This morning my normally quiet home is filled with five college freshman on a weekend break. I’m listening as they share their morning coffee generously laden with laughter and possibility. These are my youngest offspring’s friends and I am trying to do background preparations and step aside, allowing him to handle the hosting. As they sit for breakfast, I hear them practicing adulthood and I smile.
The journey in recent years with this youngest offspring have been particularly difficult. A mother coming out, moving out, and living out were all apparently difficult for a young male coming of age. Although I might do things differently today, I can honestly say that at each turn in the road I made the best choices I could with the information that was mine at the time. Gradually I come to see that my best was still at odds with his felt needs and respect that his anger is genuine and his own. All the more it is good to see him happy with friends, even as I feel my own tentativeness in the circle.
Already this morning he and I had a difficult conversation about a past chapter. As we dance around the forbidden topics, I am aware that the pile is large. Most of the discard topics have to do with issues related to my being a woman married to a woman and the (lack of) acceptance we have encountered. His position is to suggest that offense taken isn’t necessarily given and perhaps he is correct. My position is that it is not his place to pass judgement on my experience. At this point we agree to disagree.
What is also true is that he touches the Achilles heel of my pain, and I’m not really sure what it all means. A part of me genuinely wishes that I could have kept his family of origin in one house for at least a few more years or maybe a lifetime. A bigger part of me is so incredibly relieved to be free of the charade that was literally killing me. Another part of me realizes that had I found the courage sooner, the hurt to my children might have been less though other costs would have been greater. At any point along the way I might have found voice and claimed the me that is true, and I wonder if it might have been easier for any of us.
Often I wonder about some of the early turns not taken. As my offspring reached the end of their preschool years and the sleep deprived haze of motherhood lifted, I sought a counselor who “was knowledgable about same-gender orientation”. (The one I was assigned, at the church supported agency, was unfortunately not experienced or knowledgeable.) Had I found the courage in these early years of their lives to speak and act my truth, my career in the church would have ended quite abruptly. My fears as a primary provider trumped my need for authenticity and I buried the call in my work.
Several years later I was confronted with my first unmistakable experience of same-gender attraction, an experience which was totally unwelcome and opened a floodgate of emotion. Here I knew my identity, but again the timing was all wrong. The children were in elementary in those years, I was still the primary source of their financial support, and the church in no way able to accept my truth. Again I was faced with survival choices and again I opted to defect in place, to bury and deny, and (of course) drink more.
By the time that I finally made the leap out of the closet, survival required authenticity and finally trumped employability. And as is my custom, I convinced myself of a scenario that must might work for everyone. The children were now teens and the church was pretty much integrated around orientation, so I blithely assumed that everyone was finally stable enough for me to claim my truth. A lesbian pastor mom shouldn’t be a leap, at least this is what I told myself at the time.
But let’s face it. Despite the dramatic shifts in acceptance of the LGBT community, we are still a legally oppressed minority. In most municipalities in America, it is still perfectly legal (and in some places socially acceptable) to deny service to same-gender couples. So when I expect to find the same respect with my wife as I had enjoyed with my husband, I am often disappointed. Worse, those who would claim to be allies suggest that I am being overly sensitive. Having walked hand in hand with spouses of both genders on the same sidewalks, I would simply point out that my personal experience, though limited, is clear.
More painful than my miscalculation about the acceptance of tertiary relationships was that of primary and secondary ones; my family and my church. Although both are outwardly very accepting and want to be seen and known as embracing, the more difficult truth is that in both venues I make some people very uncomfortable.
My heartfelt hope is that in letting go of the church relationships, the familial relationships can have space and time to heal. Having my youngest home for the weekend brings it all to the fore. They are delightful young adults and I’m enjoying their banter. But my “hiding” at the computer isn’t totally accidental as I seek a safe space to process the complicated emotions that surface. To be sure it is well worth the emotions to be able to watch him engaged with his friends. Mostly I am amazed that the loss of my job means that I shopped at Aldi’s for supplies but have the gift of time to cook and host. The tradeoff is worth it.
As I watch this new generation reach for their truth, I realize that they have access unimaginable in my day and yet at the same time new barriers. For them, as for me, the ongoing challenge is to balance the external sounds with those that come for a quiet place deep within.