Thursday, March 8, 2007

Coming Out to My Family... Part 1

In the midst of my divorce I came out to my (soon to be) ex-husband. At least one trusted friend argued against it. Sure, he's a good guy, but divorce makes people crazy, she said. Don't do it until afterward. But I felt a strong need to be honest with him. He had left me for another woman, which was wrenching, but, as a therapist (a new therapist) said to me not too long ago, really, who left whom? I started leaving him early in the marriage. In a way, I owe him a debt of gratitude for freeing us both.

He and I had lunch, ostensibly to talk about the kids. After a certain point, I said, There's something I need to tell you. He was looking really great in those days... leaving me had done him wonders. He was trim, impeccably dressed as always. I am in a relationship, I said, with Felicity. She and I had traveled together, and he knew that. In a way, our traveling had provided the impetus for my beginning the process of telling my family. As she and I had sat on a plane, and I had gone through the usual silly hope-I-don't-die stuff, it hit me. What if I died in a plane crash (or in some other way) and my family never knew one of the most important things about me?

Back with my ex, I started to cry. A small smile crept to his lips. I had wondered, he said. Then, after a pause, I'm really happy for you. I could see that he meant it. What wondrous love.

Immediately we began to talk about how I might tell the children. This was complicated. I knew they loved Felicity, but I also knew that this would be a shock, coming, as it probably would seem to, out of nowhere. The fact that I was closeted was an enormous factor in this decision-making. I was loath to bring my children in on knowledge that would force them to keep a secret. The whole thing is so dreadfully unhealthy. Also, they are such social creatures, my children-- I couldn't imagine them being able to refrain from sharing it with at least a close friend or two-- at which point I might as well give an interview to the local paper. But I also longed for the complete openness with them that had always characterized our relationship, until my relationship with Felicity had begun. I longed for them to really know me.

My ex and I agreed that, for now, I would not tell my kids. This was November of 2005, and they were both teenagers. Still, the relief of the ex knowing was enormous. I felt that I could go through the divorce, our financial arrangements, etc. with some integrity.

About six months later my son (who is nearly 20 now) was watching me do the dishes while we chatted. I was telling him of a meal I had cooked for Felicity, and which I thought he and his sister might like. (She was out with friends.) He took out the trash, and then returned to stand next to me at the sink.

Mom, can I ask you kind of a wierd question? Sure, I said. I knew immediately where this was going. In fact, I see now-- I had probably more or less deliberately provoked it. He continued, Are you and Felicity... a kind of... thing? I did what my therapist told me to do, should this question ever be asked. I said, Why do you ask? He cocked his head and gave me the same look I had given him his senior year, the one and only time he had come home reeking of vodka. The look that says, come now. We're not going to do this, are we? He said, Mom I can assure you this conversation is entirely confidential. I laughed. Yes, I said. We care about each other a lot. Wow, he said, after a minute, sounding a little like the wind had been knocked out of him. Then he laughed. This is going to take some getting used to. And then he hugged me. Mom, you know I just want you to be happy. And then, after a pause, Actually it's kind of cool. Do you mind if I tell?---his closest friend, daughter of another local minister.

Then we had the big conversation about how it was very important that he not share this information with anyone. He could talk to me, he could talk to Felicity, he could talk to his dad or his dad's girlfriend or even, if he wanted, a therapist. But no friends. It was vital. My life in ministry would be over. At the drop of a hat.

13 comments:

Wormwood's Doxy said...

I am glad that your son was so accepting. I've found that young people are much more laid back about this issue than we Baby Boomers or our predecessors.

I hate that all of you have to hide it, however. I can only imagine how much I would want to dissect that disclosure with my best friend, and how hard it would be to know that doing so would put someone I loved in so much danger.

Cecilia said...

I do have some friends with whom I can process all this. I was so worried about burdening my children though. It seemed so unfair. They have been beautiful about it though. My beloved and I just recently visited my son at college... it's really wonderful.

I do think his generation has it all figured out. A friend (who does not know about me) said to me at lunch today, "We just have to wait for some folks to die off." I think he's right.

Pax, C.

jledmiston said...

Bless you. Bless you. Bless you. You are brave and I'm grateful for your ministry, and for your ex, and for your kids. All will be well.

And one day, in our church, it will be okay for you and Felicity to have "a thing."

Aghaveagh said...

Cecilia,

I wish I could listen to you preach. You have an eloquence that is striking.

Grace said...

Cecilia,

I think in you're in the middle of a really difficult situation, that I can't even imagine. What can we all do in the church to help, and be like Jesus to you.

Hugs and prayers.

steve said...

I think what struck me in the story was the recurring theme of integrity. Your integrity, of course, but also the decency and integrity of your son, your ex-husband, your beloved.

I pray for the day to arrive soon when all individuals and relationships filled with such integrity and goodness can be celebrated by our faith communities. Thank you for sharing this -- oh, and for commenting on my blog!

Blessings to you.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Oh, Cecilia. I, too, pray for the day that you can be open about your relationship in your church. Is it possible that some folks in your church do know? Just as your son knew, sort of?

Of course, I understand that your congregation could be the least of your worries. It's the powers-that-be that would move against you.

Your son was great. The kids that age are much more accepting and laid back about sexual orientation than their elders.

more cows than people said...

thank you.

Nina said...

When love and joy cannot be shared, we all suffer. Thank you for sharing in the ways that are safe for you. May the day come soon when integrity need not be secret!

Cecilia said...

I am overwhelmed by your responses.

I have mixed feelings. I don't feel particularly brave, for example. Quite the opposite. I know people (including my beloved) who have been out for a long time, long before society as a whole even began to deal with this issue. I know young people who are out, and for whom it is a non-issue, who couldn't imagine any other way of being in the world. Yet all these people-- who bear the brunt of some of the most hateful, vitriolic attacks-- are completely kind and respectful of my choice to try to fly below the radar as long as I can, and to minister in my church as long as I can.

You can hear it in my words: I am conflicted. I long for the integrity attributed to me. I feel that I live it, at best, partially.

Pax, C.

Share Cropper said...

Ah, Cecilia, integrity is something wtihin you that lives and breates and moves within your family and your congregation. Secrecy that has been exposed often begets violence - in words, in deeds, in ignorance and in shunning. You are courageous - for courage is what we do with fear. Live as you must until your innate integrity tells you to do differently. And, I know that your integrity and love of God and of your family and congregation will be intact. My love and prayers are with you - especially now that I'm old enough not to have to consider the powers-that-be.

Kathryn said...

A late arrival here, - hope you'll forgive my joining in after things have moved on. So much courage, so much humanity - and then the church, God bless it, gets into the equation and you have to dissemble. Oh, its so so sad and I'm sorry and ashamed that this is how it is. Thank you for sharing your experience - and reminding me, on a day when I've been acutely aware of the limits of love within the church, of how much it matters that we pray and work and go out on a limb to make things better.

Catherine + said...

I appreciate your honesty and character in this entire situation and that of others closely involved. I understand that you need to tread carefully for YOUR sake in your ministry. Be gentle with yourself, C. Be kind to you in this time.