I’m a day late, but I’ve been wanting to write a post for a while.
It’s been three years since I walked through the doors of Monte Nido for the first time, and I hardly recognize my life now. I am happy. I just graduated college. I consider myself (for the most part) recovered from my eating disorder. I’m more alive than I have ever been, and I have so much hope for my future.
However, there’s a part of my life that I’ve intentionally kept hidden from many people over the past few years. The longer I’ve kept silent, the heavier it’s become to carry. Now that I’ve finally graduated from college, there’s something that I want to share with you all.
This is Liv. We’ve been in a relationship since November 30, 2014.
Being with Liv makes me happy. She makes me feel alive, and I am a better person when we are together.
I have been so scared of people’s responses to this news, and I’m tired of it. I’m tired of having so much brain space taken up with, “I wonder if they figured it out because of that picture” or “Crap!!! Someone posted a comment that identifies us as a couple! DELETE DELETE DELETE.” I’m tired of thinking about the perfect way to “come out” on Facebook, or the perfect way to tell this person or that person. It’s exhausting. I’ve lived under the weight of shame for too long.
So, from this day forward, I am choosing to live MY truth. As I am reminded by Glennon Doyle Melton and Nadia Bolz-Weber, “You are responsible TO the truth, not FOR it.”
Some of you reading this may not understand why something like this would cause so much shame to begin with, while others of you are intimately acquainted with the homophobia and discrimination that is rampant in Evangelical Christian culture. I want to share my experience. While my story is not representative of the entire LGBTQIA+ community at Gordon College or in the Evangelical Church, I know I am not alone in my experiences, and I know many other queer students who have felt the same fear that I have during my time at Gordon.
Please forgive me – this is going to be long.
For those of you who know me, you will know that when I first moved onto Gordon’s campus, I was in love. I had finally found a place where I felt I could thrive. I threw myself headfirst into leadership positions. I almost never missed a chapel service, even once I had completed all my credits. I loved being at a Christian college, and I felt certain that I made the right decision in transferring out of my liberal, feminist program at George Brown College.
After a wonderful first semester, things fell apart rapidly. My eating disorder got really bad over the summer, and by the time I came back to school in the fall, my whole life was consumed by it. I ended up in residential treatment, and for the first time, I began to actually do the real work of recovery. I vividly recall spending a whole group listening to my peers talk about sexuality and relationships. It was the first context I can remember where the concept of being “not straight” wasn’t a big deal (outside of the very liberal college from which I had transferred). The topic kept coming up in conversation after that, and I remember one conversation where I realized that maybe I liked girls too. I curled up in
a ball and felt like an awful human being for even thinking I might not be straight.
Shortly after stepping down from residential, in an effort to be honest with the people I care about (something I’d been learning to do in my recovery process), I “came out” to a handful of people I trusted most. The process was excruciating. It usually involved a trip to Panera, followed by an hour (or more) of silence as the person I was with sat patiently while I (literally, physically) sank further and further under the table before finally getting up the courage to say, “I think I like girls, too.” This was invariably followed by them telling me they loved me and this new revelation didn’t change anything, and me purposely avoiding them for weeks in a massive vulnerability hangover.
It was during this process that I grew closer and closer with Liv. By the end of the school year, it was nearly impossible to deny that there was something between us. Alas, I managed to stay in a state of denial through the summer.
Coincidentally, this was also the topic of much controversy at Gordon College that summer as well. President D. Michael Lindsay signed his name to a letter addressed to President Obama requesting “religious exemption” from an anti-discrimination clause meant to protect LGBTQIA+ people. That summer, I couldn’t sign onto Facebook without another new article about Gordon and LGBT discrimination and losing community partnerships popping up. Overnight, this topic that I had been struggling with so personally was all I saw as I scrolled down my news feed. I felt so alienated. This institution that I cared so deeply for hated me. I was devastated.
I returned to school that August feeling completely fragmented but trying to hold myself together. There were protests outside of every chapel service, and I stopped going to chapel because I was afraid that if someone saw me walking near the protesters, they would automatically know that I was “one of them.” At the same time, I was working as a student employee in an office at the college, which helped me create distance from the rest of the LGBTQIA+ students at Gordon. I had an image to protect, both personally and professionally, and I was committed to doing whatever necessary to protect it. Despite everything that had happened between Liv and I the previous school year, I insisted we were “just friends.” In retrospect, it’s clear that we were “friends” in name only. We were routinely going far away from campus to be in a place where no one knew us. We would hold hands walking around Harvard Square, only to come back to campus and be “friends” again.
Here’s an excerpt from something I wrote during that period that I think sums up where I was at well:
I’ve also noticed a direct correlation over the last few weeks with my eating and the level of shame I’ve experienced over these feelings that just keep swelling up inside of me no matter how much I try to push them down. I feel guilty, so I don’t eat. My thoughts start swirling and I go into panic mode, and suddenly I’m overcome with urges to binge and purge. As the days have gone by, the more ashamed I have felt. The more ashamed I have felt, the more I want to give up on recovery. I’ve worked so hard and come so far, and I’m about to throw it all away for what? Because I’m ashamed that I like a girl. That I like girls. And guys. But I like girls.
It’s not worth it to destroy my life because of the gender of the person that I like right now. I want to believe that it is, because that’s simple. I know how to kill myself – both slowly and not as much. I don’t know how to sit with these warm and fuzzy feelings… I don’t know how to be okay with this fluidity that seems to be my sexuality.
Everything changed on our trip to New York City, Thanksgiving 2014. Walking through Central Park, hand in hand, knowing that we’d have to go back to our real lives at Gordon broke my heart. As we were driving back to Massachusetts, I couldn’t deny it any longer. I didn’t want to. She was my girlfriend, and after 6 months of my denial and her patience, I was finally ready to admit it.
After we made things official, I spent so many hours in therapy working through the shame that was suffocating me. In fact, I credit the work I did with my amazing therapist and dietitian to combat the shame of being in a same-sex relationship at an extremely homophobic and unsafe institution as critical in my recovery process. Liv even came with me to a number of sessions to deal with the toxic environment we were both living in. While homophobia and heteronormativity were deeply ingrained in my upbringing, Liv struggled to understand why people – especially those who proclaim the love of Christ – could have such hatred for us. Coming from a more affirming church background and completely unfamiliar with Evangelical Church culture before arriving at Gordon, she was overwhelmed with newly-internalized self-hatred and was being forced to question every idea she’d ever had of a loving, faithful God, who is not restricted by a man-made gender binary and loves all of Creation equally.
As the year progressed, things became much scarier for the queer community at school. I will not do what so many of my fellow alumni have already done and turn this into a post primarily about Gordon College. Frankly, they don’t deserve the press. If you’re truly curious, a Google search will bring up a number of newspaper articles, blog posts, and other editorials related to specific items of controversy in the past few years. I will say, at this point, the queer student population dwindled as the Administration became more threatening. A number of professors were forced out, including literally half of my department. An “expressive activism” policy was enacted, effectively silencing all discussion of LGBTQ+ issues on campus. All action and activism of the previous year was replaced with a dark cloud of silent resignation, and Liv and I became increasingly withdrawn. We went from our apartment to class and back to our apartment. In the midst of all this, my thyroid shut down. I was extremely ill and depressed, and many days I could hardly force myself to get out of bed, but my relationship with Liv continued to flourish. That apartment became our safe place, and we hid away together, cooking meals and binge-watching Netflix (We watched all of Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice while still somehow getting our homework done. Be impressed, y’all.). Still, that pang of sadness and fear came back to us whenever we heard of another incident involving the school, another instance of administrative threats against a student, or another hateful letter or speech by our president, an administrator, or a guest speaker.
Graduation 2016 eventually rolled around, and I was so envious of all the people who were officially done with that toxic institution. I still had one more semester left, but as you can read in my last post, I went to San Francisco to finish my practicum. I wanted to badly to be able to “come out” and be honest about our relationship, but I still felt like my status as a student was at risk if the Administration were to somehow find out that I wasn’t straight.
Now, I have completely finished my degree. My final grades have been submitted, and I am officially an alumna of Gordon College. I am now able to be honest about my relationship without fear. And yet, I’m still dealing with shame from my conservative Christian upbringing and (newly named) spiritually abusive church experience as a teenager. I still have a lot of internalized homophobia even though I have done significant research on the various theological positions regarding homosexuality in the Bible. Through our experience at Gordon, Liv (unfortunately) now has a better understanding of why this has been so hard for me, and we’ve been able to work through a lot of this fear and shame together. I am still terrified to tell anyone who I think is a Christian that I’m dating another woman. I still choke on my words whenever I go to say that I have a girlfriend. Thankfully, I have met some incredible people along the way (including Liv) who have shown me it is possible to be queer and a Christian – people who have taught me that Jesus would still hang out with me if He were physically present today.
With regard to my time in San Francisco (and my first time in four years truly away from Gordon), I’d like to give a huge shout-out to Pastor Caiti and Tara, and the rest of the community at Park Presidio United Methodist Church, who welcomed me into their community so readily; to Claire, David, Shelley, Sister Loraine, Ileana, Peter, Trent, and all the other chaplains I worked closely with at Sojourn Chaplaincy, who listened to me as I talked through my own theological reflections; to Kailie, Kaylee, Esther, Meredith, Karen, and the rest of my housemates at the Clunie House; and to all my friends who have stuck by me all these years as I walked through hell and back again.
I feel extremely raw and vulnerable putting this out for public consumption, but this is me owning my story. This is me facing my truth head-on. This is me living Brave.
I can’t wait to breathe again.