Imagination

My greeting to the guests at our rehearsal dinner.
I delayed publication until after the ceremony.


I never imagined being married.

Of course, lesbians couldn’t marry. But it was more than that.

It was more than that I didn’t expect to be married. It was more than that I didn’t expect to have a wedding, to be a bride.

I never even imagined it. Never even imagined being married. Never even imagined being a bride.


My fiancée says that, when she was a girl, she wanted what every little ranch girl wants: To get married, have children, raise children, get children married, spoil grandchildren.


I never had that aspiration.

It wasn’t because I am a lesbian. It wasn’t because lesbians couldn’t marry.

Even as a very young girl, before I knew that I was a lesbian, I didn’t dream, or daydream, or even imagine being married. Didn’t dream, or daydream or imagine being a bride.

When I played with Barbie dolls – Yes, I played with Barbie dolls – my Barbie wasn’t a bride. Barbie wasn’t married to Ken.

It wasn’t latent lesbianism. It wasn’t a latent feminist fantasy of an independent woman. It was simply want of imagination.

I realized I was a lesbian when I was in high school. I did things that I’m not proud of. Things that disgust me. Things that you may have heard rumored. Things that made marriage even more unimaginable.


I was baptized, raised and confirmed in the Roman Catholic Church. I broke Mother’s heart when I left the Church. I didn’t leave because I was a lesbian. Even after I left the Church, I believed that being a lesbian was a sin.

The Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church says,

Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.

I had inhuman self-mastery. It made me the best engineer you’ve ever seen.

But I was wasting my life. I was wasting my capacity to love and be loved.


I could have married a man. Had children. Gradually and resolutely approached Christian perfection.

But it would have been morally appalling.

I could have tolerated knowing I would never be emotionally or romantically or physically fulfilled. I have fortitude enough to sublimate myself for the sake of my soul and for the sake of children to love.

But for him, for a husband? It would have been an unpardonable sin against him. It would have been morally abominable to do that to someone, someone who loved me.

Can you imagine loving someone – dedicating your life to someone – who cannot love you as you love? Who cannot love you as you deserve to be loved?

Can you imagine loving someone incapable of love and desire and passion for you? Someone you want to fulfill?

One of the things that I have learned so well from my fiancée is that it is more blessed to give – emotionally, romantically, physically – than to receive. The most amazing thing about love is not one’s own rapture, but the rapture of another.

Even if I had been the greatest actress, even if I could deceive a man for his entire life, even if he never had an inkling of it, the deception would have been morally repulsive. What would it have made me? A moral monster.

How could I withhold that from someone – deceive someone – who loved me enough to dedicate his life to me? How long before my own moral depravity would overcome me, either in guilt or shame or in a perverted moral center?


I never imagined being married. I never imagined being a bride. But my poverty of imagination was greater than that. I never imagined loving someone. I never imagined being loved.

I don’t mean that I thought that I was unlovable. I don’t mean that I thought I was incapable of love. I wasn’t depressed or even unhappy. I didn’t pity myself. I didn’t consider myself pitiable. My life was fulfilling. But love was just something outside of my imagination. My impoverished imagination.


I was extraordinarily fortunate to have found a compassionate and inquisitive minister. I came into his office and declared, without preface, “I am a lesbian.”

He laughed at my forwardness, the baldness of my declaration. He asked me what I wanted to do about it. What I wanted him to do about it. Being a Protestant, he couldn’t offer me absolution. But, as a Protestant, he would help me look into scripture – and solely to scripture, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Although he is not a Calvinist, he seemed guided by the Westminster Confession:

The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men. Nevertheless we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word.


I won’t detail our investigation, our hermeneutic and theological wrestling. I will only say this: In the end, I must always come to the words of our Savior:

Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

This is how Christ himself would have us interpret God’s law. “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

My love of this woman, and of my God, is wholly in the letter and spirit of those two commandments.


Two years ago, after showing me to a calm in my soul, the minister asked me to meet with a woman. He said she was a lesbian comfortable in her conservative Christian faith.

We met for dinner. I immediately knew that she was the most extraordinary person I had ever met. Brilliant beyond imagining, cultured, cosmopolitan, beautiful, charming, successful – yet the friendliest, happiest, least conceited person I had ever met. She immediately put me at ease, treated me as an equal, was interested in me.

It was the most wonderful dinner of my life. It was the most wonderful two hours of conversation of my life.

As we left, standing on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant, she touched my cheek. I nearly fainted. My heart stopped. Literally stopped.

I thought, “I am going to die, right here.”

Then, “Thank you, God, for letting me die happy.”


I didn’t die, of course. But, for the first time, I imagined love.

I wasn’t in love, not yet. I didn’t know enough about love to know if I was in love, and I knew it. I knew that I didn’t know enough about her – or, frankly, about myself – to be in love.

But in that instant, I could imagine it. It – the imagining – was the most extraordinary thing in the world. Not only that I could love, but that I could be loved. Be loved not as a friend or a sister or a daughter, but as God’s gift for another. To love someone not as a friend or a sibling or a parent, but as God’s gift to me.


You know the rest. We fell in love. I moved to New York. She nearly died. We proposed and accepted marriage. We gave each other these rings. We bought dresses and planned this wedding.


But you don’t know all the rest.

I still could not imagine being a bride. The ceremony tomorrow seemed only that: a celebration of the life to come, a life together.


My fiancée decided in her childhood imaginings that she wanted to be married under the order for service from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer. She told me this when we became engaged. I read the order for service and agreed. We’re neither of us Episcopal, but we are traditionalists. Beyond that, the order for service seemed to both of us to say whatever we might write in personal vows, and say it more eloquently – certainly more eloquently than I could.


Last Sunday, after church, we sat with the minister who introduced us and will officiate tomorrow. We read the order for service together. And then, with the same power as the moment of imagining when she touched my cheek, I imagined being her bride. Being her wife. Her being my bride. Her being my wife.


I’m not an imaginative woman. I’m not given much to self-reflection and certainly not to self-absorption. I’m not easily distracted, especially by abstract ideas or flights of fancy.

So I’ve seemed odd this week. The better you know me, the odder I have probably seemed.

Someone who didn’t know me well might write it off as pre-wedding jitters or pre-wedding excitement. Someone who didn’t know my mother, or my fiancée’s mother, or our sisters, and the thoroughness and excellence of their preparation might write it off as distraction by the thousand details of a wedding.


But it’s this: I am reveling in the a dream. A dream of a wedding. A dream of being married. Imagining what it will be like, tomorrow, to stand in God’s presence and declare, reverently and deliberately, that I will have this woman to be my wife; to live together in the covenant of marriage, to love her, comfort her, honor and keep her, in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, be faithful to her as long as we both shall live.

And for her, tomorrow, to stand in God’s presence and declare, reverently and deliberately, that she will have this woman to be her wife; to live together in the covenant of marriage, to love me, comfort me, honor and keep me, in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, be faithful to me as long as we both shall live.

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All right then, I’ll go to Hell: Huck and me

One of the ironies of being told that I’m going to Hell (for being a lesbian) is that it takes away the threat of Hell for my other sins.


My irreligious friends:
Please bear with me over the next few posts.
You might find this interesting, too.


In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Huck travels down the river with Jim, a runaway slave. Jim is captured. (He is held by a man named Phelps!)

Helping Jim escape would be a sin. Jim is property. Freeing him would be stealing. To prevent himself from that sin – to save his soul – Huck writes a letter to Jim’s owner, telling her where to find Jim.

I felt good and all washed clean of sin for the first time I had ever felt so in my life, and I knowed I could pray now.

Before Huck sends the letter, he thinks about all the things Jim has done for him. He starts to think of Jim not as property, but as a human being.

and then I happened to look around and see that paper.

It was a close place. I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself:

“All right, then, I’ll go to hell”—and tore it up.

It was awful thoughts and awful words, but they was said. And I let them stay said; and never thought no more about reforming. I shoved the whole thing out of my head, and said I would take up wickedness again, which was in my line, being brung up to it, and the other warn’t. And for a starter I would go to work and steal Jim out of slavery again; and if I could think up anything worse, I would do that, too; because as long as I was in, and in for good, I might as well go the whole hog.


I’ve not read much literature (that’s my Love’s department), but I’ve read Huck Finn a half-dozen times. Children of an impressionable age – say, younger than 30 years old – should not be permitted to read Huck Finn. Other than the Gospels, it may be the most subversive thing ever written.

We see the screaming irony here: Huck thinks he’s going to Hell for freeing a slave?

More to my point: Huck decides that, if he’s going to Hell anyway, he’d just as well “go the whole hog” of wickedness.


I, a gay Christian, am in Huck’s shoes.

If I’m going to Hell anyway, what incentive do I have to be good? Atheists (gay, straight or other) don’t have any religious incentive to be good, either, but Hell doesn’t frighten them (or Heaven tempt them). When they’re dead, they’re dead. For a Christian, it’s more fraught. There is a real consequence to sin: Hell.

Why should I be good at all? I’m going to Hell anyway. If I obey the civil law (or don’t get caught), what difference does it make how good or bad I am?

It’s bizarrely counterproductive to tell me I am going to Hell. My lesbianism hurts no one, but if I have no fear of Hell, I have no religious hesitation about hurting others.


In coming episodes, guest appearances by
Immanuel Kant, Martin Luther and Fred Phelps …

My Story: Coming out to mother

Please read my preceding post for necessary background.

I was completely in the closet until I was almost 35 years old. I never acted on – or even thought about acting on – my attraction to women. I told no one.

I love my family. My mother is a devout Catholic. She was hurt when I left the Church and became a Protestant, but accepted it. But I thought she would never accept that her daughter is a lesbian.

I didn’t fear my mother. But I did not want to destroy my family.


My decision to move to New York excited my family, but left them apprehensive. They were ambitious for the opportunity, but none of us had ever lived in a city, let alone New York City.

They wanted to meet the woman who was helping me with my New York venture.

When my Love was out West for a visit with her family, they invited her for afternoon coffee and cookies. To them, she was just a friend who had already been down that trail.


I was more nervous than I have ever been, even for the defense of my thesis.

My Love was, as always, beautiful and beautifully dressed. Her essential, sophisticated, understated, brilliant self. As easy as I was nervous.

She was utterly charming. Mixed an observant and honest gravity with a light humor I had rarely seen. Despite her genius, success and sophistication, she came to my parents as equals, never condescending or patronizing.

First, my Love put my parents’ minds at ease about their little girl in the big City. My Love talked about its safety, its culture, its sanitation, its distractions, its temptations, its energy, its diversity, its food. She talked about the subway, Central Park, Riverside Park, Times Square, Madison Avenue and her neighborhood on the Upper West Side. She admitted that she had never been in the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty. She talked about the theater and the opera. About just walking around.

About how a girl from the end of the road outside of West Jerkwater could thrive on brains and guts and hard work. About opportunity and competition and promise. That nobody cares where you’re from or who your parents are or what you did yesterday. All they care about is what you can do for them today and tomorrow.

She sold them on the City. She let them know that she would be a friend I could call on for anything. She convinced them that I would thrive in the deep end of the biggest pond of all.

My parents told funny and sad stories about me and about our family. My Love told funny, self-deprecating and sad stories about herself and her family. We talked about the importance of family and friends and self-reliance, hard work and faith, honesty and dedication.

The hour stretched to dinner and into the evening. I loosened up enough to contribute.

My Love was comfortable and confident enough to engage my mother in a serious discussion of theology, the differences between Catholic and Protestant approaches to grace, tradition, authority and Scripture. She talked about her own conversion from atheism to Christianity.

The more my family grew to like my Love, the more relaxed I became. I began to believe that perhaps, maybe, someday, my mother might accept that I might love a woman, this woman.

As my Love was getting ready to leave, my mother took us aside from the rest of the family. She asked if we were more than friends.

My Love seized the nettle.


She said that she loved me and hoped, God willing, someday to marry me and have a family with me. For my whole life I had buried my attraction to women for my mother’s sake. My Love would not be a wedge to separate me from my family. My family meant too much to me, and therefore to her. While my Love did not expect my mother’s blessing, she hoped that at least my mother could tolerate us for the sake of my happiness.

She wouldn’t – couldn’t – ask my mother to reject her Church or compromise its tenets. After long and prayerful study, before my Love recognized that she was gay, she came to believe that homosexuality is not a sin. She would be happy to discuss her belief and its basis with my mother, but she would not ask my mother to accept that. All she asked was that my mother recognize that, if it is a sin for her daughter to love a woman, her Church recognizes that we are all sinners. Christ preferred the company of sinners to the company of the pious. If Christ could love sinners, perhaps my mother could still love a sinner, too.

My Love did not want to break my mother’s love for me. That was too precious. What my Love wanted most in the world was for my mother to continue to love me as she always had, to recognize that we are all sinners in need of God’s and each other’s grace. She would understand if my mother could not accept that. She hoped that my mother could accept it: It would otherwise break my Love’s heart, and she thought it would break mine as well.

My mother took it all in, quietly. Her face never changed from a stern fortitude. My Love stated her case and stopped. She didn’t babble on. I wanted to fill the ensuing silence, but my Love stopped me with a squeeze on my arm.

My mother finally spoke. Her Church says that homosexual acts are acts of grave depravity. But she would always love me. If my Love loved me, then my mother loved my Love, too. She didn’t think she could bless a wedding, or bring herself to attend a wedding, but she could – and did – bless both of us.

She said the most peculiar thing: That she could bless our love, too. She believed that God condemned homosexual acts, but she could not believe that God condemned love.


Had I been too afraid of my mother? Too ready to judge her? Too ready to believe that she would reject me? Too small minded to realize that her love would always envelop me?

Or had I always been right to fear her disapproval, but the reality of love opened her mind?

Or was she just happy that someone loves me, and that I love someone?

 

 

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.

The law and the prophets

Does homosexuality violate God’s law?

Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

I will take Jesus’s word for it. “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Do I fail to love God with all my heart, with all my soul and with all my mind? Do I fail to love my neighbor as myself? Yes, I am a sinner.

But I love God, and my neighbor, more because I love this woman. He made her in His image. I feel His grace in her. She makes me a better person, makes me try harder to love God and my neighbor.