Monday, July 1, 2013

My Mirror

I was nine years old when I caught myself on the edge of admitting something - something I had probably always known - as I looked into a gilded mirror in an antique shop and thought, horrified, "I like girls." 

I pushed it away. 

My grandmother and great-aunt had taken me on a trip to French Canada. Among whale watching and fancy dinners I aged, and I was terrified; I wondered when I should start shaving my legs, and when I could flirt with boys, and when I should be honest with myself about the less than platonic relationship between my girlish heroes, Xena and Gabrielle. I was confident of certain things: I didn't doubt my body yet, and I hadn't begun to question the emotional effects of being a child of divorce, and my mother hadn't remarried and brought my sister into the world. I was an only child, mature for my age. I ran down the long hallway of my father and stepmother's apartment and kicked the air, releasing a battle cry, and my stepmom praised my confidence. I was glad. 

On that trip to Canada, though, I found myself shy and halting - enjoying myself, absolutely, but I was somehow aware that things were about to change. This was the summer before my father took up his post at my school and church, the summer before my mother joined the choir and met my stepfather, the time before I looked at boys and girls and felt an aching in my chest which burned with a white flame. I think of that summer now as the moment before fruit bursts with ripeness - a steaming August before the fall, the last peach over-sweet but too tempting to refuse. 

Grandmere, my aunt, and I took a moment to poke around an antique shop. The owner spoke French and it was beautiful in its clean symmetry and haunting softness; I wished I could understand it and come back to Baltimore and my Grandpere and delight him. As Grandmere and Betty scanned the back of blue and white dishes in the practiced way of finding treasures, a hundred years old or more, in the corners of my eye I saw a mirror as tall as I was, and I was frozen in that moment of self-awareness and fear. 

I knew it, suddenly. I was different. 

How can I explain what that meant to me, how I felt? The idea of being gay was nothing new to me - after all, I was an episcopalian, a church musician's daughter, and most of the adults I knew were gay. It wasn't a shocking concept, and frankly until I was eighteen and at college I assumed that most people were attracted to their own sex. There were no moral qualms in me; the God I worshipped was a loving God, a force for passion and compassion and truth - and for enduring acceptance. I had no social training in rejecting others. I loved everyone, and I hoped they loved each other, too. 

So why was I scared? 

I stayed scared for a long time. Even as I slowly came out as bisexual in high school, I was scared. At eighteen I was thrilled with joy and with dread as I attempted to have a girlfriend, and my fear totally messed that up - I couldn't give enough of myself. She was beautiful, kind; she played the cello, excellently; she wanted to help me love her. 

I did. And I couldn't. And I regret that almost every day. 

This isn't some grand announcement, here. I am very happily married to my husband, my best friend, the man with whom I fit perfectly like pieces of a puzzle. We work together, and anatomy has nothing to do with it. I couldn't have found a better person to spend my life with - and yes, a better man. 

I think about how lucky I am to have my love recognized by society and by the government, and how, if I had been more brave, more confident, I wouldn't have had the same luck. It's a terrible thing to be told how to love, how not to love - to be told to change yourself, to pray your very being away. To think that God is not that compassionate God, and that he hates you. 

How many young women and men have had the same moment as I had - the moment of seeing oneself honestly - and endured the fear which comes with knowing they are different? 

How can we work to take that fear away and replace it with love?

This is clearly a subject very close to my heart. My wonderful, sort-of ex-girlfriend told me that she loved me when I spoke about civil rights for all of us, and I carry that praise and acceptance with me as I find myself in a world with so little justice, so little compassion, so much fear. I carried her beauty with me when I cried as DOMA was partially overturned; I held that memory in my aching chest as I blasted "Same Love" from my porch after I read the news and saw pictures of couples kissing and weeping. 

I don't want to be afraid anymore. I don't want anyone to be afraid. 

I don't have a hell of a lot of solutions to this problem. I suppose I had to start within myself, quelling my doubts and terror and being honest - and it wasn't, it isn't, easy. After that I started to represent the kind of person I hoped to see in others - coming out, engaging in dialogue and shared experiences, giving comfort and support to friends and family. But after that, what's next? What can we do to create a space for everyone to be loved? 

That's something I pray for, and I hope my childhood God listens with his infinite compassion. 

I'm not going to give up. I'm not going to stop praying, stop loving, stop reading the news; I'm not going to stop being honest with myself and others; I'm not going to end this long struggle for equality by hiding or fearing or being complacent in my marriage to a man. I don't know how to fix the world, I really have no idea, but maybe if I keep fixing myself through integrity and passionate purpose I can contribute to the kind of society I wish to live in. 

I can think of my ex-girlfriend with gratitude, rather than shame. I can remember what it felt like to be the confident little girl who loved everybody, and herself. I can go back to that moment in the mirror, whisper across time, shout in gladness and in pride at my differences and worth and validity. 

I can love my husband, without guilt and with joy. 

I can stop being scared. 

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