When we last left the little redheaded girl, she had just become a Jesus Freak, moved in with a total stranger 3000 miles away from home, quit her job and joined a church that became nationally, notoriously anti-gay.
I’ll let that sink in for a minute.
I honestly don’t remember many actual conversations about the actual morality of being gay. I remember the plug and outlet analogy, the ‘this is the natural order of things’ talk but the unfortunate truth is I didn’t put much thought or effort into it at all. I just put it in the ‘this is a part of being Christian’ category. To be honest, I became preoccupied with the ‘don’t have sex till marriage’ and ‘if you’ve already been married and divorced, you can’t do it again or you’re a sinner bound for hell’ lines of thought. I was actually pretty freaked out about that. The rest was almost incidental. And as unsatisfactory as that sounds, it’s sadly true. I was pretty self absorbed at the time. In recovery from a lifetime of sex work and the resulting social hatred that I carried because of it. (I know, the parallels are very very sad.)
After a couple of years I began leaning heavily towards pro-life activism. This satiated my primal urge for fairness and human rights. It also helped assuage the guilt I had over my own abortion. I became the president of the local pro-life chapter but I knew however, that if push came to shove I wouldn’t ever come to the place of making abortion illegal. I could never be the person forcing a woman to do something with her body that she didn’t want to do. I felt like we weren’t really helping pregnant women at all either and quit in frustration.
I argued a lot about pro life issues on Facebook but never once about the gay question. My guess is subconsciously I knew my point of view could easily be dismantled whereas I felt and still feel that a fetus is a human being. (And I also feel that women, having the primary job of carrying and caring for this human have to do what they have to do for themselves including abortion.) I wish someone had challenged me on this but not a single person did. Not to my face, anyway. But I was aware of how much people disliked me and I didn’t have any friends outside of church.
Liam and I finally married and hobbled through an almost non-existent sex life even though it was now sanctioned by God himself. I had to plead for sex on my wedding night. Miraculously I got pregnant which kept my brain occupied with keeping the child alive. After my daughter’s first birthday, I discovered I was pregnant again but had an ectopic pregnancy which resulted in a burst fallopian tube and a near death experience. I was airlifted to Vancouver and while I lay on the operating table bleeding to death, not knowing if I would ever wake again, I was darkly, quietly terrified. I figured this would be the perfect time for God to show up and comfort me.
The comfort came in the form of the surgeon, who held my hand while we waited for the anesthetic to take hold. My last thought before I went under was ‘Have mercy on me- a sinner.’ Makes me want to cry that my last possible thought was fearful instead of loving.
That event, along with my best friend of 5 years moving to the U.S. and cutting ties with me, resulted in my jump to the Catholic Church where we were the exciting new couple who had converted from Protestantism. We had to wait for my first marriage to be annulled to have our marriage blessed by the Catholic church. There was no guarantee we would be granted the annulment so everyone extolled our brave decision to put our marriage in the hands of the church. If the annulment was granted we could be married. If not, we would live as brother and sister despite having a child.
We ‘decided to be celibate’ while waiting for the decision which took a couple of years. Obviously we were basically celibate anyway. This was a sore point for our marriage. He never wanted to take the time to make it better. Or to make it at all.
In the meantime, ironically, it was the Catechism of the Catholic Church which began to move me back towards compassion for gay people.
Unlike Evangelical Christianity, the Catholic church does not actually consider being gay a sin. But it does consider any homosexual activity to be sinful. The church’s official teaching is chastity for “homosexual persons.” This was the first shift towards actively thinking for myself again. I was relieved that at least their existence wasn’t sin.
After the ectopic pregnancy I had a procedure to see if we could un-block my fallopian tube. The doc said “if you get pregnant again you will almost certainly have another ectopic pregnancy which will be dangerous for you.”
This really frightened me because the Catholic teaching was rabidly ‘get pregnant at all costs’. I was terrified of getting pregnant again. Did they really want me to risk my life over this? They did. (And last summer, I made Liam answer the question- if you knew I would probably die would you have still wanted me to go ahead with the pregnancy? His answer was ‘love is all about sacrifice’. Easy to say when you’ve got no skin in the game. But, I knew where I stood after that.)
And There was a gay couple who lived in our village- Kevin and Paul. Older fellas, long term relationship. We did some work for them, were even invited to dinner by them. And they were so gracious to us. And I remember Kevin one night telling a story about a spiritual experience that he had had. (Any spiritual teachings and experiences outside of Catholic canon were also considered sinful, even demon-loaded.) I remember thinking that I could not dismiss this experience of his- this loving, beautiful experience that had changed him. And that it didn’t make sense to dismiss this relationship he had with his husband either. I began to question everything.
I spoke to my spiritual director about this at length. Many many times. To my priest. And about why God wouldn’t take away my constantly simmering anger. At one point my priest threw up his hands. “Maybe get a punching bag Paula?” (I believe my anger was a result of my own betrayal and my subconscious awareness of it.) None of it was making any sense. It was all beginning to unravel. We had obtained the annulment, got married in the Catholic church and still weren’t fucking. I was terrified of telling Liam that I was questioning everything because I knew what it would mean for us.
Finally, almost five years ago, I got up the nerve to tell him and he took it so badly I didn’t bring it up again for an entire year.
And when I did tell him that I didn’t believe, he accused me of betraying him, of lying. Of going back on my promises. Of throwing our vows away. We fought constantly. I cried constantly. I was so stressed I developed shingles. Our girl called this “The Season of Fights”.
My daughter and I left the church for good almost 3 years ago when we were at Mass listening to the ‘wives submit to your husbands’ garbage. My daughter’s tears of fury ran down her face and I never felt as big of a colossal fuck up of a mother as I did at that moment. How had I ever let my daughter listen to such utter fucking crap? How could I have contributed to planting this shit in her head? (And I often think that I always wanted just to submit in the bedroom where it was hot but we were dead there. He wanted me to submit in life instead. I got it soooooo fucking backwards.)
And of course, irony of ironies, my daughter is gay. And I love her so much for being so fucking tough and brave and fucking badass. But she is so so sensitive too and her little heart has been broken so many times by her dad and his refusal to acknowledge her reality. By his refusal to drive her to her LGBTQ2 meetings and parties. By his steadfast refusal to see reason.
And I think about how I was part of that culture. That culture that refuses love and reason. That makes people think there is something wrong with them, some to the point of suicide. I was part of the wave of hate and intolerance, the things against which I had formerly fought.
I get the circumstances of the decision. I get that loneliness and fear and coincidences pushed me there. Solitary confinement is humanity’s greatest punishment for a reason and I was pretty solitary. But in the end, I betrayed my values for comfort and a home. I betrayed other human beings for comfort and a home.
More irony- a couple of years ago I took an entrepreneurship accelerator course and a classmate was this hilarious and brilliant gay woman named Laurie Lesk. She began the first Pride Guide and LGBTQ2 youth groups in our area at that course and we became fast friends. Laurie invited me over for New Year’s Eve a couple years ago and I told her all of this story. All of this story but in greater detail. And I sobbed hard because here was a real person that I hurt. Here was the community that I pushed against. And for what reason? No decent reason, no. But Laurie, bless her beautiful soul absolved me that night. She held me as I cried with shame and embarrassment and disgust. She got it. She told me she loved me. It almost made it worse.
Her forgiveness meant more to me than anything the jesus guy could ever have done.
This year my kid and I went to the Pride Celebrations and she said to me on the way home. “You’re my number one person mum, but Laurie and Andrea (her partner) are my second. And the rest of the LGBTQ2 community? They’re my family.”
Laurie created a cohesive community here so that kids like my kid wouldn’t feel utterly alone and pushed back against. So they would have a safe and fun place to go to and just be themselves. I owe her more than I can ever repay. I owe the gay community more than I can ever repay. But I’m ready and willing to pay what I can.
My betrayal causes me pain so great I can barely think about it sometimes, let alone through it. My shame is thick and I feel I deserve to swim in the thickest of pea fog soup. I caused untold damage. To people I once claimed to care about. I contributed to a climate of intolerance and pain. Of suicide even. I turned my back on those people, the things I loved and cared about and, became the biggest, ugliest hypocrite I have ever seen. I can barely stand her. I only tolerate her because I know there are millions more like her, forced into decisions that are cruel and unusual, people constantly pushed back to 60, 50, 40 percent capacity. Who haven’t even SEEN what they’re capable of yet because they have always had to constantly fight against an extra force or two or three or more and expend energy THERE too therefore never being at absolute peak. Never able to be their full selves.
This is why I do honest so hard now. I have to. If you’re with me through all this shit, we’re down folks. If not, I totally fucking get it. But at least I’m at the end now. Sigh. Let’s turn the page, shall we?