Living in My True Identity
by Kristie Koll Means
A Beautiful Life
If you met me today, you’d see a suburban mom driving a minivan with car seats and crumbs. I’m a stay-at-home mom, wife, a follower of Jesus, and an artist. I love building Legos with my seven-year-old son, and I’m learning to play princess dress-up with my busy four-and-a-half-year-old daughter. On any day, you might find me reading six books at the same time or gathering friends around my kitchen table for a home-cooked meal and conversation. I try to keep a clean house—to stay on top of the messes and laundry! My dream is to one day have a backyard big enough to grow my own food and have an art studio to paint in. I like to wander. Think. Reflect. I’ve got this beautiful, rich life! And I’m grateful! God has been so faithful to me—even when I didn’t believe He cared.
Questioning My Gender
In the 1980s when I was growing up, I learned that in our American culture, boys and girls were expected to like different things. Boys played sports and enjoyed action figures and dirt. Girls wore dresses, played Barbie, and swung on monkey bars at recess. When my parents allowed me to play little league baseball with the boys, I was heartbroken when I learned that I didn’t need to wear a cup like they did. I wanted to wear one to fit in and be like the other kids on the team. I loved sports and G.I. Joes. I played in the dirt and felt incredibly uncomfortable in dresses. My sister was the opposite. She cut holes in her jeans so she could wear dresses. She had Barbie and Ken dolls and knew how to swing on monkey bars. My interests were “masculine.” This was, I believe, where my long journey with gender identity began.
I wish someone had told me that my likes didn’t make me less feminine or less of a girl. I knew that God made me female, but I was angry at Him for doing it. At that age, I didn’t know what God said about being a woman and the honor it is to be one. I also wish someone had told me that I wasn’t alone and that I didn’t need to have the culture pigeonhole me on the basis of my interests. Kids can be mean, and I was an easy target to get picked on and left out. I spent years wanting to blame someone for this difficulty in my life.
Keeping silent about my gender identity grew with each passing year. In late high school and early college, I discovered that I was attracted to women almost more than men. My women’s studies professor lectured about lesbianism and how common it was. That—coupled with playing on the women’s rugby team where the lesbian lifestyle was very normal—pushed me over the edge. These were some of the darkest years of my life. I was an emotional mess—with smiles on the outside but a wreck on the inside. I had a personal relationship with God but also a lot of questions I was afraid to verbalize. Where was God in this? Did He still love me? Why was I so broken? Was I outside of His grace? The burden of shame was heavy. I feared that if anyone knew, I would be a disappointment and would become an outcast. It wasn’t that I didn’t like boys, but they always wanted to just be friends. It seemed that marriage and kids weren’t in the cards for me. I felt that my prayers hit the ceiling and bounced back. The thought of ending my life seemed like my only option—which looking back now seems extremely irrational. The self-pity I felt was overwhelming. The demons were real. Sitting on the floor of my dorm room, I was holding a bottle of pills in my hand when Mom called. “Just checking in,” she said. “I felt God wanted me to tell you I love you.” God intervened! I gave the bottle of prescription pain pills to a friend.
God graciously brought a friend back into my life who opened up about her own struggles. She was a safe person with whom I could share my struggles and questions. She was loving and gracious and didn’t condemn me. Through my time with her, I learned that I wasn’t unlovable to God and that He cared for me. What I didn’t realize was that there was still a long road ahead, and freedom from the struggle was still a decade away. Piecing back my true identity would take time.
For years, I was very needy and codependent. On an emotional rollercoaster, I was in and out of love with many women—mostly women who had a confident feminism that I believed I lacked. I still prayed every day for God to change my desires. I still wanted marriage and kids. I just never seemed to make it past the friend level with men. Thankfully, over the next 10 years, God placed mentors and counselors in my life who kept encouraging me to walk with God and stay the course.
One day, in January 2009, it all began to change. I had come to the end of myself and was ready to walk out of being in full-time Christian ministry and part of a church. I was preparing to come out as a lesbian. But before I got a chance, I had a breakdown on the floor of my friend’s bathroom, in the middle of a group Bible study. I was crying so hard—ugly hyena cries. The group prayed for me, and afterwards two friends told me the same thing: They had heard from the Lord, and He said, “This is not the end.” I didn’t believe what my friends had heard, and once I finished my weekend assignment of creating a prayer experience at a student conference in Dallas, I was making my break from God and His church. I was done trying to live a celibate and straight life. I had given up on trying to heal myself, and I was done praying.
Once again, God intervened. On the last evening of the conference, there was a time of healing prayer. Set up in the front of the hotel ballroom were large red bowls. Each staff person knelt behind one of the bowls. Students were given dirty rocks and instructed that—if they wished—they could write the place of their deepest shame on a rock. I was staff—not one of the students attending the conference—but I felt the Lord nudging me to write on a rock anyway. I did. And when I brought my SSA (same-sex attraction) rock up and washed it in the bowl of water, the letters came off. The staff director asked if there was anything I would like prayer for. I was too ashamed and said “No.” Still, he prayed for me. I can’t remember those words now, almost 10 years later, but I do know one thing—the Holy Spirit healed my heart and my true identity. It was the turning point of my life! It was a miracle. I was free. Balm was rubbed into my heart right there in that hotel ballroom. For the first time in 12 years, I knew who I was. I was not my sexuality. I was God’s daughter. I had joy—deep joy—not just circumstantial happiness. A short while after my healing, I heard this verse, and wept: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it” (Revelation 2:17, NASB). How good is our God!
Issues with Same-Sex Attraction
I have learned that it is fairly common for some personality types to have difficulty navigating gender questions. Only with biblical—not cultural—loving guidance can one come through with a secure understanding of gender identity. My mind and heart still do not understand why I was healed in the way I was, while others are still waiting to see their attractions shift. There were a few times after the healing prayer that I found myself attracted to another woman. And as I began my first serious relationship with the man who would become my husband, I needed him to be just as vulnerable with me about his own struggles as I was with mine. Once that exchange happened and we began to be emotionally intimate, another layer of healing took place. Healing of same-sex attraction can come through intimacy with God, healthy non-sexual same-sex friendships, and sometimes marriage—yet it is not the case for all. God does place a high calling and value on those who remain single, and they should be given honor within the church and serve however He leads them.
Often issues with gender and same-sex attraction deal with the relationship between the mother and daughter or father and son. I am grateful for the work God has done to restore and heal my relationship with my mother. Today, we have a wonderful and healthy relationship, but during my growing up years—between her work in the family business and responsibilities at church and school PTA—there was little time left to connect with me emotionally. I felt my emotions were too much for her to handle, so I kept everything inside and actually felt closer to my dad. Without a healthy emotional connection with my mother—and not understanding God’s reason for making me a woman—led me to question my gender and to desire emotional (codependent) connections with women.
I am truly grateful for the miracle of healing in my life. The Lord is my deliverer and my strong tower. My advice to anyone praying and waiting for God’s healing in this area—or any area of trial or struggle—is to stay the course, study God’s Word, open up to men and women you can trust, and seek godly counsel. The plan of the enemy is to isolate you, shame you, and make you feel you are the only one. We all have brokenness and are in need of a Savior. “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18, NASB).
God’s Gift of Marriage
On June 1, 2012, under a huge oak tree at the foot of a lake in Austin, Texas, I looked into the face of the man who helped rewrite my story. It was my wedding day—the most redemptive day of my life! Chris and I had met through E-Harmony years before, when I was still very much attracted to women but desperately wanting to have a normal story. At the time, I was dipping my foot into the dating pool, and it was like learning to ride a bike as an adult. Let’s just say I wasn’t great at it! Our first date was to see my favorite band, Over the Rhine, at the Cactus Café on the University of Texas campus. We talked about Will Clark and our baseball card collections as kids. Chris was an architect, an avid history buff, and a sports guy—and we both loved Jesus. But after a few months of going out with Chris, I had to end it. I wasn’t free. But by God’s grace, we remained friends and for a while played on a coed softball team together.
Some years later, while living in Orlando, Florida, I took art classes at night and fell in love with painting. This form of expression fit me, and it led me back to Austin to become part of an intentional living community, made up mostly of artists trying to follow Jesus’ teachings on loving our neighbor. A few of us shared a studio, and I began painting on big drop cloths. I was thankful for a way to express what was going on inside of me. After a few years of being part of the Fireseed Anthology Project, a new ministry with CRU (Campus Crusade for Christ), I left Austin for New York to work with CRU and IAM (two gospel-centered ministries) in New York City. By this time, it had been a year since my healing, and I welcomed a change of scenery. Growing in confidence and loving my independence, I rented a small studio in Long Island City and devoted my time to making art while helping college students do the same. I also volunteered at an art gallery in Chelsea and learned a lot about the art world from that experience.
Then a short trip back to Texas for a friend’s wedding changed the direction of my life once again. The day after the wedding, my uncle took me to Game 4 of the Giants vs. Rangers World Series in Dallas. It so happened that Chris had driven up from Austin and just happened to be sitting six rows down from me in the same upper deck section. The Giants won that night, but more importantly, God began to remind me of how much this man whom I had dated a few years back cared about me, how attracted he was to me, and how I was in a different place with my identity than I was then.
Over the course of the next few months, I would gather my courage to call him up and ask him to give me another chance. He was willing but wanted to know why it didn’t work the first time. I was honest with him. He was grateful for my honesty and was willing to move forward. He flew to New York the next month and so began our journey towards a life together. I pushed and pulled Chris—I didn’t know how to do a relationship—and he was terribly patient. God was using him to affirm my femininity and my beauty. After a short time, I moved back to Austin, and with the help of some close girlfriends, I learned how to be in a relationship and not run away when irrational fears crept in.
For Christmas 2011, I gave Chris a green Christmas light, a symbol that I was ready to be all in and to someday—in the near future, I hoped—become his wife. God gave me faith to believe what I couldn’t see—that marriage was indeed in the cards for me. The following year, 2012, could be a book in itself: I got engaged, got married, and got pregnant! Since we were in our mid-thirties, in my mind we were catching up on lost time.
We got engaged in front of the architecture building on the UT campus, across from the Cactus Café, on the anniversary of the day we had met four years earlier. Four months later, on a hot day in June, we got married on the grounds of the Austin Museum of Art. We had friends make our wedding cake in the shape of the Guggenheim Museum, another friend wrote a song for us, I built signs, my dad built little Lincoln Log houses as centerpieces, and we served Texas BBQ! I danced all evening under the twinkling lights, even forgetting to go around and thank people for coming. I knew that the wildly independent chapter of my life was coming to an end, and I wanted to go out with a bang. Almost all the people close to us were there that day. It was the last time I would see my grandfather before he passed—a bookend to a significant chapter of my life.
Chris and I quickly learned what is meant by “character-building opportunities” when we landed in Paris for our honeymoon and I had left my wallet on the plane. Thankfully, my passport was in a different pocket of my backpack. We saw the sights and fell more in love as we wandered the streets of Paris. Later, flying into Rome, my luggage was lost. I washed my underwear in the small sink of our tiny hotel room and wore my gift shop Italy T-shirt everywhere. Thankfully, the day we were leaving, my bag showed up at the hotel. These character-building opportunities—as Chris likes to call them—would continue to be a thread in our marriage.
God, Our Rock
The first year of our marriage when I became pregnant, and the following few years, are like a blur now. After the birth of our second child, a baby girl in 2016, we decided to move to Fort Worth to be a little closer to family. That was the year we received the news of our son Micah’s autism. The world as we knew it seemed to come crashing down. We experienced much questioning, anger, fear, and exhaustion in this season. But, thankfully, God continued to be our rock and uphold our weary bodies and hearts. During one of my crying sessions, I heard the voice of God tell me that He made me for this. All that He had done in my life up to this point was preparing me. He had worked a miracle in my own life, and I knew He was more than capable to heal our son. A saving grace during those most difficult years was—and still is—our loving church family that surrounds us, and family and friends who laugh and cry with us, and remind us that “this is not the end.”
Chris and I are thankful we are together in this. God has given us the gift of marriage and the children I had always dreamed of having. We’ve got a beautiful, rich life—with Christ at the center—and “A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:12).