This is the first of a three part blog series. For the full story you can read Part Two: Transitioning and Transforming and Part Three: Taking a Stand, My Coming Out Letter. This is my official post on coming out as a Straight Ally.
I was raised in a split family. When my parents divorced my dad went to the bar and my mom headed straight to church. They set up their respective camps and this is where they remained for the next two decades. My father found his sobriety nearly a decade ago while my mother’s white knuckled grip on her salvation has only tightened with time. (When I use this analogy I am reminded of the very well written chapter in The God Virus: How Religion Infects Our Lives and Cultures titled, “The Guilt That Binds”. Darrel Ray is an excellent author and his depiction of a guilt that drives us even closer to the Guilter, creating a cyclic need for reaffirmation and relief from ones guilt, originated and eased all from the same source, was quite eye opening).
I spent much of my upbringing with my mother, visiting my dad on the weekends and over long school breaks. Both of my parents heavily impacted the person I am today, but my mother’s strict adherence to the fundamentalist evangelical movement made a lasting impression upon me. We attended church regularly, going on Sundays and also for the midweek service. We received most of our formal education in a private Christian school which mandated Bible class first thing every morning and held chapel services every Friday. It is an understatement when I say that we were fully indoctrinated.
I don’t remember any specific sermons devoted to homosexuality during my childhood. It is unlikely that any of the leaders I was raised under would have been comfortable devoting a full sermon to the subject of anything that had to do with sex, let alone same sex issues. I remember sneaking the Concordance Dictionary upstairs so that I could look up sex and the likes of that.
We had a joke of a “sex ed” class in high school. I think it was the librarian or someone along those lines who awkwardly presented the Abstinence Only message while the entire staff, church, and my mother tried to avoid an actual discussion about human sexuality. The interesting thing is that even without devoting teachings solely on the subject of homosexuality it was still deeply engrained in me that this lifestyle was wrong. I think the small conversations and comments over the years went much further than a one hour sermon ever could have. I knew very well by my teens that gays were an abomination to the Lord, that their lifestyle was a choice, and that they needed freedom from the oppressive bond that captured their souls.
And then I met Becky.
I picked up a job at McDonalds to help pay for my tuition. After homeschooling us for a few years, the deal was that we had to contribute to, if not completely pay for our private school tuition or we would continue to be home schooled. So my brother and I went to work very early. I got my workers permit and started waiting tables at the age of 14. To my knowledge I had never met a gay person before I met Becky. She was one of my managers at McDonalds and she fascinated me. I don’t remember a whole lot about her now, given that was easily 15 years ago. We never kept in touch after I moved on to the next job. I believe she was a college student. I grew up in a college town so the local businesses were filled with college kids working to make ends meet. I remember she was short with short dark hair and blue, blue eyes. Her girlfriend was a smidge taller with long blonde hair. One thing that distinctly stands out in my mind is that at some point during my two years of employment there she and I had shared several conversations about homosexuality and the Bible, particularly her life experiences. I cant recall at this point if she confided in me that she had been sexually abused or if I am making that up entirely but I very clearly remember justifying her homosexuality because she was traumatized and thus forever left distrustful of men. I am almost certain I had made this point to my mother as well. And although the details are a blur to me now, I know that for years I held the assumption that her childhood trauma caused her turning away from the “natural means of sex”, and that surely God could understand and forgive her since this trauma was obviously beyond her control.
Looking back now I feel shame for my level of naivety. I spent the first 22 years of my life deeply entrenched in fundamentalism. I married my high school crush the month I turned 19. He was from an even more conservative family which in turn tied me even closer to the bonds of conservative religion. We were virgins when we married with no experience in relationships. He had been raised in the Wesleyan Holiness Denomination which was so extremely conservative that we spent our church camp summers with the Mennonites in Roxbury, Pensylvania. A denomination like this doesn’t need to devote time to sermons about homosexuality because this is such an extreme sin no one could even utter the words. The chastising sermons that I remember were concerning television, the Internet, eating out on Sundays, and the slippery slope of allowing young girls to wear bows in their hair. Needless to say the more progressive issues were off my radar during this chapter in my life. Thankfully I left that marriage by the time I was 22. Eight years later I can honestly say that: “thankfully”. I struggled with years of guilt for leaving that marriage, for breaking the covenant we had made before God and for getting divorced. I dealt with a long period of what I perceived as rejection from my family– namely my mother– for my choice to break free from this relationship. Truth be told, my first husband wasn’t a bad guy. He was one of the most upstanding men I have ever been in a relationship with. Its just that we had no business being involved in the business of marriage at the age of 19.
After my divorce I jumped head first into a new circle of friends that were at the other extreme. I wish I could say my thinking was challenged then but thats really not true. The reality is I just checked out for that chapter in my life. I was just barely keeping my head above water so I had no energy to devote to the challenging issues or questions I was battling internally. I spent the next five years in misery, not really growing as a human being, just scraping to get by in a second marriage that left a bitter impression on me– so much so that even still I have little to no interest in participating in the institution of marriage ever again.
The issue of homosexuality didn’t come to the forefront for me until early 2009 when one of my younger brothers came out as gay. I had moved to California in January of that year for the sole purpose of starting over. Because of the 3,000+ miles distance, I missed out on a lot of the drama of his coming out experience.I remember my visit home when he was trembling and fighting back tears as he told me for the first time that he was gay. I choked back tears and telling him that I had always known this and that I loved him and would always support him. I meant this too. At that point in my life I was just starting to embark on the journey towards exponential growth as a human being. I was finally laying to rest the overly dramatic second marriage I had failed at and was beginning to have enough energy to focus on something other than myself for the first time in way too long. I was 100% supportive of my little brother. I knew that he was just fine how he was, and more than anything else, I remember how extremely protective I felt of him. I have often times referred to this brother as a “bucket of sunshine”. He really does have the greatest personality and outlook on life, and even though in 2009 I didn’t have my theology on homosexuality sorted out, I knew that I would stand in for him no matter what. I would be willing to protect him at all costs, whether that be to a teenaged bully, a hateful bigot, or a radical fundamentalist.