Baptism was an inevitable part of my walk of faith: to be deliberately contemplated, but ultimately sought after. It was the same way with Christianity and being Anabaptist. I was allowed and encouraged to question and think for myself (an Anabaptist founding belief), but there was this assumption that all my questions would lead back to God and the church. It wasn’t ever explicitly stated, and I never felt hemmed in or stifled by that fact, but in the end, the “right” answer was always going to be Jesus.

Baptism was the next step in that questioning process, though it was also acknowledged that my spiritual journey would never be over; I would keep learning, questioning, and growing throughout my life. I was pretty comfortable with this idea of a continual journey filled with possible doubt and the inevitable Unknown, until it came to baptism.

I hadn’t given much thought to being baptized, aside from its inevitability, until my best friend, Leah, showed an interest. We grew up together at church, attending the same youth group, Sunday school class, and family small group. I was 15 – an acceptable age for Mennonites to get baptized, and she was ready, so when she asked if I would do it with her, without much thought, I answered, “Why not?”

Then followed two months of classes with our pastor, Duane. We talked about Jesus’ teaching and transformation, about the covenant we would be making to God and the church declaring ourselves as believers and followers of Jesus Christ. The heavy stuff.

I still had all these questions: big ones, like “Who is God?” and “Who is Jesus?” and “Who is Jesus in relation to God?” and “What the heck is the Holy Spirit?” I didn’t like all the gray areas, all the unknowns. I was told by my pastor, mentor, family, and church, that it was okay that we don’t have all the answers. At the same time, I was about to make all these promises in front of everybody saying I knew what I believed.

To quicken the process of years of spiritual transformation, I made a lot of vague assumptions to smooth out all the wrinkles. I put God front and center, equating him (debatable use of pronouns, but I didn’t have time for that) with love and creation. I filled my beliefs with platitudes, ignored the tricky areas, and shoved everything I wasn’t sure about to the side. I am a child of God; that’s all that matters. Baptism was an exam fast approaching, and I wanted to at least have filled in all the blanks.

It’s not that I dreaded baptism, I just wanted to get to the fun parts. In my home church, baptism had more traditions than the covenant we would read and the promises we would make. A couple from our church had a pool at their house (an appealing prospect alone), and people were baptized in the pool preceding a large potluck. I grew up watching people, after being submerged under the blue, chlorinated water, come back up beaming, all to be hugged and congratulated by everyone in our community. I was born into this church; its members are my family. I wanted to be one of those people: to be the cause for celebration and an afternoon of swimming and eating together.

After the baptismal “classes” ended and once the weather had warmed up enough, I was baptized. At church that morning, Leah and I, along with two others, read the covenant, and the congregation read us questions in unison (which made the process all that more daunting). That afternoon at the pool, I presented a scripture I chose: Isaiah 4:1-2,

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.

If I was going to be getting anything out of this baptism, it was reassurance that God would be with me through all these unknowns (that I was still stubbornly ignoring). After a few short steps into the pool and a prayer said by Duane, I was dunked under the water and pulled back up by my mentor, Lois.

I came up flustered and sputtering and with water up my nose. I felt no different. Sure, I was now baptized, but the only difference I felt was pool water running down my body in rivulets. I shivered. I was now an official part of my church community and a member of the larger body of Christian believers, and yet my focus was only on the smell of hot dogs cooking on the grill. I resisted the urge to dive right back in the water and never come back out, never having to face the promises I made or the expectations now resting on my shoulders.

My sophomore year of college, while on a study abroad trip to Guatemala, we sat in on church services one after another and visited groups of Christians who were transformed by their faith and lived into their faith daily. Sometimes they inspired me, and sometimes I left feeling unbearably hollow inside.

I was questioning, not for the first time, if I fit into the body of the Church. I felt too clunky, uncoordinated, not set right. I know I don’t follow the commandments as closely as a good demonstrative Christian would. I cherish my worldly possessions rather than giving them away; sometimes I lie; sometimes I’m jealous; I curse pretty frequently.

However, much lot of the time, I don’t necessarily want to follow all of Christianity’s rules. As a bisexual woman, when there’s a possibility (at least, some people say there is) that my very identity goes against God’s will, following the rest of the doctrine seems pretty pointless. I won’t be a part of a church that doesn’t want me there. My home church is welcoming, and so are many of the communities I associate with, but I’m still not sure I’ll fit. And I know I really don’t like the whole speaking-in-unison thing during services.

When I first met my host family, I assured them I was baptized and Christian (and yes, so was my family, and yes, I went to church regularly back home). But with every passing Sunday, I was finding myself further removed from my original beliefs, further from the body of Christ and what I had promised at my baptism.

The summer after coming back from Guatemala, I came out to my parents as bisexual, and the following fall semester I came out to most everyone else I knew. It was an exciting, celebratory thing. People gave me hugs and told me they were proud of me. Now that I could publicly claim it, I was putting my bisexuality at the forefront of my identity. Hitting that part of me out in the open, though, created opportunities for it to be questioned.

My job in my college’s campus ministries lead to my first instance of realizing the community I was in was not as supportive as I thought.

In a closed-door meeting with Bruxy Cavey, an evangelical pastor from Canada, our campus pastor asked Cavey how he would approach the topic of sexuality with love, even though he sees homosexuality (and anything other than the cis heterosexual “norm”) as a sin. I was the only out queer person in that room, and we were asking him what to do about people like me in the church.

He paused, thinking, while I gripped the pencil in my hand so hard it left grooves in the pads of my fingertips. Cavey made sure to explain that he didn’t know if he was right, but that he also didn’t know if others were right that homosexuality isn’t a sin, and we wouldn’t know until we meet God in death.

This man wouldn’t take a stance of acceptance, even when he thought he wouldn’t ever know if he was right. Hate the sin, love the sinner. I was livid. He was talking about his interpretation in regard to my identity. While queerness was just a belief to him, it’s who I am. Cavey didn’t have a personal stake in the matter, and I did.

I wrote in my journal, hand shaking and tears blurring my vision, “Get me OUT of here.” But instead of running, I charged in. I brought my bisexuality to the forefront, wearing it like a shield and making it my entire identity. Trying to keep my composure, I came out to this man as I choked out, “Because this is my sexuality, because this is who I am, I have to be right. I just have to be right that God loves me.” I can’t believe in a God who would say that who I am is a sin. I did not have the privilege of uncertainty. I was so, so angry. The others in the meeting – my fellow pastoral assistants, my campus pastor – seemed complicit in this conversation where I felt torn apart.

During that dinner, I questioned the safety of campus ministries, the supposed support of those I worked with. By the end, there was only one person in that meeting I trusted, and with her, I mourned. I cried for my invalidated identity, I cried because I didn’t feel safe, and I cried because I felt I had lost control of myself and my narrative.

When I was baptized, my faith rested on sweeping generalizations without room for gray areas, all tricky topics swept under the rug. When in that conversation with Cavey, my newly claimed identity as bisexual was itself a tricky topic; for me, there could be no unknowns about it. I was coming to realize that there is more to me than my identity as a child of God. If I was “only” a child of God, I would be dismissing my entire experience up to that point and invalidating every part of myself I had inwardly fought to recognize.

I became prouder of being bi than being Christian, especially after that semester. I didn’t want to sacrifice one for the other, but I also didn’t want to be lumped in with the rest of Christianity. What I believed was becoming more and more complicated and abstract, and I wasn’t sure how all these beliefs — on drinking, sabbath, Jesus, sex, violence, spirit, cursing, love — could possibly coexist. The gray areas remained, only growing foggier instead of clearing as I hoped they would.

Those unknowns are so alienating when it means that some of your sure-fire defense is taken away. I thought that to be respected, I had to make bisexuality my entire identity, and for a while, I did because other people wanted to overlook it, so I made sure no one could push it aside. That embodiment of sexuality was what I needed then, and it was okay.

I still do make my sexuality a big part of who I am. I use it as a joke; I drop it into conversation; I throw around that part of my identity because I can, and that’s incredibly freeing. I misrepresent the entire bi community by joking “Well, I’m only half straight.” That dichotomy of sexuality and gender is still something I struggle with and work through, and my definition of myself is changing. I put my faith in the importance of gender and experience and who knows and who doesn’t. But who I am is a changing, temporary person.

Queer theorists argue that, no, we aren’t born this way, into one specific sexuality or gender – the psychology of nature and nurture is more complicated than that. This doesn’t mean that our sexuality and gender is no less valid, but it is allowed to shift and morph and change. Nothing about my personhood has been and always will be the same. Our lives are made of phases, with some temporaries a little more constant than others. My bisexuality not all of who I am, but it sure is important.

Because of my questioning both my own beliefs and those of others I worked with, I quit campus ministries after that first fall semester. However, not everyone knew that. Shortly after the start of the spring semester, the president’s office emailed me and asked me to give a devotional at the start of the board of trustees meeting. I love attention from important people, so I agreed despite my lack of commitment to anything Christian.

I read from Romans 12: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God — what is good and acceptable and perfect.” I spoke to the impossibility of being perfect and the problematic patterns of this world. I wrote, “Sometimes I really, really don't like how the world wants me to conform, and not conforming seems like the most difficult but refreshing thing to do. Here I am at college, being transformed, renewing my mind. Here we all are, working towards that. So, we keep our eyes and ears and hearts open to God and work as close to goodness and acceptance as we can get.” Never mind the fact that I had closed myself off from God, from questions, from faith.

I avoided reconciling my faith with my sexuality, finding I could still have control over who I was and what I believed in conjunction with the inevitable gray areas. I wouldn’t say I am a Christian – to say I am would be continuing to push away all of the questions I have run away from for so long. But no longer is one part of my identity based on the other.

My identity is malleable – someday, I will pursue religion again, and I might find an even better label than “bi” to describe who I am attracted to. The division between stability and change doesn’t have to be as wide as I thought. I am who I am, and I hope God still loves me for it.

About the Author

Anali Martin

Anali North Martin is a senior English and writing studies major at Eastern Mennonite University. She grew up in Cary, NC, and she's also found home in Colorado, Guatemala, and Harrisonburg, VA. She's a collector of used books she'll never read and pens that write smoothly, and other beautiful things that catch her fancy (including words like "plump" and "capricious").