Born in the heart of the Bible Belt, the author found refuge on the Front Range after a series of traumas. Through it all, she was discovering who she was—as a daughter, a woman, a partner, and a mother. One woman’s journey to faith and family.
Lucas, our four-year-old son, bucks and arches his back away from the baptismal font at Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Boulder. My partner, Avery*, and I try to hold him still in his little white suit—he has already kicked off one of his patent leather shoes, which landed on the altar. It’s as if Lucas realizes the only reason we are baptizing him in the Roman Catholic Church is because it is so important to my mother, the same woman who toted his special outfit, embroidered with delicate crosses, all the way from San Antonio and threatened him this morning using these exact words: “If you don’t put on that baptism suit this minute, Jesus won’t love you.”
I do not tell my mother that this baptism almost didn’t happen, that Father Bill Breslin of Sacred Heart met with me two weeks earlier to discuss our desire to have Lucas baptized and the church’s views on homosexuality. I assured Father Bill that while Avery and I were gay, we were quite certain that Lucas wasn’t. I told him he could rest easy knowing that he wouldn’t be letting another one of “us” in.
Still, it was impossible for me to answer Father Bill’s questions without thinking about the recent accusations of the Vatican’s role in protecting pedophile priests. Why was I fighting to have my son baptized into a faith that appeared to be putting the welfare of children second to the reputation of the church? With my son already in preschool at Sacred Heart and preparing for his baptism, I was trapped in a familiar standoff between the church and myself. There were no easy answers. But just like the cul-de-sac I’d grown up on in the Bible Belt, I recognized that I might find my way out if I headed back the way I’d come.
I kneel in the hallway with my mom, dad, and sister, squirming as the shag rug embosses my knees. While most families I know bond over “Monopoly night” or episodes of Mary Tyler Moore, mine prays the Our Father wedged two-by-two in front of a crucifix. When my sister and I giggle, Mom glares at us through half-closed eyes and grips her rosary beads until they leave stigmata-like imprints on her palms. I wonder what Jesus would think about being hung twice—once on the cross and again in our hallway surrounded by framed covers of Life magazine. But mostly, I wonder where God went last week—when my friend’s father molested me in the den of their home not 100 yards from where I kneel now—and why, at just 11 years old, I don’t trust my own mother enough to tell her.
All Saints Catholic Church sits in the backyard of our new home on Firelight Lane, so our family will never have an excuse to miss Mass. Father Rudy Kos—the coolest priest I’ll ever know, who sports a mustache and drives a black Mustang—lives in the rectory with his 13-year-old son. Father Kos is short, athletic, handsome, and unconventional. Parishioners gossip that he’d been married, had the marriage annulled, and adopted his son before becoming ordained and being sworn to celibacy. But I don’t care about any of that; I like that he talks to teens like they are real people.
When my parents find a fifth of tequila hidden under my bed, I turn to Father Kos for insight and advice. He says he’s not concerned about the alcohol, but he wants to know why I’ve started drinking. Father Kos asks me if I believe in God, and I tell him that I do, that I’ve never felt completely alone in the world. Still, this is the same God that I think of when I can’t get the things that have happened to me out of my head. Every day, the news reports that some girl has been abused or kidnapped, and every day I am reminded that I am part of a growing club of lost girls who will never be the same.
If God has a reason for everything, what is the reason for this? With his kind, almond-shaped eyes, Father Kos tells me, “You have so many holes in you, you’ve become porous like a sponge. No wonder you wanted to drink to fill up those empty places. But if you let God, He can fill them up too.”
I’m sitting in Sharon’s house, drinking White Russians served by her lover—a woman—whose name is Shoe. They are in their 30s. I am 16. I imagine that somehow they’ve forgotten I am a teenager who cannot vote or join the Army or get into an R-rated movie. I finally have my learner’s permit shoved inside the glove compartment of the Plymouth Fury, next to my mother’s St. Christopher medal, but I don’t have my driver’s license yet.
Even though they are twice my age, I do not feel exploited. Instead, I feel seen. I do not have to tell them I’ve been abused or that a car full of boys keeps driving past my house yelling “Michelle has a dick” before peeling out like cowards. I do not know what I am. But I know Sharon and Shoe are a refuge. They are also the first real people I’ve met who are gay.
I know what some Christians say about gay men and women. My mom thinks AIDS is God’s wrath on them. She’s never uttered the words “lesbian” or “homosexual,” which would be like saying “goddamn” or “shit” or worse. Those aren’t the kind of words spoken by a woman who never wears white after Labor Day. Even my father, the gentlest man I know, once turned to me after passing a pair of effeminate men on the street—one wearing eyeliner, the other a fuchsia boa—and told me that they made him physically sick.
But what I see when I look at Shoe is a baby giraffe, lanky and circus-happy, with arms opened wide enough to give everyone in her path a giant hug. And though Shoe is skinny, she’s not frail or dainty. She doesn’t hunch her shoulders forward or slump to apologize for being tall. She doesn’t pretend to be something she is not, and never will be.
Sharon is the exact opposite of Shoe. Where Shoe is a bold statement, Sharon is an ellipsis, a trailing thought. She doesn’t wear makeup, and doesn’t need it. Her nails are short. Her hair is straight and unpretentious. She’s not trying to impress anyone, particularly men. And in a city of debutantes, beauty queens, face-lifts, and boob jobs, finding a woman like this impresses me.
Still, armed with anti-gay scripture from the Old Testament, I quote Leviticus 18:22 to them. Because it would dilute my argument, I neglect to tell them that Leviticus also says they must ceremonially sacrifice two doves or pigeons immediately following their menstruation and stop eating shellfish. Shoe looks at me with a sad smile and questions my relationship with my high school best friend. “I think you have feelings for Lynn,” she says. “I think you love her.”
“I do,” I say. “But not in the way you’re talking about.”
“With God’s love, I suppose.”
And Shoe says, “God made me too, you know.”