We recently talked with poet, hip-hop artist, and speaker Jackie Hill Perry about her latest book, Gay Gay Girl, Good God: The Story of Who I Was and Who God Has Always Been. She talks the writing process, marriage, conversion therapy, what Christians need to know about same-sex attraction, and more.
The conversation with Hill Perry has been transcribed, as the audio edition of Faithfully Podcast Books features limited excerpts. The transcript of the Sept. 5, 2018, conversation has been edited for clarity.
The Writing Process and Publishing Her First Book
Faithfully Podcast Books: Before we dive into the book, can you give a brief synopsis of what Gay Girl, Good God is about?
Hill Perry: Yeah, I think the the subtitle of the book is really the best summary that it is, which is The Story of Who I Was and Who God Has Always Been. So it’s my story about me coming out of sin, one of my particular sins being lesbianism, and into a relationship with Christ. And so I just kind of dialogue about that and what that meant, what did it look like. But I try to flesh it out through the lens of the gospel.
FPB: And it’s your first book, right?
Hill Perry: Yes.
FPB: So how was the writing process for you?
Hill Perry: Terrible (laughter). It was really hard, because I kind of got into creativity through the medium of poetry. So poetry, you learn how to say a whole lot with a little. But with writing, you don’t really have that convenience. It was difficult for me to put everything that I knew into words, but also creative words. But I did it. I think I’m grateful for having an editor that is able to help me do what I can’t.
FPB: How long did it take you actually (to write the book)?
Hill Perry: I don’t remember, probably between six and seven months. But in that six and seven months I’m writing four drafts. I might have completed a draft in four months and created another draft in one month, you know. It was never one final book until the last little month.
FPB: I’ve heard [that] some writers, like first-time published writers during the process they’re like, “This is it. I’m not doing this again.” That usually changes by the time everything’s in print and you get to stand back and take a look at your work. So I know it’s probably a bit early to be asking, but do you feel like you’ve got another book in you?
Hill Perry: For sure! I mean, I’m a writer and even though this might be my first book, it’s not the first thing I’ve written. I think, for me, I understand the difficulty of writing work, but I’ve been writing for, like, 10 years of my life and I know that the fruit of it is really what gives me joy. It’s not the process, but it’s what the process. I plan to do this forever.
Same-Sex Attraction, Interpreting Scripture, and Answering Critics
FPB: Jumping into some of the specific elements of the book, the overall thing I feel like that I noticed while reading Gay Girl, Good God is that you make a big effort at different points throughout the book to highlight, for example, that it wasn’t just homosexuality that God called you out on but that He convicted you on several sins. Why do you feel the need to emphasize that point?
Hill Perry: I think in one of the chapters in particular I talk about how if I was only to repent of my sexuality and not my sin, then I think my repentance would be very shallow. My sexuality really wasn’t the main issue, it was my sin because it was a byproduct of my sin. I wasn’t just gay, but I was an unbeliever. And being an unbeliever meant that I was lustful, I was a liar, I was a thief, I was proud, I was unforgiving, I was merciless, I wasn’t kind. I was all of that and more. So let’s just say homosexuality wasn’t my only issue, I still needed to repent. I think I wanted people that are in that community to recognize that God is not just trying to give you the power to flee sexual immorality. But He’s trying to give you the power to just flee your nature, a nature that is usually antithetical to what He is, but a nature that can be changed if we just trust Jesus.
I thought it was necessary because that’s what the gospel says, is that everybody needs the Lord.
FPB: You also make it pretty clear in the latter chapters of the book that same-sex attracted Christians are not making it up or choosing to have these attractions and that, for some, it’ll be a lifelong cross to bear. I feel like this is something you’re saying specifically to Christian communities. So how do you feel about Christian communities right now? Have we gotten better about appreciating this reality? Or is there still a huge gap that we need to fill in or learn?
Hill Perry: Yeah, I think the church is getting way better, to be honest with you. One, because the Lord has promised to sanctify her and she is being sanctified. I believe that God is telling the truth when He says that the church is going to become holier. In her become holier, she’s becoming a lot more lovely. But I think a lot of that isn’t just God, but I think it’s the proximity. It’s not just homosexuality out there, not on TV. It’s not just in movies, but it’s in our homes, it’s in our families, it’s in our workplaces. I feel like because more people are having to deal with the people that they love and adore dealing or struggling with homosexuality it makes it a lot more urgent as to know what to do about it. I think as they’re trying to figure out what to do, they’re just becoming better at being more loving towards people that they may not understand. We got we got growth just as we have growth in anything. We need growth when it comes down to dealing with race and social justice and using the pulpit. But I think as people continue to speak out and speak up people are responding in truth.
FPB: Like you just said, you know, a lot of us are realizing, or acknowledging at least, that same-sex attraction is not just out there, but it’s in our families and our congregations. And you could go one of two ways about it, I guess. For example, in recent years a few prominent Christians have chosen the other way to approach it. They say, “You know what? God loves you. This is who you are. I’m going to accept you as you are and trust Jesus to work it out” whichever way that goes. So what if someone were to come up to you and say, you know, “My cousin just came out. I love him to death and I don’t think he’s going to hell.” Like, what is your basic kind of answer to that?
“I think what happens is that people usually will not interpret Scripture with Scripture but they’ll interpret Scripture with experience.”
Hill Perry: What does the Bible say, and what has the Bible said? What I mean by that is what we see in Romans 1, for example, Romans 1:26-27, that the men exchanged the natural use with the unnatural use, men having unnatural relationships with other men. Or 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, men who practice homosexuality will not inherit the kingdom of God, among other sins. That’s not random. It doesn’t just pop up in the New Testament. It’s in the Old Testament, too, it’s in Leviticus 18. But also, what happened before that? Then we go to Genesis and we see that God made male and female in His image and His likeness and He created them to have dominion over everything, but He also created them to know Him and love Him and know each other, love each other. You see over the whole grand scope of Scripture that God had intentions for men and women. But when sin entered in, men and women began to exchange those intentions, began to do things that were not according to God’s original designs. And He spoke up against it. He used his prophets and He used his apostles.
I think what happens is that people usually will not interpret Scripture with Scripture but they’ll interpret Scripture with experience. They’ll say, “Oh, it doesn’t feel wrong me to me” or “My friend is in love so she should be able to love whoever she wants.” Where now their experience is the lens by which they see the text, when the text should be the one that transforms their experiences. I do understand the temptation to do that. I think even understanding exegesis and how to do proper hermeneutics would lead us to see that God’s standards have always been that sexual immorality is a sin against Him. But the hope is that, you know, with trust in Jesus we really [can] be made whole and made right with God.
FPB: On the list of suggested or possible questions from the publicist is “Do you still experience sex attraction?”
Hill Perry: Yeah.
FPB: So what kind of disciplines or safeguards do you personally practice to kind of nurture your relationship with God, with your husband, etc.?
Hill Perry: I think as I’ve gone grown in Christ, same-sex attraction is honestly not the heaviest cross I bear. I think, if anything, things like pride and arrogance and ego and just a rebellion against authority, those tend to be the ones that I’m having to die to more often. But I think it’s really as simple as just loving God with everything. I don’t compartmentalize my struggles. I see it as a holistic type of situation. With me, it’s time in the Word, prayer from what I get in the Word, time in community and fellowship. That does something to my heart where even as sins come up or temptations rise up, I have a better aim, I have Someone who I believe is better than what I’m attracted to which is Christ.
But also, I’m very honest with God about how I feel. I’m not one of those people that’s going to act as if everything is good when it’s not, as if God doesn’t see it. So I’m quick to confess to the Father, quick to let God know. But I’m also quick to let people who are not God know, whether that’s my husband, whether that’s women in my community that I trust, whether that’s people in leadership. I want to welcome them in on my struggles so that they could be praying for me and walk with me through it. That’s usually what I do… I love God and try to love God with all my heart and soul and I trust God’s people to be able to help me as I fight.
FPB: In the early chapters of Gay Girl, Good God you mention how after your encounter with God having that first Christian community helped nurture you a bit. How important is that, finding the right church where you feel like you can be confessional and reach out to people to help you? How do you know when you’ve found a place where you can worship God and be guided and discipled?
Hill Perry: I think it’s hard. But one thing that has been helpful for me is that I tried to… I think in my relationships with other Christians, the way that I found good churches is by going to the churches of my friends that love well. For example, I just moved to Atlanta and I’m like, “Okay, I have to find a church home. Do I feel like church hopping?” Or, “How about the relationships that I have here?” I have friends that are fruitful, that love Scripture, that know Scripture, that preach the gospel, that live the gospel, that care about people, that care about truth—where are they being shepherded? Because, obviously, a lot of their fruitfulness, I would assume, is because of where they’re fellowshipping, because of where they’re being taught, and because of where they’re being discipled.
So I’ve found that to be one of the best ways to find a great community, is to just follow the path which good Christians come from. But also, I think what’s good is to just know the Bible. I think when you read through Acts, where you look at the early church. Even though the early churches were usually houses, the way they did church is a good lens. So the gospel was always preach, community was always there—people didn’t just kind of go to church and leave, they did life with each other, they knew each other’s lives. People were giving, so if you need, there should have been no person in the Body who was out here struggling because everybody is sharing their stuff, everybody’s giving up things. So I think just reading Scripture and kind of grabbing… What do you see happening in good churches in Scripture? Then you should see that in the good churches in your local community.
Response to JGivens and If Her Daughter Were Gay
FPB: So I’m going to get into some current events now, because two things recently came up in the Christian hip-hop sphere, especially among your supporters and followers.
First, you recently put out a statement on social media warning women who you say intentionally tempt your husband, Preston Perry. There was a debate among people trying to understand where you’re coming from, with some wondering if the way you did it was appropriate. So basically, what was the context or the intent and purpose behind your statement?
Hill Perry: The intent was to warn people that… don’t touch my husband. It was pretty plain. But I think, one, my husband is on tour without me for the first time and women are very disrespectful. We rarely had events that [there] isn’t somebody trying to flirt with him or doing something behind my back. A lot of these women know me, a lot of these women follow me… So I wanted to use my platform to to be that voice that they hear in their ear when they go see my husband live, which is to say, you know, “If you respect me, you need to respect him.” But also to know that, hey, this is like mad sinful.
Like (in) Scripture, Jesus literally says if you want to tempt one of these little ones—and contextually, he’s talking about his disciples—you want to tempt another Christian to sin, you’re better off putting a millstone around your neck and jumping into the sea. If you’ve ever seen a millstone, it literally…to put that around your neck and jump in the ocean is to say “kill yourself.” You’re not going to float, you’re just gonna go straight to the bottom and you’re gonna die. I think Jesus is saying that’s how serious temptation is, this is how serious I take the purity of my little ones. So I just wanted to remind people what Jesus says. I didn’t say it, he did.
FPB: So you’re not mincing words there. No regret at all about the delivery? Nothing you would have added?
Hill Perry: Nah.
FPB: Earlier this year we published an article about your former labelmate JGivens publicly disclosing that he’s gay on Twitter and in the article we highlighted a few responses from the Christian hip-hop community, including yours, you tweeted out a few things. What are your thoughts on his coming out, and the way he did it? What do you think of some of the responses, good and bad, put out there? What would you say is the right and good response in a situation like this?
Hill Perry: Yeah, I won’t speak too much to J because I think that that’s his business. I’m glad when anybody is able to be honest because I think when we get things out into the light that’s one way was actually deal with them honestly. And so hey, that was his his truth. That’s what he wanted to put out into the world, which then allowed me and other believers to know where he is so that we can then follow up privately.
I think as for the responses, I did not like a lot of them because it just seemed really insensitive and really childish, to be honest. Because I think a lot of people, I think they think they know you because they follow you. So they say these things that I don’t think someone would say in that way in person. And so they would like, quote Leviticus or Romans 1, where it’s like, you don’t even know where he is. You’re assuming he’s not a believer, because he’s confessed to being gay. But he didn’t give you context for that. He didn’t say “I’m walking in this.” He didn’t say anything. That could have been something he self-identified as but not something he’s submitting to. We don’t necessarily know. But, again, because you don’t know you can’t speak as if you do.
So part of my frustration was that people were assuming that they knew where he was just because he made a blanket statement without recognizing that you don’t know. So say something from what you do know: “Hey, I do know that you’ve confessed to love God. I do know that you say that you’re gay and I’m praying for you.” Leave it at that. Now, if you have a relationship with him, then I think there’s a greater burden to have a deeper discussion because you actually have context, you have nuance to where J is at, such as I would be. So I think people in the Twittersphere, social media sphere they just have to get back to the reality that your words matter but also your words should be shaped around the intimacy or the relational equity that you have with somebody. Where there is no relational equity, you can’t be speaking to people like you’re crazy.
… same-sex attraction and gayness as we know it is normal—normal, as in being normalized. Like, I cannot go to a youth conference without almost 80-90 percent of the girls there telling me that they like other girls. It just is a thing.
FPB: So here’s a very unoriginal question, or another unoriginal question: what would be your response if 15, 16 years down the line one of your daughters tells you she’s gay?
Hill Perry: I actually, in a sense, would not be surprised, and what I mean by “would not be surprised” is that same-sex attraction and gayness as we know it is normal—normal, as in being normalized. Like, I cannot go to a youth conference without almost 80-90 percent of the girls there telling me that they like other girls. It just is a thing. So, if it happened I would know that she is just a product of the culture that she was being raised in, not in my home but in our school or TV or whatever the case may be. So would I be hurt? Yes. I would not primarily be hurt that she’s gay. I would be hurt if she chose to believe that that was her identity, because her identity primarily is that of an emissary. So that may be how you feel, but that’s not who you are.
And so I would hope that all that I poured into her and me and her father have poured into her and that the church has poured into her would be her anchor in light of her temptations. But I would also be grateful that she told me, especially if she told me early because that would mean that there’s something about us or me or our relationship that she’s willing to be vulnerable with that kind of information. I would kind of be grateful that she was willing to let me in on that and I would make sure not to damage or take advantage of her vulnerability which I think some parents can do, is that they they can shame that children even with their body language when sin is confessed. But to me, I want to be like the Father. When I confess to the Father, He doesn’t shame me, He empathizes with me.
FPB: You say in the book that you don’t accept the label “gay Christian.” So I’m wondering, where do you stand on things like conversion therapy?
Hill Perry: I don’t know a lot about conversion therapy, but if I’m not mistaken, it’s them trying to make people straight.
Hill Perry: I think it’s silly, and when I say “silly” it’s because the issue with sexual immorality or same-sex attraction is not something you can undo by natural means. It’s not something that you can just be counseled out of, in my perspective. Like, we needed Jesus to be made knew, we needed Jesus to be made right with God and we need the Holy Spirit to be able to do what God has called us to do, which is be holy. We cannot be holy with flesh. We cannot be holy by just learning a bunch of things or practicing these different kinds of methods. We need the Lord to do that. So my thing is, I think we need to get back to advocating for spiritual conversion, not conversion therapy where I’m trying to fix you and make you straight, that’s not the goal. The goal is let’s get back to Jesus, knowing Jesus, loving Jesus. So that even as we deal with our different temptations, whatever they may be, we’re able to walk away from them with power and with joy because God is in us. I’m definitely not a fan. I wouldn’t have went through it and I would definitely encourage everybody else to not go through it because I don’t think that really fixes the problem.
How Marriage and Motherhood Has Changed Her
FPB: What would you say to your 19-year-old self?
Hill Perry: Well, I became a believer when I was 19 so I would probably say keep living, keep trusting God, keep living life. I’m still the same person in many ways [but] at 19 I was really bold, very clear about what I believed but I lacked maturity, I think not only spiritually but just as a person. I was a child. And so I think now, I can look back at that time and see that I needed to go through what I went through to become a better lover to people. I think I’m a lot more understanding and a lot more gracious than I used to be because I was able to live and do life with people. I wouldn’t change anything, I would just say keep living, because I needed everything that happened to happen.
FPB: You share in Gay Girl, Good God that a conversation with your mom was pivotal to the journey of fully coming out and choosing to identify as a lesbian. But, unless I missed it in the book, you don’t ever come back to your relationship with your mother. So for those of us who were curious, how is that relationship nowadays?
Hill Perry: Oh, we’re great! Um, yeah, she’s super proud, super inspired and kind of… I think she’s shocked, as to my life now, because I think when you see—I know for me, when I would see people become Christians and their lives wouldn’t change much. And that was always interesting to me… How did you just say…you’re a Christian now but you’re like the same person that I knew. Or, if they did change, it didn’t last long. When I first came to faith and I told my mother about it, I think there was a deep skepticism that this was real, that I would actually change. So I think, for her, to see me consist[ent] and progress in my faith in the way that I have, and have a family and have a husband that loves me well, and have children, I think it does her heart really, really good to see her daughter flourishing. So, yeah. We’re good.
FPB: How do you view marriage and motherhood, maybe in the perspective of how God has been using that, in a sense, in different ways to bless you, help you grow, things like that? How do you kind of situate yourself in the marriage and being a mother?
Hill Perry: I see them as really good gifts from from the Father of life. Gifts not just for sanctification, but for joy. I think there are things about God that I never would have had to trust Him for if I wasn’t married. I think marriage has made me just much more needy of the Lord and of the Spirit of God. I think motherhood has softened me in a real way. I’m just a little lot more nurturing than I was prior. I’m a lot more careful with my words, even towards other people. That’s what motherhood has done for me. I don’t know, they are interesting identities but they’re really good. I’m really grateful that God would gave me my husband and give me my children, because I think without them I would have still been fruitful, I would have still been, you know, by God’s grace out here living it up for the Lord but I think I’m just a better person holistically, for me, because of them.
FPB: Any parting words? Anything we didn’t touch on that you really hope to put out there? Any news coming up, or anything at all?
Hill Perry: Nah. Get the book. (laughter)
FPB: All right, Jackie. I appreciate your time.
Hill Perry: Thank you.