So here’s how coming out to my parents went down . . .

On June 19, 2013, Exodus International announced it was closing its doors, and I decided to come out to my parents.

I spent the next two months writing a four page letter explaining how I realized I liked women, what the process of coming to terms with that had been like for me, and how I currently feel about same sex relationships.  (Spoiler:  Conflicted.  Because of reasons.)  I tried to think of the objections or concerns they might have and addressed those as well.  Parts of that letter became posts on this blog.  Other parts will probably never see the light of day.  It is probably the most honest and vulnerable I have been with my parents since I told them I was afraid I was going to kill myself in 2009.

In retrospect, it might have been better to go with my plan of sending them “Proud Parent of a Lesbian” shirts and laughing maniacally while they freaked out.  That would have at least been a funnier story.

I sent my four page letter (FOUR PAGES) by email around midnight on Saturday, August 24th.  In the first paragraph, I asked them to read the entire letter, discuss it, process a little, and call me when they were ready to talk.  Since my father rarely leaves the house without checking his email, I assumed that they would get my letter first thing, spend several hours processing, and call me by early afternoon.  I had asked one of my friends to be on emergency standby, and she was planning on feeding me dinner that evening and listening to me cry about how badly it went.  (I was pretty much 100% sure it was going to suck.)

Unfortunately, my plan failed to take into account the fact that my father was teaching a Saturday parenting seminar that week, which meant that he rushed out of the house early that morning without checking his email and then proceeded to check it on his phone during one of his co-presenter’s sections.

Oops.

SOOOOO . . . at 10:30am, I get a call from my father, who is standing outside the parenting class, trying to keep his voice down but also freaking completely out.  Our conversation:

Dad:  Did you send your mother the same email you sent me.

Me:  Umm . . . yes.

Dad:  Well . . . I hope she doesn’t get it while she’s home alone today.  This is going to kill your mother.  I don’t think she’ll ever recover.

Me:  *awkward silence*

Dad:  We’ll call you tonight when I get home.  DON’T TALK TO YOUR MOTHER UNTIL I GET HOME.

Me:  *awkward silence*

Dad:  *hangs up*

And so, I waited.  And waited.  And threw up the lunch I forced myself to eat.  And waited some more.

I got a call from my parent’s house around 4:30.  I was pretty sure my dad’s seminar was over at 2, so I assumed it was them.  It was my Mom.  She hadn’t checked her email.  We talked about laundry and the sales she found at the grocery store that morning.  She kept asking if I was okay.  Apparently I sounded odd.

Then I waited some more.

Finally, just after 7 that evening, they called.  The conversation only lasted 30 minutes, and there was a lot of awkward silence.  I think they were waiting for me to apologize or fix it or explain myself, but I sent them a four page letter that I spent two months writing.  I’d said all I had to say.

Almost the first thing my mother said was, “You’re our daughter, and we will always love you, but we cannot accept your choice.”

There was a lot of pointed use of the word choice.  There was a lot of “we love you, but we don’t like this.”  They were unhappy that I had not chosen to come out in person, especially since they had seen me in person just a week and a half before.  They weren’t willing to discuss it over the phone, so we’re apparently waiting for Christmas to “really” talk about it.

It wasn’t as bad as thought it was going to be.  There was no yelling.  No one got disowned.  I was not called any ugly names.  I was not accused of being demon possessed.  They seem to believe me when I say I have not become promiscuous or a partier.  (Actual things conservative parents assume/worry about in the context of homosexuality.)  They didn’t tell me I’m going to hell, but they did tell me I should be grateful they weren’t telling me I’m going to hell, so I’m not actually putting that one in the “win” column.

I didn’t realize how physically hard coming out to my parents would be.  For about five days on either side of the day I came out, everything I ate made me sick.  After my stomach calmed down, I had a migraine that lasted four days.  I stopped sleeping.  I was exhausted all the time.  It’s really only in the last few days that I’ve felt mostly normally again, at least on a physical level.

I knew that this would be emotionally difficult, and I spent some time in therapy processing and preparing for that this summer.  It turns out I worried about the wrong things, though.  I was not prepared for how angry my parents would be that I was coming out to them.  Not even that I was gay.  That was a whole different issue (about which they were still very angry).  One of them actually said that this (my coming out) would “just make things awkward.”  They seemed to feel that I was throwing this horrible, rebellious thing that I had done in their faces.  My mother told me she felt like I must hate them.  They didn’t understand or acknowledge at all that I was afraid of their response or that this was emotionally difficult for me.  One of them actually asked me at one point, “Why are you crying?”

I was also not really prepared to deal with this strange, subtle subtext of rejection in the wake of my coming out.  (Probably because I expected blatant, violent rejection.)  My father and I didn’t speak for a little over a week after I came out.  I’m still not sure if it was intentional or if he just happened not to be around at all every single time my mother called me.  My mother and I have continued to check in every day, as has been our habit for years now, but it’s not the same.  We sound cheerful.  We talk about the same things.  But it’s obvious she can’t wait to get off the phone.

My mother has asked me every Sunday since I left home for college whether I went to church that day.  If she doesn’t remember to ask on Sunday for some reason, she always brings it up on Monday.  The last two weeks, she hasn’t asked at all.

And I have no idea what to do.

It’s hard to hear someone say “I love you,” when you know that they find such an incredibly important part of your personality and identity disgusting and sinful.  It’s hard to know that my parents don’t trust my experiences and perceptions enough to even consider questioning their own beliefs on this issue.  I’ve asked myself so many hard questions this year, and I am still living in the tension of some of those.  It’s hard to know that my own family is unwilling to climb down with me and sit with the uncomfortableness of all this.

I’ve told this story half a dozen times now.  I still haven’t been able to look anyone in the eye as I tell it.  Part of me is ashamed.  Part of me feels like my parents unwillingness or intransigence indicates some unworthiness on my part, as though maybe if I were a better daughter or a better person or a better Christian, they would trust me more.  They would love me in the ways I need them to love me.

And the strange, complicated truth is that my parents do love me, despite everything, and loving me is a very real sacrifice for them.  I am not the daughter they expected, not the daughter they thought would be the outcome of their parenting, not the daughter they prayed for and hoped for and dreamed of.  Despite the fact that they followed the vanilla cake recipe and somehow ended up with funfetti anyway, they love me in the best way they know how.  Sometimes that’s painful for me, and I regularly debate with myself how much their good intentions should excuse.  But I have to keep that love and those good intentions in the forefront of my mind because it’s what allows me to keep trying.

Standard

Rehteah Parsons and Rape Culture

I’ve been reading about Rehteah Parsons the last couple of days.  I saw a quote somewhere that called it “Halifax’s own Steubenville.”  And I just have to wonder . . . how many times is this going to happen?  How many times before we stop talking about it and do something?

When did rape become funny?  When did forcing someone who can’t or won’t consent to have sex become a prank?  When did it become acceptable to spread pictures of it around?  This isn’t saran-wrapping someone’s car or filling it with foam peanuts.  This is someone’s life.

The script in the media after the Steubenville trial read, “She may have suffered for one night, but this will end these boys’ entire lives.”  Rape is not something that lasts one night or a couple of days while you heal up or even a few weeks.  Rape affects its survivors for the rest of their lives.  On top of the initial, physical trauma, rape survivors suffer emotional trauma that leads to PTSD, sleep disturbances, and relationship problems for years.  Rape survivors often have huge medical bills to pay from ER visits, follow-ups, and ongoing testing to make sure that they didn’t catch anything from the rapist.  HIV testing continues for a year after a potential exposure, so the survivor is subjected to the emotionally draining process of getting tested multiple times over the course of a year, each time dreading and worrying about the results.  Young rape survivors may have to drop out of school because of the complications they experience after being raped.

We have to change our understanding of what rape is.  Rape is a serious crime that has long-lasting physical, emotional and financial effects on its survivors.  Rape is generally not perpetrated by strangers or by poor men of color.  Rape is not perpetrated by the monster in the closet or by Hannibal Lector.  Rape is most often perpetrated by someone the victim knows.  Rape is not something that anyone asks for.  There is no continuum of “legitimacy” for rape.

We know these things.  But the media still portrays rape as a crime committed by strangers, usually poor men of color.  We still talk about women who are “asking for it” by being out late, dressing a certain way, or drinking too much.  We still tell our daughters to be careful about a million tiny things.  We still slut-shame and laugh at jokes that demean or dehumanize.  We still refuse to talk to our kids about sex in meaningful, healthy ways.  We still talk about women as if they are property, often public property.  We still insist that a woman’s rightful place is under a man.  (And yes, I meant that in all of its potentially disturbing double-entendre.)  We still refuse to think about the culture that our words and actions create, a culture in which rape is apparently the equivalent of an April Fool’s joke.

We can do better than this.  We have to do better than this.

Standard

One Step Forward . . .

I’ve put this off as long as humanly possible, and it’s still really scary to think about, but . . .

I think it’s time to go back to therapy.

I don’t want to.  It feels like defeat.  I want to be in a place where I can handle things on my own.  But I have to admit to myself that the tell-tale signs are there, and I need some help dealing with some of the questions I’m asking myself right now.

I’m not sleeping well.  I’ve been getting about five hours a night, but last night I had one of those restless, insomniac nights reminiscent of the period right before everything went to hell in a hand basket in college.  I eventually got up, read some fluff fiction and had a glass of wine to help me relax, but that’s not exactly a reasonable long term strategy.  I’m in graduate school.  I’m busy, and my schedule is only going to get stretched thinner as the semester winds down.  I need to be able to sleep!

Additionally, I’m getting that itchy, strained feeling that I associate with the impulse to self-injure.  I struggled with self-injury off and on throughout college, but I’ve been completely free of both the habit and the impulse for almost two years.  The last couple of weeks, however, I find myself wishing that I hadn’t thrown away that box of razor blades when I moved.  This tells me that something is wrong.

I know what the issues I need to work out are.  I know why they are problematic, and I know that I’m probably not going to be able to work them out gracefully on my own.  I know where the counseling center on campus is and how to go about procuring an appointment.

I just have to pick up the phone.

Asking for help is hard.  I’m not good at it.  Asking for help requires vulnerability, and I tend to envision myself as a strong, self-sufficient woman.  I don’t need a man . . . nor anybody else.  I can do this on my own, thank you very much.

But lately, I’ve been increasingly aware of how important community is.  I want to be in relationship with others.  I want to have friendships and mentorships and people I can trust and rely on.  I want to be part of a church family that knows me and loves me, warts and all, and will support me and help me and challenge me and cheer me on.  I want to be able to give back to that community in some way, to be a valued and valuable member.

I’ve been in a lot of bad relationships, both inside and outside the church, and I know that going back to therapy is part of fixing that.  I need to learn to be comfortable with myself, to relate to myself well, in order to really be comfortable in relationship with others.

So this week, I’m making the call.

Standard

Sometimes I’m the Cowardly Lion

I really want to write about my issues with the professional ministry, and I’m terrified.

Actually, I probably want to write a series of posts because it’s a big topic about which I have a lot of feelings, but that’s not the point.  The point is I’m not sure I can do it.

I’m afraid of being heard.  I come from a family where children are meant to be quiet and women submissive.  I come from a denomination where people still debate the “appropriateness” of having female missionaries on a Sunday morning, and even if they get a chance to speak they may not be asked to preach.  I spent three years in leadership in a campus ministry where I was regularly encouraged to step back and wait for one of the men to lead, to the point that I sometimes wondered if they were emphasizing “godly male leadership” at the risk of having no leadership at all.

I’m afraid of being wrong.  I’m afraid that my arguments will be poorly thought out or poorly supported.  After all, I’m not a theologian.  I’m not a biblical scholar.  I have a degree in religion from a secular university, but I’ve always felt undereducated about my faith and under-qualified to have my own opinions.  I’m afraid that I’ll be too emotional.  This is an issue that gets me hot under the collar.  I was raised by a card-carrying Assemblies of God minister, and it left me with a less-than-neutral opinion on the issue.  I’ve been messed on by the church.  I’ve seen first-hand how painful and politicized and ugly the ministry can be.  I’ve seen how it creates unbalanced power structures, how it can become an insider’s only club, and how it can leave people bitter, hurt, and empty.  I’m not sure I can approach this issue without a bit of bias.

The truth is I feel like that about most important issues.  I don’t like confrontation.  I’m embarrassed to be wrong.  I’m not comfortable speaking out in a group that I’m not sure agrees with me.

I don’t want to be that person.

I know that I’m not the only person who struggles with this.  In fact, Sarah Bessey, a published author, recently wrote a great post on learning to own her authority as she edited her second book.  I think my concern is that I’m not sure I have any authority.  I’m not a well-respected anything.  I’m just a 20-something student with a blog, trying to figure things out.

But maybe that’s the point.  Maybe that’s the thing that makes it okay to be wrong.  I don’t have to know everything to have a starting point for a discussion.

So there’s a series coming on my issues with the professional ministry.  It probably won’t be the last topic I discuss that I feel insecure about.  But I hope that in posting I will learn something about myself and my readers and that maybe we can learn something from each other.

Standard