“When I told my Dad I was gay he just said, ‘Well, I guess you are on your own.’ and hung up the phone.”
How deep the need for our father’s approval — even just for his hug. And from a mother too. Even in our 40’s and 50’s and later in life, that need is as real and present as it was when we were little.Over the next two days, I would like to share with you the incredibly moving story of Criselda, a woman I met at the GCN Conference in Chicago. This is her story, in her own words…
Weekend before last I attended my first Gay Christian Network conference. It was a first in several ways. It would be the first time I was around a large number of GLBT folks at once. It would be my first Christian conference. But, most of all, it was my first GAY CHRISTIAN conference! As new as this experience was going to be for me, I was not at all nervous. Not having experienced anything like this, I held no expectations. What I ended up experiencing is so hard to put into words.
In all of my life, I have never felt such a connectedness with a group of 700+ people. I’ve ALWAYS been a minority. In my earliest memories, I was the only Hispanic. In grad school, I was the youngest and the only Hispanic. I was also a minority as a female. Then came what would make me a minority for life…I realized I was gay. So, here I am, a Hispanic, gay female. Oh, and most of all, I’m a gay Christian.
When I first confirmed for myself that I was gay, I sobbed. Not because I thought it was wrong and therefore would not be able to experience God’s love…I was sobbing because I knew I had to tell my mother. I just knew that I was made the way I was by God and there was nothing that could change that. Even as I visited supposed ‘Christian’ chat rooms online and was told over and over and over again that there was no way I could call myself Christian if I also called myself gay, I never wavered. After attending the GCN conference, I realized how lucky I was in that I never doubted God’s love for me.
So many of the attendees at the conference had grown up in fundamentalist churches. I heard so many personal stories of struggle and heartache in accepting oneself as a Christian that was gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender (GLBT). So many of them experienced horrific rejection by their family and their churches. Some were forced into reparative therapy, or ‘pray the gay away’ programs. Some were completely rejected by their families and were on there own from a very young age. I’m not talking just about those my age that came out years ago as GLBT; I’m also talking about the youth of our churches. Sheri is only 25. I’m not sure how old she was when she came out to her parents, but she still has a strained relationship with them. Not having that support from them is bad enough, but only a few weeks ago, her pastor said she was no longer welcome in their congregation. This church had become her only safe place after being rejected from the church where she had grown up. Now she was left without a church to call home.
When I told my mother, she had typical questions like: ‘Is it because you were abused? Is that why you haven’t been going to church?’ In the end, she said, ‘I’m not comfortable with her being in the house.’ I was relieved, it hadn’t been as hard or harsh as I had expected. One down…one to go. When I asked to speak to my father, she told me ‘no.’ She explained that he was outside drinking with my uncle and didn’t think now was the time. I had to BEG her and explain that I couldn’t tell her and not tell him. And I couldn’t wait the six months until I would see him at Christmas. She finally relented and got him to the phone.
After talking with her, I felt fairly optimistic about telling my father. That was short-lived — the conversation lasted all of 5 minutes. I told him the girl he had met was actually my girlfriend. He said, “I figured something was going on.” Then he told me I needed to be sure that this was what I wanted. When I confirmed that yes, it is what I want, he simply said, “Well, I guess you are on your own,” and hung up the phone.
My father did not speak to me for a year. When his father passed away the following January, my partner and I went together to the funeral. When I arrived at my grandparent’s house, I walked in the kitchen to greet family members. He saw me and walked into the living room. When I entered the living room, he walked out of the house. The only words he spoke to me that entire year were ‘peace be with you’ and that was during the funeral mass. I guess it could have been worse because he could have completely ignored me; but what he did at my grandparents’ home still hurts to this day.
Even though that happened 16 years ago, when I saw parents at the conference with their son or daughter, I realized I still feel pain surrounding that day. The first night at dinner, I saw a mother there with her 15-year-old daughter. I was jealous and thought how lucky the daughter was. She would never know the rejection of her family or the years of struggle questioning whether or not being gay was a sin that so many others at the conference experienced. Here she was, a mere 15 years old, at a Christian conference with 700 other GLBT folks and allies and with her mother! I know many of us longed for that kind of affirmation from our own families!
The parents had their own meeting time to share their stories with each other and be support for each other. What they decided to do later that day was beyond amazing. Those that were comfortable enough agreed to line the hall outside one of the meeting rooms and give hugs to those of us that needed and wanted them. When they made that announcement, I realized I still carried a lot of pain due to my father’s reaction. I KNEW I was going to get a hug from a dad!
At the appointed time, I made a beeline for that hallway; I was NOT missing out on this opportunity. I immediately saw a dad and wanted to go up to him. Before I could, though, a lady reached out to me and said, “I’m so glad I found you! I’ve been looking for you!” I had thanked her for being at the conference earlier that day when I realized she was there with her son. As she gave me the biggest bear hug, I cried. Never before had I been embraced in that way…figuratively and literally. She was embracing my gayness! ‘Momma Joy’ is every GLBT child’s hope for a mother.
What happened next was so cathartic for me. I turned to the father and fell into his arms. As I did, I began to weep. He, too, was embracing my gayness in a way my own father was not able to do when I came out. He held me tightly in his arms until I released him. He probably would have stayed that way the entire weekend if I had not let go. I didn’t catch his name at the time, but it turned out he and his wife, who just happens to be the president of the board of the Gay Christian Network, were present with their son at a session I attended. As I told him why I needed that Dad Hug, I saw tears rolling down his face.
I will continue Criselda’s story in tomorrow’s post…