Let me clarify: I‘ve always been queer, of course, but I didn‘t actually come out of the closet (to myself or anyone else) until well into my thirties, by which time I had — inconveniently — already married a man and borne his children. Coming out was a tricky business, but one which was navigated long enough ago now that it no longer gives me heart palpitations to think about it. And, being fortunate enough to live in a reasonably socially just society like Canada, I don’t constantly have to question whether and to what extent I can reveal my identity: I have photos of my partner on my desk at work alongside the kids, and she‘s as welcome at any straight person‘s social gathering as any hetero spouse would be. There are laws that prohibit discrimination against me at work an in my personal life, and when Tats and I finally end our engagement with a wedding, it will be a marriage that is legally recognized.
So life is good. Now.
But... life has a funny way of reminding us at the most importune times of where we‘ve been while it unveils a little piece of where we might be going. And tonight was one of those funny/inopportune times!
I sing in a choir, of late, through one of my sons’ school community, and tonight we held our first concert of the year. The event took place in the sanctuary of my old church, that is, the church I attended for nearly two decades. The church where I was baptised, and that served as my spiritual home until I came out at 38.
Initially excited that the concert was so close to home (My partner, our kids and I still live in the neighbourhood, and their dad and his partner also reside nearby), I was surprised by how affected I was when I actually found myself in that space once again. I had performed musically there many times in the past, and had spent many Sundays in the pews with my children and what at the time was my church family, listening to our pastor share biblical passages and his reflections on them. I had broken bread with my fellow worshippers for many church anniversaries and old fashioned family Christmas dinners. It was a bit odd to be in that space now, in a completely secular context.
It wasn‘t until I dropped my coat off in the little room behind the choir loft, though, that the significance of being away for so long really hit me.
As I glanced around, I remembered that it was here in this small room, seated in the worn-out, old chairs, that my ex-husband and I met with our pastor and a church elder to advise them of our „predicament“, while my partner was at home, minding the kids. And it was here that — when I was most in need of some stability and graceful guidance as I navigated the complexity before me in my personal life — that I was instead abandoned by those from whom I had hoped to find said stability and guidance.
I don’t blame the pastor entirely. I mean, it was a small little blue collar baptist church. Even in the early 2000s in Toronto, it was a big deal. The kind of thing that could really tear a small congregation apart. The divorce was as „problematic“ in itself as the homosexuality. (Nevermind the connection between the two!) But the fact that I was an orphan with no family of my own to help me figure out „now what“ made it especially painful that my church family would not step up and have courageous conversations with me, and with each other to challenge their biases and assumptions. Whether or not they were - individually or collectively - cerebral enough to critically examine the scriptures that had so often been used to oppress people like me through the ages, it would have been nice if they had at least showed compassion. No one shunned me outright or anything like that... but no one reached out to check in on me and my little family (the twins were 6 at the time — they needed to know that their mother was accepted and loved; as it turned out, they got more acceptance of me through their dad‘s parents than their church family!) And, when we drifted away and finally stopped going to that church altogether, no one followed up. (In fact, when I came back to visit sometime later, people were surprised to learn that I had begun attending another church — funny how they all assumed I‘d come out of the closet and jumped straight into bed with the devil!)
I hadn‘t realized just how much this all still affected some part of me until tonight, when I stood in that little room behind the choir loft, looked around, and realized, „Oh, wow - the last time I was in here was when...“
I don‘t know where that church stands now on full inclusion for LGBTQ+ folks. I know I cannot have been the only queer person at that church, and my heart hurts for others who came before and after me who did not find dignity and fellowship in that place.
The irony of the the words we sang at the end of our final set this evening was not lost on me. Oscar Peterson‘s Hymn to Freedom, arranged for two-part choir by Seppo Hovi: „Any hour, any day, the time soon will come when all will live in dignity, that's when we'll be free.“ All. Period. Not just all heterosexual people.
Luckily, the time for dignity came long ago for me, and I am most certainly free to be who I am most of the time in most daily contexts now. It felt strange, therefore, to find myself temporarily back in a place where that had once not been the case.