Amber Dlugosh

One day soon after my college graduation, I came out to my car in a Kansas City parking lot to
find a flyer stuck behind my windshield wiper. Kelly Clarkson, Ingrid Michealson, Heart, Sarah
McLachlan, and more were going to be in concert… for 10 dollars. My budget-friendly,
music-loving heart could not be more ecstatic! I called my dear friend Sara. “Want to see Kelly
Clarkson for your birthday? … I dunno, some festival called ‘Lilith Fair.’” We loaded up the car
and made the trip months later.
We took our seats in the blazing heat of the outdoor venue, and I immediately leaned over to my
friends and whispered, “Do you think they’re together-together?” while nodding at two women
sitting in front of us. The women were affectionately sitting close. While it should have been
none of my business, they were certainly “together.” Over the next fifteen minutes, I asked that
same question many times. With each question, my eyebrows furrowed a bit more, and my
curiosity turned into something more akin to panic. I looked around and realized most of the
women were “together-together.” I was at a lesbian music festival.
And I panicked.
For years, my biggest fear was that people would think I was gay.
Let me unpack that a bit for you, because there is quite a bit hidden within that sentence.
First, let’s look at the fear component. A lot of people are afraid of a variety of things: losing
someone they love, snakes or spiders, flying in an airplane, being attacked by a dog, public
speaking… the list goes on. What we know of fear is that it is our body’s way of alerting us
when perceived danger or threat is present. Fear signals us that we are not safe. To be afraid
that people might think I was gay says that my body knew to be gay meant I was no longer safe.
But how does that belief form?
I grew up in fundamentalist Evangelicalism, and I loved it. As a child, I took my Bible to recess
and set up one-on-one conversion sessions underneath the slide. In middle school, I got myself
up at 6am to go on prayer walks. In high school, I started leading worship and Bible studies.
The foundation of my belief was that I was trash, bloody rags, a wretch, a sinner, untrustworthy.
I struggled with self worth from infancy, so the Evangelical narrative aligned with what I felt in my
own heart and mind. They gave me a way out, though: Jesus. Because of Jesus, I had access
to God. He could finally love me, in spite of who I was. Jesus was the lawyer I needed in front
of a big scary judge. I could finally have access to worth, sound judgment, and love. I finally felt
like I belonged.
Everyone was dubbed as wretched and sinful, but the expectation was that once you accepted
Jesus, you would sin less and less and serve God more and more. This is why I led playground
revivals. Certain lifestyles were listed as evidence that people were not truly living in a way that
was Christ-like. These sins removed you from the safety Jesus offered. Homosexuality was the
leader of this charge. I heard the scoffs and gags from my family any time a same-sex kiss was
featured on tv. I heard the phrase “gay agenda” as if the gays were cooking up some sort of
secret contagion. I saw the newspapers my school used to cover our gym coach’s window
because she was gay and could not be trusted to monitor our behavior in a locker room. I heard
what my peers said about her and other gay kids in our school. It was clear that being gay
meant you didn’t belong anymore. Not even Jesus could protect you. And not belonging is
unsafe. My body feared being cast out and ostracized. So I feared that people might think I
was gay.
But let’s also look at the idea that I didn’t fear that people would know I was gay. I feared they
would think I was. Spoiler Alert: I’m married to Monika. She is a girl and I am a girl. We are
gay. Together. But my story is not one where I knew this all along and concealed it. I had no
idea. I believe my body did, or the fear for my safety would not have been present. I had
enough attraction to men, though, that I could funnel any sexuality in that direction without any
conscious effort. I had the privilege to keep myself safe in that way.
Then I fell in love with my friend.
My friendship with Monika was one of the only spaces where I felt like I could be honest. I was
met with unbelievable support without an ounce of expectation to change in order to please her.
I could vent, unfiltered, and she would call me out on my bullshit in the kindest way. She would
let me share hard things and also respected my desire to hold some things closer to my chest. I
could bring fears, questions, doubts… and I could also brag on myself without shame. I often
refer to her as nutrient-rich soil for me to grow in. In that soil, I grew in self-confidence, trust in
myself, self-love, and courage. The messages of being a wretched sinner kept melting away
and I dared to entertain the idea that God was Love and I was a human. That being human
meant I would fail, but it didn’t mean I was a failure. As this growth occurred over time, I
became more and more of a safe place for myself. Pieces of me that I had shaved off, hidden,
or changed started to rise back to the surface. Including parts I had never met: including my
And as I belonged within myself, the fear of losing belonging became less strong; I wouldn’t
ever lose the belonging I was finding within me, even if I lost my place with others.
And lose those places, I did. When I came out, I lost friends, I lost the respect of family
members, I lost the welcome to volunteer with at-risk youth through a local church
, I lost the ability to hang a wedding picture in my office without fearing backlash, I lost a true
welcome in most churches within this town, and I lost credibility with many.
I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t second-guessed myself along the way. At times I wished I could
have shoved pandora back in the box… or closet. But what I lost were places that couldn’t hold
space for me. They didn’t want me; they wanted a pretend version. And that’s the antithesis of
what God demonstrated throughout the Bible. He doesn’t ask us to hide. He asks, “Who told
you you were naked?”
However, if I were hearing this talk 8 years ago, I would 100% be responding with “Yes, but what
about…” statements likely filled with proof-text scriptures I’d pluck from the Bible to defend my
discomfort. For example, I was appalled when same sex marriage was legalized. II thought it
was dangerous to provide this as an option because it would lead so many down a path of
destruction. I know that thought process all too well.
I heard Jen Hatmaker speak about this same tension within herself as she began
deconstructing beliefs about LGBT issues. She chose to turn to Jesus’s instruction to look at
the fruit of a thing before making any value judgments. Not “work fruit,” though. We often say
“Well, they are involved in church, they lead groups, they chose to stay married, and they keep
a consistent tithe! Those are good fruits!” No, those can just as easily be lies covering up
unrest, self-indulgence, harshness, pride, and harm. We must look deeper. From my
experience, the fruit of labeling homosexuality as “disgusting, unnatural, and sinful” resulted in
shame, fear, hiding, and lying. For others, it results in death. If God is Love and perfect love
casts out all fear, then I’m making the judgment that this is bad fruit. So something must
In the Garden of Eden story, I always imagined God as an angry dad who stumbled upon two
kids who really made some large mistakes that he now has to clean up after. That he would be
angrily stitching together animal hide, mumbling things like “I wouldn’t have had to kill this if it
weren’t for you two. Do you see what you’ve done?” I heard his question about nudity as a
passive aggressive question. One in which he already knew the answer; he only posed the
question to point out a fault. The fruit of that God’s actions in my life was perpetual shame. If I
look at that fruit, I have to consider that maybe I interpreted the story wrong.
Now, I see the Garden story filled with tenderness and love. A god who strolled through the
garden and found his beloved humans hiding, which broke his heart. Up until this point, nothing
had caused them to conceal anything from him. I imagine his question filled with concern. It
was less about the actual messenger and more about the message. Up until now, they had no
idea they were naked and that it could be shameful. It was as if he urged, “Who told you to
With regards to the topic of sexuality, I believe the Church–in often good intention–has become
the voice telling people to hide. It has pointed out a God-created aspect of humanity and called
it shameful. It has cast out instead of welcomed in and embraced. It has resulted in bad fruit.
Leaning into my sexuality as a piece of how God has made me, how I get to experience and
share love in the world has resulted in different fruit. Sure, on the surface, it has resulted in
some ostracizing and some hardship. The path has not been easy. You could easily label that
suffering as “bad fruit” if you’d like. But, below the surface, it has resulted in honesty, love,
peace, joy, self-control, and growth. Fruit that strangely resembles what we call the Fruit of the
Spirit. So, if that is true–maybe–just maybe–we have been reading the text wrong. Maybe we
have misinterpreted God’s heart here. It is scary to admit, and it unravels many other things.
But what fruit is our desperate clinging to certainty providing us? What is it causing in the lives
of other people? And what aspects of God is it potentially preventing us from experiencing?



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