Melinda's Story: Taking the Long Way Around

I started figuring out that I was gay at the age of 34. I was at the movies with a church friend, and two movies about angels were playing: Michael, starring John Travolta, and The Preacher’s Wife, starring Denzel Washington and Whitney Houston. After we dithered a while about which movie to see, she finally asked, “Well, who would you rather look at for the next two hours, John or Denzel?”

I answered, “Whitney!”

She looked at me for a moment, then said, “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Why should it mean anything? Wouldn’t everybody want to look at Whitney Houston for hours on end? Well, apparently not everybody—and especially not 30-something married Christian moms.

I started wondering if it did mean something. I realized that nobody had ever asked me who I wanted to look at before. Growing up Catholic in the 1960s and ‘70s, I was told a lot about what not to look at and what not to do, but that was all about boys. I’d dated boys in high school, but being a good Catholic girl, I never let things go too far. (I now realize why that was easy for me.)

I went home from the movies, started looking around, and discovered that, yes, everybody I really liked looking at was female. I’d been married for 10 years to the only guy I’d dated seriously in college, and we had a three-year-old son. After a few months of looking around, though, I told my husband, “Looks like I’m probably gay.” He asked if this news was going to change anything between us. Being Catholic, I didn’t consider divorce an option, and I liked my life the way it was, so I told him so. We stayed married for another 15 years, until he decided that the marriage would be over once our son left for college. Once it was, I began coming out publicly.

It was a very gentle path to coming out. I didn’t grow up consciously dealing with being gay. I didn’t have to tell my mom until I was long out of the house. Growing up in a liberal Catholic family in California, I never heard a homophobic sermon, either in church or at the dinner table, and was never exposed to any ex-gay nonsense.  I didn’t fall in love and have to make hard choices about it. I didn’t even have any notable crushes—besides Whitney.

It took a long time for me to think of myself as gay. In the 15 years after coming out to myself (and my husband), I had only come out to a few close friends. In the process of divorce, I realized that one of its benefits would be that I could explore this side of my identity. Then a friend posted a prayer on Facebook for National Coming Out Day, from an organization called the Gay Christian Network.That’s a thing? There’s a whole network? I wondered. I was friends with some LGBTQ+ Episcopalians and I knew a few LGBTQ+ ex-priests and nuns and a lesbian couple who had attended my former church briefly, so it wasn’t a totally foreign concept. It was just starting to occur to me that “gay Christian” might describe me, too.

I joined the GCN online community and learned the jargon. I read about the Great Debate, Side A versus Side B, and realized that my reading of Scripture aligned with Side B (though others could read it differently in good faith). Having left the Catholic Church about 10 years before, I was attending a Church of Christ congregation, and had been the children’s ministry leader there for several years. I came out at church when I was invited to speak at a children’s ministry conference, and decided to speak on making churches safer for LGBTQ+ kids and families. I felt that I had to tell my church leadership that I’d be speaking as a gay person, while my nametag and my bio were saying that I was the children’s minister of their (our) church.

They were generally accepting, if a little puzzled. One of the elders, whom I’d known for more than 10 years, asked, “Well, are you going to DO anything about it?” (He meant get into a relationship, of course, but I had to laugh.) When I assured them that I wasn’t, they supported me being out and continuing in children’s ministry. I came out gradually to the rest of the church, and was the only out LGBTQ+ person in our church. While a few of the (mostly older male) members had questions, and there were often clueless remarks, that small congregation where everybody knew me was relatively open to learning how to respect this part of my identity. Coming out also allowed a couple of other closeted LGBTQ+ people in the church to talk to me about their own lives, though they weren’t ready to come out completely.

Meanwhile, I had started attending a local GCN Bible study. From the first night I walked in, I was part of the family. Though I was often the only Side B person present, there were so many other theological differences among us that we learned not to let them divide us. It wasn’t always easy—we had some heated discussions about the Sabbath, and salvation, and how to read Revelation, and politics—but we tried to love each other through the differences.

Still, I lived alone. For a hard-core extrovert, being with loved ones for a few hours a few days a week just wasn’t enough. When my son graduated from college, I moved across the country to join an intentional Christian community, Church of the Sojourners. I’m not the only out LGBTQ+ person in my church anymore—there are a few of us, on both “sides.” Our community has historically been Side B, holding celibacy as the expectation for gay and single straight members. Now we are having a slow conversation about becoming more affirming. Whatever we eventually decide, I know that I won’t be alone, and I will be loved here.