Hearts in Your Eyes

I’ve never quite been able to figure out if the fact that the acronym for Singles Awareness Day would be SAD is purposeful or sad happenstance, but I’m sitting in my office writing cover letters on February 14, so I’m definitely leaning towards purposeful.

Valentine’s Day has never bothered me before. In high school, I bought cards and presents for my female friends. In college and grad school, I mostly buried my head in my books and pretended nothing was happening. I joked about celebrating Half Price Chocolate Day on February 15 and assumed that I would eventually have someone to celebrate with.

It’s not that singleness is bothering me this year. I’m perfectly happy being single. The girlfriend dumped me back in October, and it was as awful as I’m assuming most first heartbreaks are, but I’m mostly over it. I know that there will be other loves and other relationships in the right time. It’s not the singleness.

It’s the aloneness.

When you become estranged from your family, you don’t just lose contact with a few people. You lose a community, a sense of history, and a sense that someone has your back. You lose the knowledge that there are people who are tied to you through blood and tears and however many years of hard work it took to make you the person you are today. Even if there isn’t a lot of love there, or even if the relationships are dysfunctional, there is something about having a family that means having a safety net. I didn’t want to move home, but I always knew that if something happened, it was an option. Now, there is no option. There is no safety net. There is no sense of history or community. There is no one I have regular contact with who knew me before the age of 14.

I’ve been job hunting for months, and I’m not getting anything back. I’ve had interviews, but no one calls to let me know I’ve been rejected. My friends have mostly moved away, and I’m the only one who stayed here who isn’t working yet.

I’m starting to feel a little invisible.

There’s supposed to be a happy, hopeful end to this. I’m supposed to make a Princess Diaries reference and then talk about how God always sees us. And God does always see us. And it’s important to remember that. But right now, I don’t want to be happy or hopeful. Right now, I want to eat my weight in chocolate. I want to scream and cry and throw things. I want to go to sleep and not have to wake up. Because life is hard, and I’m doing everything right, and it’s not getting less hard. I’m still always broke and usually alone. I still feel unseen and unheard most of the time. I still feel like most of the people in my life forget about me if I’m not directly in front of them, and that’s not a fun feeling.

Right now, I want more than anything to be seen.

I hope you had a wonderful Valentine’s Day. I hope you felt loved and cherished and special. I hope someone hugged you. I hope someone was happy to see you. I hope that you go to sleep tonight with the knowledge that you matter to someone.

Tomorrow, try to see someone. Whether it’s the homeless man begging for change at the intersection or the person who hands you a bulletin at church or the person you sit across the breakfast table from, try to acknowledge someone you usually wouldn’t in a really meaningful way. Maybe that means listening to them. Maybe it means sharing a meal or a cup of coffee. Maybe it just means making eye contact.

Go forth and see.

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For Parents: When Your Child Comes Out

Ben Moberg over at Registered Runaway recently wrote a really great post about how to respond when your child comes out. Ben’s writing is fabulous, as always, but it really got me thinking about what I would have appreciated from my parents when I came out. I thought I would offer a few thoughts here for conservative parents struggling to deal with their child’s disclosure. I’ve put it into a list of “do’s and don’ts” to make it easier (and less preachy).

I’d love to see thoughts on this from parents, as I’m still learning about how to deal with my own family situation and am not a parent myself.

 

Don’t make it about you.

You will probably have a lot of emotions when your child comes out. You may be angry or scared. You may feel hurt. You may worry that you were a bad parent or wonder what people will think. And in the heat of the moment, you may blame your child for all of these emotional conflicts. You may feel like his or her coming out is something that is being done to you.

  • Do think about what your child needs.

Coming out is hard and scary, even when you know that the people on the receiving end of your disclosure are allies. It is exponentially more difficult and terrifying when you know that your news won’t be received well.

It is easy to see your child’s coming out as him or her drawing a line on the sand, standing against you. It is easy to see it as an act of defiance or rebellion. However, consider it from your child’s perspective. He or she is confiding in you, sharing an important part of his or her life. For the person coming out, it is an invitation to deeper intimacy and more honest relationship.

Your child doesn’t need to hear that he or she is ruining your life, destroying your reputation, or behaving rebelliously. She probably does need to be reassured that she is still loved, still welcomed, and still supported. He needs to know that the risk he has taken by letting you in will be respected, not repudiated.

  • Do find someone to talk to about what you need.

The fact that your child doesn’t necessarily need to hear about all of your initial reactions doesn’t mean that they aren’t valid or that you don’t need to express them somewhere. Find a trusted friend, talk to your pastor, or see a counselor. Contact someone from the Marin Foundation’s list of parents or get in touch with your local PFLAG chapter. You aren’t alone in this, and it’s difficult for you, too. You deserve support and help.

Don’t preach.

If you have a conservative viewpoint on homosexuality, your kid probably already knows that. In fact, your child has probably been bracing herself for your impromptu sermon on Romans 1. But stop and think before you get out your Strong’s Concordance or your Giant Study Bible of Doom. Going immediately for the theological reasons that you cannot accept this news tells your child two things. First, it implies that your religious beliefs are more important than your relationship with your son or daughter. And maybe, in an abstract sense, that’s true, but it might be nice to give yourself some space to find a middle ground that both values your relationship with your child and remains faithful to your religious ideals. Maybe. I’m just saying that might be a thing you would be interested in.

Second, jumping straight into a sermon entrenches you in a particular position and shuts down the opportunity for dialogue. Your child likely did not come to this unprepared. Most people don’t come out on a whim. Most people don’t realize they’re gay and impulsively start telling people. This is likely something that your child has put a lot of thought into. He or she has probably considered the issue from all angles and has some well-researched, well thought-out ideas about what this means for his or her life and spirituality.

  • Do listen to what your child is saying.

Your child has put a lot of thought and effort into this. Give him a chance to tell his story, and respect him as an honest and reliable narrator. Understand that her experiences and emotions are valid, and try to understand her point of view. Receiving this kind of disclosure may not be comfortable. Be willing to sit in that discomfort rather than reacting to or running from it.

  • Do ask them for resources.

It’s likely that your child has at least done a Google search about being gay. It’s distinctly possible that she has joined discussion boards, read blogs and books, and generally done her homework about what it means to be gay and, if she is a person of faith, what it means to be gay and Christian. She may still be working through all of the information and deciding what she thinks, or she may have developed a firm, nuanced understanding of how her faith and sexuality interact. Regardless, asking what your child has been reading, listening to, and thinking about is another way of showing that you value his point of view and respect his ideas and opinions.

  • Do look for resources yourself.

Your child probably won’t have all the answers, especially to the questions that are particularly concerning to you. Fortunately, the internet is full of resources for those struggling to understand this issue. I’m sure that some of your favorite authors, pastors, and preachers have done some writing about the topic, and that’s a place to start. However, I would encourage you to move outside of your comfort zone and read other ideas, even ones you disagree with. You never know where you will find something interesting or helpful. The Marin Foundation and the Gay Christian Network are both great places to start. Also, Slacktivist has a whole list of LGBTQ+ Christian bloggers, which can give you some valuable insight into how your child may be feeling. If you’re looking for blogs by parents, check out Linda Robertson or Susan Cottrell.

Don’t despair.

This is not the end of the world. This is not even the end of your relationship with your son or daughter. Coming out is difficult for everyone involved, but it can also be an opportunity for growth, both in your relationship with your child and in your walk with God.

  • Do take hope in the diverse ways that Christians are finding to reconcile faith and sexuality.

There has never been a better time to be queer and Christian. The internet is humming with dialogue about this issue, and people from all sorts of faith traditions are talking about ways to live more genuinely into their sexual orientation or gender identity without compromising their relationship with God.

  • Do realize you’re not alone.

You are not the first parent to hear their child say those words, and you won’t be the last. It can be tempting to hide from what is happening, but if you are willing to reach out, you will find yourself in the midst of a beautifully supportive community.

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On Cakes and Inclusion

Alternatively, The Easter Post I’ve Been Trying To Write for Two Months.

On the Saturday before Easter, I baked a cake.

Lent was a hard season this year. I set myself impossible tasks (as I always do), and I failed miserably at them (as I always have). I finally started dating the woman I’d been falling in love with for months, only to have a friend I thought was supportive tell me I’d “lost [my] moral compass.” World Vision set a queer-friendly HR policy, resulting in the loss of several thousand child sponsorships over two days. My friends threw me a fabulous birthday party, and my parents sent me the most perfunctory birthday card ever.

I felt over and over again through those 40 days as though lines were constantly being drawn, placing me outside of groups that once welcomed me with open arms.

So on the Saturday before Easter, I baked a cake.

On Easter morning, I got up at 5am. I put the casserole I had assembled the night before in the oven and dressed in layers. The girlfriend and I headed out into the unseasonable pre-dawn chill to my church’s sunrise service. We met in a park and watched the sun rise over the trees. We sang hymns and baptized a baby and listened to the story of the women at the empty tomb. Afterwards, we walked to the pastor’s house for a potluck drunk brunch.

My church’s motto is “Everyone, everyone, everyone.” They mean it. We’re smack dab in the middle of a gentrifying neighborhood in the queerest city in the South. We’ve got a little bit of everything: academics, queers, feminists, homeless folks, and homeschoolers. I’m always astounded by how openly we’re all made welcome. It’s an extravagant sort of love, a transgressive kind of grace.

All through Lent, I struggled to make peace with what’s going on between me and my parents. I keep worrying that this is something I’m doing to myself. I don’t have to be alone like this. They would pick up the phone if I called. They even reached out a couple of times at the beginning of the semester, asking for updates or expecting me to get over my snit and start speaking to them again. But at the same time, they are the ones drawing the lines that leave me out. In coming out, I attempted to include them. In telling me I was going to hell, being influenced by demons, defying God and them, they are drawing a line between us and then asking why I’m on the other side. Every time they made loud commentary in my direction about LGBTQ news stories, excluded me from a meal or conversation, or refused to acknowledge my identity, they were reaffirming that division.

On my parents’ 25th anniversary, my mother did the math and announced that she and my father had moved 12 times during their marriage. That averages to around every other year. Needless to say, we rarely lived around extended family, so we almost always travelled for holidays. Easter was the only exception, since it always falls on Sunday, so Easter became our holiday. My mother has made the same meal every year since I can remember: roast pork loin, hashbrown casserole, asparagus, spinach salad, deviled eggs, yeast rolls, and . . . The Easter Cake.

The Easter Cake was the centerpiece of the meal. It’s a two-layer dark chocolate cake, ridiculously moist, with a creamy, whipped frosting. Mom always made it the night before so it could sit in the fridge and soak up part of the frosting over night. She served it cold with pastel sprinkles in the shape of rabbits and ducks.

I have never been homesick in my life, but last year I almost got in my car and drove home during Holy Week. Since that wasn’t really practical, I asked my mother to email me her recipes and cooked the traditional Easter dinner for my friends, complete with The Easter Cake. Mom was ecstatic. Apparently your daughter’s first holiday meal is a big deal because she made me take pictures of everything so she could show her friends at work. Even thousands of miles away, I knew I was part of something special. I was making the same recipes that my mother and grandmother had made. I was carrying on a tradition of friendship and hospitality that I learned at my mother’s knee.

So on the Saturday before Easter, I baked a cake. The Easter Cake. And on Sunday afternoon, I welcomed my friends into my apartment where they demolished most of a 9 pound ham, a double recipe of hashbrown casserole, two pounds of asparagus, a giant spinach salad, 36 deviled eggs, two dozen yeast rolls, and about two-thirds of The Easter Cake. (My friends are grad students. HUNGRY grad students who were all writing their theses and had not a home-cooked meal in weeks.)

There were no pictures this year, and I’m fairly certain my mother did no bragging the next day at work. But on some level, I am keeping the faith that I am still a part of that family, still a part of the family of faith, still a PART, because the blood of Christ, the love of Christ, the death-conquering power of Christ washes away all the lines. After all, they’re only drawn in sand.

So on the Saturday before Easter, I baked a cake, knowing that many miles away, my mother was doing the same thing. It tasted like hope.

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Some Days You Can’t Pretend

I’m having one of those days where I just can’t. I’m exhausted with holding back the grief and getting on with life. I’m exhausted with keeping a stiff upper lip. I’m exhausted with going to therapy and taking my meds and meditating. I’m exhausted with the fear and anger and isolation of being a queer woman from a conservative Christian community.

My girlfriend and I went to a friend’s house last night to watch The Normal Heart, a movie adaptation of the semi-autobiographical play by the same name written by famous gay rights advocate Larry Kramer. I knew it was going to be sad. It’s about the beginning of the AIDS epidemic and the crisis it caused among gay men in NYC. I didn’t expect it to hit quite so close to home. I didn’t expect it to poke quite so perfectly at all the sore spots I’ve been guarding these last few months. I didn’t expect to go home with my girlfriend last night, turn off the lights, and start sobbing.

A couple of months ago, after yet another friend from back home felt the need to tell me that I’m heading down a bad path because I’ve finally come to terms with my sexuality, one of my friends from school told me, “I’m sorry you’re having such a 1980’s after-school-special coming out. It’s not supposed to be like this anymore.”

My parents did not come to my graduation. Instead, about a week after, I received several cards in the mail. One from “them” (obviously written and signed by my mother) assuring me that they watched the livestream of the graduation and were very proud of my accomplishments. One from their church, a group of people that I have never met, and one from a couple from their church (also whom I have never met). The couple also sent me a $50 check and included a note about how they are looking forward to meeting me eventually, but assuring me that they understand how young people want to see their friends when they come home for the holidays.

Since I am terrible at remembering to check my mail, I just received these yesterday. As we sat in the living room staring at them, my girlfriend tentatively suggested that it was nice that my parents finally sent a card. “I guess,” I replied.

But really, it’s not. Really, I don’t want their card. I don’t want them to act like the good guys, waiting for me to repent of my sins and come back to them like the prodigal son. I don’t want them to act like I’m part of their church family, when I know that an openly gay couple would never be accepted there. I don’t want them to be able to reduce our feud and the five months of silence since to a selfish, impulsive visit to my friends.

There’s a scene in The Normal Heart where Ned, the main character, confronts his brother about his homophobic behavior. The character demands that the brother say out loud that they are equals. The brother refuses, and Ned storms out, vowing not to speak to his brother again until he changes.

I am not refusing to speak to my parents because of a petty spat we had about visiting my friends. I am refusing to speak to my parents because they are refusing to acknowledge me as equally beloved, equally forgiven, and equally welcome in the community of faith. I am refusing to speak to my parents because they consider my relationship something wrong and dirty. I am refusing to speak to my parents or welcome them into my life because they are only willing to accept bits and pieces of me, and I am tired of trying to trim myself down to fit their perfect, paper-doll image.

And as angry as I am, I am also heartbroken. It feels like I’ve been bleeding to death from a thousand paper cuts for months. There are days when my chest hurts so much I can’t breathe. The grief and sense of loss that comes with this kind of separation is constantly being reawakened. Just when I think the wound is scabbed over and healing, there’s a holiday or a birthday or some milestone or the other that reminds me that my parents aren’t willing to share fully in my life or to allow me fully into theirs. Just when I think I’ve got a good handle on things, I’ll see my brother posting about a visit home or one of my parents saying something encouraging on his Facebook wall, and I feel abandoned and lost all over again.

I feel incredibly blessed in so many ways. I have wonderful friends, a loving church, and an amazing girlfriend. But I still want my family.

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We’re All A Little Fucked Up (But It Gets Better)

I haven’t spoken to my parents in two weeks.  My mother called twice and left one message.  She sounded off.  Not quite angry, but definitely a little curt.  Maybe uncertain?  I can’t imagine she knows what to do now anymore than I do.

Part of me wants to end the stalemate.  I could call and pretend like everything is alright, but everything isn’t alright and bullshitting my way through a conversation won’t actually help.  Things were said that can’t be unsaid, and behind every bit of pleasant small-talk, I’m going to hear “abandoning your soul to eternal damnation” and “that church is a cult” and “this is rebellion.”  It makes me wonder whether they’re constantly hearing “I’m gay.”

Part of me wishes she would keep calling.  For years, I’ve been the “black sheep” of the family, the one who didn’t quite fit.  I’ve always been half-afraid that my parents wouldn’t miss their squeaky wheel all that much.  Seeing her number show up makes me feel sad and uncomfortable, but also a little more loved.

Being part of a family is complicated.  It comes with so many rules and expectations, so much baggage, that it’s a wonder any of us become sane adults.  And everyone’s family is a little fucked up.  It’s just how the world is.  No one survives the passing on of however many thousands of years of accumulated history and war and politics and life and evolution without a few dents and dings.  Nobody comes out of a family without a few quirks.  No one’s childhood was actually like Leave it to Beaver.

But there’s “everyone’s family is a little fucked up” and then there’s “my parents might be living in an alternate reality that only exists inside their heads.”  There’s quirky and then there’s I-can’t-talk-to-you-regularly-and-also-function-like-a-real-human-being.  We’re officially on the bad end of that spectrum in a lot of ways.

Baggage isn’t the only thing I left home with, though.  In many ways, I’m quite proud of my family.  I come from a long line of amazing women, strong individuals who made it work for their families despite difficult circumstances.  I come from people of incredible faith, and the fruits of that faith can be seen in churches planted, lives changed, and ministries grown.  Both of my parents were raised by blue collar workers but went on to finish college.  My father even has a master’s degree, and my mother is considering going back to school to get an MBA.  These are the stories I grew up on and the shoulders I stand on to accomplish anything in my life.

Sometimes when I’m cooking dinner or driving home, I really want to call my mom, but it’s not actually MY MOM that I want to talk to.  It’s this hypothetical version of my mom who divorced my dad sometime during my college years and stuck up for me when I was depressed and supported me when I decided to get an MPH instead of an MD and is always willing to listen and talk through things, even if she’s uncomfortable with them.  I think that the woman who is actually my mother would be capable of at least some of that if she weren’t also married to/enmeshed with my father.  It makes me sad.  I’d really like to meet that person, but I’m not sure she’ll ever actually exist.  Instead, I hope that I can become that person.  I hope that I can overcome some of the baggage my mom never got past and become the person that she couldn’t be.  And I hope that the next generation of our family will benefit from that.

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A Year in Review and One Word for 2014

I started this blog because I realized I was gay, and I felt like I didn’t have anyone to talk to about it.

(Saying that I realized I was gay is probably putting it too strongly.  It was more like I finally admitted to myself that I had been attracted to women for a long time and that might possibly mean something.  My first attempt at coming out was telling my best friend, “I think I might be not-exactly straight.”)

I made a lot of noise about New Year’s resolutions and discipline and sorting out my head and speaking my mind, but really . . . it was the gay thing.  I didn’t actually start writing about my sexuality until I was well into the process of coming out in real life, but in a way, this blog was a promise.  It was a promise to myself that someday I would be able to tell people.  Someday I would be able to admit to who I am.  Someday I wouldn’t be ashamed of myself.

I didn’t really expect that day to come so soon.

The past year (and a few days – this is a bit late) has been a big one for me.  I’ve discovered a whole queer Christian community where people like me are exploring what it means to live out faith in Christ as a sexual minority.  I’ve finally, really committed to being in therapy and sticking with it.  I’ve become part of a church where I really feel connected and at home for the first time in years.   I’ve found so many people (both old friends and new) that love and support me no matter what.  I’ve survived the first three semesters of my graduate degree program, built a great resume, and started applying for post-graduation opportunities.

I’ve also stopped talking to my parents.

Unfortunately, my Christmas break was a little more dramatic than I expected it to be.  After a long talk about my sexuality and several days of pointed commentary, I decided that while my parents are entitled to their opinions, it was neither necessary nor healthy for me to continue subject myself to their expressions of those opinions.  So I called my best friend and asked her to drive out and pick me up.  When I announced my intention to leave, my parents insisted that they had not created a hostile environment.  Instead, they maintained that I was experiencing the conviction of the Holy Spirit, and that by leaving instead of submitting to that conviction (and their spiritual authority) I was “abandoning [my] soul to eternal damnation.”

We haven’t spoken since, and I’m not sure when we’ll speak again.

For years now, my relationship with my parents has been a stitched-together monster made of half-kept secrets and grudging compromises.  I’ve wondered for a long time if the only way to heal it would be to burn it to the ground and start over.  I’ve also wondered more recently if anything will grow in the ashes of all this string and madness.  There’s a lot of dysfunction there, and a part of me thinks it might be wiser to salt the earth and move on.  My parents cling to their right-ness with the terrified fervor of martyrs, and I don’t know if our relationship will prove worth the courage necessary for them to step away from that security and venture into the unknown.  I don’t know if they will ever accept my queerness.  I don’t know if I will ever be truly welcomed there.

Ironically, on the way to the airport to fly back to my home state I decided that my word for 2014 would be Belonging.  This year I hope to live in three different cities on two continents.  That’s a lot of leaving.  But in all of that hoped-for wandering, I also want to explore what it means to belong.  Last year a lot of my learning and growing was about who I am.  This year, I want to spend more time thinking about who we are.  What does it mean to be part of a church?  A family (chosen or blood)?  A group of friends?  A community of similarly identifying folks?  What is it like to belong as a student?  An intern?  An expat?

I have never been good at belonging.  As a fiercely independent introvert, I tend to be a bit of a Lone Ranger.  As a child from a dysfunctional family, I tend to have trust issues.  But I want to get better at it.  I want to be able to welcome people into my life and to be welcomed fully into theirs.  I want to get better at the give and take of relationships.  I want to be able to play well with others.

Twenty-thirteen was a year of growth and change.  It was painful, but it was worth it.  I believe that 2014 can be similarly fruitful.

What are you hoping for this year?

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Five Ways I Decided Not To Come Out To My Parents

I cope with humor.  So this summer while I was planning how I was actually going to come out to my parents, I also amused myself by thinking up horrible but creative ways I could have come out had my parents been a little less likely to be horribly traumatized by it.  I present to you . . . the best five.

  1.  As a “Get Out of This Conversation Free” card.  We’ve all been there.  You’re home for the holidays and someone has gone off on the Tangent of No Return.  Maybe it’s about kids these days or the government or just a really awkward story that no one wants to hear again.  Well, this is your one chance to get out of THAT conversation by interrupting with “So I’m pretty sure I’m gay.”  It’s guaranteed to shut down anything else that’s going on in your immediate environment.  BONUS:  You may not hear that story/have that conversation for a while.
  2. A Rick Warren-style Tweet.  (If you have no idea what I’m talking about, follow the links.)  I don’t actually have a Twitter account, nor do my parents, but I can’t help but feel this would be hilarious.  You know . . . as long as you weren’t on the receiving end.  “Mom, Dad, I’m gay.  Can’t explain all the reasons here . . .”
  3. A cake.  Pretty much everyone in my family stress eats, so cake would be a good thing to have around in a crisis.  Also, cakes are generally associated with happy things like weddings, birthdays, Bar Mitzvahs, etc.  Cake is party food!  Bonus points if the cake is rainbow or confetti.  You win the internet if it is presented without comment or explanation.  “Mom, Dad, I made dessert tonight!”
  4. Family game night.  The possibilities for this one are endless.  Charades?  “Three words . . . first word . . . eye . . .”  Pictionary?  “Um . . . a rainbow?  Two girls holding hands?  Friends?  Sisters?  Oh!  Not sisters!  WHAT ARE THEY DOING????”  Or for slightly less dramatic impact, we could play Life and I would just put another pink figure in my car when it’s time to get married . . .
  5. Purchase t-shirts that say “I’m proud of my lesbian daughter.”  Ship to parents.  Include note that says, “I thought you might want to have something special to wear for Pride this year!  See you [dates of local Pride event].”  Subtle, but effective.

I hope this is the future.  I hope that someday coming out will be such a non-issue that kids will be able to bake cakes and play games and do fun, celebratory stuff.  Because coming out should be about celebrating who you are.  Coming out should be just another milestone of growing up and figuring yourself out.  It should feel as good as getting a college acceptance letter or find a hobby that you love.

And really, I hope that someday coming out becomes obsolete.  I hope that someday we get rid of the boxes and find a way to acknowledge that sexuality is complicated and dynamic and labels aren’t as important or useful as we want them to be.  I hope that if my teenage son or daughter tells me they are attracted to someone of the same gender, they won’t need me to tell them it’s alright.  They’ll already know.

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