Today we are happy to host a guest post from Casey O’Leary, who shares her experience of coming out as a lesbian after marriage and children. She also describes the ways coming out has helped strengthen her religious faith. Casey’s story is part of the Queer Theology synchroblog occurring this week.
I created a life for myself based on certain dreams and expectations. I wanted a family. I wanted a career. I wanted to please my parents. I fell in love with a kind, gentle, successful man. I gave birth to two children and cared for them in a beautiful home. I was, by all accounts, living a blessed life.
Then I fell in love with a woman, and my creation shattered like broken glass around my feet.
I tried to pick up the shards of my life and put them back together, but that was impossible once I knew that I was gay. My creation couldn’t be repaired or refashioned into something recognizable. I had to let it go.
The beginning of my creation story began just like the biblical version: in darkness. The darkness was a choice, one of several I could have made as a queer person. I could have chosen to remain silent about my feelings and continue living the life I had created with my husband. I could have chosen to live two lives, keeping my old life out in front and putting my secret life in the background. I could have chosen to end my life altogether, overwhelmed by the shame of my homosexuality, my betrayal.
I chose to start over in the dark, to create a new life as an out lesbian.
I began to take small steps in the darkness, searching for light. It appeared in unexpected ways: a job opportunity that renewed my faith in my professional abilities; a dear friend who comforted me as my first lesbian relationship faltered and ended. Those moments grew and expanded as I built my new life, this time with a loving wife, an enduring friendship with my ex-husband, a co-parental role with my children, and professional success.
Sounds lovely, doesn’t it? It is, and yet I still struggle every single day.
It’s not as if I stopped being me when I created a new life. I came out of the closet the same person in many respects; my personality didn’t change, and neither did my past. I’m still running over well-worn paths of shame, fear, and anger. I want to have more friends and weigh less and know how to have fun and do yoga and impress people with my writing. I long to be someone else more often than I love the woman I see in the mirror.
But now I no longer have certain civil rights, although I was worthy of them when my spouse was a man and not a woman. My personal safety could be at risk by kissing my wife goodbye in a parking lot or holding her hand as we walk down the street. I worry that I might lose my job if someone objects to my sexuality. My children rarely have friends over to my house because they can’t comfortably explain the other woman who lives there.
My concerns about how other people will feel about my new life pale next to my concerns about how my family feels about it. I am estranged from family members because my wife and stepson were not included in an invitation for an upcoming family vacation. Hurtful words have been exchanged; judgment flows like a rushing river between us. But I miss my family every single day. This rift hurts, deeply, every single day.
Some days, I want nothing more than my old life back. I want to be married to a man so I can talk about my spouse openly at work, without taking a moment to remember if I’m talking to someone “safe.” I want my children to be like most of their peers, with heterosexual parents. I want my family to love me and think I’m a good person. Hell, I want everyone to think I’m a good person, even Internet trolls who make fun of people like me and never realize that anti-gay comments from the safety of their computers can rip holes in my heart as I sit in front of mine. I want the life borne out of my old dream, the one that I just knew would make me happy for the rest of my life.
Instead, when I struggle, I try to remember why I chose to create a new life as a queer person. Realizing that I am gay was like having God place gentle hands on my shoulders and turn me 180 degrees, so I could see a completely new horizon. It’s incredibly beautiful and freeing to live my truth so openly. I understand myself in ways that I never thought possible because I chose to embrace my sexuality. I am more compassionate and loving toward others, and I can even occasionally extend that compassion and love to myself.
The most shocking aspect of this new life is what has happened to my faith: I actually have some, and it’s lovely. I am beginning to shed my fearful preconceptions about religion. I see the value in spiritual practice and language. I no longer see God as judgmental and angry. I know I’m not being punished when I struggle or suffer in my life, because I can actually recognize moments of grace.
We are not limited to one creation story. Our lives are filled with possibility if we can let go of what no longer serves us, releasing with taut fingers and falling backwards into a sea of darkness. The light will find us there, ready to begin, willing our new creations into being.
Casey O’Leary is a writer and children’s librarian. She is passionate about reading and helping children find the “perfect book.” In 2012, she fulfilled a dream by completing her master’s degree in library science from Indiana University, while working part time and raising three children with her wife, Jenni.