Coming out, and coming back in

 'I looked up at a canopy of leaves and saw not the leaves but the light filtering through them.' (Image courtesy of Rachel Swenarton)

'I looked up at a canopy of leaves and saw not the leaves but the light filtering through them.' (Image courtesy of Rachel Swenarton)

Through the month of June, we are asking LGBTQ readers to submit essays about experiences in their lives that have brought them pride, happiness, and triumph.

I expected the embarrassment of attention, the frustration of confusion, and the joy of relief when I came out during this last semester of college. I craved the relief. What I would have never anticipated was the feeling most there: an intimacy towards God, and subsequently myself, so sincere and filling that it has made decades of Catholic guilt and defeat feel worthwhile.

My spiritual journey had been not so much an expedition of wanderlust as much as it was the following of a roadmap. I attended a catholic grammar school; I said a blessing before every dinner I ate for 20-some years; I engaged in religious and theological lectures in college. The start and finish were marked, the suggested path between, clear, with room to make stops and detours along the way. For that patience and freedom, I remain grateful. Yet, as I entered adulthood, I found my feet stuck in the shallow mud. The more I traveled on this path, the further I had to go. I could go on no more; I no longer cared to.

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They call it “coming out” but I find “coming in” more apt. Unlike the path of worship and scripture and virtues, my journey in sexuality has no separate and distinct start and finish. They are the same. To vocalize and exercise my most authentic sexuality has meant seeking nothing more than what has been lingering within me. Giving myself the freedom to respect my sexuality meant curving the map back in to create a full circle. Closing that circle has meant wholeness.

Home from school this past Easter, I lay in a hammock contemplating my willingness to be more honest and expressive of my desire to be with women. I sought relief. I sought to be unburdened. And as I leaned into the option of authenticity, the option soaked in fear, I looked up at a canopy of leaves and saw not the leaves but the light filtering through them.

This canopy was thick and messy and filled with life and death and even more than I could see. But the light made it through and fell on my face, and I felt an intimacy with what could have only been the presence of God, a presence I had been seeking my whole life. I don’t wish to minimize the mess I feel when I look out into my reality. There is anxiety and worry and pain and frustration. Yet, there is no denying that my focus is on the grace of the world, which, against all odds, finds a way to bend around the mess and fall on my face.

Thomas Merton said that “to be a saint means to be myself.” I don’t know, but I imagine that it took knowing myself to know God.

I found it difficult to use sexual language when talking about my sexuality. The only language I could use to speak about forming a relationship with a partner was the same language I had been using to talk about my relationship with myself and with the Spirit. A language of intimacy. A language of my capacity and willingness to be emotionally and physically present with myself and others. A language that asked the questions of how much I was willing to give, and how much I was capable of receiving. The journeys to knowing myself and knowing my spirituality and knowing my sexuality were no longer a pile of separate roadmaps. They are all circular. And they are all intertwined.

To what I am sure is the disdain of some, the joy of others, and certainly the pride of myself, I can’t talk about being a woman seeking romantic love with another woman without talking about my love with God. The complicated relationship that some of us have with our spirituality is not all so different from the most mundane and the most special relationships that we all have with other people. Successful relationships are grounded in vulnerability. They require compassion and patience and sacrifice and creativity and perhaps even humor. This is authentic connection. This is joy.

I understand pride as feeling accomplished in knowing that what you have done is right and good, particularly when it requires courage. With this understanding, I can’t imagine someone being prouder than in any decision that brings them closer to their own authentic goodness. Because if authenticity is nothing else, it is Good.

My joy is creating circles that start and end within myself. My joy is feeling light on my face when I’m looking into the mess. My joy is coming out. My joy is coming in.

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