I loved the church. My life and the lives of almost all of my good friends centered around the church. But in 1979 it was not possible to be a lesbian and remain in the church. It's still not possible for many gay and lesbian Christians today. I walked away from the church when they told me I could no longer work with the children, something I had done for years. I walked away because being a lesbian, and refunsing to lie about it meant that I would no longer be permitted to share in equal fellowship with other church members.
For a long time I just didn't think about it much. I certainly didn't feel it. I didn't deal with it. I could not put it in perspective. I was intellectual, not emotional. Intellectually I could understand what had happened and I thought that should be enough. Emotionally I just pulled the plug.
Unfortunatly, in order to maintain this emotional disconnect, I had to keep myself pretty sedated with drugs, alcohol and too much work. For about 15 years.
I can't really remember why I decided to get sober. I think my friend Kara suggested that it might be a good idea. I would have listened to her.
I'd been sober for a little while when I attended a workshop (part of the National Women's Music Festival Spirituality Series - the NWMF is a lesbian cultural festival held yearly in the Midwest) led by a woman named Kitty Unthank.
She was a mental health professional and a Christian. She had just written a book, Riding Wild Horses Home: A Conservative Christian Apology.
Kitty had been deeply involved in her church, and she had been forced out when it became known that she was gay. She didn't deal with it by checking out emotionally. As a mental health professional who specialized in trauma, she remained very conscious of what was going on emotionally.
She started her talk, I can still remember the scene so clearly, by taking us through what had happened to her. She described her shock, disbelief, rage, depression, a whole range of emotions.
Kitty went on to say that the best way to understand what she had undergone, is to think of it as "spiritual rape." I was stunned to hear this term applied. She explained that her response to the trauma of losing her church, being shunned by former friends and mentors, being considered tainted in some way, was best described and understood in terms of a post-traumatic stress response to a rape experience.
She took us through what is understood about the psyche's response to a severe trauma and the ways in which mental health professionals try to help the victim heal.
Everyone handles severe trauma differently, she said, but one of the things many traumatized people do is to emotionally disassociate. They don't think about the event, perhaps even deny that it was anything important, and they do whatever they can to keep any emotion at bay, including sedating themselves. Mental health professionals start by gently trying to get the person to acknowlege the injury and the resulting emotions.
I couldn't tell you anything else she said, because I was just sitting there with my eyes wide, thinking about everything that had been going on for half my life.
She was saying that what happened was a powerful trauma that had injured me emotionally. She was saying that what happened, shouldn't have. She was saying it wasn't my fault. But she was also saying I had to feel it.
So my friends, listen intently.
If, when you let it be known that you were gay, lesbian or transgendered, you were summarily shunned, kicked out, asked to leave, ostricised, or in any way told you were less than equal to the other people involved in the church...
You have a church wound.
And if you have a church wound and you are drinking, drugging, or using any other means to keep you out of touch with your feelings, it's absolutely understandable. But you are just hurting yourself, and you've got to stop! Stop running from your pain, start getting help.
Being gay, lesbian, or transgendered makes you no less worthy of ANYTHING. You are a beautiful expression of All That Is. You have unique talents and gifts to offer. Anyone who tells you anything different is simply confused and afraid. Anyone who tells you that your life is not compatible with their religion is not talking about any kind of religion you want to be a part of anyway.
There are people, many of them, who will welcome you into their church.
You are the only one who can choose to stop running away and start healing.
I don't mean to make it sound easy. It's a long journey, it's challenging, and you'll need some help. But you won't believe how strong, how blessed, and how precious you are until you open yourself to this healing.