Before I even start, I need to say a few things up front.
1- I have my daughter’s permission to tell this story.
2- This is not an attempt to be an authority on something I know nothing about, like being gay. Or having a child that’s gay. The only thing I can be an authority on, are my own experiences, and realizations, and flaws, and regrets. Of the last two especially, I have more than I can count.
3- When I first started this blog, the Go Daddy Saint who helped me set everything up, asked me what my “brand” would be. I had no idea how to answer that, because I’m not a brand. I’m a person. And while brands are used to sell inanimate objects like vacuums, and razors, real people don’t come factory produced and sealed in a plastic bubble. They’re growing and learning and becoming. Or at least they should should be. And real stories—the ones that change our lives, or perspective, or who we are inside—can’t be tweaked and twisted for a label, or leave us feeling obligated to nip it here or tuck it there, like a tragically botched facelift, to fit the box we’ve created for ourselves. I’ve spent my entire life doing that. Living up to a tragically botched label. And it’s nothing but a lie. My experiences, and the beliefs I have surrounding them, don’t come from a pretty packaged box with a description of what to expect inside. (“Deeply flawed Christian mother who avoids groups, hates Kool-aid, and cusses as much as she prays. No guarantees. And absolutely no returns”.) They’re dug from the dirt. They’re The Whisper in my ear when I’m ready to give up. They’re the sores on my knees, after dropping in anguish to the middle of my bathroom floor. So at any given time, they may fit, or contradict, any or all of the different aspects of this journey I’ve set out on To Become. Which is the long way of saying: don’t let a single story or experience get you too invested in the parts of yourself that you may be expecting me to reflect back. Especially when it comes to faith, and God, and the 7.4 billion other humans, with their own thoughts and beliefs and realities and experiences that we all share this planet with. Because I reserve the right to live this life with all of the awe and wonder it deserves—and to change accordingly with every new shred of truth that I’m lucky enough to find. And I reserve the right to believe whatever I feel is right, and still say I’m a Christian. And I reserve the right to speak out against anything I choose to, and to love, and support, and stand up for people like me, and not like me, and yes, still say I’m a Christian. I’m just saying that up front, to save anyone the trouble of writing me a message, that includes the phrase “How can you call yourself a Christian and still……”. Let me give the only answer to that question that I ever will: Don’t worry about it. Me. My story. How I express it. Who I love and support. What I believe. Do not affect you, so don’t let it make you a victim of something you’re not. And on The Road To Becoming, I’ve thankfully learned, that another person’s rejection, or even acceptance, of my relationship with God, has no real power either.
So back to the story. Or maybe I should say stories, because when I really think about it, it isn’t just one. It’s four that collided into one, and they changed my life forever. I’ll call them Bloody Sunday, The Dream, The Decision and The Dog.
BLOODY SUNDAY: One Sunday night about 7 years ago, I came home late, and went in to kiss my daughter Annika goodnight. She was fast asleep in what looked to be an over-sized hoodie that had been pulled tight around her face and neck. Which was odd—but then again, she’d spent the evening home with her dad and brother, so who knew what they’d all been up to. As I came a little closer, I saw a band of white sticking up from her collar. When I gave it a pull, a big wad of gauze came out, covered in large amounts of blood.
“OMG! OMG! WHAT HAPPENED? WHAT HAPPENED? OMG WHAT HAPPENED?!?!?”
Yep. That was the Shit-Together-In-Crisis response from a seasoned Paramedic.
“I cut myself” she said in voice that was calm. Too calm. Creepy calm. Slither down your down your back and wiggle in your toes calm.
“Like on accident….?” I nodded, cuing her to say yes.
She stared me straight in the eyes, and shook her head no.
I wrapped her in a blanket and headed to the car, stopping just long enough to yell at my husband, who I’m not sure ever woke up. Not that I really wanted him to, because even though, unlike me, his Shit-Together medic response extends to our kids and their blood, I’m a lot faster, and I didn’t want to wait for him to get dressed.
The 10 minute drive to the hospital was spent priming her for what would come next. “They’re all really nice……..and they’ll make your cuts better. Then they’ll ask you some very important questions, and I need you to tell them the truth, no matter what.”
Even if it’s something your parents have done.
Please don’t let it be something your parents have done.
The rest of the night was a slow/fast blur. They stitched two deep gashes in her neck, that she insisted she did with a pair of nail clippers, (Wth…..nail clippers?!?), “because she just wanted to know what it felt like”. We left 3 hours later with wound care instructions and the name of a child psychologist, who after two months of weekly visits, came no closer to solving the mystery than any of the rest of us had. Although she did send us home with an ADD test (that we immediately threw away), and a pop-up tent “sanctuary” that filled Annika’s entire room, and a baby teething ring, “to chew on in times of distress”.
I may have used both of them myself.
THE DREAM: A few months later, after picking ourselves, and our lives, and every aspect of our kid’s environment apart, like the last bits of KFC from it’s crispy fried bone, we were still no closer to finding the answers we needed to move on. Prior to Bloody Sunday, there had been some intense family upheaval that we thought may be responsible, if for no other reason that we were desperate for a Scapegoat.
We were in the process of being shunned by our friends and family after leaving my childhood church for a new one. Nothing about our situation was unfamiliar: Step 1.) Grown adults attempt autonomy. Step 2.) As punishment, love and acceptance are withdrawn by The Herd. Step 3.) After punishment, grown adults attempting autonomy are expected to run back, fall on their knees renouncing their sin, and beg for forgiveness.
Blah. Blah. Blah. Wash, Rinse, Repeat. It was the same game I’d watched being played, over and over, my entire life; the only thing that ever changed were the names and the remote control faces.
And now me.
Because I wasn’t running back. And there was no way, in this life or the next, that I was groveling for my autonomy to anyone. Or accepting punishment for doing what normal adults, with jobs, and a marriage, and a well cared for family, have earned the right to do: live the lives they were given, instead of allowing other people to live it for them. I was already prepared to do whatever it took, to raise my family on my own terms—with or without The Herd—because if we couldn’t have the freedom and respect we deserved along side of them, than we would learn to go on without them. What I didn’t anticipate, was the emotional toll that separating from the only life I had ever known, would have on me, my marriage, and my children. I went from thinking I knew everything, to being positive I knew nothing. Up until then, my thoughts and beliefs had been manufactured for me, and I was trained to recite them, like a secret password, whispered at the door of an exclusive club. And not just any exclusive club. The MOST exclusive club. Full of the only people that God could ever love. So there I was, like an actor without a script. A Minion without a Villain. With no idea where their voice ended and my voice began. And I was probably going to hell.
Then came the morning that Annika sat down for breakfast, and told us about her dream: “Me and Selena Gomez got married, and Justin Bieber sang Baby at our wedding. You and Daddy said you loved me so much—but some people got really mad” And when I say “some people” she actually named names. The usual suspects, who always had something demeaning or negative to say about us, or our house, or our parenting, or our monstrous children who just needed a good beating to get em’ right with God. She wanted to know why people would be mad at a wedding when they’re supposed to be happy. She had no idea, at least not consciously, that the church we went to, and the people we had spent our lives with, simply didn’t do gay. Not in a Westboro Baptist way, with signs and protests and lispy, inbred sneers. That would make them look mean. They didn’t do gay in a much nicer way than that. They may not demean anyone to their face, but if you were gay, and shook their hand in a business transaction, the minute you left, they’d look at their Club Christian Co-Workers and wipe their hand on their leg with an “Ick”. Apparently gay money was fine, as long as they didn’t have to touch someone gay to get it. The unsaid agreement within the church, was a Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell kind of thing, as if saying the word gay out loud, would make them appear out of nowhere like Voldemort. So were we the kind of people who stood in judgement, while some poor kid with their head bowed in shame, read an I’m-Sorry-I-Kissed-A-Girl-and-I-Liked-It letter in front of the entire congregation? No. Which I’m truly thankful for. The I’m-Sorry-I-Fell-On-A-Penis letters were bad enough as it was. And did we send children off for a soul saving summer at Camp Pray the Gay Away? No. We didn’t do that either. In fact, as far as I knew, no one in our sect ever was gay. All of that good, pure living of extra-marital sex, porn, divorce, addictions, gossip, and groping little girls must have bred it all right out of us. Although there were several people we knew who “never wanted to get married”, but adopted some kids that they raised with their “best friend”; or who moved in with their college basketball coach, and “never got around” to moving out; or who owned a house with their “roommate” of 20 years, and took yearly vacations to their timeshare at Atlantis.
After several months of reaching, and searching for any bit of probable cause that would force a 7 year old to hack her own neck open, The Dream was exactly what I’d been waiting for. So I put 2 + 2 together and came up with “My Daughter Must Be Gay”, figuring she heard the tones of disapproval, like only kids and dogs can do, and in her distress, she’d taken it out on herself; it seemed perfectly logical at the time.
I spent the rest of the day looking for ways to support her, without making it into a big weird deal.
And made it into a big weird deal.
I pulled up famous gay people on the internet and forced awkward segways into bizarre conversations about how funny, or inspiring, or successful they were. (So speaking of the weather, have you ever heard of Ellen? I hear she loves dogs, just like you!)
If God was being merciful that day, he would have struck me dead right then.
Later that night at dinner, I asked the kids what kind of person they’d like to marry (“It could be a boy OR a girl you know!”).
They both stared at me blankly. Then Anders told me about the new Transformer he wanted, and Annika asked what was for dessert.
After they went to bed, I told my husband about the sign I was planning to make, for the next Pride Parade, of course. “Christian mom who will F**CK ANYONE UP, who messes with my gay kid!”. Not that I’d ever been to a Pride Parade. Or knew when the next one was coming. Or if it was even normal for super triggered people to carry insanely aggressive, over-the-top signs, with claws and teeth coming out of them.
He said he wasn’t trying to be a jerk, but that he did wonder, if I may be taking things a little too far.
The obvious answer was yes. But here’s what was really burning me, from deep inside, all the way out: until the minute I thought my own child was at risk, I knew I had never taken it far enough. I had sat back and allowed disrespectful, dehumanizing behavior without ever speaking up. I stayed safely in the middle. Too quiet. Too docile. Protecting my position in my social group, above the rights of other people. Protecting the ministry I ran. Protecting my own ass. Now here I was, with a possibly gay daughter, and there was no way I was going to pretend that the slowly emerging levels of freedom, equality and safety, were a real reflection of society as a whole. Nor would they be, without a continued fight, for a long time to come. I also knew that any advances that had been made, on behalf of my possibly gay daughter, and my future daughter-in-law, and the children they may someday have, would be no thanks to me, and my no good, no help, ass saving self. I was deeply ashamed and embarrassed, and I wanted to fall on my knees in thankfulness, to those who had spent their lives, risking far more than I ever had, by standing up for her in my place. From that moment on, I vowed never to be passive, or quiet, or let fear and selfish interests stand in the way of another person’s right to safety and equality again. Because even if my child wasn’t gay, someone else’s was, and now they were my child too.
THE DECISION: So here’s the thing about being shunned by friends and family for leaving their church. As I’ve said before, in other posts, it’s not the same as being disowned. Compared to being shunned, disowned is an act of mercy, because it’s one big jab through the heart, instead of a long, miserable death by a thousand little poisonous cuts. Most people don’t admit they’re shunning. In fact, if they’re ever actually confronted, they claim that they’re not, because they know it makes them look like jerks. So here’s what happens instead. They don’t stop inviting you to birthdays and holidays and social functions. In fact, you may find yourself invited even more. But it isn’t because you’re loved or accepted. It’s so they can sit at table with you, and turn their heads away when you speak. Or so they can yell at your children and treat them like feral little monsters if they so much as breathe in the wrong direction. Or so they can give each other beautiful gifts and make a big deal out of each one, while your kids get clothes that are 4 sizes too small, and a baby rattle that’s “just perfect!” for a 5 years old. Or so they can plan trips and laugh at inside jokes that you’ve been purposefully left out of. Or so they can bring up controversial topics on religion or politics, and demean the “sinful”, “disgusting”, “trash” (like you) who are dumb enough to believe the way you do.
For several months before The Dream, I’d been on the verge of doing something drastic. It’s a last resort measure called going No Contact, and it means cutting off all interaction with abusive people and their environment. Not because I wanted to. Even if you’re treated like garbage, when it’s all you’ve ever known, no one wants to. But something in me finally understood, that this cycle of behavior, had been growing and thriving long before I was born, and with or without me, it was going to continue, long after I was gone. Gay child or not, it didn’t really matter, because if it wasn’t about being gay, they would have made it about something else: Politics. Religion. Who you marry. Where you live. What brand of toilet paper you use. Turkey over ham at Christmas. Their need for other people to be bad, so they could feel good, was a problem far bigger than me; and like any real addiction that plugs the empty holes in our lives, there was no rational conversation or magical solution, to talk them out of their next fix. The only behavior I could control was my own. And if I really did have a gay child, I knew that staying in that environment, would set her up for a lifetime of hiding or being shunned: never fully accepted, with the cross of self-loathing hung around her neck, forced to apologize for being born, “an abomination”, “a disappointment” and “broken”.
It was all sounding strangely familiar—and over my dead, cold, infidel body, was I letting anyone feed their Narcissism, on my innocent little girl.
I had to let them go.
THE DOG: Five years later, my then 12 year old daughter, who so far was not gay, and in love with Edward the Vampire and Twilight, came downstairs for school, and dropped a bomb that left me stunned.
“You know when I cut my neck open?”
Um. Ya. I remember it well.
“Well it wasn’t me, it was Riley (our anxiety ridden rescue Terrier). I was forcing him to hug me like you kept telling me not to, and his teeth got caught in my neck. I was afraid you’d get rid of him, so I said I did it to myself. Can I please sleep with my door closed again, now?”
Her older brother had apparently known for years, but until they were sure the dog was safe, neither one of them was going to tell us the truth. As she went on to explain it more, she said she yanked his head when he bit her, and it tore two gashes, instead of leaving more recognizable bite marks. But just to make sure we believed her, she used the nail clippers, to disguise it some more. As extreme as it sounds, they loved their dog, and what they feared was actually real. Had we known it at the time, there was no way we could have kept him, after vampiring a little kid’s neck.
“But all of those years…..” I couldn’t even finish the sentence, as memory after memory of sitting up all hours, listening outside of her door, and visits to the therapist, and late night soul searching, and forced, awkward talks, clicked like an old toy Viewmaster through my mind.
There’s a term used by Tolkien, to describe the good story, that comes from the bad story. He called it The Eucatastrophe. It literally means, The Good (Eu) Tragedy: a sudden turn in an impossibly bad situation, that leaves us breathless with surprise, to find something beautiful on the other side. Sometimes its a found attribute, like loyalty or courage. Other times its an arrow, that either points us to our Hero’s Journey, or puts us on a path to a much needed change. It’s different than a happy ending, because just like real life stories, Tolkien didn’t believe that a fairy tale ever ends—it keeps moving forward, To Become something else, after catching a sacred glimpse of the truth.
So what’s the good story in the bad story here? I got out. Even under the threat of hell, and damnation and no more lemon meringue pie at Christmas. And I changed. Not because of my abilities—I didn’t have anything special to speak of—but because I was offered the choice to be different, and I showed up long enough to say yes. And I experienced Grace. Not the kind where Angels sing and all is well with the world, forever and ever amen. The kind that hauls you on her back and dumps you in Time Out, so you can sit and think about how you’ve been acting for awhile. And I broke the cycle. For my kids. And my kid’s kids. And for a sick and suffering world that desperately needs to hold each other, and rock each other, and beg each other for forgiveness.
Please forgive me.
I saw a quote the other day, that said “Desperation is the raw material of drastic change. Only those who can leave behind everything they have ever believed in, can hope to escape.” It may seem strange to think of desperation as a positive, but it’s one of the greatest gifts I’ve been given so far. Knowing who we are, isn’t the same as being who we are–and when Dog showed up as God, and lit the path to peace and freedom, The Knowing, and The Being, moved a little closer to becoming one.