Content warning- suicide attempts and all the sort of thinking that goes with them. Additionally apologies for length.
My way into the readings this week is via my own experience as a closeted lesbian. I was so closeted I didn’t even know myself. I married and had children, tried to marry again, tried all sorts of ways of performing heterosexuality believing from every movie or book I ever experienced that I was “meant to” be heterosexual. And after all I had the need to be loved and accepted and admired that leads us into romantic entanglements, the more-so because of childhood disappointments and traumas. I “needed to be loved”.
So in my childhood it was as though there was a “Lord” that warned us all about casting out the lezzos (rather than literally lepers), because lesbianism was (in my upbringing) not only dirty but potentially contagious (the latter I would argue has some truth to it). There was a sore upon my heart and soul, I always felt unclean and unworthy- hollow and dishonest in some way without being able to point out why. I was unhappy – I had a chronic discontent that infiltrated even into my happy moments (or things I was supposed to enjoy like sex and relationships). There was an unknown, unnameable pain behind every moment and I thought I was just “born that way” (unhappy that is).
At times I looked for escapist ecstasies to try to help me blank out the pain and emptiness. It was still empty but it was distracting.
I prayed a lot and I tried to be a good person. I grew very disillusioned when this did not seem to help my emptiness and pain.
I cycled between these “good girl” and “bad girl” extremes- sometimes keeping one up for months or years, other times rapidly cycling through both- usually blending a little of each. I wanted to be super-brat and super-saint in one. There is still a grandiose streak in me, I am more aware of it but it is not a temptation I am completely free from. It helps to name it to myself with compassion and self-forgiveness. I knew I could never really be good or happy and I prayed angrily to God for death. A lot. Sometimes I tried to kill myself but thankfully with such timidity and inefficiency that it didn’t really take.
I meant it though, I wanted not to exist. It would be easy to dismiss my attempts as “not serious” because I did not make one work. They were not well executed but they were serious. I am better at achieving my goals these days so it is a good thing that I am not suicidal.
But as the psalm tells us “blessed is the one whose (imaginary) fault is taken away, whose real sin (self-hate) is uncovered and to whom God imputes no guilt”. Ok I changed a word here and there but this is how I need to pray it right now. I am blessed. I am grateful. I am here. I am queer.
All those bad words that I was so afraid of. I am them. I embody them. I love them.
I love women and women’s bodies and women’s ways of thinking (yes I know that is socialised) and women’s laughter and women’s dancing and art and writing and….oh I love women. And I am a woman so in loving women I feel a sense of being good too.
This is not just a sex thing (though sex is a good within this way of being), it is an orientation thing. I was so afraid not just of potential female lovers but of mothers and sisters and aunties and grandmothers and friends. I was afraid of women doctors, of teachers, of hugging, kissing, even smiling and especially eye contact. At some point I must have grasped the danger- that I needed to repress myself very strongly to avoid the self-knowledge that I was gay. I must have grasped that subconsciously because I never remember making the decision. I learned to feel as little as possible and notice less in the company of women (any woman, however “safe”). I took great care to gaze in the mirror with hatred, to avoid seeing womanliness with any sort of dangerous approval. I hated my own masculinity (because in a woman masculinity is queer) and my own femininity (because femininity made me aware of my attraction to women). No wonder I couldn’t function- could not achieve, could not sleep, could not love.
I loved in a way though. I felt tenderness and compassion toward others. I feel it should count in my defence that I was someone who had a degree of empathy and a strong instinct to heal and nurture even when I was sunk so deep in (self) hate. I wish I had been a better mother for my children but they know I have always loved them at least.
The second reading talks about doing everything to the glory of God, in a way that will bring people INTO grace not lock them out of it. Why does the church not love and accept queer people better to the glory of God? Why do we not celebrate God’s act of creation by celebrating the created ones (straight, gay, trans and every rainbow hue)?
In the gospel Jesus recognises that healing is not just an “inside yourself” thing, it is not a matter of thinking positive or just staring down the negative self-talk. He heals the leper AND ALSO he helps him re-access the approval and belonging of his church community. I feel that lovely Sophia-Jesus did this for me too (better late than never), when AFTER the good seed of queer theory and feminism had been repeatedly sown in my brain by theological college and a couple of positive church communities, AFTER I had had to confront my own homophobia in reference to other, AFTER I had wrestled with the question of whether I would love a gay child of mine I finally and spectacularly fell in love with a woman.
“Spectacularly” only to myself as in the external sense nothing ever happened- and couldn’t happen. But what I felt shook up everything I thought I knew about myself and I came out of it wondering how people would respond to me if I was just plain old “lesbian” instead of a weird and terrified sense of never fitting anywhere and always being unhappy and empty.
God bless then the people I “showed myself to”. One of the first was a church group that met regularly to talk about faith, scripture and to share chocolate. From that I learned to be more confident, less apologetic about who I was and discovered JOY. I went back to a church community I had always loved for its very female energy. I showed myself to them also gradually- first just “I am back and I want to be involved” but then “by the way I am gay”. I was accepted. I was loved.
This is not what I was brought up to accept.
Jesus’ work of healing me from my estrangement from myself was completed by the receptive community who complimented my rainbow jumper and listened to my reflections. We all have that power- we who believe in God. We can be secure enough in our faith to advocate for the rights and inclusion of all others, not for a mean-minded and judgemental spirituality.
God may ask a lot from us, but all she asks for is geared toward JOY. I strongly believe that now that I know what joy tastes like.
So I pray
Thank you for challenging me.
Thank you for healing me.
Thank you that I am wrong every time I think I am broken beyond repair.
Thank you that I am wrong when I think I cannot be loved and accepted.
Thank you for smiles and words of encouragement.
Thank you for hugs and eye contact.
Thanks for small talk, affirmations, compliments
for the beauty of other people,
for the acceptance of other people,
for the way I have to learn to be larger
and wiser and more whole
to embrace other people.
God of love and loving and lovers,
I thank you every day
for that soul that touched my life
and jolted me out of my misery.
I thank you that I fell in love with her,
with the world,
even I suppose with myself.
I thank you that I want to live.
I want to live.