Alison Bechdel is a well known lesbian cartoonist and the author of “Fun Home,” a memoir which chronicles her own coming out experience as well as her tumultuous relationship with her closeted gay father. The musical adaption of “Fun Home” earned five Tony Awards in 2015 including Best Musical.“Ring of Keys” is a song from the musical sung by the young Alison when she first sees a grown woman whom she recognizes as herself “with her swagger and her bearing and the just right clothes she was wearing.” When I saw a performance of the song on YouTube, I felt as though someone had reached inside my own young heart and made a song out of my experience of seeing someone “like me” for the first time. When I first saw the newspaper editor in my small hometown wearing blue jeans and cowboy boots and carrying her wallet in her back pocket, my soul’s reaction was identical to the young Alison’s: “It was like I was a traveler in a foreign country who runs into someone from home… can you hear my heart saying ‘hi’?….somehow we’re the same…”
I recently read an interview with Alison Bechdel that was published in the Little Village Magazine, a community-supported news publication in Iowa City. There was one comment she made in the interview that jumped off of the page at me and once again, my life experience paralleled Bechdel’s: “My sexuality hasn’t changed,” Bechdel said, “but I feel much less queer than I use to feel.” She went on to say, “I know there are still huge struggles going on…I know I would be in a lot of trouble in a lot of places in this country and the world, just being who I am. But what a great thing, to get to not feel queer, to get to experience that in one’s [lifetime].”
You see, that what’s happens when you get to be “you.” You “get to not feel queer.” Throughout my adolescence and my young adulthood, I hid the fact that I was gay. After I finally gathered up the nerve to come out to someone I trusted at work, one of the stipulations of my continued employment was to seek help to change my sexual orientation. Through both periods of my life – both hiding and then struggling to change – I felt very queer and as a result, my sexual orientation consumed me. It was the single issue that was ever present in my mind. It drained my energy and made it hard to focus on anything else. It kept me from living fully. The awareness of my difference, my “failure” to change, and my willingness to accept what others were telling me (that I had a defect at the core of my being) chipped away daily at my sense of value and worth. Rather than the natural part of me it was intended to be, my sense of self and sexuality filled me with shame – just as the people around me had convinced me that it should. Each day was wrought with anguish, tears, longing, guilt, rejection, and exhaustion.
As much as I wanted to belong and stay a part of that community, there came a time when I knew I had to leave. As a friend wrote to me at the time, by staying in that environment, by trying to be something I wasn’t, I was committing emotional suicide. I moved to the Washington metro area and within days of arriving, I attended a worship service held specifically for the LGBT community, their families and allies. The church was packed. As the first note of music was played and hundreds of LGBT voices were raised in songs of praise, I started to weep like I had never wept before. I could not stop the tears until long after the benediction. For the first time in my life, my authentic self was embraced by others, and as a result, I was finally able to embrace myself. I had never known such relief or lightness of spirit.Alison’s statement reminded me of how very grateful I am to have found the community that I live in.
When one is welcome to live genuinely, to be in relationship honestly and authentically, not just with one’s partner, but with everyone in community, any difference quickly becomes a non-issue. I can actually get on with the business of living, of dedicating my energy to my work, to building friendships, to cultivating my gifts, to loving and supporting my family and to volunteering in my community. Now each day is filled with love, joy, belonging, and a peacefulness of heart.
Because of Room for All and the growing number of welcoming churches, LGBT parishioners and clergy in the RCA don’t have to leave to get on with the business of living and serving the God they love. “What a great thing, to get to not feel queer, to get to experience that in one’s lifetime.” Indeed. This heart has never been so grateful.
Deb is a graduate of Northwestern College in Orange City, IA. She later earned a Master’s Degree and worked in AIDS support and resources in Washington, DC and Iowa City, IA. In 1993 she was hired at the University of Iowa where she currently serves as the Assistant Director for Institutional Data in the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost. Deb lives with her dog, Jada, loves to hike, kayak, paddle-board, bike and dine on patios accompanied by Jada’s other mother, Sharon.