Because They First Loved Me: A Reflection on Queerness and Community
by Alicia Crosby, Executive Director and Co-Founder, Center for Inclusivity
Over the last few years, I’ve been deeply engaged in work and research that centers on cultivating space where people of all faiths, sexualities, and gender identities can seek to both know and be known. I’ve seen so many people experience spiritual, systemic, and interpersonal harm and sincerely believe that fostering inclusive, equitable communities can help people heal. My commitment to these beliefs inspired me to co-found a nonprofit called Center for Inclusivity that supports building these sorts of spaces through utilizing public forums that promote thoughtful dialogue. I know the power that lies in these places because it is there that I was able to find words to give shape to my sexual identity and take hold of my truth.
My truth is that I love people. I find them beautiful and intriguing. The scope of my desire is expansive, and as such I’ve had to spend time finding words to help others understand my sexuality. I’ve never been a fan of using singular words to describe broad concepts because that feels constrictive, but I know that the assignment of labels helps people understand or connect with us more fully. So in speaking of my truth for myself, I acknowledge that I’m drawn to people, but when sharing it with others, I say that I’m pansexual.
It took me 29 years to hold this truth and stand firmly in it.
See, I’m the daughter of a Baptist preacher. That may seem like an arbitrary statement, but, at age 16, when I first felt that the construct of heterosexuality could not contain the fullness of my identity, the few conversations I dared to have pushed me into a place of deep repression.
In my college years, that repression met my religious beliefs producing a toxic brew of anti-LGBTQ sentiments. In that season of my life, I offered up words to friends and strangers alike that I now realize were unhelpful at best and devastating or triggering at worst. As I reflect on this time, I understand how critical it is for people to have unobstructed, affirming space to unpack desire, attraction, and preferences. My experience allows me to see that denial of these things doesn’t just inspire personal suppression, it pushes people to try and thwart the liberation others in their communities may be seeking.
I wish I could say that I have never imposed barriers between people and who they desire to be, but in the near decade and a half between me first questioning my own identity and coming out as queer, there are multiple instances of me (somewhat ignorantly) perpetuating harm. I remember passionately speaking out against measures promoting LGBTQ equity or using the Bible to tell people that their attractions or their personhood was sinful while also sharing that God loved them. I didn’t have room to work toward accepting who I was or to realize that I had became a deterrent to others journeying towards their self acceptance.
I could scrub the story of my liberation clean of the ways that I have been complicit in upholding oppression for my LGBTQ siblings, but that would neither be honest nor speak to the fullness of my journey.
Coming out as pansexual at 29 and proudly and openly sharing my queer identity at 31 did not come without challenge or moments that still make my heart ache when I think about them. This did not happen without me willfully ignoring the hitches in my breath indicating a desire that I deemed to be sinful. Or developing feelings for a close friend at 20 and having her shut the door to possibility because she feared that exploring those feelings would compromise my ability to work in Christian ministry. Or me passionately using ministry platforms to speak against queer and trans people pursuing ordination. Or reframing my attraction to women as “girl crushes” and engaging in other sorts of personal revisionism. Or the silent bargaining with God to take that attraction to women away altogether. Or wielding theology as a tool for harm instead of healing as dear friends came out to me. Or the tears that stained my bathroom walls as I cried, terrified to accept the truth about myself. Or the wrestling I did with the Christian scriptures looking for room for LGBTQ people (and then myself) within the family of God.
I could speak to loving who I am as a queer woman without sharing these experiences, but it wouldn’t be the most faithful telling of my story. While it’s certainly easier to do so now, I strive to hold the tension that lies at the heart of my story: that who we are isn’t always who we will end up being. The beliefs that ground you in one season can serve as a lens for understanding people you disagree with in another.
I understand all too well the deep fear that undergirds denial. When questions force us to confront ourselves, we are often left questioning everything that gives our world meaning — God, faith, commitments, and community. And if our expectations from all these things are leveled, what will fill the voids? What will stand in place of these things?
I think in pictures, so I imagine our convictions and beliefs are suspended above our heads by beautiful, intricate tapestries. Sometimes we have experiences that create snags in this fabric, and they have the ability to compromise how our beliefs are held should we tug at them. It took me 29 years to pull at the loose threads in the tapestry of my knowing and let everything fall so that my truth could rise.
In sharing my story and the work that I do people often ask me what resources I’ve engaged in my journey. Books, articles, and the consumption of “things” did not get me to my present state of being; it was other people who did that. It took years of living, learning, holding the stories of others, then offering my own. I am who I am because of the people who’ve worked to know me and, in that knowing, care for me. People bravely shared their truths and managed to hold space for me even when I failed them.
My people are why I believe in and dedicate my days to supporting the cultivation of radically inclusive community. I know that the encounters that happen in these spaces can shift things in the world — through caring for people and helping them confront their truths — because this is my testimony. Inclusive community is what changed me.
The love of my community helped (and continues to help) me find my words. Their authenticity pushed me to tear at the foundations of my fear and ignorance and start moving towards inquiry and understanding. Their presence inspires me to work to be more of who I am in all my queer, radical, subversive, passionate glory.
I am free to live into myself and boldly claim a sexual identity that is broad and inclusive — one where I just love people — because of the people who first loved me.
Alicia Crosby has always been the type of person to color outside the lines — a trait that comes in handy as the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Center for Inclusivity (CFI). Through her experiences within religious, social service, and community empowerment contexts and her navigation of the world as a queer, black woman, she saw a need to address the spiritual, systemic, and interpersonal harm people experience through the promotion of inclusion and equity for all people through her work. Alicia is proud that CFI is a place where people can bring the fullness of who they are forward and find community that gives them life.