Carrie Newcomer has a song in which the key line goes: “and frame my life into before and after.”
In her introductory notes she says “There are experiences by which we mark our lives … Some of these experiences are small moments that we did not realize at the time would affect us so profoundly.”
For me, one such experience was the moment that I knew I was a lesbian. I was 7 or 8 years old and I was walking to school in my little hometown in Nebraska. I happened to notice a young woman looking out a second story window. She glanced out the window just as I happened to glance up. I have never lost that image, nor the way it made my insides twist. Of course, I had no word for how I felt.
It is only in retrospect that I understand the significance of that moment, in which I became aware of my sexual orientation.
I grew up American Baptist in the Midwest. By the time I was in high school I knew two things for sure: that I was gay and that being gay was the most heinous of all sins, more heinous than murder or rape, because the sin was not in what I did, but in what I was. I could not reconcile my knowledge of my sexual orientation with the teaching about a loving God. I struggled through some very dark years, coming very close to suicide on more than one occasion.
When I was 19 years old another experience framed my life into “before and after.” Having finally reached the conclusion that I could not possibly be both gay and Christian, and that I would have to choose one or the other, I decided that I would be Christian. I locked my gay self in the darkest, deepest corners of myself, prayed with the faith of all the saints that God would make it go away, and for the next 29 years, I lived my life as if it was not there. Or at least I tried to. I attended a Christian college, married a Christian man, had two beautiful daughters, joined a Christian women’s group and in many ways became a pillar of the Christian community.
I claimed that I had been “healed” of homosexuality.
However, I always had a close woman friend. No matter where we moved to, or which social circles I found myself in, there was always one special woman friend in my life. None of those friendships was any more than that on the surface, but I was always looking for an intimacy of heart that I never had with my husband. I had told him about my ‘past’ before we married, and though he never talked about it, he used that as his reason for leaving me in 2007. He had always been jealous of my female friends, so it gave him a convenient out. It was only after he left that I began again to explore my sexuality.
I met Alison, who is now my wife, in 2004 and we both remember clearly the moment we fell in love in 2006. Never mind that we were both married to men at the time. Our attraction was overwhelmingly mutual and compelling. Keeping the relationship platonic took every bit of our strength on both sides, but we could not stop the ever deepening emotional intimacy. I had finally found the relationship I had been looking for, the love of my life. I eventually “came out” to myself as gay. I still believed that I could not possibly be both gay and Christian, so this time I chose to be gay. Christianity was something I could choose, being gay was clearly not. It hurt to give up on God, but it hurt more to keep denying myself.
In 2008 I went back to school to become a Certified Medical Assistant and in late 2009 Alison, who is a family physician, opened a private practice office with me as her office manager and only staff member. Working together only strengthened and deepened our bond. Alison would often say, “I’m not gay, I’m just in love with a woman.” So I expected to spend the rest of my life loving Alison, but in the closet. However, in 2010, Alison learned about a movie series being put on by Collegiate United Methodist Church (CUMC) about being gay and Christian. We were both still convinced that such a thing could not be done, but out of curiosity, we went.
It was the first inkling I had ever had that such a thing COULD be done.
A few months later, Scott, the senior pastor at CUMC, led a bible study on the passages which seem to condemn homosexuality.
A herd of elephants could not have kept me away.
Here was the senior pastor of a mainline Christian denomination teaching the Bible in a new way, a way that not only allowed me to be gay and Christian, that not only taught me that God perhaps actually MADE me this way (which would explain why God never bothered to unmake me being this way), but actually taught me that my sexual orientation is a gift from God, a blessing to the church and other believers. OMG! I cannot overstate the power of that realization.
I had been given permission to have my relationship with God back, without having to sacrifice my ‘self.’
God actually WAS loving, not capricious and mean. I was not the most heinous of sinners. I could love myself and I could love Alison AND I could love God. Well! Alison and I became members of CUMC in 2012, but it was not until 2013 that Alison finally accepted herself as gay, left her husband (as gently as such a thing can be done) and moved in with me.
We married on July 4, 2014. We were surrounded by our dear family of faith from CUMC, with the complete support of both of our families and many others, but Scott did not officiate our wedding, and CUMC did not host the ceremony. Why? Because of the hateful, hurtful, harmful wording of the current UMC Book of Discipline.
This dichotomy, where on the one hand we are loved and supported and nurtured by this wonderful family of faith at CUMC, and on the other hand we are rejected and harmed by that very same church, has led to equal measures of great joy and great hurt.
A loving God would not perpetuate such hurt. It is a dichotomy that Alison and I cannot continue to live with. What hope we have lies with General Conference in 2016, but I’m here to tell you that if 2016 goes no better than 2012 did, we will leave the United Methodist Church simply for the preservation of our souls.
I am finally whole, and wholeness is too precious to ever lose again.