The intersection of faith, eating disorders and sexuality is definitely complex. Feb. 17, 2012, was the date that I published my coming out here on The Huffington Post, just over one year ago.
Figuring out who you truly are and where many of your thoughts and beliefs are solidified and trying desperately to make sense of a world full of nonsense are probably the hardest tasks one takes on.
I outlined several things that lay ahead after my sexuality became public that I knew were going to be both difficult and hopefully rewarding.
As a perfectionist, I continue to this day to struggle with trying to find the "one thing," the "cure-all" or the final "piece" to solve all my problems. A year ago I thought that disclosing my sexuality would aid in the healing from my eating disorder and my compulsive exercising. However, looking back, I realize that I was looking at my sexuality, or the "one thing," all wrong.
I think that many members of the LGBT community would state that they don't want to be given a one-dimensional label based on their sexual orientation or gender identity; you wouldn't want to be known to your friends as "the gay person." We are not any one thing; we are human. I've constantly hammered home the notion that neither my sexuality nor my eating disorder defines me or who I am. Those are merely characteristics that make up my individuality. If I were to be completely honest with myself, pull the blinders away from my eyes and seek out what is at the root of all my issues, I would have seen a year ago that my coming out would never be the complete answer for my eating disorder, my struggle with my faith or all my life's hardships. Why? Because if none of the above is completely who I am, then why in world would any of them serve as a complete solution?
The relationships that I've had throughout my life with my family, and ones that I've developed (both platonic and romantic), have changed dramatically. Being open about my sexuality, no matter how small a part of the "whole me" I may believe it is, has improved my ability to communicate my feelings (whether people enjoy it or not) and helped strengthen my connections with everyone I surround myself with.
Although my behavior has never altered, I do find myself much more relaxed. I don't worry about all the small things: the music I listen to, the things I may or may not say, what I post on Facebook, the movies I watch or the career path I may have chosen. None of that crosses my mind anymore. Before 2012, each of those "little" things piled up, one on top of another, left me with anxiety and fear in a world that I worried would only present ridicule and rejection. Not anymore.
I fell in love, too. It may not have turned out the way I wanted it to, not by a long shot, but I am so blessed to know what that feeling is like. I mention love because as long as I was ill, feelings were constantly blocked out. I never felt whole or able to express anything other than anger and sadness. I am happy to have had the freedom to feel outside my illness, and outside the closet doors.
Eating disorders run rampant in the LGBT community. Many theories have been put forward, focusing on everything from body obsession to the simple fact that the LGBT community simply is more forthcoming about issues like eating disorders, therefore being disproportionately represented in studies. However, our society continues to produce extreme body standards for men and women that often lead to disordered eating and diagnosable eating disorders. The pursuit of muscularity and leanness is continuing toward one ideology: that the physical is all that matters. The socially accepted vision of what a man or woman should be contributes to a belief that musculature determines success and control. This unfortunate view of the physical as a social product enforces an artificial identity for all involved -- and continues the one-dimensional labeling of each of us.
As an advocate, I still refuse to participate in the social structure that denies anyone's opportunity to survive. This is why I have learned that public influence and my interpretation of my faith (among many other contributing factors) were extremely strong catalysts in my downward spiral into my eating disorder.
I am now OK with where I am today with my spiritual beliefs and my faith in Christ, but that hasn't stopped me from doing some serious searching within the faith community regarding the issue of homosexuality and eating disorders. In meeting with several pastors, faith community members and parishioners, I have found that I am both comforted and perplexed. Not all the negative messages I (and plenty of others) have received have been direct; some have been very indirect, but just as damaging. I'm commonly told, "Even though you are in violation of God's law, you can be saved, healed and transformed. You are not living as the Lord would intend, and you should live an abstinent life to be in the Lord's grace." Conversely, I've been given more promising words of encouragement and guidance, such as, "God doesn't want you believing, 'In order for me to love you, you have to defeat this.' His love is eternal, and you already have that love." I was particularly taken a back when I heard one pastor say, "The church cannot endorse condemning, hate-filled, self-righteous attitudes toward those in the homosexual community. This type of attitude, all too common among believers, serves only to drive people farther away from the God who loves them and the community where they can find Him." It was nice to hear a pastors say that some Christians' approach to the LGBT community needs some work, obviously.
If you really want to see some crazy talk, take a look at this article. Now, I'm not one to bash religion or faith or push my beliefs on anyone, because my faith has strengthened in many ways, but the author of this article, who likens homosexuality to disordered eating, has got to be a few sandwiches short of a picnic basket. Not only does this individual not understand being gay, but has also has no idea about eating disorders.
Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, since coming out I have lost certain role models that I had held close to my heart. I had a feeling that people might change their minds and reconsider their feeling about me, even after knowing me for 25 years, but it's OK. This has given me insight regarding which relationships are healthy, true and right, and which I need to be wary of. My only hope is that I've done something noteworthy in another's life.
Many new relationships have also taken the place of those I've lost. Some new relationships have come to fruition, and many that I already had are much deeper, more transparent and, yes, stronger. But even if the effort is in vain, I think pursuing those people who were so prominent in my life but who are now unfortunately in my past is the best possible way to change minds and move forward.
One thing I find myself still fervently working on is the search for where my true qualities as a
gay, Scandinavian, brown-eyed, Christian human are best needed. Perhaps I haven't figured out exactly what my entire existence entails; maybe it's an ambassador role, maybe an educational specialist. Heck, maybe continuing to search is still the best part about life! And of course, I still wish to change the world.
Our culture is constantly obsessed with whom you are captivated with, whom you are attracted to, what your body looks like and everything in between. All the while, society equates thinness with being healthy, wealthy and happy, and considers homosexuality wrong and unnatural. After a year of being out, I have been able to reflect on the many facets of why I disclosed my sexuality in the first place. As members of the LGBT community, teenagers, mothers, fathers, believers, educators, humans, we all have the opportunity to reflect on and delve into how the various decisions we make affect our lives.
How can we tell when our view of what is "normal" is hurting more than helping? Simple: More awareness, more education and more acceptance of each person in his or her natural form is imperative.