Friday, October 29, 2010

It DOES get better!

Once again my friend Elizabeth Kaeton has prompted me to speak.  That is what a good preacher does, she compels you to speak your own truth. And it has been several weeks of hearing “It gets better” from folks all around that has inspired this, my version.

I have known since my youth that I was lesbian. I laugh about that because I didn’t know the word lesbian until I went to college. In TX in the late 50’s and early 60’s I we didn’t use words like that. I don’t even remember when I learned what the F word meant. I certainly was older than all the other kids because they laughed when they used it. I just looked blank. I just avoided the topic of sex altogether. And in a sex-suppressed world of the bible-belt, those of us who were questioning as teens had nowhere to turn for answers. The only sex education was “health” classes and NO ONE was going to say anything there.

I knew about “fairy” boys, those effeminate souls that I met in music school but I wasn’t sure what it meant. I knew that I liked being around other women. I liked their company; I liked their energy. And in college I saw women who were independent from their husbands, who thought independently from the men in their lives and I liked that.

But my images of women as a girl were not images I aspired to. The wives, the mothers, the women of my neighborhood were not women I wanted to be. And it wasn’t until I met the Ursuline Nuns that I finally met women that intrigued me and challenged me to be more than I was. I aspired to be an independently thinking woman like them. But sex was not part of their equation. So as my faith life developed, my sexual awareness did not. I ignored who I was as a sexual being. I knew it was safer somehow. But I missed a LOT!

I never felt “bad” about being attracted to women. For some reason I felt “bad” about being identified as being ‘queer’, bad about being different. That is what society does: It makes one feel bad about not being just like everyone else. But my mother was one of those mothers who didn’t fall for “everybody else is doing it” excuses. “You don’t have to be like everybody else,” she would say. But that did NOT have anything to do about sexuality. We just did NOT talk about it. She would try to tell me things, but I would not allow her to talk to me about it because her experience did not relate to mine.

Once, when I was young, I heard my father say to a bunch of other men who were talking about “queers”, that “if I had a kid like that, I would take him out and drown him.” It is the kind of talk that men of a certain generation did. But it made me quite aware that issues of human sexuality were not safe issues to talk about at home—or anywhere else in TX at the time. I didn’t know other lesbians. Coupled women were not visible in the world that I lived in.

My experience as a novice among the Ursulines acquainted me with women who could think independently. They helped me articulate who I was and how I could live a life of faith without having to be married. It was an important part of my development. Celibacy was a given—it is what supported community. In women’s communities I did not hear the rhetoric about giving one’s sexuality as a gift to God as I think was preached to Roman Catholic men. Celibacy was the foundation for community and so it was seen in a much more positive light. It was less of a notion of abstaining or denying the flesh as it was that celibacy and sexual abstinence contributed to people living together well. And so, when I left the convent, I did not look or long for a sexual relationship, but I longed for that sense of friendship and camaraderie that supported my work, my ministry and my emotional health.

By this time, I knew I was lesbian, but I did not want to identify that way not so much because I feared being gay, I feared that it would keep me from doing the things that I wanted to do in my life. When my friendship with J. developed, we recognized that this relationship supported what it was we wanted to do with our lives as clergy. But the love we had for each other grew.

J. is straight. And we have lived together for 32 years. We are not lovers. We do love each other profoundly. Somewhere I knew that I have been ‘loved into being’ as a person. And each lgbtq person I know has been ‘loved into being’ who they are. And I believe that the healthy straight folks I know have been ‘loved into being’. J has loved me into being more that I was and I believe I have loved her into being more than she was.

Through the early years of our living together when our relationship was mainly economic (we couldn’t afford to live alone) into the years when we need the emotional support to sustain our ministries we have come to have a deep and abiding love for one another. It has gotten better. It has become a relationship full of God’s grace and commitment. That love has transformed us. We have through the years become people that we like and respect. We have become women who have a profound respect for the journey that each person makes to become real and whole and satisfying.

As the reality of same-sex marriage was being discussed in NY I laughingly asked J if she would want to be married. “Yes!” she said unequivocally. I was stunned. “You know that you would be indentified as gay, don’t you?” I said. She said, “That I don’t mind, and our relationship wouldn’t be any different than most married couples our age.” We both laughed. So for the first time, this year I have been referring to J as my ‘partner’ instead of my ‘roommate’ or my ‘colleague.’ This appellation doesn’t quite describe the relationship we have, but it is enough to help others recognize that we are coupled in some rather inadequate way and look to each other to nourish us as we grow older.

The move to TX has made us much more aware of the issues that face lgbt people because there are few rights for lgbt people here. We know that unless we hire a lawyer and make our relationship clear legally, that our common life can be infringed upon by the state. We know that unless we make some clear decisions about what it means to be family, we may not be able to support each other in hospitals or have any say in each other’s health proxies. These are issues that my straight friends do not have to pay attention to. But there are ways to address them even here in the bible-belt. This too has gotten better.

And when I see how many lgbtq folk are out and proud even here in TX after all these years, I KNOW it has gotten better. I am still careful and my bishop still wants me to be careful about how I address others on lgbt issues. But at least I can claim who I am without fear of rejection. I can practice the ministry that I have been called to. And I have certain clarity about those who I wish to make ‘uncomfortable’ with my presence for the sake of the Gospel. It has gotten better and continues to get better.

And to anyone who has become discouraged about being lgbtq: when you find yourself so fearful of life that it has become unbearable, find another gay person or someone who understands what it means to be different and talk. Share what you feel. Listen to those of us who have lived this life in faith, by whatever lights we have walked it. We are here. I am here. It has gotten better. It continues to get better and we would like to walk that journey with you. It does get better.


Christian Paolino said...

Thanks for this wonderful witness, Lauren! Elizabeth is responsible for encouraging many of us to use our voices this way... I just did a "sanity check" with her this morning about how to frame a message I need to put out there.

I had no idea you had a blog and look forward to catching up with your writing. I've added you to my reader as well as the links on my own blog.

I look forward to getting

Kirkepiscatoid said...

Love this story. Truly love it, Muthah+.

In my parallel universe, when this bullying stuff hit the news and I knew I could no longer remain silent because it tripped my ACOA triggers too much, I had a decision to make. I always joke that "I'm the butchest straight woman you ever did see."

I realized coming out front on this issue, and knowing half the town has always wondered, "Is she? Or isn't she?" will just make many of those folks think I'm a lesbian anyway b/c of my outspokenness aobut GLBT issues.

I sat down with a bourbon one night and mulled it over. "Oh, hell," one part of me thought. I'll never get a date in this town EVER now."

Then the other part of me said, "Dumbass! You're 50 years old, you've never been married, you haven't gotten laid in over a decade, you live like a hermit, and you're worried about THIS?"

I finished my drink and started being more in the foreground about these issues. To hell with 'em. They will think what they want anyway, and I know I am loved as a child of God.

...and then I remembered a dream I had a long time ago.

I dreamed I was in my hometown, standing around with a crowd awaiting a parade, in front of where the (now defunct) St. James Episcopal Church was. Across the street was a little cluster of lesbians (the flannel shirt and boots kind, LOL). The good townspeople were glaring at them.

I felt uncomfortable being on "that side." So before the parade came down the street I crossed over and said to the lesbians, "I don't like the way they're looking at you, and I think I'd rather be on your side, looking at them instead."

And I also thought to myself in that dream, "If I can see the church from where I am here, I'll be ok."

And we all watched the parade together....

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

What a wonderful story and how brave of you to tell it, not "fitting in" with the expectations others may have of you - including members of the LGBT community.

You have always been one of my s/heroes in the church. This jumped you up even a few notches higher.

Episcopaliann said...

Beautifully written, Lauren. You grace us all in the sharing! Thank you.

Fran said...

Oh Lauren - this is so powerfully beautiful and it is filled with grace.

I really loved hearing about you and J and how your relationship evolved. And it meant something to me to read your take on your time as an Ursulines. (Our Lady of Prompt Succor, pray for us!) There are so many Roman Catholic women religious who have been and remain an inspiration to me. The understanding of community is profound and very different from most of the men.

That's a great picture too! It captures all the warmth and joy that you express. We only met once and somewhat briefly, but you left such an impression on me.

Thank you Lauren!

Anonymous said...


Thank you for sharing this. I am so glad that you have found peace with who you are. I hope your story will offer strength and courage to other LGBT people so they know it does get better... Blessings!