Tuesday, February 3, 2009

On Closetedness, and the Choosing of It

I have been gently nudged lately by a friend to consider, again, why I am closeted. Why, she asks, would anyone choose to live like this?

I suppose it may appear that I am choosing to be closeted, insofar as I am not choosing to come out in the world at large (and my congregation in particular). I am in a profession (or calling-- a pastor of a church in a Protestant denomination) in which my sexuality is, at present, grounds for removing my credentials (ordination) and thus rendering me unemployable.

At this point, I could play the God card, and say that God calls me into ministry. And that is what I believe. But just to level the argument (since, the call of God is one of those trump cards against which not much can prevail) let's say, it's simply a profession from which I obtain great personal satisfaction and joy, and which I am able to perform satisfactorily as far as my main constituency (my congregation) is concerned. Let's simply say that I love my job, and to be out as a lesbian would seriously compromise my ability to do my job, perhaps even cause me to lose it. That is one reason to "choose" closetedness.

But... in an odd way, I didn't choose it, it chose me. I lived as a married straight woman for more than 20 years, during which time I struggled (mostly quietly) with my sexuality, fighting off attractions to women and seeking therapy to help me to stop falling for them. I loved my husband and believed it would be wrong to leave our marriage. I was ordained in my denomination, and saw the fulfillment of a lifelong dream to become a pastor.

Let me be clear: during this time my position on homosexuality was absolutely the same as it is today. I do not believe it to be a sin, either in terms orientation or in terms of what is usually condescendingly called "lifestyle." I believe one can sin through one's sexuality-- sure. When you use someone, when you are unfaithful, when you use sex as a weapon, the exact same ways you can sin as a straight person. But being LGBT is not in itself sinful. To believe that would be to believe God did a less than competent job in creating us. (I read that somewhere this week).

Eventually my husband found love elsewhere (a less conflicted love, who knew she was heterosexual to the core-- I assume). This left me devastated, bereft, and free.

It was not long after that I found my way to Beloved, and she found her way to me. There was no question in my mind that I had a "right" to love, if you want to call it that. There was also no question that I would need to be closeted in the relationship if I wanted to continue in my work.

But there was also no question that I wouldn't, for example, forego being seen with her in public. Of course we would go out to dinner together. Of course we would go to the movies. Of course my children would get to know her and love her, and she would become a big part of our lives. Slowly I have let myself drop her name now and then in church... these last weeks, I asked for prayers for my "dear friend" in church, and a few people now approach me saying, "How is Beloved?" or "How is y0ur friend?" I risked alienating some folks the week of her procedure by not being available for a rather large event (that had only been scheduled after Beloved's appointment was set). The choice was easy. It occurred to me that the coming out process with my congregation had probably already begun, gently, slowly. And that's ok.

So I choose and I don't choose. I wish I lived in a world (and served in a denomination) where I would not be faced with the choice between my work and my love. And so I choose both, in the way that is working for now. There it is. My "choice" to be closeted.

No regrets.


Lulu Maude said...

Sometimes it seems that anti-gay bias is the last respectable prejudice. My heart goes out to you. I didn't trumpet my heart's choice while I taught. It wasn't difficult to see where I was, but many chose not to, and I wasn't going to hand anything over in an environment that was anything but safe.

I am now retired and working in a library under a director with two gay siblings and a "Got Rights?" bumper sticker on her car. I feel safe and included. I can refer to my partner without fear.

What a change, but some part of me wanted all that to take place in safety, and for too many years I knew better.

LittleMary said...

this is powerful my love. it is just how your journey has happened, i know. how she came into your life when she did, all of it. i so am grateful for you answering your call, in so many ways.

Rock in the Grass (Pete Grassow) said...

Those of us who pastor live with many contradictions:we choose to reveal and to hide. My view on scripture is not the same as many in my congregation - and I have chosen to be gentle with them. So I "hide" some of my views for the sake of the journey we travel together.
I continue to hold you in my thoughts and prayers.

--Susan said...

I love the last line. Good philosophy.

I can't say I have no regrets. However, the way I have managed my closet is not among them.

My closet door used to be slammed so tightly I could hardly breathe. Over the years, I've left that closet more and more. BUT I STILL HAVE IT and use it as I feel I need to. I don't expect I'll ever be completely rid of it.

I have had people blow or try to blow off the closet door from time to time. It happens. It'll happen to you if it hasn't already. I understand the consequences may be more dire for you than for me. You'll deal with it if you need to.

But being an introvert, my gay closet is not my only one. I have all kinds of nooks and crannies I use. I choose to hide or reveal different facets of who I am. Nothing clandestine or creepy (well. to me, anyway!); I am just judicious about what I share with whom.

Embrace your closet(s). Let them serve you well--not as a hiding place but as a refuge. You will manage them as you must for all the reasons that matter (and maybe a few that don't).

The closet thing will be just fine. Rejoice in it (not necessarily "inside". You know "rejoice because of it".), your younguns, your Beloved, your church family.


Jan said...

You succinctly told your story, and I admire you for it. It is especially important that you feel no regrets--that is "the proof of the pudding" as my mother used to say. Blessings to you, Beloved, and your family.

Jane R said...

You know what your integrity is.


Rachel said...

Full of integrity and love, as it should be. Bless you.

IT said...

No one can make the decision for anyone else. I disagree with the facile viewpoint that we must all fling open the doors. Yes, that would be wonderful, if we could, but in real lives, with real responsibilities and real costs, none of us has the right to impose our decision on anyone else. All we can do is offer support and encouragement.

You will, when it's time. I hope it will come, and on your terms.

The only exception to my "let the individual ldecide" rule? I firmly believe in outing any closeted hypocrite who actively works against gay rights. A la Larry Craig, et al. THose people use the closet to attack their brothers and sisters, and should be dragged into the light.

Anonymous said...

Even now, nearly a year after finding your blog in a desperate search for hope, you are still shining hope and light into the closeted world, especially mine. Bless you.

jsd said...

There is at times no easy answer to not leaving the closet, or peeking out of the closet.

But perhaps a question you could have asked your friend is, when will society start making it safe for me to leave the closet? When does the price I'd have to pay for leaving stop costing me?

We all walk our own journeys, and you're last words say it best - no regrets. God doesn't call everyone to the same thing there's room for us all.

Thank you for sharing.

KJ said...

What IT said. When I was to be closeted, I was closeted, and when I was not to be closeted, I was not. I think that the Spirit is gracious in such things.

A risk you run, of course, is should your and Beloved's relationship become known. But then, if (when?) that happens, I guess you'll know it's time to move on out! Some messages are less ambiguous than others. :-)

Peace of Christ