I had a meeting yesterday with a woman in the area who has done a lot of work with LGBTQ people, mostly college-aged, and is currently a life coach for many of those people. She had a couple of particularly poignant comments, which I thought would be appropriate to share here. So, I’ve written them in her voice below (taken from my memory).
“I had a gay student come in and talk to me, and then another, and then another, and then it built from there. All of the queer students were coming to talk to me, some of them needing help with the coming out process, others just trusted me as a person to talk to. I didn’t get it, why the would talk to me of all people. I mean, here I am a white, straight, Catholic woman, and all these people are coming to me as they were in the process of discerning their sexuality or gender identity. So, I asked them why they trusted me, why they came to me.
‘Because you believe me.’ was their overwhelming response.
‘Because you believe me.’
“I think that’s something the church needs to hear. That just because I believed these students as they though they tried to make sense of who they were, they came to talk to me. Now that I have my own practice, they still come and talk to me – they make up a huge part of my client base, and they never miss an appointment. What does it say that all they need is someone who takes them seriously, and that they never find it?”
I think a lot about all of the stuff that is left unsaid, and about the shame that comes with the feeling of not being able to share one’s self with others, to be known. I think of friends I know who had been abused, or abandoned, or got pregnant, or lost a job, or sunk in financial debt…..Rather than being a place to take this stuff, the church was a place where they had to make sure they were especially hidden.
Pardon me as I step on my soap box here, but I think we are missing out on a huge opportunity in the church when we fail to make room for the experiences of all people who are present, and when we believe people when they honor us by honestly opening up who they are.
It is an uncomfortable thing to be vulnerable – often even more so if we hear someone share something that seems foreign or unfamiliar. I don’t think the call is for us to remain stoic, or to act as though we have an answer for every question people bring, but I think it’s important that we allow people to be honest, and to make a space for people to be comfortable sharing who they are.
[Back to digital diary again] I can remember thinking at one point in college that I would rather die than have anyone know that I had feelings for women. I don’t think I could even articulate at the time that I was gay, but I can distinctly remember the feelings of shame that came around even the idea of someone knowing what I perceived to be one of the deepest, darkest secrets I had. The weight of the shame I carried was so dense that it was better for me to hold it in my gut than to share it with anyone. The process of letting go of that shame and fear took a long time (and quite a bit of therapy); in all honesty, it still creeps up from time to time, but without the same force it had before. In letting go of that shame, I made room for a lot of other stuff – stuff like hope, empathy, trust in myself and others, compassion.
I wonder about that weight we carry, and wonder if the church could be a place where we could build relationships with people that make the space for us to let go of some of that weight. I’m reminded of the Ani DiFranco song “The Garden of Simple,” where she says that:
In the garden of simple
where all of us are nameless
you were never anything but beautiful to me
and, you know, they never really owned you
you just carried them around
and then one day you put ’em down
and found your hands were free
What could we do with those hands, if they were free?