How the Indigo Girls and LGBT-Affirming Christians Helped Me Heal from Religious Rejection

Christian love trumps Christian hate

You might have heard the news recently that American soccer stud, er, star Abby Wambach married Glennon Doyle, “Christian mommy blogger.” I’m guessing most readers are more familiar with Abby’s achievements, so if you found yourself wondering who this lucky Glennon woman is, sit down next to me.

See, Glennon Doyle is a lot of things to a lot of people—best-selling author, philanthropist, heretic—but to me, she’s the Jesus-loving sister I wish I had. She’s part of my chosen family dream team. And she’s been that to me for years, long before she shocked portions of the Internet by marrying Abby Wambach. Why? Because, in a way, she chose me (plus we’re also related by my original dream chosen family, the Indigo Girls).

Let me explain.

In the summer of 1996, when I was sixteen, my older sister took me to my first Indigo Girls concert. For the first time, I was surrounded by women, many of whom were clearly lesbians and/or badass with their crew cuts and literal swagger, and it felt amazing. I crushed on Amy Ray without knowing to call it that. All I knew was I loved the Indigo Girls.

Two years later my sister would marry a man whose Christian beliefs didn’t allow for Indigo Girls music. My sister’s own beliefs would quickly conform to his. Meanwhile, I lost my religion, and went to college (Emory—the alma mater of the Amy and Emily), where my new friends called me “their lesbian” because of my Indigo Girls fandom. But it was just an inside joke. I was going on dates with guys occasionally, looking for but failing to find a real connection.

Then I met a girl with a handmade Ani Difranco bumper sticker on her Volvo. She was a revelation. All the things I felt for her I’d never felt before. I told my sister. She said it wasn’t love, it was Satan’s trick.

My sister and the girl with the Ani sticker both broke my heart that summer. But it was worth it. Love always is.

After that I spent many years (like, ten) trying to show my sister she was wrong about me—in person, by letter, and on the phone. The rest of the time we were cordial mostly, but we weren’t real sisters anymore. I mean, what kind of relationship can you have with someone who thinks your love life is founded on evil?

Other people said she’d come around with time. I thought maybe once she saw me happy and healthy and clearly not in the devil’s grip with my partner and children, she’d have an epiphany or at least mellow. Time passed. Children were born. Neither helped. Meanwhile the sister-shaped hole in my life only seemed to grow as I watched my friends raise their kids in the midst of loving extended families.

I first found Glennon Doyle’s blog Momastery in 2012 via her “Don’t Carpe Diem” post, the one that went viral and landed her a book deal—and for good reason. It nailed what it feels like to be a mom of young kids in public, just trying to survive another sweaty outing, while strangers insist that you enjoy every moment (even when your cherub is peeing in the corner at the grocery store) because it all goes by so fast.

I was taken in by Glennon’s openness about her past struggles with bulimia and addiction, her self-deprecating humor, her apparent lack of Christian judginess, and perhaps most importantly her deep love for the Indigo Girls.

But I was also suspicious. I half held my breath looking around her site waiting for some sign of “love the sinner, hate the sin” bullshit. I didn’t find any. Instead I found a letter to her son about how she and his dad would feel if he turned out to be gay (spoiler: totally fine). She wrote about how an antigay sermon sent her on a mission of researching and seeking that ultimately lead her to her enthusiastic acceptance of LGBT people (“I spent my nights scouring scripture, researching the positions of different denominations, and praying and praying and praying some more…. Every morning when the sun finally came up, I’d call Sister at work. She’d answer her phone with: ‘We’re gonna talk about the gays again, aren’t we, Sister?’ ‘Yes, Sister. Yes, we are. Clear your schedule.’)

She also wrote a post called “MY LOVE LETTER TO AMY AND EMILY, OF OUR BELOVED INDIGO GIRLS” which is self-explanatorily everything.

Many of Glennon’s readers argued with her, many I’m sure abandoned her, but Glennon never wavered. I frequently cried reading her posts.

Here she was—the Christian sister I wished I had. She existed. She wasn’t mine exactly, but she was out there and she was fighting for people like me and still singing her heart out at Indigo Girls concerts.

I watched as other evangelical Christian women bloggers took up the LGBT compassion fight online—Rachel Held Evans, confessed doubter and thoughtful establishment dissenter, and then last year Jen Hatmaker, an evangelical superstar who had everything to lose by doing so and did indeed lose a lot. Glennon, Rachel, and Jen went even further and got intersectional. They came out for black and brown lives, for Muslims, and for refugees.

These women didn’t need to speak out about all of these issues. Their lives didn’t depend on it the way marginalized lives do. They could have kept quiet and raked in all the monies from the Christian Industrial Complex that richly rewards well-behaved Christian women bloggers. But well-behaved Christian women are rarely on the right side of history. Personally I’ve always felt more at home among the rebels, the troublemakers, and the outsiders. And if I remember correctly from my Methodist Sunday school lessons, Jesus did too.

Last year Glennon published a book about her struggle to save her marriage. The book ends with them together, but she announced shortly before she was to go on her book tour that she had separated from her husband. Talk about not staying quiet in order to prioritize raking in all the monies.

I read it fast, related so much to it, and it gave me new hope for my own non-Christian marriage, which is ten years old now and strained at times with all the things we’re all strained by—work, parenting, dreams deferred, etc.

Glennon writes in a way that’s so accessible and vulnerable and honest. I noticed that she made several comments about never liking sex. Eating disorder survivors often have trouble with intimacy, I reasoned, but what if Glennon just hadn’t figured it out yet. What if Glennon wasn’t just my dream chosen family, what if Glennon was my dream chosen family?

A few months later a friend who knows I love Abby Wambach and Glennon texted me that her friend heard at one of Glennon’s events that they were dating. It might be my all time most exciting text message I’ve ever gotten, but I couldn’t believe it at first. There was no corroborating information online yet. So I kept checking. And checking. And then there it was—Glennon and Abby cuddled up all over the Internets.

Glennon later shared that when she first told her ex-husband about Abby, he responded to the news with, “Holy shit. Is this what all the Indigo Girls was about?”

I laughed out loud.

It sent me sailing back through time to my freshman year in college when I finally admitted to one of my friends that there might be some truth to the joke, that I met this girl and I might really be their actual lesbian, and my dear, totally straight, totally unfazed friend just said, “Shocker.”

It was the best possible answer. Thank goodness I told her first. Twenty years later we’re still friends, my sister is still lost to me, and with a lot of help from a lot of badass women (some Christian, some not), I’m a lot closer to fine about that.

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  • Angela’s Back

    Love this <3

  • A single sarah

    That noise you just heard was my “post by Aly” squeee.

    Thank you always. Off to read a bunch of Glennon’s posts this afternoon. (And please, if you have a blog where you write more, share so I can read you more too!)

    PS I’m sorry about your missing sister. I’m sorry the Methodist church still hasn’t gotten it right at the institutional level. And I’m grateful for Glennon, Rachel, Jen, and all the others who are working to change the church.

    • Amy Elizabeth

      ^^ exactly! I’m always super stoked when I see there is a post by Aly <3

      • aly windsor

        Thanks, y’all! (You’re making me blush.)

  • e.e.hershey

    What a beautiful piece, Aly – thank you.

    I’ve watched the “Christian Mommy Blogger” coming out party (so to speak) with interest – a number of my spouse’s friends from the deep, religious South have been sharing postings by some of these bloggers for a while and I remember thinking “this is a surprising (yet awesome) message to be coming out of this group.” I think these bloggers have had a huge influence on the beliefs of a lot of women who don’t hear LGBT affirming words within their communities, like, ever. Maybe (hopefully!) this group of women and their followers – coming from inside the Christianity sphere – will be able to lead a charge in a way that other influencers have not.

    • aly windsor

      Yes to the coming out party having a big impact. Seeing people you admire evolve helps you evolve. I also believe a lot of Christians who hold anti-gay beliefs really don’t want to. They do it because they’re told by their religious leaders that’s what the Bible says. So when they see other Christians coming to different conclusions through careful study and prayer, it inspires (some of) them to study and pray about it too.

      • Rosie

        Yep, this is exactly what happened to me!

  • emilyg25

    I’m always so happy to see Aly’s writings here!

    Your struggle with your sister is one I’ve seen several times in my extended family, where we have a lot of gay people and a lot of serious Evangelical Christians. It’s been so painful for my cousins to have circumscribed relationships with their parents and siblings because of who they love. I just cannot wrap my head around why you would hold your child’s very happiness against them. I’m glad you found at least a little sliver of peace.

    • aly windsor

      Thank you! And exactly. I’ll never understand the why of it.

  • Vanessa

    If you’re caught up on Glennon Doyle Melton, Jen Hatmaker & Rachel Held Evans, I’d highly suggest adding Nadia Bolz-Weber & my personal fave Sarah Bessey to your reading list.

    • aly windsor

      Thanks, Vanessa! I will check them out.

      • megs

        I second Sarah Bessey! Madeline L’Engle wrote longer ago and isn’t with us anymore, but she’s my absolute favorite if you’re looking for thoughtful reflection on God, etc.

        • Jewels

          Sarah Bessey’s “Jesus Feminist” book is basically my anthem.

        • ssha

          Seconded! Walking on Water is an amazing book.

          • megs

            YASS! I’m constantly giving my copy away and hopping on to resupply my bookshelf

          • ssha

            Haha, I love this whole comment. 💜

    • Elise

      I second those two!

    • ssha

      I was going to suggest Nadia too!

  • Laura C

    Such a beautiful post. Thanks, and following several of the links right now.

  • fan

    This reminds me – I once saw Abby Wambach in a Trader Joe’s in LA. That sealed the deal for me that I am definitely bi. I came out to my then-boyfriend/now-husband that evening. His response was a similarly accepting “Shocker.” Thanks, Abby Wambach! (And thanks, Aly, for some fantastic writing.)

    • aly windsor

      Ha! Love this story!

  • Kat

    Family dynamics are so stressful when you’ve got differing views on what is an isn’t a “sin”. I love my parents but it wasn’t until recently that I got a glimpse of what their reaction to having a child come out might be. My sister is 18, and her best girl friend started dating another girl….which caused quite a stir among the parents of these high schoolers. My mom asked me on the phone one day if my sister was also a lesbian (is lesbianism catching, mom?) and I was so taken aback by the panic in her voice when she pointed out that she never talked about boys or went on dates. (If my sister does prefer the fairer sex, it’s not something she’s shared with me yet. She’s just a very willful kid who doesn’t suffer fools, of any gender, and is way to focused on being in every club/making straight A’s to be romantically interested in anyone, tbh.) It was not a flattering picture of my mother, frankly.

    This was so beautifully written. Sometimes we have to choose our own family when the one we have doesn’t fulfill our emotional needs. Thanks for sharing!

    • S

      I am an open-minded as-far-left-leaning-as-possible queer woman and when my younger brother came out to me when he was a teenager I felt a similar panic. I didn’t want his life to be different, harder. I didn’t want him to be a target. I didn’t let it show and handled it well from the outside but those feelings were there. Likewise, when he eventually came out to our mother, she was even more negative and scared and upset and did show those feelings on the outside. It was rough for my brother and I’m so sorry he went through that but I have sympathy for my mother as well in that situation. I would say don’t hold it against family members for that initial gut reaction – I’m sure there are countless sets of parents in the world who wish with all their heart they could take back that first reaction and just be stoked or blasé about it instead of worried and scared and negative and all “are you sure?” about it. As much as I wish every family member in the world could Just Be Cool from the start, I think we should judge people on how well they love their queer family members on an ongoing basis, not for one initial, poorly-handled moment of unexpected panic that potentially comes from a place of love and fear.

      • Kat

        This is a really really good point. Thanks for your insight!

      • Colleen

        I have a dear friend currently in this position. She did a good job (from my outsider’s perspective) of handling her teenage daughter’s bisexuality announcement and her support and love for her child aren’t affected in any way…but she’s scared on the inside. She’s worried that her child’s life will be “harder” and, while not sharing these concerns with her daughter, has been very honest with me about them. “Poorly-handled moments of unexpected panic” seem to me to be a big part of parenting any child, it’s the on-going love and support that’s most important.

  • Jessica

    I just got a friend to read Love Warrior (he’s almost done), and only recently (like, last month) found out more about Glennon’s personal life after the book. I have been hesitating to read her blog because it will be a black hole that sucks me in until I read every single post and look at all of her instagram photos.

    • aly windsor

      Yes. It will suck you in. But you won’t be sorry. :)

  • “But well-behaved Christian women are rarely on the right side of history.” 🙌🙌🙌🙌🙌

    Thank you for this, Aly. It might have to become my new motto!!!

    • aly windsor

      Ha – you’re welcome!

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  • Todd

    Your brother (me) loves you so much. I love reading your articles. I just wish that I lived closer so your kids could grow up with mine. I have always been so proud of you and I wish Tiff would wake up one day and realize that she has the best sister in the world. I love and miss you. Hugs and kisses to the family.

    • ART

      I don’t know either of you and this made me cry. Gotta call my brother (who only lives 40 minutes away)…

  • Jenny

    This essay was so well written and thoughtful. I always look forward to your writing!

  • ssha

    Fangirling: Rachel Held Evans, whose blog helped me reframe faith, mentioned on APW, a site that’s helped give me a frame for marriage and relationships! I love crossovers!

  • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

    *sigh* Abby is so dreeeeeamy.

  • Misti

    I also love Jesus and the Indigo Girls- and while I don’t have a crush on Amy I do love singing her parts <3