating but is rather inviting and friendly.”
The book is a culmination of over 10 years of personal journaling for Wez, something he says was a massive help, in that it gave him an outlet to express himself in a healthy way.
“Instead of just internalising all my emotions, I was able to speak them out through writing. I was essentially providing myself a safe space to work things out, to make sense of everything that was going on inside and around me. Writing the things I wrote about myself over such a long period of time helped to show me that I was not in a good place, and that was a catalyst for the change in attitude towards myself and my feelings for boys that I needed.”
The book also features a chapter from Wez’s mum and the author says the pair’s relationship has grown stronger over the years purely because she came to accept him for who he is.
“She loves me and supports me fully and I am grateful for that. Having the support of my parents has gone a long way in shaping me into a more optimistic and hopeful person - I don’t feel any shame bringing home a boyfriend or talking about gay issues, and I see a future where marriage will be celebrated if I ever got to that stage of commitment. There is total freedom for me to be myself, but it wasn’t always like that. Growing up I felt that I needed to be a certain person so to not disappoint my parents. This obviously contributed to keeping me deep in the closet and it affected my relationship with my mom, as I feared that she’d discover my deep secret.”
Wez says he doesn’t think religious communities do enough to support people who are questioning their sexuality. “It’s a topic that is often avoided in the church because it can cause division and church leaders can risk losing members of their congregation.”
“The good news is that there are church leaders out there, gay and straight, who are doing a tremendous amount to ensure a safe space for people to nurture and understand sexuality in church, and it’s a beautiful thing. If only more church leaders would put their traditions and fears aside for the sake of people (especially young people), in need of support and assurance that they are loved and affirmed, we would start to see a massive shift in society’s attitude towards the church and Christianity.
“Churches need to be seen as beacons of love and safety for LGBTQ folk.”
Since coming out Wez has struggled to feel at home in a religious community. “I have a lot of Christian friends who love me and accept me, but I know that there are a lot of people who don’t think that who I am is right. That makes getting involved in religious communities a risk as you never know what people are thinking and you risk getting hurt in the process. Edge Church in Kingsland has been more than welcoming to me, but I’m still not as involved in church as I used to be. I am in the process of growing my confidence in church again, and I truly believe that the life of Jesus was an incredibly loving and compassionate one. I hope that more and more churches will open their doors to members of the LGBTQ community, in unconditional love, and I would like to be a part of helping them to do this.”
To support Space for the Spectrum - Growing Up Gay and Finding Meaning, head to the Kickstarter campaign home page.
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