A work in progress edited by Michael J. Nicosia, M.Div. © 2005 Dignity-Integrity/Rochester
The following coming-out stories were submitted by past and present members of Dignity-Integrity/Rochester. Each describes a common struggle to find an intersection between sexuality and spirituality, and puts a human face on the Christian LGBTI experience. As these insights arose from dialogue with others in community, it is hoped that sharing them with the wider community will aid others on the road to wholeness and holiness.
Knowing that the Spirit moves wherever this struggle is shared, our plan to expand this collection will not be limited to the experiences of the D-I/R community. Stories can be submitted to the editor for consideration: firstname.lastname@example.org Re: coming out to truth
UP ON THE ROOFTOP
by Michael J. Nicosia, M.Div
In hind sight I see how I've always been attracted to men, since early childhood, but I had never put a label on it…even in the heat of sexual fantasies over teen magazines and men's underwear shots in department store catalogs, I never put two and two together. But when I was 21 things changed - I met Tom. He was gentle, caring, spiritual, funny…and gorgeous! Amazingly, my feelings weren't "sexual" at first; this was different and new. I was in love, totally and obsessively.
Such feelings made me grapple with what they meant about me. It was so painful, to love so deeply and yet so secretly. I went to a small prayer chapel on campus and cried my eyes out: "What's going on? I don't understand!" Part of the pain came from the conflicts between what I was feeling and what the Bible says about homosexual activity. But that was the whole point; these were feelings! I was in love, and what could be wrong with that?!
In heart-wrenching prayer I opened the Bible at random and came to the story about Peter on the roof top (Acts 10:9-16) where he has a vision: a sheet is lowered from the heavens, filled with all of the animals that Jewish Law said were unclean, and a voice tells him, "kill and eat." Peter objects, "O LORD, far be it from me to eat anything that is unclean!" I heard God's response to him as if they were words spoken to me: "Who are you to call anything that I have made, 'unclean?'" This new awareness led to a more inclusive church in Peter's day. This same passage led me to self-acceptance as a beloved creation of God, and made me realize that the whole of my being (including my being gay) was created as good, in the image of God.
And so began my journey of self-discovery. I left that small chapel to go for a walk -though the insights of the day left me with a spiritual high, the accompanying emotions had drained me. Not a block away, I happened on a flier tacked to a lamp post: "The Homosexual Question," a debate scheduled at a local church for that very night! I looked up to heaven and said with a knowing smile, "You want me to go to this, don't you?"
It was amazing. The church was split right down the middle, "ex-gays" on the left, "gay Christians" on the right. I was there, open to both sides, knowing that God was leading me somewhere. Both sides spoke of God's love and mercy, but the ex-gays saw this in terms of their liberation from evil desires and sinful activity - never once mentioning love for another person. (Getting to know some of these people in the weeks that followed, I was struck by how unhappy they were.) Those on the gay Christian side celebrated who they were, and talked of love and respect and mutual commitment between persons, blessed and directed by God. I knew on which side my feelings for Tom fell.
Meeting these people led me to a variety of faith communities. While at school I hooked up with the Metropolitan Community Church in town (a inter-denominational group of gay and lesbian Christians). When home during summer vacation I attended Mass at Dignity-Integrity, a group of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered Roman Catholics and Episcopalians.
I eventually shared my feelings with Tom. Being straight he couldn't return my love. Most painful was that my self-disclosure distanced him as a friend too. I was a mess! I talked it over with several priests…. The first said not to worry; being an artist, I just liked the angularity of the male body over the curves of a woman's; I wasn't gay - it was just an artistic preference! Priest #2 said, "Of course you're gay! So what's the problem?" Priest #3, who was chaplain on campus, saw me as "on the fence," and it was his job to make sure I got off on the right side - like it was some sort of choice! Priest #4 (I talked about it a lot!) was my spiritual director and leader of the charismatic prayer group that I attended regularly; I had picked up on some condemnation from a few people in the group, and he assured me that he would condemn any spirit of judgmentalism. He focused on my dignity as a child of God on a journey of self-discovery like every one else.
Some of my brothers and sisters in Christ, however, couldn't get past their narrow interpretation of the Bible, and I felt that I couldn't be myself with them. Being authentic is crucial in prayer, so I stopped going to prayer meetings with them and focused more on my relationships with the people at Dignity-Integrity. You have to go where you can be and become more fully "you."
I have a faith community that supports me, and which I support. Now that I have grown in my self-awareness and in my faith, I can even comfortably share with those who don't understand how I can be gay and Christian. With compassion and gentleness, I can help them to better know our loving and merciful God.
Michael has served the Community of Dignity-Integrity/Rochester on their Chaplaincy Team since January 1997.
MY JOURNEY TOWARD UNDERSTANDING MY BAPTISMAL COVENANT
by The Rt. Rev. Ellie Atwood-Tarbell, M.Div., CSA
From the time I could understand as a child who God was, I was aware of God in my life. I cannot remember a time when Sunday morning was not spent in Sunday School and then church. I cannot remember a time, as a child, when my Mom did not hear my prayers at night and pray the Lord's Prayer with me. At the age of twelve, I heard God's call to ordained ministry; but, as my pastor told me, "We don't ordain women in the Lutheran Church, so maybe you should become a Deaconess. However, I donut think you need to be thinking about this now." That was in 1946. In 1981, 35 years later, I heard that still small voice again, only this time, I was not only a woman. I was also very much aware that I was a Lesbian. A call to a woman to ordination was now seen as "valid," but to a Lesbian…?!
In my recent life, God has spoken to me through
poetry that God has inspired me to write when I have been praying
and listening. The first time was in 1981 at a Community of the
Holy Spirit Retreat at the Benedictine Monastery in Subiaco,
Arkansas. The following poem convinced me that God's call to
mission and ministry is given to a person regardless of sex or
sexual orientation and it is an integral element of one's
baptismal covenant with God.
YOU'VE CALLED ME, GOD
You've called me, God;
I heard You!
Your call to me to serve You
Is so difficult to accept.
For the door of my closet must open;
If only a crack or two,
To bring into Your fold the outcasts,
Those whom man has cut off
from their walk with You.
You've called me, God;
I heard You!
Your voice in my heart is beating.
Is it to them You'd have me minister,
For I'm one of the church's outcasts, too?
Why did You make me different,
Not in the traditional mold?
For I am Your creation also,
And in Your loving arms I, too, am held.
You've called me, God;
I heard You!
The path is very difficult,
The one You'd have me tread.
I know that I am different.
I know, too, that I am fed.
Your arms of love enfold me,
What more can there be said?
You've called me, God;
I heard You!
I heard You as my Savior spoke
And in all that He ever said!
I'll walk with my hand in Yours, Lord
By You I'll always be fed.
But especially to the outcasts I'm led.
For we are not so different,
In spite of what's been said.
Our lives You want fulfilled, Lord;
As by Jesus we, too, are fed!
You've called me, God;
I heard You!
Give me the strength for your path to tread;
To pass on the things You've told me.
That we are of one body
and Christ is ever our head.
That in Him there is no east or west.
There is no straight or gay.
But we are brothers and sisters together,
And You are the same for us all,
The Rt. Rev. Ellie Atwood-Tarbell© 1981
When God truly calls a person to God's service,
ordained or lay, lesbian, gay or straight, nothing is impossible
with God. And no one, no matter who they are or how important
and full of authority they may think they are, can thwart God's
love and call to any one of God's people.
Since writing the above, Ellie was ordained a deacon and a priest and is now a duly consecrated bishop in God's One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church for the Order of the Community of St. Thomas (The Apostle).
HE SURELY MUST KNOW OF MY PAIN
by Bill Camp
Lent is a special time for me, partly because of the associations between it and my former community of Dignity-Integrity. It was in the second week of Lent in 1988 that I finally had the courage to come visit for the first time. This time always brings back the many memories of how I have struggled with the acceptance of my sexuality and integrating this into my life. I remember coming into church with my heart beating in my chest and my palms sweating, thinking, "What am I doing here?"
I also remember that the church had a seasonal banner which displayed the crown of thorns. I thought of Jesus' pain and that he surely must know of my pain and the isolation of being a gay man in my society, my family, my workplace. Surely, Jesus understood!
Through my experiences while at D-I, I concretely realized and firmly believed that I was made whole by embracing both my sexuality and my Christian heritage. For me Lent has been and continues to be a time to become a renewed person and a renewed community. Dignity-Integrity has greatly assisted me in being recreated, reborn as a whole and healed person. Today I can claim myself a gay Christian.
Bill now worships regularly with the community of Blessed Sacrament Church.
A PERSONAL REFLECTION...
A question I have asked myself over the last several years is, "How has my faith been strengthened by my 'coming out' and gaining the self-acceptance that I have?" In quiet times of reflection and prayer I realize: I may have this question backwards. How have my coming out and self-acceptance been a reflection of becoming aware of God's powerful love? That is what the "new life" and new beginnings of baptism and conversion mean to me.
Accepting my sexuality was a long and difficult process. My work as a psychologist did not aid me, for I could not ignore the fact that I was barely a generation away from the time when professionals were encouraged to diagnose loving, well-adjusted gay and lesbian people as mentally ill. So I knew my conversion, and certainly my Christian identity, have not come through work, since scholars' and practitioners' debates over homosexuality exist still.
The institutional church did not yield a transformation either. Of the numerous negative reactions I received when I came out, many were from people (from many denominations) who felt themselves to be very religious - my family included.
Then I came to Dignity-Integrity, the place where I finally learned the true meaning of both "God" and "love," where I met my "brothers and sisters in Christ." It's where I have witnessed unselfish Christian love in abundance. Through being at D-I, I have realized that sexuality and spirituality are intertwined. I feel now that being a lesbian must be part of God's plan for me, that being gay is all right because it is of God.
I did not know what love was until I came out. I did not know God until I came out. To me they mean the same thing. "Love and you shall know God" - God's eternal vote of confidence in us that transcends sexual orientation!
by Chris Hindi
When I look back at the past four years, and the events that led me to the little Chapel above St. Peter's Church in Bombay last August where I was received into the Church, and earlier this year to the office of Sr. Sue Hoffman (one of the Chaplains at the University of Rochester) where I first came out to anybody, one thing seems clear and seems to make sense out of all this - my sexuality and religiosity are inexorably intertwined. I am Catholic because I am gay.
Let me try and clarify that seemingly incongruous statement. First, some autobiographical background: I was raised in a Hindu family, though not in any kind of a religious atmosphere; my parents aren't really religious as such. I had more than enough exposure to Christianity (having been educated by the Jesuits since fifth grade through college, and especially through being in school/college choirs) - and this has been, I am sure, no mean "background influence" on me.
I think, by the time I was 16 or 17 or so, I definitely knew deep down that I was gay; I had known that there was something different about me earlier, but by this time I had put a label to it. Sexuality in general is a taboo topic in India, and there is a head-in-the-sand attitude towards homosexuality (it is a "western" vice) - I am sure that if anyone cared to look at India's rich cultural heritage honestly, there are sure to be expressions of same-sex desire, eroticism and love. But, in modern India, homosexual activity is criminal under sodomy laws left by the British (which Britain itself long ago repealed!) And with the presence of closely knit family structures and the importance given to starting a family and raising children in the culture, it was ages before I could acknowledge my own homosexuality to myself in any way. I knew that it was there, but I could barely admit it to myself, let alone to anybody else. Going through a college with a highly western-influenced culture, especially in its emphasis on compulsory heterosexuality and peer pressure at prom nights and so on, was hardly any help. Through all the despair, anger, self-pity, deception and general misery of the closet, I found myself powerfully attracted to the central symbols of the Christian faith. The only ones I could turn to were my God, my Jesus, crucified on my wall for my sins, his arms open wide for me, and to His mother cradling him at her breast fiercely protective.
I have come to link my "journey of faith" to two powerful religious experiences. The first was on Good Friday, 1991 at the lovely outdoor service, attended by thousands, at Holy Name Cathedral in Bombay. I had attended Midnight Mass at Christmas (mainly out of curiosity and a love of Church music) and had decided to attend the Triduum services. Anyway, during the Veneration of the Cross, I got up to join the people queuing up to kiss the crucifix and I was overwhelmed by this strong powerful feeling that this man, two thousand years ago, had died for me, and a corollary to that: what am I doing about it? It's hard to describe exactly what I felt, except that it was something totally new, something I'd never experienced before, and it was something that, for lack of better words, totally 'zapped' me! The way I've come to analyze that Good Friday experience is that it was a kind of challenge - a challenge to look more closely at life, at what life means, at myself, at where I was headed, and so on.
In January 1993 I made a retreat to discern how serious I was about becoming Christian, i.e., being baptized into the Church. It was during this retreat that I had the most profound religious experience of my life - very briefly, it was an experience of being loved, of being surrounded, totally enveloped, of being uplifted by love (again, very difficult to put into words)-it was the Presence of God. More than just deep emotion, it affected me at the very core; it was an experience which addressed my whole being, and especially my sexuality, directly.
What my experience at the retreat underlined for me was that I am loved just as I am - not in spite of who I am, but because of who I am, in my entirety. I remember, it was a long time before I spoke to anybody about that retreat (not even to the retreat director!) - a long time before I myself grasped its import. I knew deep down that, whatever happened, God was with me; my Jesus would always be at my side. I knew that God did not think that I was "objectively disordered" - She'd better not; She made me this way! (…the way I am.)
For me, getting baptized was the first step in trying to respond to that great and awesome love. It was almost another year (after my baptism) before I received the courage to overcome my fears, the courage to trust in God and grasp God's outstretched hand and finally acknowledge my sexuality to myself and to others.
Coming out of the closet has been another deeply religious and spiritual experience a feeling of liberation from fear, of life-giving and transforming joy; the joy which Scripture tells us no one can take away; an experience of Easter and new life. These past two months have been among the most beautiful in my life. I find the use of language as a metaphor for one's self-identity, especially one's sexuality, to be particularly apt. Having received the courage to come out and after years of trying to communicate in an alien language, I can now hear the good news spoken to me in my own tongue, like the apostles on the first Pentecost, in a voice which my heart can understand. Or to put it another way, I can now let a very integral part of me - which is very familiar to me but so far repressed and silent - speak out with its own voice.
St. Paul says "there are different gifts, but the same Spirit, there are different ministries, but the same Lord, there are different works, but the same God, who accomplishes all of them in every one. To each person the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good." We who are lesbian or gay have our own gifts, unique to our calling, to offer in service to the community. The intense pain and struggle all of us undergo in coming to terms with our selves as God created us, deeply enriches our spirituality, I feel.
This brings me to what, to me, appears to be an essential part of being Christian: being a witness to God's great and boundless love and responding to God's love by our own - for each other, even for those that persecute and hate us; trusting in God in the face of all our uncertainties and insecurities, embracing our pain, our wounds, our anger and our fears and affirming ourselves as we are, as God created us, as God has gifted us, and speaking out with our lives and actions to the world, as more loving, caring and giving people, as beacons of the Light of Christ in this world.
For, it is only by our love, that they will know we are Christians.
Now working in pastoral care, Chris is forced to use an alias for the above testimony to protect his ministry in the Church.
MY FAITH JOURNEY
I sometimes look at my life's faith journey these past 47 years as if it were a trip to a foreign country.
The first 18 years was a guided tour. My guides told me what to see, what to do, where to go, and all of the local traditions to observe. One did not deviate from the itinerary.
During the next 15 years I began to venture off more on my own. I relied on many of my past tour experiences and fell into some of those old tourist traps, but I also did begin to discover some of those special people and places which exist off the beaten path.
The last 14 years, I have begun to feel more like a seasoned traveler. My trip does not take nearly as much planning and I can usually pick up and go at a moment's notice. I look forward to renewing acquaintances and I can even act as a tour guide when required. Unfortunately, I can also fall into the complacency of "seen it, done it, been there." In addition, I have also discovered that the more you sometimes know about a place, the more you want to learn about it. I know that many people have had a much more perilous faith journey than I. To be truthful, reconciling my sexual orientation with my religion has never really presented a problem for me. Since I never heard the words "gay" or "homosexual" while growing up, they didn't exist for me. So, in my simplified black and white world, I didn't have to deal with the matter.
In actuality, I came to terms with being Gay long before I came to terms with being a Christian. The real struggle in this faith journey of mine has not been being Gay in a Christian community, but rather, being a Christian in the Gay community.
I expect that this faith journey I'm on will be a long and ever changing one. I'm also sure that I will always question certain doctrines and teachings. I believe strongly, though, that this world needs good faith communities and that positive change in the existing ones can only come from within and not by running away from them.
I am not now, and may never be, a person of great religious faith. My religious experiences as an adult have often centered on studying and appreciating the obvious faith of others. I tend to surround myself with people of strong faith. As I listen to and worship with these true Christians, I can only hope that it will somehow direct me to that solid and comforting faith to which so many of us aspire…the end of a journey that was well worth taking.
COMING OUT…COMING THROUGH
by Doris Karnisky
As an adolescent I always knew that my love for women was an important gift - one of God's many gifts to/for me. Some of the women in high school were an important part in my life and uplifted it, though I never acted out my love for them orally and physically. My mother always brought up the question of boyfriends, but I simply stated, "In time, Mom." Besides such evasiveness to her questions, my mother, an invalid, took all in stride….
In college I walked back to the field of heterosexism and buried my most precious gem - spiritually speaking. Nothing grew in this heterosexual garden; the relationships I planted had no roots. By hiding from myself and others, I found my spirituality was a risk. I was a lesbian, gay and smothered.
My Higher-Power brought me through darkness in the garden of relationship, gay and proud. Finally I found my friendship with a young woman, as young as I, and we "came out" together (after a liturgy at a local Roman Catholic Church). She became a significant other and has kept me "straight" and oriented to my true self, as well as to her. Though her needs to grow in several areas of personality development forced us apart, I love her still - and I'm glad and proud to state it!
MADE GAY BY GOD
by Marvin Barrett
Way before I came out to my mom at age 20, I knew I was a homosexual. By the time I was 11 or 12, I definitely knew. And before that I had "hints" from my body, mind and emotions that I liked men more than women.
Without anyone telling me that being homosexual was "bad," I already knew it. Growing up, my mom and I never talked about it - yet something was communicated in ways beyond words that for a man to want another man was against God's law, God's Intent and God's Purpose for my life.
So for me to say that as a black adolescent I was full of guilt and shame because I was gay, is a gross understatement. I was racked with self-loathing, self-hatred counterbalanced by secret wild lusts and desperate unfulfilled longings.
Is it any different for young gays in the 2000s? I don't know - because I grew up basically in the '60s. (I was 7 when 1960 dawned, and 17 when 1969 came to a close.) And the '60s were different - a lot more closeted. The Stonewall Revolution wasn't until 1969. Back then, being out and gay was a rare phenomenon - truly risky business.
But no matter what the decade, feelings and feelings. So perhaps one or two '90s teens can identify with the pain I went through. Because on the outside - I was a super achiever, apparently straight, even had a girlfriend (never had sex with her, though, and never even tried). Yes, I looked good on the outside. But inside I was a mess!
The year I came out to my mom was 1973. As an only child coming out to a single parent, this was a real big event to say the least. Yet my mom didn't act all that surprised or shocked - but her clear unspoken message to me was that this perhaps was just a passing phase. She loved me - but her silence on the subject of whether being gay was OK was deafening!
Why was mom hardly surprised about me being gay? - maybe because she already knew. When I was 14 or 15, while snooping around in my mom's closet, I found a book on male homosexuality in America. So, clearly she knew - and she didn't like the idea. Because when I was around 16 she said, "Marvin, you're the type of black man every black woman would want: Handsome and intelligent." I guess, what black mother wouldn't say that about her only son. But that one's son should turn out to be gay is probably the last thing ANY mother of ANY race would want, even today! My mom was no different.
Later, when I started drinking alcohol, smoking pot, going out to gay bars and found a lover - my mom distanced herself from me more and more. We only became close again when I left my lover, joined her church and tried to STOP being gay. I never did feel good about being a homosexual, so I tried to kill that part of myself at age 28 through fasting, prayer, and church work.
I failed utterly - but I almost succeeded in killing myself with alcohol and drugs. It was only when I was 51 years old that my mom said to me, at one of the 30 rehabs I went to: "Marvin, be whatever you want to be - just don't destroy yourself with alcohol and drugs!"
But the damage was done. I, being so like my mom, had made her homophobia all my own. To this day at age 43 I'm still trying to learn how to love myself as a beautiful, gay, black man - made gay by God.
They said way back in the 1500s, "You Indians are heathens with no grace,
so if you don't get converted, we'll kill you at a fast pace."
They said way back then too, "You Africans are the children of Ham,
so be grateful you're still above ground; to slavery you're damned."
And they still said in the 1800s, "You ladies have no say in your life,
after all the man is the head of the family and you're just a wife."
Who were "they" who said statements with an arrogance
only privilege can bring?
Who were "they" who passed judgment on other men
without even thinking about the love of Christ the King?
Why, they were Christians, white Christians all,
who read the Bible and interpreted it without flaw.
They were Christians, white Christians, so technologically advanced
they condemned you to hell before you ever had a chance.
So these Bible scholars almighty, now what do they say?
Do Indians still deserve to die? Do blacks deserve to be enslaved?
And how about women, the so-called "weaker" sex?
Are they still supposed to be homebodies, so their weak minds won't be vexed?
They still claim Biblical justification for everything they do,
so why in the year 2004 have they changed right on cue?
What changed? Did the Bible, God's Holy Law?
Or did their opinions change, those folk without flaw?
And who's the new whipping boy they have tied to the stake?
What new Bible verses have they misconstrued
to support the condemnations they make?
To answer the first question, that's as easy as pie:
Gay folk are the new devils, the ones Christians say should die.
The answer to the second question, that's easy, too.
Men should not lie with men, says it right in Leviticus, too.
"Oh really?" a skeptic might say.
Can't you find the same verses now just as damning against Indians today?
And nothing's changed about Ham, so I guess blacks should still be slaves.
Now don't forget the Epistles,
where that 'Christian' attitude towards women was made."
But are there no Christians willing to look deep in their hearts?
Can't they see a disturbing pattern that shows them their faults?
They twist the Bible to support what they think.
They never let Christ's Love in, so their hearts they do shrink.
I pray for the day and may it come ever so swiftly
that Christians of all hues may open their minds quickly
and let the Sunshine of Christ's Love enlighten their minds
so no child of God will ever be left behind.
marvin e barrett © 8/23/04
Following the Christ Light is no easy task,
it means changing your life, challenging your past.
And you may think you know the Direction He goes,
but you may be in for a shock, for you're not God, you know.
The very place you think is accursed may be the Cornerstone of God's Worth.
For who are you to judge, your mind so blind?
Who are you to say what God has in mind?
For in the secret dark places of the heart,
there God goes to work, there His Mercy Christ imparts.
You never can tell where God wants you to go,
but you can pray for His Will, just don't tell It where to go.
For when you give your life to Christ, you're in for the ride of your life,
not for the faint-hearted, not for those afraid of life.
Muscle-bound you may not be, yet your soul may be strong.
Just hang in there even with one hand, don't give up, for it won't be long
when suddenly when you least expect it God's trumpet will sound.
You'll think it's the end, but actually you're on Holy Ground.
For did not God say in the Book of Christ's Law
"Judge not what I've found without flaw?"
Oh dear heart, believe not every TV evangelist, with a wad full of cash,
a fancy white cathedral, a congregation overflowing vast.
Rather trust in the Still Small Voice, speaking deep in your heart,
and listen very careful to the wisdom that He does impart.
Does the white-capped teethed pastor preach against gays,
Call Moslems infidels, Buddhists pagans without grace?
I tell you a mystery, a sign deep in God's Heart:
not all who cry "Master!" are close to God's Heart.
Rather look to the suffering, look to the lost,
look to those who are by every tempest tossed.
For in people such as these will a mystery be revealed.
Even those you think know not Christ, by Christ will be healed
- and not healed of the affliction you think they bear,
rather healed of self-condemnation, of feeling it's not fair.
Oh Christ's Love is pure, so encompassing, so fair,
not one will be forsaken, His Grace will be shared.
And those you think are damned may very well be the ones who are spared!
marvin e barrett © 8/4/04, revised 10/01/04
by Gail Mastrella
Up until I was 10 years old, I lived in an all boy (except for me) neighborhood, and fit in very well there. But when I started school, I soon realized that I was very different from the other girls. I didn't fit in at all. I didn't do any of that girl stuff very well and didn't want to either.
When I was 10 years old, we moved and my new neighborhood was much more mixed (actually more girls than boys). It was at this age that I had my first crush on anyone. It wasn't a boy! That was my first realization that not only was I different, but I knew my feelings would not be accepted by society.
As I grew up and continued to have these same feelings, I never communicated them to anyone…not to my parents, not to my friends, not to anyone that I had any feelings for…not to anyone.
The first time I heard the word "homosexual," I knew that's what I was. I never reacted or responded to it though, and kept my secret within me. My earliest perceptions that society would disapprove were confirmed over and over again through my life…including how the church denounced "homosexuality."
To hear the church, who is supposed to represent God, denounce "me" kept me within myself for years. A very big part of me "thought" that if God couldn't accept me, how could I expect anyone else to? But in spite of what the church and society believed, I never "felt" that God was against me. I knew who I was…that I was a good person…and I knew that God knew it also. So how can my God who knows me and believes in me be the same God that the church represents?
When I was 29, I fell in love with someone and the feelings were mutual. It was my first reciprocated relationship. One day I was very upset because I thought that my relationship with this girl was over and my mother asked me what was wrong. I ended up coming out to her and my father. We never really discussed it again and we never dealt with it. When my relationship with "Mary" ended, it was like this part of me didn't exist.
It wasn't until I met my life partner, Marlene, 10 years later that I truly came out. In the process of making all the arrangements for our union ceremony, my coming out continued. In order to have friends and family as guests to witness our commitment, I needed to come out to many people. Fear of people…not God…had kept me from being honest all my life and now I needed to face my fears. Everyone I told responded to it well.
When I came out to my father, almost 20 years ago, his response had been no response. I had felt tolerated by him all this time. I knew he loved me (that was not questioned)…but I didn't know how he felt about his "gay" daughter. And now I needed to know.
In confronting him with this, he expressed that he loved and accepted me, but I just didn't quite totally believe him just then. He went on to ask me what brought on this conversation and why now, after 20 years, was coming out? I told him that Marlene and I loved each other and wanted to make a formal commitment to each other, and would like him and my mother to be present along with other family members.
It was the "other family members" that I perceived would be their biggest concern. My parents never discussed my being gay with each other and they probably never told anyone either, so how would they handle me actually telling people!
In response to inviting other members of my family, my father surprised me with "I would invite them all and if they have a problem with it, then it's their problem." For 20 years I had felt tolerated by him. Now I realized that he truly did accept me.
If I had never confronted him, I would probably still feel tolerated now. For me, it took finding the right person to share my life, a lot of time, my belief in "my God," and facing my fears that has given my life purpose.
Today I still believe that my God loves me, believes in me, and accepts me, and I know that the journey of my life is a process. There is a process to all life…even the life of the church.