Today my daughter called to tell me some wonderful news. She’s engaged! I listened rapt as she shared all the details: dinner at a quaint Italian restaurant, a walk on the beach, the proposal at sunset against the backdrop of a color-splattered sky. She responded with a delighted yes.
Yet her announcement didn’t set off a string of rapid-fire phone calls, texts, and Facebook posts on my part. This proud and happy mom knew that Rachel’s news, at least for now, would only be shared with a select few. Because the rest of the people in my corner of the world could never even imagine that her proposal just came from another woman.
Two years ago, not long after her 18th birthday, my daughter came out. She worried about revealing this part of herself to friends and agonized even more about her family. And while I won’t presume to say that I understand all that she had been through, I am learning what it’s like to live with a secret. My daughter is a lesbian, and her mother has become way too adept about providing half-truths about her.
When asked how Rachel is spending this summer, between her junior and senior years of college, I respond that she’s doing an internship up in Maine. What I neglect to say is that she’s facilitating a leadership program for LBGT high school students. Or that she’s living with her girlfriend, which takes on an entirely different meaning than living with a girlfriend.
One by one I have gradually let others into the inner circle of Rachel-dom, the part of me that can relax and talk freely about my daughter. Yet it’s been a slow and anxiety- inducing process on my part. Will friendships become strained because of it? Will I get hurt, disappointed, and disillusioned in the process? Thankfully this has gone better than I’d feared, primarily because I’ve carefully chosen those who I felt were more likely to be accepting.
The greater challenge is the rest of the big, scary world. And my entire church. I’ll admit that I totally put on the breaks if I think someone is going to freak about my daughter’s sexual orientation, though is it really any of their business? So like Rachel did through the tortured years of her adolescence, I remain largely closeted, wondering what everyone would think if they knew our family secret.
So what happens when Rachel and her partner MaKayla have finished school and are ready to exchange their vows? Since this won’t happen for a couple of years I, have time on my side. Somehow I must learn to address my fears head-on, and stop hiding the fact that my bright, talented, and beautiful child is a lesbian.
When they start planning their ceremony, I’ll know I’ll have lots of questions like any other mother of the bride. What type of dress will Rachel choose? Will she and MaKayla get married on the beach where she received her ring? I only hope what should be happy anticipation doesn’t get overshadowed by the question that’s already weighing on my mind. When Rachel and MaKayla exchange their vows, will the people in my life be there to share her special day?
Update January 2016:
Rachel and Makayla had a shorter engagement than we’d anticipated, and were married as the sun went down over the Atlantic Ocean on September 17, 2015. While some family members chose not to attend, those that did joyfully celebrated with them. It’s hard for me to fathom how incredibly far I have come in the past year, and the support I received from my PFLAG group was a big part of that. I am far more open about Rachel now. And while I occasionally still worry about reactions from new people I encounter, the worry is no longer all-encompassing. I love my daughter and her wife and couldn’t imagine my life without both of them in it.
A Wedding Story
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Before I first attended Forest Lake Presbyterian Church, I lost all faith in religion, the church, and God. I would simply “go through the motions,” attending church and participating in worship. It wasn’t until I came home for winter break from graduate school that I decided to attend this church with my parents a couple of times. While I was at school, I remember my mom telling me how wonderful this new church was and that she was now participating in Bell Choir and bible study. I was truly surprised, because I never remember my mom making time for anything like bell choir at our previous church. I remember enjoying how friendly everyone was and the sound of the choir despite its smaller size; it was then and there that I made the decision to join the choir after the first couple of visits.
My original reason for joining the choir was to keep my voice in singing shape so I would not be rusty when I
returned to school in the spring and sing with The Chamber Singers at Austin Peay State University. I enjoyed singing in the choir and the opportunity to provide special music every once in a while. It made me feel as though as I was an integral part of the church in some ways. I was also growing closer to the choir members and it was refreshing to be a part of such a friendly and caring church family. Although I was enjoying worshiping at Forest Lake and receiving spiritual guidance, I felt disconnected from everyone. As a natural introvert and a general passive person, I isolated myself and was cordial to any/everyone who introduced themselves or thanked me for playing and singing for the Church. Over the next three years, and after facing personal struggles and illness in my family, I seriously contemplated what kind of relationship I wanted to have with God. I did some self-reflection; I took a long hard look at who I was as a person, I examined my values, and I gave some serious thought as to
what I wanted to stand for. I came to the conclusion that I wanted God as the center of my life. In order to achieve this I knew I had to rekindle my relationship with God; I had to trust Him and live according to His teachings. I was at the point where I was really involved in the church and I was ready to take my relationship with God to the next level, so I considered getting baptized.
Honestly, baptism was something I was afraid of because, for me, it represented something I feared: commitment. It represented all the things I could be or do. When I was younger, I vividly remember watching so many different people getting baptized because they were pressured by their parents, family, or church family. It was not until I took the time for some self-reflection regarding my fears and concerns that I began to seriously think about getting baptized. So, I spoke to a leader in the church and discussed my fears, my journey, and my hopes for my future in this church. After speaking with some close friends and examining my fears, I discovered the true obstacles holding me back from baptism was the possible reaction from the congregation due to my sexual orientation and the fear of being accountable for my actions. I allowed my fear of commitment, the possibility of disappointing friends and family, and self-doubt to predetermine my relationship with God.
In my earlier years of struggling with my sexual orientation, I remember being asked by friends and family if I was going through a phrase. I also had friends tell me to my face that I was a wonderful person but they believed homosexuality was a sin. There were other times when I was asked to hide or not mention my sexuality to family members or friends. Most recently, I had a close friend tell me about a mutual friend of ours asking if I was “still gay” or not. These situations, at one point, led me to doubt who I was as a person and struggle with my acceptance of my sexuality in relation to my faith.
It should come to you as no surprise that I have struggled in this life; I’ve struggled with my faith, my purpose, and my identity. My struggle with the institution of the Church and getting baptized was a result of my struggle with my identity. Although I have grown up in the church and have always known that God knows and loves me for who I am, I admit I grew doubtful through the reservations of others. Being gay and a Christian in the south—for what seems to be a majority of the church—is an abomination, impossible, wrong, and a sin. I have had to live and grow up in a society that was so quick to recognize the things that could be different but may have forgotten what it means to be one body in the Christ.
Ever since I was little, like many of you, have experienced the feeling of not fitting in or belonging. I believe I had this uncanny ability to fall under the radar; it was as if I didn’t belong to one group but I didn’t fit into the polar opposite group either (I wasn’t black enough, I wasn’t nerdy enough). I distinctively remember growing up in a world where not a lot of African Americans played classical music and fewer were classically trained. You were funny or weird if you talked and presented yourself in a “proper manner” and if you had parents who worked hard and lived comfortably, then you were stuck up or a snob. My isolation was nothing new to me; ever since I first attended public school I was never the one who would walk up to people and just engage in witty or intellectually stimulating conversation. I learned to navigate socially so I would not present myself as a socially awkward person (even though many times I did feel that way).
As an African American gay male, I face specific obstacles with my race and gender alone. There are statitics, stereotypes, and stigmas that often lead to misconceptions about me as a person. When you attach another label such as “gay” or “homosexual,” then I find that the perceptions of what one can contribute are skewed. Presenting myself as 100% authentic has and still does present challenges that I was afraid to face once I was baptized and accept the Lord my God as my savior. I took some time, as I usually do, with any big decisions and I consulted some of my closest friends. I came to the decision that I had found a home church I loved and I wanted a close, personal relationship with God and Baptism was a step in the right direction. So, I was baptized a few months ago
and not too long after that I made the decision to sign up for Disciple I. Disciple I bible was the perfect
opportunity to examine the word of God. As a bonus, I also used this as an opportunity to get to know members of the church and vice versa.
Since I am very passionate about my musical gifts and even more passionate about teaching, I volunteered to help with The Children’s Choir. Now, more so than ever, I feel like I belong to a big family. Although my new schedule led me to be able to participate more frequently in the church, I could not shake my original feelings of hesitation and inauthenticity with God and the church. I thought as I became more involved within the church these feelings would disappear, so I used the gifts I was blessed with to help with worship. I wanted to give this faith community a chance to judge me by my abilities without a preconceived notion or stigma. I have been blessed with some of the greatest friends from various walks of spirituality. I have many friends who love God and attend Church from Sunday to Sunday; I have friends who never believed in God; and I have friends who have been so hurt by the hateful intentions—both physically and emotionally— that they have completely lost faith altogether. I have a friend who was, at one point, really involved with his home church tell me, “I had a great relationship with God, but that Church made me feel filthy. I’ve been scorned and destroyed by the church, so I’ve had a significant amount of time to move past anger and into honesty.”
Forest Lake Presbyterian Congregation, I would like to make something absolutely clear: I am
not sharing my story because I am trying to change minds and start a “revolution.” I am sharing my story, because I know I am not the only one who feels lonely or like they cannot be their true, authentic selves as an LGBT individual or ally. This is not an attack on Forest Lake Presbyterian or any church for that matter, this is just an invitation to talk openly about these issues and what we can do as a church to make Forest Lake as welcoming, loving, and compassionate as possible. This church has done more for my family and I, personally, than you will ever know and for that I thank you. Thank you for taking the time out to hear my experiences and struggles with religion. My hope for this letter and statement is that it will be a catalyst for a civil means of communications to
discuss issues that LGBT people here in this church might experience. I pray that you will look in your
heart and let God’s love be your guide as you examine your own feelings on this matter.