My story: First date

I have a very good friend at the church I attended out West. She loves to talk about her genius sister, who has an advanced quantitative degree from an Ivy League university. The sister founded a successful firm that uses quantitative tools to model clients’ business alternatives.

The sister comes out from New York every summer to relax for a few weeks on their parents’ ranch. My friend brought the sister to Sunday services.

The sister had just come out to her family. My friend, who has a puckish sense of humor, introduced her sister to the minister as her “New York lesbian sister”. I think she expected that to fluster the minister and her sister.

Quite the contrary. The minister was delighted. He asked the sister whether she was comfortable in her faith. If so, would she talk with a woman who was struggling with coming out? (That would be me.)

She agreed. She reserved a table for a dinner at a romantic little restaurant.

The only person I had come out to was the minister. He was a professional, bound to confidentiality. This woman would be the first ordinary person to whom I would come out.

I was nervous, but all the reticence of more than 30 years in the closet evaporated in minutes. I talked freely with a woman for the first time in my life.

She was beautifully dressed, a subtly tailored, simple, classic grey jersey designer shift, pearls, sapphire studs, impeccable light makeup, blonde hair to her shoulders – and cowgirl boots.

At first I thought she had a speech impediment, but I came to realize that she was taking the time to craft each perfect sentence out of a perfect vocabulary.

To any observer, we were two women having a business dinner. We didn’t touch. We didn’t flirt. We talked seriously about our lives, about our families, about growing up in the rural Rockies, about our faith, about our home state, about having kids someday and about coming out. She talked about things of which I knew nothing: literature, the opera, places I’ve never been – New York, London, Paris, Singapore, Rio.

I am self-confident to a fault, but her self-confidence was unnerving.

She would have been intimidating – brilliant, beautiful, beautifully dressed and coiffed, a distinctive personal style, cultured, cosmopolitan, a successful entrepreneur, a New York sophisticate to beat all New York sophisticates. But she carried it all with down-to-earth ease – just a girl from a ranch 10 miles outside of West Jerkwater, amazed at her good luck. She was the friendliest, happiest, least conceited, least self-absorbed person I have ever met. Her self-deprecation was charmingly amusing instead of falsely modest.

She would have seemed unattainable, but she was genuinely interested in me. In me. It was incredible to me then, and it is incredible to me now. She plainly saw me as an equal, as if it were incredible that I might be interested in her.

As we were standing on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant, taking our leave, she touched my cheek. I nearly fainted. I understood what it means to see fireworks: Pricks of light flashed in my eyes. All the years of suppressed emotion exploded at the tip of her finger.

It was a few minutes before either of us could talk.

And she became my Love.

My story: Ministerial acts

I met with the minister of the church I attended. I was not a member of the church. I knew nothing about him, other than that he preached to the text and that his sermons were conservative, thoughtful and tolerant.

I jumped right in:

“I am a lesbian.”

I had his attention. I told him my story:

I knew when I was an adolescent. I never acted on it.

I fought it by having sex with men. It disgusted me. I do not find men physically, emotionally or sexually attractive.

I buried desire under study and work.

I needed to confront my self and my faith. I had the sense that I was wasting my humanity and betraying God’s image in me.

“I am not depressed or suicidal. But I am tired of struggling with myself.”

Of all the things I thought he might say, I wasn’t expecting what he did say:

“Do you think it would be a sin to act on it? Maybe we should look into that.”

I was nonplussed, and a little irritated:

“I won’t edit scripture to justify my inclinations.”

He was amused:

“I would never suggest that you – we – edit scripture. I suggest that we study scripture. Frankly, this has never come up in my ministry. You are the first person to walk in my office and say, ‘I am a homosexual.’ I have never seriously thought about it. I know what tradition says, but we Protestants reject the authority of tradition. I would be interested to know myself. Shall we find out together?”

So we did. And I was reconciled to my self and God.

My story: Coming out

When I turned 30, I had an immensely satisfying, tremendously successful, career.

There can be few vocations more satisfying than engineering. When I complete a job, there is something there, something tangible and useful, something that serves mankind.

Something about which I could say, with pride, “I built that.” In a century, people might still ask, in wonder, “Who built that?”

But I could feel my life slipping away. I was almost halfway to three score and ten.

I wasn’t unhappy, but I wasn’t happy. In my early 20s, I had given up happiness to free myself of torment. I gave up even a thought of physical or emotional attachment to another person. The most I hoped for was contentment.

As I approached 30, I had the increasing sense that I was wasting my humanity, my capacity to love and be loved.

I had the increasing sense that my refusal to embrace joy and love or to evoke them in others was worse than whatever sin I was trying to avoid. I was betraying God, scorning the spark of humanity He had given me, refusing to embrace the essence of His image. My emptiness darkened. My pride in my accomplishments was fading into inconsequence.

But I could not see how I could break out of that emptiness and inconsequence.

I like men and generally find them attractive as human beings. But I could not find emotional or physical intimacy with a man. Emotional or physical attraction to a woman was a sin.

Finally, I made an appointment to see my minister. Perhaps he could help me find a way out of my physical and emotional dilemma. And, if not, help me to regain my pride and a measure of contentment.

He was the first person to whom I came out of closet.

My story: Adult

I escaped to the university. I swore never to have sex again. I became a monk, a studious drone. All work and no play may have made me a dull girl, but it made me a hell of an engineer.

For almost 15 years, I kept a tight lid on my sexuality.

I made myself into the best engineer anyone had ever seen. I was willing to take any assignment. I had no ties. I was willing to take assignments at isolated sites, and to take career risks, that no one with family or friends would take. I became an expert at turning around underperforming projects.

I got additional degrees, in additional disciplines.

I was alone, but I wasn’t lonely.

Two years ago, on a quiet night, I began to wonder if I was wasting the gifts that God had given me.

I made an appointment to talk to the minister of my church.

My story: Teenage

I was in Seattle, on the street with my mother. I was in junior high school. I had always admired women.

We saw two ordinary, well dressed women holding hands as they walked down the street. They stopped, kissed each other – chastely but affectionately – and separated with a wave and a laugh. Something I had seen thousands of times between married couples. A tableau of real affection, of love.

My mother said, in disgust, “Lesbians.”

Then I knew what I was. My heart went out to them, even as I knew that they were damned.

It wrenched me to the core. These were ordinary women. They weren’t strange or depraved. They were just like my mother. Except that they were in love. With each other.

And what of me? I had that same feeling for women; was I objectively disordered?  Was I in sin?

To prove to myself that I was not a pervert, I forced my virginity on a boy. It was quick, sordid and painful. Everything about it was disgusting. I was sick with myself for days.

I became a slut in the hope that I might be converted from my shameful inclination.

I became isolated.

I could not bear to be with girls. Girls did not want to be with me, a slut.

Boys didn’t want to be seen with me. They did want to be with me, unseen.

Everything about sex disgusted me. It had no meaning for them; its only meaning for me was degradation. I loathed it even as I went back to it, again and again, trying to exorcise the other depravity.

I threw myself into school work. I graduated at the top of my class. My first-choice university accepted me to its honors engineering program.

My story: Childhood

I have always been attracted to women, particularly to traditionally feminine women of conservative taste. I never felt attraction to men or boys.

The ideal of my attraction was Miss B, my fourth grade teacher.

When the other girls started to take an interest in boys, they spoke of it in the way I would have expressed my interest in women. I had the good sense not to express that interest.

I didn’t know there was a word for my interest in women. I didn’t know (or know of) any openly gay women, and I didn’t fit my home town’s stereotype of lesbians.

I was also a child of the Catholic Church. Being a lesbian was a sin. (Even though it’s not.) My interest in women was so innocent that it couldn’t be sinful.

It was only later, when I saw that lesbians are as diverse as straight women, that I realized that I was gay.

And that was the start of Hell.