Coming Out Later in Life - Letting Go of Fear - A Coming Out Story - Part II
To speak of the presence of God that night shows how far I have come. I was one of those allies to the LGBTQ community who was very accepting of anyone being gay, it just wasn’t ok for me. I have since realized that I had internalized homophobia, raised in Catholicism and in 1970’s - 1980’s culture where it wasn’t acceptable to be gay. I had an attraction to women my whole life, but I never acted upon it. There are many complicated reasons, but the simplest one for me - it was wrong. Although I would never say it aloud, I was churched to believe it was sinful. The small puritanical catholic within me still believed I would be cast into hell because I slept with a woman. In my twenties the urge was prevalent, but I am the queen of denial so I resisted the urge and married a man. I married this man, who is now my ex-husband because he would keep me warm, and safe, and dry. A very big thing for someone who came from a tumultuous alcoholic childhood home. Both of us have since marveled why we ever married each other as we had an extremely rocky courtship. Whatever the reason, we both wanted a family and we created one together. We have four beautiful kids - two girls and two boys. The world needed their presence and that is how I make sense of this twenty-seven year marriage.
Honestly, when my children were young I did not have much time to think about my sexuality. I was too busy, after all, I had three kids in five years and my bonus baby boy seven years later. When I hit my forties I received my call to ministry during a period of postpartum depression - a story for another time. In 2006 I read an article in a magazine about the fluidity of women’s sexuality and I finally found voice to the various things I had always felt. I was so excited because there were words to describe my feelings! I remember I told my then 16 year old daughter, “If anything happens to your Dad, don’t be surprised if I end up with a female partner.” I wanted to be with a woman with a wistful longing, not with any sense of certainty. Really, how could this ever, ever happen?
In the fall of 2009, I was at Yale Divinity School and I attended a Coming Out Day worship service. I went to support members of the divinity school who identified as LGBTQ. Marquand Chapel is a beautiful worsip space. As I sat there that day, listening to the music and some stories, I felt this unexpected wave of anguish come from the center of my body, it rose in my throat and flooded out of my eyes in warm thick tears. My chest started to heave and I desperately tried to hold it together. I don’t remember what happened next but I was suddenly outside, in the crisp autumn air, panic-stricken. Saying to myself, “I can’t do this, I can’t do this, I can’t do this, I can’t be gay, I can’t be gay, I can’t change my life, I have a husband, children, career, I can’t be gay.” In this beautiful place of worship, God asked me to finally acknowledge who I was created to be, perfectly in God’s image. I could not because it was too complicated, too hard, too painful, too jarring. In reality, it was fear, cold hard naked fear, that had left me paralyzed in a heterosexual normative that I did not fit.
The next seven years found me trying to bring voice to that spiritual experience that day. I would take it out and put it away again. I was relying on the “experts” to tell me that, yes, in fact, I was a lesbian. I have found, for the most part, the experts are not very good. Or I bestowed them with an authority that they truly did not have. I am a chaplain and I was in the midst of a chaplain residency when I first attempted to come one in 2010. I told my husband and I informed my supervisor at work of this as well. I was in something called Clinical Pastoral Education an intensive therapeutic learning experience in which ministers participate and a supervisor is equal to a therapist. After I told my supervisor about informing my husband that I was gay, she said, “wait, wait, wait.” As I was the ever pleasing child, I thought I had done something wrong. Eventually she sent me to a straight therapist, who literally asked me one question, “Have you ever slept with a woman?” I said no, and then we never spoke of it again. That therapist wasn’t very good and I soon searched for a new one and that is how I found June.
June is a lesbian - she is a good therapist, but when I came out to her with my husband present, she didn’t take me seriously. We punted around why I might have an attraction to a women and I had said I thought I was gay, but we decided it was “because I did not have a good relationship with my mom.” Which was true, but after talking to many lesbian women I realized that this is the standard reasoning presented to many women coming out. (Insert eye roll here. ) My husband said. “I always told Anne-Marie that if she wanted that kind of relationship she needed to be with a woman.” The end result is that no one took me seriously, my CPE supervisor, therapists, husband even lesbian women. And me - I did not take me seriously. I am not sure why and I could speculate about patriarchy and expectations for long-married people, but probably the real reason is I just didn’t want to be gay. I am a relatively wealthy white women in an uptight New England community. Although a good feminist liberal democrat, I simply reeked with privilege and I was afraid to give that up. I do know that on that day when my ex and I agreed again to put aside these thoughts and continue to work on our marriage, the still small voice inside of me bubbled up and screamed “No!!!!!!”. Like a voice coming from the bottom of a deep canyon and I felt like, again, I was consigned to Sheol.