This is my final entry about my coming out story. See Let it go and Dusty Old Journals for the other two parts of my story. Thank you to all of my friends and family who support me and accept me as I am.
This weekend, I stood in church for the first time in years. My hands clasped behind my back, I listened to the priest as he stood by the altar. Words and phrases I’d heard all my life felt strange to my ears, as if they’d transformed into something new while I was away. My oldest sister had found her match, and they sat in two chairs, the closest ones to the steps in front of the altar. It was their day, the union between them, and as much as I wished them happiness, I felt a surge of sorrow, for the words the priest said, the words that bound them together in union before the Lord would not be said to me. Not here in this Catholic Church with the vaulted ceiling and the stained glass windows. Not here, in the Church where I’d spent nearly every Sunday of my childhood under its roof, celebrating the Mass and partaking of communion. Not here, where I knelt in the pews and sang the songs within the Liturgy and Eucharist.
The priest, after the long prayers of blessing, invited everyone to step forward for communion, and those who could not partake of the blood and body of Christ could hold their arms across their chest to receive a blessing. I did not stand to receive it, but instead sat in the chair within my row, and looked down at the hymnal, the notes and words of the songs a blur. I sang the songs, mostly to exercise my voice, to practice proper breathing techniques for singing. I tried not to think about the words, nor what they had meant to me. I came because it was my sister’s wedding, but I did not wish to be back in that Church. To be under the roof of a religion that had painted such a bleak future for me, one in which members had sought to deny my rights, to place me in a second class beneath them. Christianity held a sour taste in my mouth, because of the legacy it had left within my life, the craters of pain. Some Christians sought to change the orientation of people like me, but within my Catholic heritage, the focus of change came veiled under the idea of being chaste, to live as if one was straight, and to avoid the temptations of the gay lifestyle. The pamphlets, the denial, the urgency to quell the discussions before they even started – all of it tumbled from the lips and hands of Christian friends and a few family members, and I took their words to heart. They believed what they said was true, that they simply hated the sin and loved the sinner. Yet their determination to hate the sin blinded them to the harmful narrative pushed upon people like me; I did not see words spoken with love, but instead, I saw words spoken with a hatred of the sin, a hatred that slowly began to shift from the sin to the sinner, until I could no longer distinguish between them speaking of the sin and them speaking of me. The narrative had shifted the conversation until the sin and sinner became one, and the words of condemnation overtook any chance to love.
Words sink like water into soil, seeping into the roots within the mind, and blossoming into actions and thoughts that forever mark one’s life. I remember a retreat I went on during my time at U of I, and there in this camp by the lake, I climbed the ladder to a tower. I felt this desire to reach the top, to feel the wind in my hair, and to stand on the railing, to see the ground below me, and to just fall. To let the ground swallow me, so that it would all end. End all the torment and confusion and fear.
K, my childhood friend, called me at that exact moment. As I heard her voice, a wealth of tears overtook the desire for death, and although I didn’t tell her what was truly wrong, I realized that I had to walk away from the edge. I had to find a different way to deal with this. I turned and left that tower and returned to the retreat, where my Catholic friends spoke and sang about God and how God could heal all things.
That belief that I could change my orientation blossomed from the words spoken by my Christian friends, and so I contacted the ex-gay ministry of Exodus International in 2006. The emails I sent, I sent with fear, but if this could be changed, then would it not end my torment? Would I not be free from the shackles of my orientation, and maybe even live a normal life, the way the Church had taught — union of man and woman? Or maybe I’d be content with the life of a celibate, a sister or nun in the arms of God’s work. I just had to stop the desires to be with a woman. I had to stop them from haunting my thoughts and dreams, because if I gave in to them, was I not sinning? Was I not falling into darkness? I had to be cleansed, didn’t I?
Ever since I could remember, I’d sought prayers from family and friends in an effort to help me win over the girls I wished to befriend — to be with them forever, to share a life. For me, this felt natural, but over time, the more I listened and watched my family’s actions and heard their words and that of the teachings of the Church, I learned that marriage existed only between a man and a woman, and that because of this, I would not marry. I remember at a young age, I wrote that down, only to cross the words out in my journals. Writing it made it real, and so I crossed it out in hopes of crossing it out of myself.
The Exodus International people sent me book suggestions and their words proliferated through my mind, like a noose around my neck. I walked away from those emails feeling unclean and forgotten by God. That I no longer walked in the light, and the closeness I had once felt with Christ felt a million miles away. I read every book I could find on the topic, and their words flew like arrows into my heart, piercing my soul. I felt bruised and lost amongst the waterfall of words, of earnest debate over whether or not people like me should be allowed to exist as we are. I remember so clearly my very close friend, K, earnestly trying to convince me that she knew I wasn’t that way, that I couldn’t be that way, because she knew I was good and that we were sisters in Christ. How could I let the world lead me astray?
The question haunted me. Had the world lead me astray? Yet, these thoughts, these desires, and this wish to find a female partner for life had been with me for as long as I could remember. I feared that everyone was wrong; that I was not the child of God but an abomination. The clobber verses my friends and family pointed to spoke in harsh tones, but yet at the same time, the context within the verses felt unclear, and the harsh words — abomination, unclean — they didn’t fit the picture my family attempted to paint for me, the person they thought I was and wanted me to be. I was to be the evangelist, the warrior for Christ, the fervent believer that fought hard for the faith, and that lived with joy and peace in my heart. Except I never was that person. I tried so hard to be that girl. I spent my high school years sharing my faith with friends, debating with my fellow Christians, and fervently trying to live as if I held only joy and peace in my heart. I had memorized Bible verses, and I had ready made replies as to what the Church taught, but there was still this disquiet in my heart that I tried so hard to squash and sought to pray it all away. I knew I was different, that I was an outcast, a weird anomaly, and when I came to college and learned that there were others like me, others who also felt attraction to the same sex, I felt confused and terrified. What was truth? Were these people leading me astray as my friend feared?
Over and over, my Christian friends spoke of healing and cures for those who left behind the gay lifestyle, and yet, what was that lifestyle? What did those words even mean? The emails I sent to Exodus International held ready made answers, and a fervent wish to have me enroll in one of their programs, so that I could be delivered from my torment. I didn’t reply to that final email, and instead sought thoughts from my family. I didn’t know what to do, and one of my sisters, the one who held the degree in psychology, told me that ex-gay ministries were wrong; that they had no scientific proof that orientation can be changed, so I didn’t go. But it didn’t quell the desperate search for a cure, a way to change my orientation and to change myself so that I would become the person my Christian friends and family wished for me.
I wrote journal entry after journal entry debating this topic with myself; I tried to explain it all away, and I tried to dig through my memories and previous journals for the truth. The words of my friend, K, held enormous impact on how I viewed myself; she reiterated the narrative of condemnation, but it was because she believed the narrative and worried about my soul. She spoke of it in hopes that I could be freed from this. She wished for only the best for me. Yet the words from her and my other Christian friends and the majority of my family had taught me that to be gay wasn’t healthy. From those words, a deep fear and a growing hatred toward this part of myself bound me in chains. And so I spent reams of paper trying to convince myself that they were right; I sought ways of changing it and tried to pray it away. I tried so hard and fought so hard, and then, in a fit of desperation, I forced myself to date a man in 2007. It ended in disaster, because no matter how hard I tried, I could not feel any attraction toward him, and despite his efforts, I became a shell of my former self, a puppet to his whims, until one day he pushed me so hard, that I sat in a pool of my own blood.
My Americorps teammates saved me from that wreckage of a relationship, and they walked with me during the final months of our projects. They spoke about being gay in a very different way than my Christian friends and family, and they spoke not with condemnation but with acceptance: “It’s okay to be gay.” Such a thought astonished me, because that was not the narrative I had heard. I’d heard so many Christians say again and again: “It’s not okay to be gay.”
Which was the truth? I’d reached a crossroads, and to find the truth, I had to let go of everything. The day had come, where I stood beside that lake, and turned and left everything behind. I had to break the chains of fear and finally step into the light. Out of the closet, through the fires of discrimination and pain, and finally into the greatest peace I’d ever known: the moment where I finally accepted myself and celebrated who I was without fear.
The journey was hard; it was painful, and it took me years, where I not only fought these inner demons but also fought to heal from other traumas that littered my life. I had purge myself of the thought that I was broken and an abomination. I had to learn how to love myself as I am.
As I went to the wedding reception after the Mass this weekend, I felt that familiar fear that the narrative I’d fought so hard to expel from my life might rear its ugly head again. But it didn’t. Instead, I discovered yet again that I wasn’t alone in this journey. That I hadn’t ever been alone. I had allies. I had friends who supported me as I am. In my darkest moments when the confusion and pain and fear threatened to choke the life from my body, even then, I hadn’t been alone. Because as dark and painful as my story seems at times, I realize now that for every handful of people who sought to change me and/or hurt me, there was at least one who sought to celebrate me as I am.
It is my hope that in writing this I unveil the harmful narrative that darkened so many years of my life. To reveal it for what it is: a falsehood that lead me astray and those close to me astray. It is my hope that I can free myself from that narrative, but also, in writing this, I can free others from it.
So now I set forth on a new journey, where I live my life of love as myself. Free to be me.
Addendum: There is far more to my story, and my journey didn’t end here, for once I came to accept my sexuality, I found that my gender identity was a great bundle of confusion. This proved even harder to admit to others. That story is yet to come.