Ireland: Hello, brother

The citizens of Ireland have sanctified gay marriage in their constitution.

Almost two-thirds of voters favored the amendment. Two-thirds. Two-thirds of the most Catholic population on Earth. Two-thirds.

Many things hearten me about this.

At the most selfish level, I want to marry another woman. I want my marriage to be recognized and celebrated.

At a public level, I am gratified that a broad public not only tolerates but accepts and even celebrates my love.

But most heartening is the civility of the Catholic Church’s stance on the referendum. The Church had the opportunity to demonstrate that, whatever its teachings on homosexual acts, hatred and discrimination against gays is wrong, a sin, contrary to God’s will and Church doctrine.

The Church took that opportunity and made good on it.

The Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, kept the Church out of the campaign. Although he personally would vote No, he said, “Marriage isn’t just about two people falling in love. It’s a much more complex. My voting No is not a vote against gay and lesbian people.”

And he backed it up by rebuking priests and bishops who were more intemperate.

True, a lobbying organization of Catholics was the loudest opponent of the amendment. But it was individuals, not the Church.

Its arguments were pathetically self-defeating. The notion that gays cannot be good parents, that their children are somehow stunted, is belied every day.

In the end, was it the fallacy – the obvious wrongheadedness – of that very argument in the face of gay couples’ commitment to love and the truest of family values? Was it His answer to the prayer for the Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer?

Make their life together a sign of Christ’s love to this sinful and broken world, that unity may overcome estrangement, forgiveness heal guilt, and joy conquer despair.


Finally, I am most heartened that it supports my belief that our most important battle is won when people – traditionalists, conservatives, fundamentalists – see us not as aliens, but as fellow humans.

Perhaps I’m Pollyanaish. Perhaps I have Stockholm Syndrome. But I have a more intimate knowledge of those who oppose gay marriage than my urban sophisticate friends.

I come from a place where homosexuality does not exist. My Love and I are probably the first out lesbians that most people in our home counties have ever met.

Two-thirds of the citizens of my home state voted for the opposite constitutional provision: that marriage is between a man and a woman. My Love and I come from the most conservative, most rural parts of one of the most conservative, rural states. Almost everyone we know voted in favor of the amendment.

I can’t demonize opponents of gay marriage. They are people, too. My people. They may not understand me, but they don’t hate me. Where I’m from, Westboro Baptist Church is hated far more than a gay couple.

Since my Love came out, she has had nothing but acceptance. Since I came out, I have had nothing but acceptance.

There’s a lot of curiosity – some of it pretty silly – but that is a good thing. Curiosity is incompatible with knee-jerk hate. People don’t try to understand something they hate. People are curious about something they want to understand.


I don’t have a grand agenda.

I just want people to see that He formed me of the same dust of the ground. He breathed into my nostrils the same breath of life, the same living soul. He created me in His image, too. He knows that it is not good that I should be alone, either. He has made a help meet for me, too.

Hath not a lesbian eyes? hath not a lesbian hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die?

I want to be seen to have the same yearnings, the same hopes, the same fears as straight people.

A man wants to work for his pay.
A man wants a place in the sun.
A man wants a gal proud to say
That she’ll become his lovin’ wife.
He wants a chance to give his kids a better life, yes
Well hello, hello, hello brother

A gal wants to work for her pay.
A gal wants a place in the sun.
A gal wants a gal proud to say
That she’ll become her lovin’ wife.
She wants a chance to give her kids a better life, yes
Well hello, hello, hello brother

 

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.

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.

Gay: A paradox

Being gay put an end to being gay.

My home town is in many ways a century behind the times. Language evolves languidly. Words have the denotation and connotation that they had a century ago.

When I was a little girl, “gay” was one of my favorite words. It was how I described myself. I was a lighthearted, happy.

I learned its contemporary meaning about the same time as I realized that I was gay in that sense. Being gay put an end to being gay.

Until now. I am happily gay and gayly happy.

Sexual orientation: A paradox

My sexual orientation isn’t sexual.

Neither is my Love’s.

I can find a man aesthetically or intellectually interesting. But I’ve never felt an emotional or sexual attraction to a man.

From an early age, I appreciated the aesthetics of women and was emotionally attracted to them. I was too young for it to be sexual.

I didn’t have a sexual desire for anyone, man or woman, before I met my Love. I had dreams and waking fantasies of women. They were chaste – being close, talking, holding hands, perhaps kissing or snuggling. No sex, however broadly defined.

Maybe it was just that I had never even held hands with or kissed a woman, and my imagination was too impoverished to supply a sexual context.

But I don’t think so. I wasn’t ignorant. I had sex with men in high school and college.

My Love suggests that aesthetic, physical, intellectual and emotional attraction are, for us, logically prior to sexual attraction. We can’t have a sexual interest without aesthetic appreciation, physical attraction, intellectual engagement and emotional passion.

Perhaps that’s why the (relatively limited) sexual activity that we’ve had has been so explosive for both of us.

I am in my mid-30s. When I was in high school and college, I tried to sublimate my yearning for women by having sex with men. That sex, all of it, was tawdry and degrading. It had no meaning for them; its only meaning for me was disgust. I loathed it even as I went back to it, trying to exorcise the grave depravity of wanting to love a woman.

My Love is in her late 30s. When she met me, her entire sexual experience consisted of having her breasts fondled by a respectful high school boyfriend, and cuddling and having her breasts fondled by a college boyfriend. It was not meaningless – she had affection for both. But she had no desire. It was mechanical and unerotic.

Calling us babes in the woods laughably overstates our lesbian experience.

When my Love first touched my cheek, I almost fainted. Pricks of light danced in my eyes. When she first touched my breast, I stopped breathing. I am certain that my heart stopped. Until that moment, I had been an unemotional woman. Then, I wept in ecstasy at the simple warmth of her palm through my shirt and bra.

When I first touched her breast, she crushed me so hard into herself that I struggled to breathe. Was the scream I heard an actual scream – hers or mine – or the rush of blood in my brain?

Losing my religion

I was baptized, raised and confirmed in the Roman Catholic Church.

I lost my faith in the Catholic Church without losing faith in God. I have always known His presence, even when I believed that I was a sinner beyond His grace.

I began to question my faith in the Catholic Church at the time that I began to realize that I am gay – but realizing I am gay did not lead me to lose my faith in the Church. It did not even influence my loss of faith.

First, as long as I did not act on my attraction to women, the Church did not condemn me for it. The Catholic Church calls gays to chastity. I was unchaste, but not with women.

Second, I still believed that my orientation was sinful long after I left the Church. Even after I recognized the distinction between orientation and act, I for many years refrained from homosexual acts in the belief that they were sinful.

What then led me to lose faith in the Church?

My issues with the Catholic Church ran deeper than trying to excuse my orientation. I did not know it until later, but my differences with the Catholic Church were those of Luther and Calvin, centuries before.

Discovering the Protestant – and particularly the Reformed Protestant – confessions was a thunderbolt to me. The Reformers carefully, systematically and thoroughly delineated everything I was naively and blindly groping for.

The priesthood of all believers:

Christ’s apostles call all who believe in Christ “priests,” but not on account of an office, but because, all the faithful having been made kings and priests, we are able to offer up spiritual sacrifices to God through Christ. … The priesthood, as we have just said, is common to all Christians.

Solo scriptura, the rejection of tradition and authority other than scripture and the inward illumination of the Spirit:

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.

And, most important to me, a wretched sinner, salvation by His grace:

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.

’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
’Twas grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
‘Tis grace will lead me home.