Coming Out

A Presence Stronger than Absence for Pride 2015

by Rev . Katherine Katsanis-Semel

The post coming-out talk that I had with my mom related to my sexuality was hard. It had to do with her and dad going to therapy. They’d found a therapist who’d went to Smith College; they sought counsel from her. It sounded hopeful, at first. I opened my heart up at least wider than my smile, awaiting supportive words. Yet my hope was short-lived.

According to mom, their therapist told my parents, with conviction, that even though I attended a liberal arts college like she had (where students experiment with their sexuality), this “hiccup” could be overcome. Ouch. Apparently this annoying hiccup, discovered by my relationship with another woman, could be overcome.

Mom’s sharing didn’t result in a “We Shall Overcome” moment for me.

Rather, it resulted in a long season of feeling alienated from my parents.  Not only did I feel starved by mom’s lack of expressed empathy, I felt fearful. I was afraid of my mom’s loyalty to this therapist who held enormous power. In the life of my family system, their therapist’s counsel suddenly carried great weight. Though I searched for words that might compete with this woman’s obvious, oratorical influence, the words that I found didn’t work. My chosen words were too hotheaded to be received, too fiery to cool boiling waters.

While I haven’t incurred the same damage, I’d imagine, as those whose parents pressured them into ex-gay therapy (or forced them out of their homes), I’ve had my share of ouches. Between that conversation and where I now stand, I’ve suffered my share of bruises. For example, the sense of betrayal that this conversation evoked was a lot to carry.

I remember thinking after this talk, “Gosh, I can never talk to her about this again.” Being an idealist, I actually had this thought arise several other times after additional conversations regarding the same topic! To this day, I haven’t received the affirmation that I’ve craved from my mom. And since my dad has been silent on this topic for years, I haven’t received affirmation from him either.

Eleven years now post coming-out and I haven’t received the “you may be different, yet we accept your identity,” moment for which I’d prayed.

My folks’ strategy moved into: If these “hiccups” don’t desist, then let’s pretend that they aren’t happening. Since that talk, I’ve thankfully found support from unexpected sources. Yet until recently, I felt tremendous loss connected to my parents’ psychological distance, turned psychological absence. I believed that nothing could make up for it.

I’ve had to remind myself that Christianity, though magical, is not magic. That is, prayer is not the same as casting a spell. We can pray for something, and surrender our prayer (in my case, a prayer for parental acceptance), only to receive something undesirable. And we are called to trust that what we receive is part of our discipleship training, our spiritual walk. Double ouch.

Then recently, it occurred to me that there is one presence in my life that could make up for this loss.

This presence could make up for it, and already has made up for it. At the start of Pride Month this year, I woke up one morning remembering who was with me. It sounds like I’m suffering from Alice in Wonderland syndrome, yet I assure you that I’m not. It was just a change in perception. I knew, and consequently thought, “Jesus is with me. He’s never left my side.” I spontaneously “got” that nothing that I’ve done, and nothing that I’ve left undone, and nothing that I can do or leave undone will destroy his love.

There’s no conversation that’s too awkward for him, and no situation that would make him leave. There’s nothing that I can say that would startle him into loving me any less. As Christians, as people audacious enough to assert that we follow Jesus, we call him many names. We call him: Liberator, Savior, or Lord. I call him my Guru, in the purest sense of the word, meaning that he dispels the metaphysical darkness that surrounds and indwells me. I know some who call him: Brother, Friend,  or Beloved.

We have many titles for He who lights up our lives.

Yet what about calling, thus, claiming Jesus as our parent? I sense that I’m not alone in this. There must be other LGBTQ Christians who need to remember that Jesus is not only the “King of Kings” (an appropriately elevating title, yet one that also puts him emotionally out of reach).

There must be other LGBTQ Christians out there who need assurance that Jesus is also our ideal parent. His affection is so steady that it almost hurts. His correction is so gentle that I respect it. His care is so consistent that I simultaneously cling to it, and push it away. And his love is the parental love from which I do not wish to individuate.

His love is the presence that persists, even when others step away.

Though I won’t claim that remembering Jesus’ living presence in my life has wiped away all pain, I’m certainly not as focused on it. The realization of his persevering presence has also freed me up to deeply forgive my parents. In feeling more loved, hence freer, I’ve granted my parents freedom in ways that I couldn’t have previously imagined.

The self-righteous indignation in my heart has considerably shrunk in size.

My ego has gotten a bit smaller; my heart has grown a bit bigger. In his presence, what I’ve experienced as my parents’ absence (and loss felt in relation to their absence) becomes tolerable. Moving next to him, sleeping next to him, crying next to him, makes being alone less lonely. His love doesn’t erase everything. Yet it does what love does best: Somehow, it makes everything new. And this newness makes loss, even tough loss, OK.

Photo courtesy of photographer Amnon Gutman