Is there room
My name is Margaret and I would like to tell you about my life. I would not have thought of it except that many people seem fascinated by lives such as mine and focus a lot of time and energy complaining about them.
I was born into a very committed, New Zealand, Methodist family. Church was the center of our universe. The highlights of the week were the two church services on Sunday as well as Sunday School and Bible Class events. "There are two groups of people," my mother used to say, "once-a-dayers and twice-a-dayers." She was referring to whether folks went to one service or two services on Sunday. We were definitely twice a day people! I spent my childhood and adolescence completely oriented toward the Church and its tenets many of which, particularly those concerned with social justice and basic human rights, became foundations for my adult life.
Like many of the kids I grew up with, I took on a career of service to others. I did well and rose in my profession. Again, like many others I knew, I had a variety of friendships in my youth, and in my late twenties met the "love of my life". We had a ceremony on Ohope Beach and entered into a life long commitment to each other. My partner and I have been together for over 20 years and have never regretted a moment of it.
When we first got together, we were both professional people with
similar interests and had the knowledge and skills to go into business
together. Although we were not at all sure that our business idea would
work out, we gave it a try and were successful. We were able to
purchase our own home. Signing the mortgage papers was very scary
and we hoped that our work would continue to go well so that we would be
able to make the payments. We never missed a due date and the house
has finally become freehold. We pay our taxes. We contribute to
our community. We try to assist those in need - both
human and animal. We sometimes travel. We study and read
widely. We enjoy a variety of friends. We love each other.
We laugh, play and cry. Our lives are rich.
That is a sweet story you might say, but what is so remarkable about it? I have thought so too - nothing very remarkable at all. Ours is the kind of life many people hope for and some people are fortunate enough to get. It is an interesting, caring and stimulating life but not particularly unique. And yet, almost daily, I read condemnation of my life style in newspapers and magazines. Media documentaries and debates about us proliferate and folks like me are the brunt of jokes, innuendo, ridicule and hatred. Legislative measures are developed against us; we are discriminated against in employment, economic, housing and health care arenas. Some families do not want us near their children. We are blamed for many of the ills of this world including the proliferation of the AIDS pandemic. We are condemned and criticized and some of us, if identified, are attacked on the streets or even murdered. The pressure of hatred is so great that one third of adolescents, such as I was forty years ago, attempt suicide. In addition, much of the negativity that is directed toward us comes from Christians in the name of Christ. I look at my life and the lives of my friends and I wonder what it is about us that is so threatening.
The reason is simple. We are gay/lesbian people. As is true
of all human beings, we were born with the ability to love and with a
desire to commit ourselves to another person in a long term relationship.
For us, such a commitment is directed toward a person of the
same gender as ourselves. Being lesbian/gay is about love and it
is only about love. Why then, does such loving promote so
much fear in the straight world - and particularly the
straight Christian world? I am talking about a fear energy that is
expressed as hatred and anger and as a desire to exclude a group of people
who, for the most part, live their lives in a quiet and
caring manner. It is hard for me to understand such negativity.
It has caused me to distance myself from the religion of my
childhood and youth since I have not felt encouraged within it to be openly
who I am. I have done nothing except be true to myself and to be
faithful and loving to my life-partner. However, it would
seem that for the most part who I am is not acceptable and the way that I
love is to be denied.
The human species is filled with such magnificent diversity - physical, social, intellectual, creative diversity. It is unfortunate that, on the whole, human beings do not rejoice in diversity but look sideways at it with fear and judgment. Some of us even try to hide our differences preferring to "fit in" at a severe cost to our own health and happiness and to insist that other people mold themselves to be exactly like us. For example, in white, middle-class society, people of color are acceptable so long as they have Caucasian, capitalistic values; vegetarians are fine so long as they do not cause embarrassment by refusing to eat meat at carnivorous tables; Muslims or Jews are OK so long as they do not complain about the excessive cultural emphasis on Christian holidays; and lesbian/gay people are tolerated so long as they are not flamboyant, do not display affection for each other in public, do not demand equal civil rights, are secretive about who they really are and do not seek to serve God as ordained Christian ministers or priests. I sometimes wonder if humans are somehow so fundamentally unsure of themselves that many of us have to protect ourselves by insisting on consistency. How unfortunate if this is true.
Most of the pain that has come into my life has not been because I am
lesbian but because I have been judged for it and have been asked to hide
who I am. I am no longer willing to do this. I was created as I
am and now, at age 52, I am finally able to hold my head high
as myself. Let me explain a little of what it was like for me before I
gained by this sense of self-worth and confidence.
Growing up, even as a very little girl, I knew I was different from other kids. I did not know how or why and I did not have the words to seek help about it. I remember at age nine or ten, crying alone in my room, because I somehow "knew" that I would not grow up to marry a man and raise a family as my parents and siblings had done. I did not know of any alternative and I was afraid of an unknown future I had no skills to handle. As an adolescent, while not friendless, I was "dateless". Boys were not interested in me and frankly, I was not interested in them either, except that it hurt to be the only kid I knew without something fun to do on a Saturday night and to be the consistent "wallflower" at the Bible Class socials. Once in a while I "fell in love" with someone but the focus of my attention was always female and I simply did not know how to handle it. In my twenties, I occasionally had a short-lived romantic relationship with a fellow but I was left puzzled and unsatisfied. Clearly something was not working here and I felt different and discarded.
How much better my young life would have been if I had been told that God
has made all kinds of people and that variety is part of the beauty of life.
How much more sense my experiences would have made if I had known that we
are each born with an ability to love and that as we grow up it becomes
clear whether it is our nature to make a primary, emotional,
sexual and life-time commitment to a person of the same or the opposite
From my experience, and the experience of every gay person I know, being gay or lesbian is a part of our nature - it is not a life-style choice. For one thing, no-one would choose it since our society makes life way too hard for minorities of any kind. Being gay/lesbian or straight is simply a part of our personalities. Just as some of us have blue eyes and some of us brown, just as some of us are tall and others are short, just as some of us are born with a musical talent and some are tone deaf, some too are born gay or lesbian and some are born straight.
There is so much ignorance expressed about the "gay life style" both in the media and within the daily conversations of many straight people. There is an assumption that being gay or lesbian is all about sex - and perverted sex at that. It is assumed that a gay person is a promiscuous being who goes from sexual partner to sexual partner carrying disease and depravity with them. Some even make wild claims of gay people recruiting youngsters to their life style and of molesting children. None of this is true of the gay community as a whole any more than it is true of all straight people. Statistical analysis has shown that by far the majority of child molestations are perpetrated by heterosexual males. Being gay or straight has to do with who it is that we are naturally drawn toward in fulfillment of our basic human needs for intimacy and companionship. That is all. That is all!
Sex is a part of being in a gay/lesbian relationship certainly,
but no more so than it is a part of heterosexual relationships. In the
overall scheme of things, sex is a relatively small part of most of our
lives whether we are gay/lesbian or straight. Of far more importance to
most of us is having someone in our lives to share our joys and sorrows,
someone to make decisions with, someone who puts us first above all
others and someone who knows us as well as it is possible to know another
human being. When I snuggle up against my partner it is about being
safe and loved and warm - the same things that were
important, I am sure, for my Methodist parents in their life times.
As I grew older and gained more experience, I met other people like myself. I became aware of the gay/lesbian community and what an enormous relief that was! I was not so unusual after all! I was not the only woman who was not interested in so-called "normal marriage". I was not the only person to find one's natural interpersonal attractions directed toward a person of the same gender. I felt relief and reassurance. I also felt resentful that this information had been kept a secret from me and from many of my gay/lesbian sisters and brothers. I developed an anger that my life must be led with caution and wariness. I am disappointed that the day my partner and I committed ourselves to each other we were alone and in private rather than in a church surrounded with the good wishes of friends and family. I am sad that because of fear of rejection it took many years before I told my brothers and sister that I am a lesbian person and am happy about it. I am enraged that my partner is not automatically my legal next-of-kin and that we have to set up very careful legal documents to make sure that we each have the right to speak for the other in times of illness or other incapacity. I hate it that my partner and I have paid social security taxes every single year and yet when I die she will not get the benefits of a spouse. I am insulted that on every legal or business paper I complete I must list myself as "unmarried" when I have been as emotionally married as anyone can be for over twenty years. Does all this seem fair to you?
As I grew up within the Methodist Church in New Zealand, I was taught to see it as a great force for good in the world. A force that stood for right and justice. A force whose very purpose was to reveal love in action. How sad it was for me to realize as an adult that there were conditions to that "love in action" and that many of those conditions applied to me because of something I had absolutely no control or choice over. Those conditions apply just because of who I am.
Despite a generalized claim to Biblical authority by many critics of lesbian/gay people, I see no precedent for Christian homophobia in the life of Jesus. In the Gospels, as I read them, there is no judgement except toward unscrupulous money dealing in the temple. I see Jesus hanging out with the under-dog and the criticized. I see him including everyone without judgment. I see him setting an example of tolerance and an acceptance of diversity. I see him promoting forward thinking and change. I see him understanding the conditions of others and supporting them in their individual situations. Wouldn't it be a wonderful thing if the Church of the 21st century were to set the same standards of love, acceptance and understanding as did its inspiration? To limit the community of saints to the mainstream, conservative and heterosexual, would be to create a very limited and unimaginative reality. Why not be the pace-setters of the new era and embrace diversity just as God created it?
Margaret H. Parkinson, Seattle, USA