There she stands, clutching the lectern, scanning the fireside room filled with all kinds of people. She clears her throat and flattens out her notes. She takes in a deep breathe, beams out a smile.
It is our LGBTQ night at church and she is my mom and she’s about to tell her story. All of the tears and laughter, hugs and anger, long stretches of silence and great leaps of joy that have led her down this uncertain road. This search for what it means to be a daughter of Christ and a mother of a gay son.
My brother and dad are with me and if you look at us, you might think that this has been a breeze. Don’t let the winks and nods fool you, our laughs are a long time coming. Take a walk down our memories of the last two years to a late night in October and you’d see how deep we were. You’d hear me choking out my secret, her heart breaking in half, and several, painful minutes in which she cannot breathe.
~ ~ ~
She’s in the bathroom and it’s cold and it’s dark and she cannot breath.
I can hear her as I sit balled up in the corner of her bed.
In and out and in and out and in and out.
She returns to my side still wiping her mascara, as together as she can manage to be, and she holds me tight. Tells me she loves me, deeply and she does. But she doesn’t understand. She needs someone else to be here to help her understand. Can she call dad? Is it okay to call dad? The moment has swallowed her whole and spit her out and she cannot breathe. She cannot breathe.
And I stare into those panicked and heartbroken eyes and, try as I might, I can’t place them in the woman that is beaming out at us tonight.
~ ~ ~
As unbelievable as it sounds, I think I first knew I was gay the morning my pastor said it was evil.
It was at the peak of my childhood, when I was ten and just beginning to really believe, trying to make this faith personal. In Sunday School and Youth Group, I learned all about the tenderness of Jesus and the more I understood it, the weaker at the knees I became. He was mine and I was his and there was nothing that mattered more.
Except that Sunday morning when he started in on the passages. I was doodling on the back of an offering envelope and with hearing a word, an involuntary instinct kicked in. An awakening. A stirring. My eyes flicked at him then up to the screen as he boomed. He read aloud about these people and their wickedness and I didn’t understand any of it, but I felt it. I felt it impale my protective shell of worth. I felt the church shrinking in and a sudden weight on my heart and the worst part of it all was when it hit me that it wasn’t even my pastor talking, it was God.
For the next ten years, that wound would never close. It would fester and flare up until finally, it would cripple me.
It occurred to me at twenty-one, at the bottom of my sadness, in this soul-screaming state, that I had nothing left to lose. So I went home. I crawled into bed with my mom. Cried for several minutes. And then, bitterly slow, I said it- out loud. For the first time. I am gay.
Releasing those words into the air set us off on a journey. One that led us into shadowed settings. Turned us against each another. tied us tighter than we’ve ever been before. And, in the end, led us forward, into the brilliant light of that life-saving thing called grace.
~ ~ ~
To a skeptical Christian couple over dinner, I heard that my dad had said, “Look, I was once just like you. It was a choice and a lifestyle and bad, but these last two years… God’s opened my eyes to so many new things. And I was once like you.”
And he’s talking about how he didn’t believe it. How my confession was too shocking to pierce his concrete conservative worldview. He loved me and he loved Jesus and the only way he knew how he could move forward was to deny that I was gay at all. That this was, more or less, a phase.
And it took some fighting words to get through to him. It took tears, from the both of us, for him to finally see. It took a shoved book to his chest and a night spent alone in study for him to brave the first steps forward, led by faith and curiosity and his profound love for me.
Though it was frustrating at the time, the truth is, I was the one that had started us down this road. I planted the idea of phase. Before all this had happened, in the first days out, I told them I didn’t want this. I wanted to be cured, I said, and I could. There were these brochures I had found, testimonies of men and women submitting their sin before the Lord only to then be struck by miraculous change. Heterosexuality- it was possible through God!
~ ~ ~
I’m at my first meeting and it’s raining outside. The man’s house is very dark and this whole meet up is unethical, but I do it because I’m desperate. He is not a bad man, he is good, but he is also misguided. He is not a therapist, he makes that clear, yet he still walks me through therapeutic drills that are dehumanizing and traumatic and when I finally leave the house, it is still raining. I know that I will never go back. I can never go back.
~ ~ ~
The ex-gay encounter hit me spiritually, emotionally and physically. I felt like an abject failure. Fortunately, that’s when I found a therapist who gestured toward the real culprit. Toward the dark cloak draped heavy over my sexuality. Your shame, he called it. It was killing me.
The hardest part about removing shame is that it is done slowly. It is done in very little steps. For me, it was remembering to wash down my Zoloft with a little extra grace and believe I was getting better. It was intentionally irrigating the most sensitive wounds of my heart with the Truth that God is madly, humiliatingly in love with me. That he always has been. That he made me on purpose. He likes me. He does not like my shame.
For my parents, their progress forward was all about listening. Taking in testimonies and theology and at the end of the day, bending low to hear to what their hearts were saying. It was connecting with other Christian parents of gay children, saying all of it- out loud and realizing that though they came to them for answers, they found deep friendship. Companions. Fellow sojourners.
And at some impossible point, we got there. We made it. And it wasn’t so much a survival as it was a celebration. A sudden gratitude. Our family drew closer than we’ve ever been before.
~ ~ ~
After a long teary talk, she closes with, “On this journey it has occurred to me that the attacks of Christians on gays and lesbians is because of an inability, or unwillingness, to understand this in their hearts.”
Reflecting on all that we’ve been through, that sums it up for me. I refused to accept myself, I took dangerous steps to change. My parents couldn’t accept it either, not against the backdrop of our faith. And at first, the path forward felt steep and uncertain and endless… but I think that’s what it feels like when God clutches your heart. Tugs you along like a child, further and higher, until you get to the top, above the peak, until you see the way that he sees.
And if I look hard enough, I can still see that path. The faint impressions of the long, painful, beautiful story leading us up to this very moment. It looks like freedom. Feels like holiness.
~ ~ ~
Thank you for your patience.
~ ~ ~