A Guest Post by Sam Koster
Sam Koster recently attended the Gay Christian Network Conference, and was kind enough to share a reflection here on Where She Is.
While attending the 2016 Gay Christian Network Conference in Houston, Texas, I was frequently asked, “Is the conference meeting your expectations?” To this, my only answer was, “What expectations?” I had no idea what to expect. I’d never gone to anything like a GCN Conference before (mostly because there is nothing quite like it).
What I found at GCN was better than anything I could’ve expected.
Before I even arrived in Houston, I became aware of a feeling beginning to grow in my chest. Was it the burn of excitement? Was it terror, or maybe even dread? It felt like the slow build of a roller coaster climb, inching toward the top of the incline, anticipating the sudden drop that could likely feel like falling to my doom. The feeling only grew as I got closer to the hotel. By the time I was checked in and began wandering the floor, I was shaking.
It struck me; the conference was real and I was there. When I first held my nametag and lanyard, I felt like I was holding fire. Here it was, the irrevocable proof that I belonged in this place, among these people, in bold print with my own QR code.
Then I saw the pronoun buttons. A simple white metal button—minimal printing and a pin on the back—provided so attendees could write in and, thus, make known their preferred pronouns. With almost aggressive eagerness, I wrote one with feminine pronouns and another with masculine pronouns, quickly putting the masculine badge deep into my purse pocket.
At this point, I hadn’t come out as gender fluid to the college group I was traveling with. Resting inside me was an unspoken terror; the fear that someone would see the masculine pronouns I had written on that button and scold me for stepping outside of my assigned gender while not completely committing to the other. Even though my brain told me this wouldn’t happen, the distance between head knowledge and heart knowledge is sometimes so great that the journey seems almost impossible. So I held my secret in silence even though, at GCN, secrets like mine were worn like flowers and with pride.
It didn’t take me long to realize I had never been in such an open group of people before. Being an introvert, I had to work hard to manage my emotional and social fears while I began to explore the conference venue. My time at GCN had barely begun and I was already starting to feel overwhelmed, looking forward to bed.
But it wasn’t long before situations arose causing me to talk and interact with other attendees, and as I did, my terror slowly subsided and the walls I had built started coming down. These people weren’t just strangers, I realized. These were people who had gone through similar things in their own lives. After a while, I noticed I had stopped shaking and started smiling.
I started to get to know random people, never expecting we would become great friends before the time came to head for home. Slowly, I started to feel comfortable, and the knowledge that I could be whatever I wanted started to sink in. I realized I was surrounded by people who would accept me no matter how I presented myself.
So, I put on my favorite dress, did my makeup, and fastened the pin with masculine pronouns to my left shoulder, then I went out, did workshops, shook hands, and talked to exhibiters. Every person I spoke to looked at me with joy and love. It was so overwhelmingly wonderful I completely forgot I hadn’t come out to my college group until one of the boys asked me at lunch, “Wait, do you really use male pronouns?”
I could feel that same burn trying to come back, but it quickly disappeared as I managed a smile and said, “Yeah. Sometimes.” There were no condemning looks, no anger. Only a few curious questions before the discussion turned casually toward what to eat.
And that was it. I was out with barely a full sentence. I couldn’t believe how freeing it was. And it only got easier.
The next day, I wore a binder and did things to purposely appear masculine. I went to lunch with friends, enjoying the sunshine and freedom of an hour and a half to learn about the city and the people I’d now claimed as my friends. However, during our time together, I was misgendered for a moment, and I began to feel like I’d failed. I’d come this far and still wasn’t the boy my mind was telling me I was. But before the burn of fear could slip back in, the man sitting next to me said, “Do you know Sam’s gender orientation?” To which two of my friends quickly responded, “Gender fluid.” The guy took one look at the pronouns on my button, smiled at me, and said, “Well, there you go then.” I was seen and heard without saying a word. These people who barely knew me were responsive and inclusive in a way I’d never experienced before. It was absolutely freeing.
In one of the workshops I attended, the speaker talked about letting ourselves heal by being our true and authentic selves. Every time I heard someone use my pronouns and engage with me in a kind and understanding way, I felt my authentic self begin to come to the surface. I had been burning with self-doubt and fear, while my true self fought to escape. Here, at the GCN Conference, in the welcoming company of so many incredible people, I’d finally found my way out of that fire and into the light of day.
While I was being authentically seen and heard, I was also witnessing the astounding way other people’s eye-opening and inspiring stories were being received. Watching this visual testimony, I felt God’s love pouring into my heart in a way I’d never experienced. I’d never really seen people exhibit such unconditional and empathetic love before, and witnessing it was a blessing.
Before attending the GCN Conference, I’d felt numb about existence and my place in it. But at GCN, the things that made me feel “less than” were stripped away and I was filled with God’s great and exceedingly powerful love.
I have hope now. I testified to this and was quickly swept into the strong arms of many tearful mothers. These women gave me hope. The friends I made gave me hope. My experience of the entire GCN community gave me hope.
I now know I am loved and cared for by this community, a community that didn’t know I existed until I showed up in their midst. I’ve been accepted with open arms and open hearts, unabashedly and completely. I feel whole again after months and years of feeling “less than.”
I worshiped in a community of strangers that felt like family. I cried in front of a crowd of parents who held me in their arms like I was their own child. I felt like I was being given a glimpse of what heaven feels like, or maybe what I hope heaven feels like: open arms of strangers full of love and grace.
One of the mothers, after a big hug, told me, “Take every second of your time here, and take it back with you to wherever it is you call home. Just know, for every moment you feel unloved there, there are hundreds of people here who love you to make up for it.” I know I will never forget.
God is doing wonderful, impactful work at GCN conferences. I’m so blessed to have been a part of it all this year. God bless GCN for all of it. It truly makes a difference.
Sam Koster is a student at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. They’re currently pursuing their love of the arts in theater and literature, planning to continue to do so for the rest of their life. Working with various groups at their school, Sam hopes to create safe spaces for LGBT+ kids on their campus to express themselves without fear.
© 2016 by Christian Feminism Today
Index of GCN 2016 Conference Content on Christian Feminism Today
Introduction to the #GCNConf Series
Introduction to weconnect Featured Speaker Emmy Kegler
Interview with weconnect Featured Speaker Emmy Kegler
First Timer Reflections – Rev. Jann Aldredge-Clanton, PhD
First Timer Reflections – Sam Koster
First Timer Reflections – Bastian Bauman
First Timer Reflections – Kirsti Reeve
Gay Christian Network Website
The hashtag is #GCNConf
Conference Twitter Feed Follow @gcnconf
Gay Christian Network Conference Facebook Page
Gay Christian Network Conference Instagram Page
Thank you for sharing your story, Sam! So glad you had such a positive experience and felt so loved at the GCN Conference. Hope you find love and healing in your college also.