“I walked out of my same-sex relationship, and stepped into church”
I first meet Melissa (not her real name) at her home. She’s dressed in a white shirt-dress, with shoulder-length hair softly framing her face. Looking at her, you wouldn’t have imagined that Melissa once sported what she calls a “pineapple hairstyle – extremely short and spiky” in her younger days.
“I was always very boyish,” Melissa tells me with a laugh. “My mom said that when I was in Kindergarten, I just hated it whenever they put makeup on me and tied my hair into pigtails for school recitals.”
Growing up, she hated Chinese New Year.
“When you meet relatives, parents don’t want you to be who you are for the other 364 days of the year. For that one day, you’d better be who your parents want you to be. But honestly, I would rather forget about the angpow than to be in a dress,” she confides.
That was when she was still a kid and didn’t have a choice but to comply. But as Melissa grew, she discovered the power of choice and started to make decisions for herself. This included rejecting wearing skirts and dresses, cutting her hair short and getting into a same-sex relationship.
“It didn’t feel wrong to me,” Melissa says. “I mean, I was very boyish and I liked to care for someone in a way they couldn’t care for themselves. And because in school I was like a butch and this girl was super fem, so people would just feel like we should get together.”
PUTTING FAMILY FIRST
Melissa’s first and only relationship lasted for five years. She tells me that during those five years, she was confused if it was right for her to be in a same-sex relationship.
Although most of her friends encouraged her relationship, she knew her family had a more conservative stand. And while they never confirmed their suspicions with Melissa, she could feel that her parents were uncomfortable with it. The idea that her family found it hard to accept this side of her always stayed at the back of her mind.
“As much as I loved my girlfriend, I loved my family a lot. I just could not stand the fact that I was letting them down,” Melissa tells me.
“After all, they raised me, even if they didn’t fully understand what I’m doing. So I just felt like I shouldn’t put them through that.”
“I didn’t go to church just to get an answer about my sexuality. But as I stayed, those answers came.”
This was one of the key factors that led to her calling time on her relationship.
“I came out of the relationship because I had enough – not of my same-sex attraction (SSA), but many other things,” she says. “I looked at my temperament and how I behaved in the relationship. There was a problem with my attitude. It was just very destructive. Even without talking about my SSA – I knew I needed to work on me.”
And so she made up her mind to split from her ex-girlfriend. The breakup cost Melissa not just her relationship, but her friendships too, as mutual friends began to take sides.
At this low point, she decided to turn to God.
“I WANTED TO HEAR FOR MYSELF WHAT GOD HAD TO SAY”
“Even before I left the relationship, I wanted to go to church because I was so troubled. I wanted help.
“My friends around me who were Christians – they were just very happy. They are just the friendliest people on earth. So I explored Christianity because I felt like that was the best place to start over … I didn’t know where to seek help but I just knew that church was the best place to seek help.”
Hearing this surprises me. If I were someone struggling with SSA, the last place I’d turn to seek help would probably be the church, which is still learning how to welcome the LGBT community. I ask Melissa if she knew the Christian take on homosexuality when she stepped into church.
“I heard from some of my friends that it’s a no. But I wanted to hear for myself. I didn’t want to just take their word for it,” she says.
“But putting myself in a church was just the start for me – to see if it would do anything for my character. I didn’t go in just to get an answer about my sexuality. But as I stayed, those answers came.”
“What happened?” I ask.
“Nobody told me. The conviction just came,” she replies.
Melissa explains that she sees the Bible not as just another book, but as the original manual for life.
“That means everything I need to know about right living is going to be in there, right?”
“My conviction is that I was born biologically a female, and all these years I have been forcing myself to be something God did not create me to be. So what I had to do was to accept it as it is – accept the truth as it is – and allow the Word to convict me and change the way I think.”
“KEEP CHOOSING GOD”
The change didn’t come instantaneously; it took years, she notes.
“I couldn’t just put on dresses and feel like a girl,” Melissa says. “Too fake already.”
Instead, she began by allowing herself to be associated with her femininity. “My friends in church would go, like, ‘You’re so pretty!’ – Please lah, I had super short hair,” she says, laughing at the memory.
“Maybe people had complimented me in the past, but I just shut them off because I never wanted to associate myself with being pretty or beautiful. But now I was trying to move in that direction, I took the encouraging words and was like, yes, I can be beautiful too.”
Slowly but surely, Melissa also learnt to give up on her personal desires and embrace God’s good will for her. At this point in her life, she has come to a point where she says she is able to yield to God in terms of her sexuality.
On how she would advise someone who finds it hard to come to reconcile their faith and sexuality, Melissa nods with understanding in her eyes.
“I guess my advice would be to keep loving God.
“Some people love God so much and they go like, God can you stop making me gay? But still, they find they are stuck with that. But it doesn’t mean that God doesn’t love you as much,” she says, bringing to mind Paul’s struggle with the thorn in his side.
“Today, you’re struggling with being gay; someday else you’ll struggling with something else. Just keep loving God and do what is right. He will give you the breakthrough.”
“Don’t hate God because the church didn’t love you well enough.”
The breakthrough she refers to doesn’t mean to completely rid yourself of SSA. In fact, there was a time when Melissa felt the surge of attraction to a girl – this time in church! So she understood perfectly that there can be times when our flesh rises in mutiny against our spirit-man.
Instead, “breakthrough” is the capacity to keep choosing God regardless of the sin we are battling with.
“Homosexuality, addiction, lies … Who says we can’t love God even when we have all these struggles?” Melissa emphasised.
“Everyone’s capacity to handle difficulty is different. We just need to keep choosing Him.”
FOCUS ON THE VICTORIES
How can the church support people who are struggling with SSA? Melissa’s advice: “Just welcome them. Don’t say things like, ‘I love you but I hate your lifestyle’. They don’t need another person to tell them their lifestyle is wrong.”
She shares that, from her personal experience, what helped wasn’t that people told her what she should or should not do. What was useful was how the church embraced her and involved her as part of their community.
“Along the way, I updated my friends on how I was doing in this area. It helped that they weren’t very pushy, like, ‘How is your progress?’ They weren’t measuring it, like, ‘Are you doing alright? Let me help you.’
“They could just see the outward transformation,” she says, and they celebrated every victory, rather than harping on the remaining struggles.
As someone who’s been-there-done-that, Melissa has this advice for anyone who is struggling to be accepted in the church and in the larger society: “Don’t hate God because the church didn’t love you well enough. God very poor thing one. Always kena just because we didn’t represent Him well.”
I feel a twinge of sadness in my heart as she says that because honestly, I often find it difficult to love people who are different from me. I’m still learning what it means to truly love unconditionally, and I’m grateful for people like Melissa who would hold space and patiently wait as I figure things out on my side as well.
So, to all Melissas reading this: Thank you for your understanding. It can be so easy to respond to hurt with hurt, and rejection with rejection. Thank you for being brave to share your side of the story openly, so that we can all take a step towards mutual understanding.
We will be releasing a more detailed story on Melissa’s process of reconciling her faith and sexuality later this week.