Making Sense of Life as a Celibate, Partnered Lesbian After Marriage Equality

A reflection by Sarah

It’s June 29, 2015. I just got back from the vet with our dog, Gemma. She has a bacterial infection on her two front elbows, which should clear up with antibiotics in a week or so. I’ll spend the afternoon lying down to regain some energy before going out this evening for some ASL practice. I’ll spend the next two weeks counting down the days to a surgical procedure that could either give me some quality of life back or make my balance problem worse. It’s a pretty typical Monday for me…except for the fact that now, I could marry Lindsey legally in any state in the U.S. if that was what we wanted.

I woke up this Monday morning from a dream that a member of our former parish had broken into our apartment, taken photos of our living quarters, and sent them to our bishop. Of course this didn’t really happen. All that happened is last night, Lindsey received a personal email from an anonymous troll in our Christian tradition, threatening to report us to our bishop simply for being gay. I can’t decide which is worse — this, or the mixed bag of messages we’ve gotten over the past four days from other members of the LGBTQ community and allies.

I don’t know what to feel today. I am truly happy for my friends who no longer have to worry about whether marriage to their partners will afford them equal legal rights across the country. I understand the stresses associated with wanting to care for someone you love and living with worry that you will not be permitted to do so when it matters most. I’m worried about the behavior I’ve seen from members of my Christian tradition on the internet and how their vitriol will impact LGBTQ people of faith. I’m grateful that Lindsey and I are now part of a parish where we can blend in without worry, and even make friends and be an active part of the community with no one gossiping about what sins they imagine we are committing. I’m also grateful that so many people in our lives truly support us and respect our commitment to celibacy whether they understand and agree with it or not. I spent the weekend exhausted, but today I’m mostly weepy.

Being a celibate, partnered lesbian after marriage equality means being pressured to marry my partner legally even though we do not consider our relationship a marriage and are committed to obeying what our faith tradition has asked of us. It means that I have to explain over and over again, “Yes, I believe that civil and sacramental marriage are two different institutions. But my bishop sees it differently, and we are not going to disobey him.” It means being prepared upon saying that to be dismissed by the other person because he or she sees me as suffering from Stockholm syndrome, being brainwashed, contributing to the oppression of the LGBTQ community, caring more about “man-made religion” than I do about Lindsey, and being closed-minded or just plain obstinate. About 90% of the time, it means watching the other person laugh in my face or roll eyes when I say that obedience is a gift freely given — it can never be forced.

Being a celibate, partnered lesbian after marriage equality means knowing that the majority of the LGBTQ community would not lose a moment of sleep if Lindsey’s workplace were to decide to stop offering domestic partner benefits. It means working harder than ever to make sure that the two of us are protected, having awkward conversations with the powers that be at Lindsey’s places of employment, and running to the Department of Health as swiftly as possible to get an official certificate of domestic partnership before such things inevitably go the way of the dodo. It means living every day with even more uncertainty than we faced before, since no one seems to have any idea at this point what marriage equality will mean for those of us to will not be marrying for whatever reason. It means going into a major surgery in two weeks wondering whether I’ll have access to health insurance at this time next year. It means coming to terms with the fact that if I lose access to Lindsey’s health insurance, we’ll end up in dire straits financially because even the best of plans on the exchange will not cover enough of my medical expenses for us to make it financially.

Being a celibate, partnered lesbian after marriage equality means avoiding people in my faith tradition unless they are close friends or part of my wonderful parish family. It means living in fear of someone accusing Lindsey and me of scandal and doing everything possible to force our priest into not communing us. It means being Church with people whose hearts are filled with hatred for people like me, and with people who want to love me but have no idea how to do that. It means doing my best to accept what comes my way as a cross that can unite me to the suffering of Christ. It means I have been given a backhanded gift in the form of an opportunity to learn more about living the two great commandments. It also means being hypervigilant: you may think I am speaking from a place of paranoia, but I have already lost count of how many times within the past four days I have seen on Facebook that people like me are abominations, lustful perverts, and child molesters who are unworthy to darken the doorstep of any church.

Being a celibate, partnered lesbian after marriage equality means accepting my current reality as a test of faith. It means focusing on my relationship with God and trusting that no matter what happens, he will provide for Lindsey and me. It means staying strong in my knowledge that we are doing what he is calling us to do, and that by living our vocation we are responding to his invitation to unite ourselves more fully to him. It means being just as vulnerable as ever with my spiritual father and encouraging Lindsey to do the same. But most of all, it means that when I am weary I will take off my hearing aids and sit in silence with the one who gave his life for me — the one with whom I am passionately in love, the one whose presence in my life has begun a radical transformation.

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A Queer Calling Featured in a Podcast

Hello readers! We’re looking forward to getting another post out at some point this week. Thank you for your patience as we continue to blog when Sarah’s health permits.

Last week, we were interviewed by Kevin O’Brien for a podcast. Kevin is a Christian ally working on a film to advocate for homeless LGBT youth. You can listen to the podcast by following this link. Many thanks to Kevin for interviewing us, and to Sarah’s sign language interpreter Christa for hanging in there the whole hour.

There is no written transcript for this podcast as of yet. If anyone has time to transcribe it so that Sarah and other deaf and hard of hearing people can have access, we will post it here and extend lots of virtual hugs in gratitude.

Kevin’s film is still looking for financial support as well. If you enjoyed our podcast, please consider making a donation to At the End of the Day.

Comment Policy: Please remember that we, and all others commenting on this blog, are people. Practice kindness. Practice generosity. Practice asking questions. Practice showing love. Practice being human. If your comment is rude, it will be deleted. If you are constantly negative, argumentative, or bullish, you will not be able to comment anymore. We are the sole moderators of the combox.

Call Me What You Will

A reflection by Lindsey

This is a post that I really don’t want to write. In some ways, it’s the post that I never thought I would be able to write. But the universe being the universe has ways of forcing my hand because certain things need to be said for the benefit of others.

The internet has exploded this week, dividing Christians along unfortunately all too predictable lines. The choice of a single word delineates sides: do you say Bruce or do you say Caitlyn? Concerns about appearance dominate both sides: either Caitlyn is stunning or Bruce has fallen more deeply into the hole of self-disfigurement than could have ever been realistically imagined. Sadly, this conversation is the conversation of the Church. And it’s manifestly voyeuristic, detached, and ugly on both sides.

Call me what you will: transgender, genderqueer, or gender non-conforming. At this point, I don’t care. I’m done, at least in the moment, trying to stake out a claim in the vocabulary war that regards people like me as territory to be won. I see messages on all sides arguing that people like me should have a place in the church, everyone with their own choice prescriptions about what I should or shouldn’t be doing with my body.

Call me what you will, because at this point, I’ve simply decided I’ll respond to any form of civil address. I live, breathe, work, and exist in a world that names me before I name myself. Salespeople ask me for my name, but it’s really only a pleasantry to ascertain my last name before assigning me a title. Each and every day, I go to work where people talk about me using a name, pronouns, and titles. I’ve grown numb to pronouns and titles, even though in my own sphere, I try to fight for three syllables of recognition that my preferences matter. I know asking my students to call me “Instructor” is a manufactured construct, but it’s the best I can do to find a workaround to a culture of politeness that threatens to rob me of my sanity.

Call me what you will, because at this point I’ve figured out that it’s possible to find my own safe spaces even if I know that you will never understand. I’ve learned that if I want to give my soul space to dance, then I cannot allow your opinion of me to rob me of my music. Trying to be the person God wants me to be demands my everything. Sometimes I just need to find that much more courage that God wasn’t joking when Christ promised to guide us through all things and remain with us always. I have never been down with conforming myself to social expectations because, quite frankly, my allegiances belong elsewhere. Occasionally country music gets it right:

You’ve got to sing like you don’t need the money
Love like you’ll never get hurt
You’ve got to dance like nobody’s watchin’
It’s gotta come from the heart if you want it to work.

Call me what you will because I know the fullness of my heart can never fit behind a restroom door. Whether I choose to be a superhero or a person capable of standing on my own two feet whenever I have to pee shouldn’t have to be your concern. Truth be told, I’ve had a long and enduring suspicion that your concern has never been about me in the first place.

…………

If you were honestly concerned about me, perhaps you would take the time to ask questions and to listen. If you truly cared, maybe you would consider that your well-meaning “advice” does little more than prove to me that you aren’t willing to take the time to understand me and the challenges I actually face. If you wanted to show “Christian compassion,” then maybe you wouldn’t be quite so confident that you understand the full weight and implications of verses like Matthew 19 when it comes to people in my shoes.

No one wins my trust by an impressive display of their ideology. Celebrating that Caitlyn looks awesome tells me that maybe I should only come to you if I’m ready, willing, and able to pursue certain medical choices. Bemoaning the magnitude of Bruce’s disfigurement sets me on my guard that you might decry the disfigurement of my heart. My soul lives inside of my body. I’m much more interested in knowing whether you have the courage to see when my soul comes alive and the emotional intelligence to know when my soul is withering. Do you dare risk sharing your soul with me in friendship’s mysterious intimacy?

Call me what you will because that’s the best and most reliable way I can tell whether you know I exist. Call me what you will because you are telling me how you see me. Call me what you will because I have gotten so good at playing these games on my own territory.

Happiness looks good on people. Everyone who has figured out how to come alive in a body and share a soul with the world is beautiful. Fight for your friendships; true friends are few and far between. And maybe, just maybe, your soul will find a way to dance.

Comment Policy: Please remember that we, and all others commenting on this blog, are people. Practice kindness. Practice generosity. Practice asking questions. Practice showing love. Practice being human. If your comment is rude, it will be deleted. If you are constantly negative, argumentative, or bullish, you will not be able to comment anymore. We are the sole moderators of the combox.

Some Thoughts on Sympathy, Suffering, and the Paschal Mystery

A reflection by Sarah

In many of our past blog posts, Lindsey and I have discussed some of the different kinds of reactions other people have when they find out we are a celibate couple. Some folks are skeptical of us, others supportive, others cautiously optimistic about our claim that we really don’t care to discuss our sexual ethic in terms of, “Is gay sex a sin?” Lately, one of the most common reactions we’ve been receiving is sympathy. We have readers, friends, and family members who feel sorry for us because we are celibate. Occasionally people outside our Christian tradition tell us that we’re missing out on one of life’s greatest pleasures because of blind obedience to authoritarian religion. During our series on sexual abuse last week, one person told me that she is sorry for what happened to me and will be praying I’ll heal completely from my history of sexual trauma so that Lindsey and I will finally be able to have sex. At the same time, plenty of people inside our Christian tradition believe that the kindest words they can possibly say to us are, “I’m sorry you’ve been given such a heavy cross to bear in life.”

I can’t help but make a connection to another circumstance in which I’ve received a great deal of sympathy lately. As I’ve become increasingly open in discussing my Ménière’s disease and the resulting deafness and vestibular loss, more and more people in my life have been telling me, “I’m sorry you’re stuck in such a bad situation. But good on you for making the best of it!” In truth, I do see my vestibular loss as a bad situation. Because I can no longer balance my body in the way most people can without even trying, my mobility is limited. I used to swim every day, and now I can’t do that anymore. I love socializing and getting out of our apartment to go on adventures by myself or with other people, and most of the time I can’t do that anymore either. I’ve gained lots of weight and have no endurance at all because most days, I can’t move very much. I can’t work right now either. But I’m not “making the best” of anything regarding this issue. I’m irritable all the time, I snap at Lindsey when I become frustrated with myself, and I try to do more than I’m able and end up hurting myself in the process. Nothing in that is making the best of a bad situation.

That said, I don’t see my deafness as negative in even the slightest way. Sure, I’ve gone through (and am still probably going through) a grieving process because it’s unsettling to lose one manner of interacting with the world that I’ve had access to for my whole life. Working on accepting myself as I am rather than trying to “fix” it has been painful in some ways, but pain is not always a bad thing. In the process, I’ve gained so many new ways of understanding the world around me — things I never would have experienced as a hearing person. When I’m participating in Liturgy by feeling the choir’s vibrations and noticing how those induce images of synthetic color, I’m not making the best of a bad situation; I am communing with God in a way I couldn’t have before my hearing loss. It’s common for members of my tradition to speak of monasteries as places that offer people a unique opportunity to encounter God in silence. Monasteries are indeed wonderful places, but my question is: how many monks, nuns, and monastery lovers truly know the experience of total silence? I’m talking about silence that is free from every possible distraction — no leaves rustling, no birds chirping and flapping their wings, no water running…not even the sound of one’s own breath. Assuming that there are no rock bands, gunshots, or jets around, when I take off my hearing aids I can experience the gift of total silence. Even the best custom-designed earplugs will not give a hearing person that gift. I think that’s amazing. And it’s an example of why “different ability” is sometimes a more accurate term than “disability.”

I’m taking some online coursework this summer to help me keep my mind occupied until July when I’ll have my next ear surgery. Last week, the professor in one of those classes suggested that my Ménière’s is part of how I experience the paschal mystery. I’ve lost and I’ve grieved, but I’ve also seen the birth of many new and wonderful things. There are some days when, where my vestibular loss is concerned, I still find myself feeling much more connected to the crucifixion than to the resurrection. But is there anything wrong with that? There are also times when I feel deeply connected with the resurrection and other people tell me this isn’t theologically or emotionally right because I’m “romanticizing” my suffering. It has never made sense to me how someone else can claim to know better than I do when I am suffering and when I am not.

I’ve been thinking about how celibacy is also part of my paschal mystery. It hasn’t been easy for my to accept that I will never give birth to children. It’s definitely not easy to accept that I live in a society where marriage has become the default vocation for all people, and those who choose celibacy tend to be viewed as odd and repressed. It’s challenging to be so committed to a Christian tradition where there is little guidance for living celibacy outside a monastery. Nonetheless, I am joyous about continuing to cultivate a celibate vocation in the world alongside Lindsey. Celibacy is one of my callings. I didn’t ask for it any more than I asked God to make me deaf, but I’ve found both of these realities to be life-giving rather than limiting. There are days when I feel more connection with the binding of Isaac than I do with the Annunciation, but that’s how it is with any calling and any long-term state of being.

Sometimes, we don’t know what to say to another person except, “I’m sorry.” I include myself in that “we.” There are occasions when sympathy is a helpful response, and I don’t always know for sure how to differentiate between those occasions and others. But I do think that at times, sympathetic responses can miss the mark when it comes to understanding how callings and life experiences work differently for different people. What would it be like to spend more time discussing our callings and life experiences in terms of the paschal mystery? Several questions run through my mind. To name a few: what if we offered fewer condolences and made more effort to understand what we perceive to be another person’s cross? How might offering support look different if we could accept that what looks like a cross to one person can appear as a crown to another? Do we have to see crosses as negative in the first place?

What callings and experiences from your own life are part of your paschal mystery? If you feel led to share, the comments are open.

Comment Policy: Please remember that we, and all others commenting on this blog, are people. Practice kindness. Practice generosity. Practice asking questions. Practice showing love. Practice being human. If your comment is rude, it will be deleted. If you are constantly negative, argumentative, or bullish, you will not be able to comment anymore. We are the sole moderators of the combox.

Sin is Communal: Why Churches Need Better Responses for “I Have Been Sinned Against”

This is our fifth post in our series on sexual abuse. Don’t miss parts one, two, three, and four.

As we discuss sexual abuse, we think it is important to address the problem that churches rarely respond to victims well. Many Christians will focus solely on the importance of the abuser repenting and the victim forgiving. Abuse is treated as though it impacts identically two people: the abuser and the victim. But this isn’t the case. Recently, Joel Miller wrote an excellent piece highlighting the limitations of this paradigm by analyzing Josh Duggar’s public statement. Miller notes how Josh references himself over 20 times while only obliquely hinting at his victims twice. If abuse only impacts two people, talking about one’s self can seem a lot like taking personal responsibility. But abuse does not impact only the abuser and the abused.

When we recognize the communal reality of sin, we need a way for people to blow the whistle and say, “I’ve been sinned against!” A person who comes forward ought to be taken seriously and soberly. There is a problem in the community, and the Christians who gather together need to take action in order to seek God’s justice lived out through communal repentance. But that rarely, if ever, happens. Instead, anyone who tries to sound an alarm that he or she has been sinned against is treated with grave suspicion and often gets a number of admonishments. Accusations of sexual abuse go against the grain because they call into question the abuser’s character. Abuse is about lording power over another; abusers frequently pick out people in the community who are least likely to be believed if they can ever summon the courage to come forward.

As Christians, we cannot speak of sin’s potential to rupture our relationships with other people if we do not have space for victims to say “I have been sinned against.” Part of the reason why sexual abuse is so insidious is that abusers depend on forcing their victims into silence and removing their victims’ ability to object to what is happening. Even if a victim attempts to pursue a “Matthew 18″ approach in an effort to stop the abuse, the victim will at some point need to go to the Church in order to say, “I have been sinned against.”

Churches encourage people to deal with their own personal sin by avoiding judging others. There are times and places when it is appropriate to tell people to remove the log from their own eye, yes. However, instances of sexual abuse should not be occasions for admonishing the abused to focus on his or her own sins. Well-meaning Christians have assumed far too often that a victim comes forward because he or she needs help forgiving the abuser. Really, victims come forward to help expose a larger problem affecting the entire community, and forgiveness is a lengthy process that cannot be taken lightly. A church that demands victims simply forgive their abusers is a church that absolves itself from its responsibility to all of its congregants.

Christians can be notorious in asking victims to identify whether their sin had any part in the abuse. Especially if the victim has a developed or developing female shape, an absurd number of Christians will respond by peppering her with questions like What were you wearing? Did you have anything to drink? Did you say or do anything that could have indicated that you were open to sex? Were you immodest in anyway? How was your hair styled? and other such nonsense. Asking people who have been seriously violated to sear their own consciences for any hint of wrongdoing is spiritual abuse. Christians who ask these questions are not interested in providing comfort; these questions are about placing blame.

Unfortunately, many pastors and biblical counselors are experts at adopting a patronizing tone when talking with survivors. They focus on how the survivor needs to forgive and repent for his or her own part lest the survivor cultivate “resentment.” We can’t think of a more effective strategy for ensuring that sexual abuse victims do in fact come to a place of resentment…of the church and the shoddy theology used to justify this pastoral approach.

Recognizing that sin is communal opens the door to a different pastoral approach. Communities that see the communal nature of sin will ask themselves questions like, “How have we contributed to this situation? What changes can we make so that this never happens again? How can we help other churches be more proactive in this area? What can be done to ensure that the allegations are investigated by appropriate legal authorities? How can we extend pastoral care to known victims? Are there other people who have been victimized? What can we do to hold the abuser accountable?”

There’s a tension for Christian communities. An abuser that goes to confession has taken a sacramental step towards his or her own healing. In traditions that do not practice sacramental confession, an abuser might share with an accountability partner which can also be a step toward healing. We are strong advocates that the seal of Confession must never be broken. Any person walking a path of repentance must be encouraged to continue his or her journey. We are constantly falling down and getting back up in order to grow towards Christ. A victim who seeks the church because he or she has been sinned against is calling attention to how the communal nature of sin directly impacts the community. Communities must be walking their paths of repentance together, changing policies and procedures that permit people to be victimized. Our churches must strive to be the most compassionate, the most loving, the most truthful, and the most hopeful communities in existence. But that can only happen when communities are constantly searching out their hearts so that God can shine light in every dark corner, including the culture of silence that permits abuse to continue.

Comment Policy: Please remember that we, and all others commenting on this blog, are people. Practice kindness. Practice generosity. Practice asking questions. Practice showing love. Practice being human. If your comment is rude, it will be deleted. If you are constantly negative, argumentative, or bullish, you will not be able to comment anymore. We are the sole moderators of the combox.