“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.” – Matthew 6:13
As a child, I recited these words every single night before going to bed, believing divine adoration was the key to life and health. Admittedly, I said these prayers in hopes that my love of the Lord would one day reflect my mother’s, understanding that the pathway to her love was through God. I followed this prayer with the ask that God protect me and my family as we slept, praying that all evil pass over our households. Years later, I would repeat this prayer in the middle of the night, tears running down my face realizing the evil that I asked to pass over us lived within me.
All I ever wanted was to be seen. Growing up in the church gave me that visibility. I sang in the gospel choir every Youth Sunday, one of the four boys expected to sing bellows that our chipmunk-like squeals could never replicate. Every year, I gave an unimaginable performance, reciting my annual Easter speech in an itchy pastel plaid sweater vest and khaki pants that were always too big for my 4 feet tall, 70 pound frame. And my favorite time of the year was the Youth Explosion. Weeks of dance, choir, and acting practice leading up to a four hour youth revival that really was just meant to entertain our parents. It was in these moments that I felt the most myself.
Church was also the place where my admiration for my mother peaked. She was a minister, a pastor, a praise dancer. She was my everything. To me, my mother was an angel herself. As she would spin, arms raised, in her glimmering black and purple dress during praise and worship, I imagined wings spreading from her sides. A halo crowned atop her head. She was the essence of pure beauty. I revered my mom more in the house of the Lord than the Lord Himself. I would mimic her at home, wearing her t-shirts as dresses and giving mini sermons in the living room. All I ever wanted to do was make her proud.
The church was my favorite place in the universe. It was also the foundation of me and my mother’s relationship. Later, it would become a personal hell.
In the South, homophobia just is. It’s an omnipresent, hyper visible force that could rival God in its ubiquity in the lives of Black southerners. My greatest fear, and the greatest fear of many Black boys, wasn’t the police, wasn’t prison, wasn’t death. It was being told that you “got a lil sugar in your tank.” Being labeled gay. A homosexual. An abomination.
I knew being called gay was bad before I knew being called nigger was. I knew being called gay was bad before I even knew what being gay was. I should also explain that it wasn’t as simple as hatred of queer people. It was a complete erasure. The way I learned it, gay people didn’t exist. And the way I was taught it, all of those other things–prison, poverty, death–were guaranteed to those that were whatever this “gay” was. This fear controlled every piece of me. It made my neck stiff and locked my eyes to avoid rolls, clenched my tongue to stop a lisp, beat my hips into place to ensure not a twist could be found. It controlled how I dressed, who I spoke to and how, and even the songs I pretended to listen to publicly. I believed a performance in hyper masculinity would dispel any thoughts that I could be one of them.
In this performance, I became the homophobic misogynist that most of the Black men I feared were. I recited the ill-thought soliloquies I’d hear in barber shops and family gatherings, becoming the men that I despised most. I hated it. In the absence of my father and growing up in the church, Black women were my idols. In church, I saw many Black women in positions of power. The congregation could not exist without them. The church is where I saw Black women speaking, leading, and guiding everyone else including the Bishop. My mom was one of those women. In the process of trying to avoid being something that I didn’t even know I was, I was willing to sacrifice the people that I cherished most and become the people respected the least.
So you can probably understand why I awoke in tears after I began dreaming of boys in high school. I feared that I was becoming the one thing that God could never love, the Church could never love, and my mom could never love. I denied all of these thoughts and desires, writing them off as Satan’s interference.
This was until I met a particular boy. I rationalized my love for him as love for a best friend until I realized that it was beyond that of any friend I’d ever had. I cried every night for weeks hoping that those feelings would leave. Each night, I would recite the Lord’s prayer, this time begging God remove every ounce of evil from within me. I made deals with Him: I promised that I would go to church every Sunday and to Bible Study on Wednesdays, I would read my Bible every day, I’d sing in the choir, and I would never look at the boy again, if He would just take those thoughts away. I asked everyday that He just deliver me from myself.
After recognizing that I was something that I was told wasn’t real, I began to question the validity of the people and institutions that denied my existence in the first place. I turned away from God and the church in that moment. Silently, I began to distance myself from my mother as well, understanding that her unconditional love had one condition.
However, recently, I found myself looking more into the history of those like me. Black queer and trans people who have existed for centuries. Black queer and trans people that led churches and ministries and used Christianity and the Black prophetic tradition to lead themselves out of bondage. I realized that the evil wasn’t me and that I can have my own relationship with my Lord separate from any church.
“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1
Many things are invisible. God is. I once was. And I’ve come to understand that Black queer and trans people, despite every effort to erase us from the past, present, and future, we exist. We are eternal. So these are the people I have chosen to put my faith in, these are the people that I have chosen to love, and in the process of doing so I am choosing to love myself.
I still say the Lord’s prayer now. I still ask that the Lord “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Only now that evil isn’t me; it’s the homophobia that made me believe it was me in the first place.