Jackie Hill Perry shares her journey past same-sex attraction to the Savior
By Sara Shelton
If someone had told teenaged Jackie Hill Perry where she’d be today, she probably wouldn’t have believed it. A wife, mother, speaker, poet, and rapper, she recently added author to her list with the release of her first book, Gay Girl, Good God: The Story of Who I Was and Who God Has Always Been.
Perry’s journey of faith isn’t your typical teenage coming-of-age story. Instead, hers is one that requires courage and conviction to speak and share.
“I wanted to invite people into my world and help them have empathy for something they may not understand,” Perry explains. “I want to allow them to walk in my shoes.”
A Quiet Struggle
To fully take that walk in Perry’s shoes, you have to go all the way back to her childhood in St. Louis, Missouri. Raised without the consistent presence of a male figure in her home, Perry spent her formative years in the care of her single, working mother. Weekends were often spent with her aunt, and that’s where Perry’s exposure to the gospel began.
“My mom had weekend jobs, so I went to church with my aunt on Sundays,” Perry says. “I didn’t realize then, but those Sundays in church were helpful in giving me the foundation for the gospel that would save me in the future. Even when I wasn’t sure what else I believed, I was still certain that God was real.”
But Perry was also dealing with a certainty of something else during those early years of life—a quiet struggle deep within her.
“I noticed that I liked girls as early as kindergarten,” Perry recalls. “I didn’t know what to call it or what it even was at the time. I knew it was something I felt, but I also knew it was something that wasn’t to be discussed.”It’s difficult to learn how to trust God with all of my life, but I’m really thankful He didn’t make it any easier than it was. That’s how faith is really built. —@JackieHillPerryAs she grew up, she felt that inclination couldn’t stay quiet within her. When she reached her teens, those feelings began to scream so loudly she felt she couldn’t ignore them.
“By the time I hit high school, I was getting more and more comfortable with the feelings inside of me. I made up my mind: I was going to pursue them.”
At 17, Perry entered a relationship with another girl, a choice she says felt more natural to her than almost anything else she’d experienced up to that point in her life. Unsure of what others might think, Perry kept her relationship quiet at first. But to those around her, the changes in her life were certainly noticeable. The further into the relationship she got, the more Perry changed outwardly, too.
“I was transitioning into becoming more masculine at the time, changing my clothes, and changing the way I carried myself,” Perry says. “It just felt so natural and right to me, and I didn’t really care what anyone else thought about it. I just felt like, This is me.”
Soon, close friends began to understand Perry’s new lifestyle. By the time she was 18, her mother made the discovery as well.
“My mom didn’t accept it, but she never rejected me. It was just confusing for her because suddenly I wasn’t behaving as the girl she’d raised. Suddenly, I wasn’t the daughter she’d brought up.”
Though fully out as a lesbian and involved in a same-sex relationship, Perry still believed the truths she had learned going to church as a child with her aunt. Those convictions had settled within her and proved difficult to shake.
“I think it was God in His mercy not allowing me to shake off what little I knew to be true of Him at the time,” Perry says. “I felt convicted constantly during that season of my life. I never deceived myself into believing God was OK with the choices I was making. I knew what He said was true. I knew it everywhere—in the gay club, in the pride parade, in the relationship I was in. I carried it with me.”
By the time Perry was nearly 20 years old, those convictions were weighing on her all the more. And in October 2008, everything came to a head.
‘Something had to change’
“There was nothing I could do not to remember what was true,” she says. “It felt like God was speaking right to my heart all the time. And I saw it so clearly all of a sudden; I saw what was going on in my heart. And if what I knew was true—if the wages of sin really was death—it wasn’t optional for me. Something had to change.”
Out of the conviction, Perry decided to turn away from the lifestyle she’d come to know as comfortable and, instead, turn toward the God she knew was pursuing her heart.
Of course, this meant immediate steps of change in her life. She ended her relationship, detached from friends, and even changed the way she dressed, all in an effort to safeguard herself from the temptations that remained.
“I didn’t want to be straight,” Perry explains. “I remember having a conversation with God during that time saying just that. But I also knew I wanted Jesus more than everything else. And I felt like He was asking me to come to Him and not worry about the rest of it. So that’s what I did.”I didn’t want to be straight. But I also knew I wanted Jesus more than everything else. And I felt like He was asking me to come to Him and not worry about the rest of it. — @JackieHillPerryWithin weeks, Perry found herself plugged in at a local church. There, she was met with exactly what she needed most in that season—not judgment or consequence but unconditional love.
“I needed to see that Christians loved people for real, and that’s exactly what that church did for me,” she says. “They weren’t after just a change in my sexuality but a change in my whole person. They loved me as Jackie, not as Jackie the ex-lesbian.”
A few years later, Perry moved to Los Angeles, where she found a mentor to disciple her in this new journey of faith.
“It was a slow and difficult period,” Perry recalls. “It’s difficult to learn how to trust God with all of my life, but I’m really thankful He didn’t make it any easier than it was. That’s how faith is really built.”
Part of what helped her through the slow and difficult healing process was the written word. A longtime lover of creative writing, Perry started putting pen to paper to express herself.
“When I became a believer, I was looking for a way to communicate how I was feeling, and poetry was the best way I could think of at the time. I just started writing and eventually sharing it. And then people were being introduced to God through the things I was saying. It was cool.”
God used that poetry to eventually lead her to where she is today. Perry met her husband, Preston, at a poetry event in 2009. Both were there to share their testimonies through poetry. A friendship quickly forged, and over the course of a few years, her affection for him began to grow.
“This was a new feeling for me,” Perry explains. “I didn’t really understand it or know where it was coming from, but I shared it with my mentor. She just encouraged me to pray and let God do the rest.”
By the time Preston reached out with the intention to pursue Perry, her heart was ready.
“I felt like it was the will of God. He’s the only man I ever saw myself being willing to trust and love in that way. I just needed to have a willing heart, and God gave that to me.”
The two were married a year and a half later. They have since welcomed two daughters, Eden and Autumn. It’s a family Perry herself never thought she’d have.
How to Start to Change a Life
“My story is certainly not the standard,” Perry explains. “It’s just the one God chose to give me, and I’m so grateful for it.”
Perry’s ultimate goal isn’t to convert people from gay to straight; it’s simply to share Jesus with the world around her and let Him do the changing.I needed to see that Christians loved people for real, and that’s exactly what that church did for me. They loved me as Jackie, not as Jackie the ex-lesbian. —@JackieHillPerry“I hope the book is a great resource for people to understand both the gay community and the gospel of Christ,” Perry says.
The publishing of Perry’s book comes at a moment in culture where more and more people are grappling with questions of sexuality and faith. It’s an ongoing conversation within the walls of the church and beyond, one that Perry encourages leaders in the church to keep having.
What would she say to those leaders talking to students like her—the 17-year-old Jackie who was asking the questions so many ask today?
“Be willing to commit,” Perry says. “There isn’t a one-size-fits-all method to this. Each person’s journey is unique. So commit to getting to know that person. Understand that story, that world, that life in front of you.
“Consistently show up and do a lot of listening, a lot of loving, and a lot of praying. That, in my opinion, is how you start to change a life.”
SARA SHELTON is a freelance writer and editor based in the Atlanta area. She writes at sara-laurence.com.