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I was interviewed recently by The Marin Foundation, an organization that exists to bridge the gap between the gay community and the church.  The interview was posted on their blog today, with links to other interviews in a series that is attempting to give voice to individuals in the LGBTQ community.  My interview was focused on what it was like to come out in a Christian context, especially to my parents.

If you’re interested in joining the conversation at the intersection of faith and sexuality, I strongly recommend reading Love is an Orientation, which was written by the founder of The Marin Foundation.  And if you haven’t yet read my post, Love is, that may help give you some context for this interview.

What was the catalyst that motivated you to come out to your parents when you did?

There was not one specific trigger that led to me coming out to my parents, but a series of events that sort of domino’ed into my coming out.  I had told three gay friends over the previous two years, but had not given up on trying to have a relationship with a man and live a heterosexual lifestyle.  Over the summer, I began wondering if I could be honest with a few of my closest friends.  I had been attending a new church community for about six months and began feeling more confident that I would be accepted as a gay person by the community in general, even if not by every individual.

Then in the fall, I saw the news reports of teen suicide linked to anti-gay bullying and the “It Gets Better” videos that were being posted in response.  My heart broke for the young people who had taken their lives, and the countless others wrestling with the same thoughts, because I know what its like to feel so hopeless and desperate.  If I could have spoken to any one of those kids, I would have told them “there is no shame in being who you are”, the same words that were shared with me the first time I sat weeping on a friend’s couch as I finally admitted all the self-hatred I had bottled up within me.  Yet I knew that by fearing coming out, I was still living in that shame.

Within a few weeks of seeing those videos, I returned to my university in New Brunswick for a visit.  I had a few opportunities to tell two of my closest friends face to face, but chickened out each time.  Then on the day I was leaving, another friend asked me to have coffee with him and he began our conversation with “I’m gay.”  I was overwhelmed with joy for him, and admired his courage and self-acceptance.  I shared my own story with him, and decided I was ready to come out.  Telling my friends was much easier than telling my family because, although rejection from anyone would be difficult, rejection from my family would hurt the most.  But I knew if I was going to be out as a gay person, I did not want to hide that from my family.  And the overwhelming acceptance and love I encountered as I told even my most conservative friends gave me hope that my parents would also be supportive.

What were your concerns a couple days before telling them?

I began coming out to my parents by having an indirect discussion with my mom about homosexuality and the Bible.  That conversation led me to believe that she had more questions than answers, which might mean she would be able to accept my orientation without thinking it meant I was rejecting my faith.  I planned to tell her in the coming weeks after my visit to New Brunswick, but didn’t spend a lot of time thinking specifically about what I would say or how I would say it.

I had a lot more fear and anxiety when imagining telling my dad.  I tried to be realistic and hopeful, while still preparing myself emotionally for the worst case scenario.  I acknowledged that he may respond with anger, confusion, fear, or shame.  He might want to have a theological argument and I didn’t feel prepared to try to defend a pro-gay interpretation of scripture, let alone whether I even agreed with one.  He might yell, he might not listen to me, he might cry.  He may also surprise me, as my mom and other conservative friends had, by being more open and accepting than I had imagined.  I had to keep reminding myself that I knew my dad loved me and was proud of the adult I am becoming.  I hoped that no matter what was said, he would remember that and be able to communicate it to me.

What was going through your mind when you were telling them and how did you feel?

With both my parents, it was a very different experience because I told my mom directly, and about a month later she told my dad.  One afternoon my mom and I were driving to the grocery store and I just said “I have something to tell you.”  My stomach was in knots, I felt shaky and didn’t know what to expect from her or me.  I had no idea what I was going to say or how to say it, but it came out in pieces that I’ve been trying to figure out who I am and I experience same gender attraction.  I tried to reassure her by saying it was something I was still figuring out, and that it didn’t change what I value in a relationship.  I wasn’t about to start sleeping around or ‘experimenting’.  The rest of the conversation is a blur, but I left it knowing my mom loved me, and believed that although she had questions and would need time to process, she would likely come around to affirming my orientation.

With my father, I didn’t take the opportunity to tell him when I had it.  I don’t live at home, and so I don’t see my parents very often, and I was entirely unsure of how to begin the conversation with him.  I decided to give myself some time to write a letter to him so that I could think through what I had to say.  My plan was to have coffee with him, tell him what I wanted to say and leave the letter for him to read.  The letter was not a replacement for telling him vocally, more just a way of assuring that what I wanted to say would be heard despite the emotions my initial coming out might raise.

When my dad began to ask my mom questions about the new friend I was spending time with, she had a choice to make – she could lie to my dad or tell him the truth, because she knew that this new friend was a girl I had begun to date.  I completely understand why she chose to be honest with him, and can understand that if I were in his position I would hope for the same.  At the same time, I felt like something had been lost by me not having the chance to tell my father myself.

How did they respond initially?

I expected more of a dramatic response from my mom.  I think she still has some of her own questions to process through, especially because she had expectations about what my own family would look like someday, but she has been accepting and has even met my girlfriend.  For my dad, there has been more resistance.  His initial response included statements like “homosexuality is Satan’s counterfeit of what God created to be holy” and he expressed real concern that I should no longer be allowed to spend time alone with my ten-year-old niece.  This hurt more than anything else that he said, more than his thoughts on the Bible and God’s views of homosexuality, and more than his inability (at least at this point) to accept that I do not have a choice about being gay.

Yet throughout our conversation, he assured me he still loved me.  I deeply believe this is true, but it is hard for me to reconcile those two pieces of the conversation.  I believe his judgment of homosexuality comes from a place of fear and misunderstanding, and not of hatred.  I do not think he initially understood that my relationship with Kathryn is based on a desire for intimacy on so many more levels than just physical.  Attraction is more than just a sexual experience, for all people, and yet for the LGBTQ community it is regularly boiled down to just that.  This discredits the depth of intimacy that is possible between all couples, regardless of orientation, because it suggests sex is the only reason for and expression of intimacy.

I know that my father is trying to understand me and I hope someday he will accept Kathryn as part of my life.  I am willing to allow him that time.  It was a difficult journey for me to reach the place I am at now and I recognize that this is a difficult process for my parents as well.

You have mentioned that you work at a Christian organization. What has it been like there for you as a Christian that happens to be a gay woman? Have you had any good conversations with coworkers?

I am lucky because my workplace is built on being accepting of all people.  We work with adults with developmental disabilities, and accepting people of diverse abilities, ethnicity, and faith traditions is inherent in the model of our workplace community.  I know of other openly gay people who have worked for the same organization in the past and felt confident that I would not be discriminated against because of my orientation.  That being said, there is always a level of fear of rejection when telling another person something so personal about yourself, especially when you are not sure how they will respond.

In all my coming out conversations, I have had maybe three or four that were uncomfortable, where I felt that not only did the person disagree with me, they also judged the quality of my relationship with God based on this one part of my life.  I am completely okay with people disagreeing with me, and have had great conversations with a few who do, its when that disagreement is coupled with a judgment of the condition of my soul that I get hurt.  It’s hard because this judgment always comes from ‘loving’ people who genuinely care and want to ‘speak truth’ into my life.  How do I respond to such love?  I feel like defending myself, fighting back, or judging back.  I know that is not Jesus’ way.  So I imagine loving the person, and then feel pride because I am better than them for loving them.  Of course, this is also not Jesus’ way.

One of the best conversations I have had with anyone since coming out happened with a coworker.  He had seen that I was reading Love is an Orientation and started asking me about my journey.  Through the entire two-hour discussion, I found myself amazed to be engaging in open dialogue with someone who had a different view of homosexuality.  Neither of us were arguing or trying to convince the other, but thoroughly sought to understand each other’s perspective.  And the most amazing part was that as I felt my own walls come down, I could honestly admit the areas of my faith that I am still struggling to reconcile.  Yes, I am living as an outed gay Christian, but I still wrestle and struggle and am unsure.  To have dialogue, to be heard and understood by someone who disagreed with me, was so validating.

Yes, God will judge me for my life.  And I will fall short for quite a few things – my greed, my pride, my complacency, my judgment of others.  And yet I believe in His grace, my redemption through Christ.

University ruined my ability to read books.  Before university I could plow through any book in a week, maybe two at the most.  Now it takes me months.  Maybe its because I try to read too many different things concurrently, rather than waiting till I finish one to begin another.  Maybe its because my brain is still fried from all that info they pumped into it at school.  Who knows.

A whopping five months ago I began reading The Boy in the Moon, in which Ian Brown reflects on his relationship with his severely disabled son, Walker.   As I ponder my relationships with the core members at L’arche and my role as discover of their gifts, I reflect on these words.

“What is he trying to show me?  All I really want to know is what goes on inside his off-shaped head, in his jumped-up heart. But every time I ask, he somehow persuades me to look into my own” (3).

“This constant questioning, filtered through Walker – does he mean what he’s doing, or not? – was also a model, a frame on which to hang the human world, a way of living” (39).

“The light her children threw on her life, and the darkness that hovered around them and their future, went hand in hand.  One was not possible without the existence of the other.  The most difficult part to accept was how complex life was, how bleak and at the same time how rich.  [Her daughter’s] mere existence was a form of remonstration, a reminder to look deeper, or at least to be alert.  Who’s to say they’re not happier in their world than I am in mine? And here I am feeling sorry for them because I’m trying to judge them by the standards of the world they aren’t part of.” (144).

“The disabled are a challenge to everyone’s established sense of order: they frighten us, if not with their faces, then with their obvious need. They call us to be more than we ever thought we would have to be” (150).

“Genetic tests are a way to eliminate the imperfect, and all the pain and agony that comes with that imperfection.  I am relieved there was no such test [when Walker was born], that I didn’t have to face the ethical dilemma it may soon present.  Because Walker is proof of what the imperfect and the fragile have to offer; a reminder that there are many ways to be human; a concentrator of joy; an insistent nudge to pay attention to every passing mote of daily life that otherwise slips by uncounted.  A test avoids all that, for better or for worse.  But if there were a more adequate system of caring for the disabled, if we were less frightened of them, if the prospect of looking after a disabled child did not threaten to destroy the lives of those doing the caring – if we had such alternatives, would we need a test at all?” (180).

“Walker’s [group] home is run by an organization that offers assisted living at a thoroughly professional level.  But how does one make a professional operation a home as well – a place full of compassion where people are forgiven endlessly?  Walker had a home where he was taken care of, but was it also a family? Would the place he was cared for feel like his home, occupied by a group of friends and measured by the collective inner life created by its residents?” (186).

Quoting Jean Vanier, “We begin in fragility, we grow up, we are fragile and strong at the same time, and then we go into the process of weakening. So the whole question of the human process is how to integrate strength and weakness. You become human by accepting your own vulnerability.  We’re in a society where we have to know what to do all the time. But if we move instead from the place of our weakness, what happens? We say to people, I need your help. And then we create community” (208).

Brene Brown speaks on The Power of Vulnerability:

“When you ask people about love, they will tell you about heart-ache. When you ask people about belonging, they will tell you their stories of exclusion.”

“Shame is the fear of disconnection.  Is there something about me that if other people know it, I won’t be worthy of connection?”

“There was only one variable that separated the people who have a strong sense of love and belonging and those who really struggle for it.  The people who have a strong sense of love and belonging believe they are worthy of love and belonging.”

“The one thing that keeps us out of connection is our fear that we are not worthy of connection.”

“What they had in common was a sense of courage to tell the story of who they are with their whole heart.  They had the courage to be imperfect.  They had the compassion to be kind to themselves first, and then to others, because we can’t practice compassion with other people if we can’t treat ourselves kindly.  They had connection as a result of authenticity.  They were willing to let go of who they thought they should be, in order to be who they are.  They fully embraced vulnerability.  They believed that what made them vulnerable, made them beautiful.”

“I know that vulnerability is the core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness.  But it appears it’s also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love.”

“We numb vulnerability.  But you cannot selectively numb emotion.  You can’t say here is vulnerability, grief, shame, fear, disappointment.  You can’t numb those feelings without numbing joy, gratitude, happiness.”

“So we need to think about why and how we numb. And it’s not just addiction.  We make everything that is uncertain, certain.  Religion has gone from a believe in faith and mystery, to certainty.  We perfect things.  We pretend our actions don’t impact other people.”

“But there is another way. To let ourselves be seen. To love with our whole hearts, even though there is no guarantee.  To practice gratitude and joy.  To believe that we are enough.”

“You are imperfect.  You are wired for struggle.  But you are worthy of love and belonging.”

It’s hard to know where to begin because it’s a story that encompasses my whole life and is still evolving.  There is so much that still has to grow and take root and develop.  It feels both healthy and risky to share this piece of my story, to risk myself personally, knowing I still have uncertainties and fears in the dusty corners of my mind.  I still have stuff to figure out.

I am a twenty-five year old woman, living in Ontario, Canada.  I was raised in a Pentecostal church, attended a Christian liberal arts university, and now work for a Christian organization.  Despite all that, I spent large parts of my teenage and young adult years struggling to call myself a Christian.  Even now I use the term with trepidation.

I know some gay people who say they have known since childhood that they were attracted to the same gender.  This was not my experience.  A gay orientation was so far removed from my experience of ‘normal’ that I wouldn’t have considered it for a second as something that might apply to me.  I had crushes on boys, and even dated a little bit, fully expecting to grow up and fall in love with a man and have at least a dozen babies.  But from an early age I couldn’t understand my relationships with some of my closest female friends.  I still don’t know how to describe what I felt other than a strong desire for more of whatever ‘good’ existed in the friendship.  My friendships with girls would inevitably get too complicated and painful and fall apart because of this tension, so I learned to play with the boys and built my closest friendships with them (which still felt confusing because I felt pressure to attract a guy and get him to fall in love with me).

I don’t remember ever being told explicitly that being gay was a one-way ticket to eternal fire, and at that time I had no label for what I now recognize as same gender attraction, but I know that I believed from my early teen years that something was deeply wrong with me.  Relating to a God that was supposed to be simultaneously all-loving and our eternal judge was confusing and left me feeling like God’s love wasn’t enough to save me from myself.  At times, I would have panic attacks believing that God’s presence would kill me, like Ananias and Sapphira, because of my sinfulness and my inability to change the parts of me that I thought were not whole.  The self-hatred that brewed within me as I realized I could not change myself only fed this fear.

Accepting myself, and healing this self-hatred and fear, has been a long (and not yet finished) journey.  Coming out as a gay person is a very complicated, delicate process.  It is not just one conversation.  And it always begins first with coming out to yourself.  It’s different for everyone, but for me it’s been 5-6 years of intentionally wrestling through my own questions of faith and sexuality, slowly coming out first to myself (which was by far the hardest step) and a few gay friends before I was ever able to tell a straight person, let alone my family and closest friends.  Being so immersed in a Christian context, I couldn’t imagine being gay and being a Christian.  I thought for sure I would have to choose one or the other.  It has only been in the last year that I have accepted that being gay and being a Christian does not have to be mutually exclusive, and within the last four months that I have finally taken the step of telling my friends and family.

In admitting that I am gay, I have finally felt accepted by God.  I have gradually stopped fearing God’s wrath and judgment, and stopped hating His creation (me).  Regardless of whether homosexuality is or is not ‘sinful’, I can now say “God’s grace is sufficient for me.”  In realizing I don’t have to change who I am, I am more whole, happy, at peace.  And way less afraid of God smiting me, which makes it easier to want to include Him in my daily life.

I still have dusty corners of my mind where the question lingers of whether loving another woman is wrong, or against God and nature.  What I do know is that my growing love for Kathryn is no less flawed or beautiful than any other relationship between two people.  No less full of sin at times (pride, resentment, selfishness) and no less full of beauty (grace, selflessness, growth).

These sins, for any of us, don’t stop us from coming near God.  That is the whole reason Jesus lived and died and was resurrected.

What if how we treat people is more important than the rules we do or do not follow, or the way we translate and interpret Greek and Hebrew passages?  Jesus hung out with beggars, hookers and junkies – and didn’t particularly like religious folk.  What if the motivations of our hearts matter more to God than our outward actions?  He did not exclude those who did not have all their spiritual ducks in a row.  What if LOVE is the most important thing?

Love is.  Nothing else matters.

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