This is the seventh in a year-long blog series by Lindsey Snyder about what pastors and parents need to know to better minister to LGB Christian women according to a historic sexual ethic. This post explores the necessity of healthy, intimate same-sex friendship for LGB Christian women.
If only the world wouldn’t get in your way
If only people would just let you play
They’d say you’re both being fools
You’re breaking all the rules
They can’t understand
The magic of your wonderland
(from The Fox and the Hound)
From a young age, I preferred movies about surprisingly deep friendship as displayed in films like The Fox and the Hound over the princess movies other girls my age adored. In fact, I resented the romantic relationships in movies like The Little Mermaid, Cinderella, and Beauty and the Beast, because each of those pulled the main character away from their friends. I didn’t know why this made me so upset.
I later discovered the why beneath my angst. Back then I seemed to want, more than my peers did, a girl to be my best friend. Perhaps at some level, I sensed that my sexuality was different and that I would need to lean on healthy friendship more than my peers. I was afraid that in a world of scarcity, Disney romance would mean less friendship for me.
Though romance is not necessary for thriving, intimate friendships are absolutely vital for LGB Christian women. “It is not good for man to be alone,” God says in reference to creating Eve not primarily as a sexual partner or spouse, but as a companion. God made many creatures different from Adam, but it was not good for Adam to be alone in his unique image-bearing state. He needed someone like him, to share the experience of being human and to join in communal worship to his Creator. But we were not created to interact exclusively with either sex. Humans flourish best when we are in friendships with both men and women.
In this post, we’ll explore why it’s so important for LGB Christian women to have same-sex friendships, the unique features of same-sex friendships between women, and how to encourage LGB Christian women in healthy, intimate same-sex friendships.
LGB Christian women need same-sex friendship
“One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”- Proverbs 18:24
Like Adam in the Garden, God made every woman to need human companionship. While many Christian women will meet some of their intimacy needs in a Christian marriage, no woman will meet all of her intimacy needs in her relationships with God and her husband alone. Every woman will need healthy friendships with other women where she can meet some of her needs for spiritual, emotional, intellectual, and physical intimacy.
Second, healthy same-sex friendships are one of the biggest ways to break down shame in an LGB Christian girl who is trying to follow God in her sexuality. Often, internalized homophobia (which fostered shame and self-hatred) was the barrier that kept me from feeling fully comfortable around other girls my age when I was a teenager. When I came out to a few friends for the first time, it was their open affection, sharing of their own struggles, willingness to wrestle with me in the tension between my faith and sexuality, and their continual pointing me to Jesus in gracious ways that beat back the shame enough so that I could live with myself.
For Christian girls who are open to experimenting with their sexuality, shame may not be much of an issue. I would venture to say that most of our culture, particularly LGBT+ people (including myself), is now wrestling with entitlement, not shame, on most days. Healthy same-sex friendships also help break down entitlement. Difficult truth that comes from a friend will almost certainly be better received than truth that comes from a parent or pastor. Truth from a female friend who shares a strong emotional connection will be even more well received than if it were to be from a male friend.
A third reason same-sex friendships are especially important is that for LGB Christian girls who are committed to a historic sexual ethic, learning how to navigate romantic tension in godly ways is essential. Inevitably, an LGB Christian woman will develop a crush on one of her female friends. We need to accept that as a fact without fear or shame clouding how we see and respond to our daughters, congregants, and friends. Keeping girls away from intimate same-sex friendships only prolongs pain and provides a breeding ground for shame. It also has the potential to make girls feel like they need to hide their romantic same-sex relationships. Forbidden things have a tendency to entice all of us. This tendency is certainly just as true for girls who have crushes on other girls. Instead of (futilely) trying to prevent any romantic feelings, healthy same-sex friendships can be a space for learning to recognize early signs of misplaced desire and redirect their affection to platonic friendship. Developing these spiritual muscles will lead to greater sexual faithfulness and these women can bless the Church by teaching straight women and men this necessary skill.
Fourth, same-sex friendships are vital for LGB Christian women because for many years we have either been on the starvation or fast food diet of affection. In shame, we’ve starved ourselves. In pride or desperation, we’ve indulged and gone too far. But in the banquet that Christ offers, where affection can be given free of shame or self-indulgence, there is a necessary goodness. We are embodied creatures that need touch to survive. Healthy same-sex friendships provide appropriate and necessary affection that does not leave LGB Christian women feeling desperate or ashamed.
The challenges of female same-sex friendships
Men are not allowed to be affectionate in our society without assumptions being made about their sexuality. Women, on the other hand, are more free to express affection in our Western culture. This has wonderful benefits. In college, I lived in a hall full of very affectionate women. It was not uncommon for friends to take naps together spooning in bed, sit on a friend’s lap while watching a movie, hold hands while walking to the dining commons, or give someone a kiss on the cheek or a long hug on the daily. Many women thrived in this freedom to express platonic affection. In many ways, I did too.
However, for LGB Christian women, culture’s acceptance of same-sex affection among women can be confusing. For the longest time, I didn’t understand that experiencing some sort of arousal or “spark” is not the enemy. In women, such physical responses are not automatically sexual. For instance, a woman nursing her baby can feel aroused. This is not because a woman is attracted to her baby. Rather, it is an involuntary response to an emotional bond and to the hormone oxytocin. We do not call such a natural physical response sexual. Neither should we jump to conclusions and assume that every arousal pattern in women is sexual in nature.
Another unique feature of same-sex friendships for women is the ideal of having her “person” – her same-sex soulmate, if you will. With the rise of radical feminism, men are discarded as toxic and unnecessary. Secular culture encourages women to blur the boundaries between same-sex friendship and romance and to experiment with same-sex sexual intimacy. While anti-man secular narratives may tempt all women to at least try out romantic and sexual intimacy with another woman, this shouldn’t lead women to fear intimate same-sex friendship. Neither should it cause parents and pastors to panic or doubt the testimonies of LGB women. Rather, women simply need to be aware of this cultural momentum and would do well to recognize and name it.
Sexual fluidity, which, as discussed in previous posts, is much more common in women than in men, can be a point of particular confusion for LGB Christians navigating intimate same-sex friendships. “Recent literature has characterized young women’s friendships as not much different from (heterosexual) romantic relationships. Specifically, young women’s friendships are characterized by companionship, preoccupation, jealousy, exclusivity, inseparability, and physical affection.” Current cultural images of bisexuality, the article goes on to say, encourage sexual experimentation and shifting identity formation. When partnered with the common emotional intensity of same-sex female friendships and the high potential for sexual fluidity in women, it is no wonder that 1 in 10 teens are identifying as LGB, 75 percent of whom are female and 77 percent of whom identify as bisexual.*
Should these unique realities cause parents and pastors to ban girls from platonically intimate friendship with other girls for fear of the friendship turning romantic or sexual? By no means! Encouraging healthy same-sex intimate friendships among girls is vital for their wellbeing. LGB Christian girls particularly need intimate same-sex friendships to ease homophobia and shame and to learn how to cope with romantic or sexual feelings that will inevitably arise at some point.
Parents and pastors: encourage healthy female friendship for LGB Christian Women
So how are we to encourage our daughters, congregants, or friends who are LGB Christian women into meaningful, godly same-sex friendships?
As always, communicate unconditional love from God, parents, and pastors regardless of what their friendships look like.
Pick your battles. Is it innately wrong for a gay Christian girl to hold hands with a female friend she is attracted to? No. Depending on the circumstances, could it be unwise? Yes. In the whole scheme of things, this is probably not a worthy battle. Especially for women, arousal patterns and feelings can be confusing. Don’t assume that unclear affection is romantic, but if the woman has invited you to hold her accountable, ask non-judgmental questions. The woman you’re caring for might not herself be aware of her motivations for these displays of affection. More often than not, the motivations will include a mix of healthy and unhealthy. In emotionally-safe, private conversation, ask the women you care for what they feel like their motivations are, and encourage surrendering these motivations to God.
Affirm that desire for committed friendship is a good thing. Non-exclusive, non-romantic committed friendships are seen most clearly in Scripture between David and Jonathan, Ruth and Naomi, and Jesus and his disciple John. These friendships are godly, beautiful, and deeply intimate. While Equip consistently teaches that same-sex romantic attraction is broken and same-sex romantic activity are sins, it is good to be aware that some who hold a historic sexual ethic are more agnostic about the morality of romance.
Encourage being self-aware, but not self-condemning about boundaries regarding physical intimacy. In some ways, having my own self-instituted boundaries like “no sleeping in the same bed with another girl” at college was a good thing. Even in my suppressed state, I knew what would definitely have tempted me to experiment. The bad part was that my primary motivations were shame and fear. Other girls may be naturally flippant with boundaries. Regardless, encourage your child or congregant to determine personal limits and boundaries with affection or any other form of intimacy. There should be no threat of shaming if your daughter or congregant slips up and crosses boundaries. We have all crossed boundaries in one form or the other at some point in our lives. We should be intentional and specific about our boundaries and take sin seriously, but recognize that responding to sin with shame only leads to more sin. As my counselor tells me sometimes, “I’ve never seen anyone shame themselves out of a shame cycle.”
Many people frame the boundary conversation with the metaphor of a fire. The premise is that the fires of intimacy can be warm and beautiful when contained, but dangerous and catastrophic when you get too close. This metaphor terrified me as a kid. One alternative idea is to try framing boundary conversations around Psalm 16:6 which says, “The [boundary] lines [of the land] have fallen for me in pleasant places; Indeed, my heritage is beautiful to me.” David is literally talking about his kingdom in this case, but it can easily be applied to the boundaries that all of us would do well to discover and maintain. David does not focus on the limitations the boundaries enforce. He sees that his heritage, his kingdom, though not limitless, is indeed beautiful and pleasant. Perhaps some of the beauty even stems from the fact that there are boundary lines. Similarly, we can focus on the beautiful intimacy able to be shared, knowing that beyond that is not something that is ultimately God’s best for us.
Encourage and model making friends with people who are different from you in various ways (socioeconomically, racially, culturally, politically, etc.). Experiences with people different from me at an early age helped me later on in life to empathize with diverse perspectives and to distinguish my own beliefs and values from that of others. There is a lot of truth in the phrase that we become who we are friends with. An echo chamber of concordant voices can push LGB women toward either sexual shame or experimentation. Instead, friends of various backgrounds and contexts can help an LGB Christian girl learn how to handle peer pressure.
Encourage and model inclusivity. Best friends are great, but spending time with one person at the exclusion of everyone else is a definite red flag signaling an unhealthy relationship. As described above, girls in particular have a tendency to want to find “her person” in another girl. I can have a strong tendency to want to spend all my time with a woman I am holistically attracted to, but being intentional about including others helps me learn to love well without obsessing over or idolizing an individual. This doesn’t mean girls need to run away from deep friendship but instead invest in multiple deep friendships and enjoy those friendships in groups as well as one-on-one.
Acknowledge it is ok to feel attracted to a same-sex friend and that doesn’t mean you have to run away from the friendship or date them. As we’ve seen in many previous blog posts, humans have a tendency to swing to extremes and see things in black and white where there is actually a lot of gray. I have remained friends with a straight woman I developed a deep crush for who I never told about my feelings as well as a fellow gay woman in which we had divulged mutual feelings for each other. In general, I would highly recommend Christian LGB women committed to a historic sexual ethic not to divulge her feelings for another girl to that girl. (Others on Equip’s team recommend the opposite. It seems that individual experience varies on this front.) From my perspective, divulging has really increased the intensity of forbidden desire for romance with the person I’m attracted to, particularly when she has also had feelings for me. My advice is to encourage your child, congregant, or friend to talk to a trusted friend, parent, or pastor about her feelings for another friend, should that occur. Verbalize understanding that it is heartbreaking not to tell a friend you have a crush on her. Your daughter doesn’t have to keep those feelings locked inside. Suppression is not the goal. We just want to make the journey of navigating those feelings less tumultuous than they could be.
Finally and most importantly, encourage friendships that point each other toward Jesus. When journeying together is more about encouraging each other in the faith and persevering together in suffering than about making sure every desire we have is met in each other, there is freedom. This does not mean that an LGB Christian woman should deny her own needs in a friendship. I’ve felt way too much unnecessary shame from feeling like I’m not loving people “well enough” by my own standards of perfect, unselfish love. Communicating one’s own needs, desires, and hopes in a friendship is not selfish. It reminds me of when I have asked a friend just to hold me in some vulnerable moments. Pointing each other to Jesus can look like words of explicit encouragement. But sometimes pointing each other towards Jesus means pulling a friend into a warm embrace, throwing a birthday party, volunteering together, enjoying a movie together . . . the possibilities are endless; the distinction is intentionally inviting Jesus into everything we do.
In sum, intimate friendships are essential for LGB women. There are unique elements of same-sex friendships among LGB women that should be considered and there are many ways to encourage healthy friendship between LGB women. Let’s finish with a prayer that our LGB friends and family will find intimate friendship that reflects God’s goodness:
We recognize the importance of meaningful same-sex friendships for our LGB daughters, congregants, and friends. We see the unique features of these friendships and praise You for understanding more than we ever could. Help us to encourage our kids, congregants, and friends into healthy and deeply intimate same-sex friendships in ways that feel freeing, not burdensome. Help LGB gay women to thrive in meaningful friendships that reflect Your beauty and goodness.
In Jesus’ name,
Help your church become a place where all women, especially gay women can belong and thrive, and where pastors and parents shepherd their gay children with love and truth by contacting Equip today!
Girl Friend or Girlfriend?: Same-Sex Friendship and Bisexual Images as a Context for Flexible Sexual Identity Among Young Women, 2006