Living on the margins: My journey of fear to acceptance.

It has been an honour to be asked to write for the Soho Gathering (SG). My aim in sharing some quite personal life experiences is to create an understanding of what a Christian in the LGBT community might have faced and be facing daily on an emotional, mental and spiritual level. We can never truly walk in another’s shoes but we must always aim to show love and empathy to those who differ from us. My hope is to challenge the intolerance and lack of empathy that has had such consequences in my life and still very much exists in many churches.

In order to do this I must give an explanation of my roots. I was brought up in a traditional conservative Baptist church. When I was 15/16 I believe I became a Christian and not long after that I was baptised and joined the church. As I grew up I began to realise I was attracted to women. I didn’t understand what this meant in early childhood but that changed in my teenage years and I almost immediately transitioned into a state of denial driven by a fear that people would know and think I was disgusting and that I would be rejected by everyone I knew. The only viewpoint I had ever been exposed to regarding homosexuality was that it was sinful and wrong. Looking back it grieves me that I never felt I could ask anyone for advice and deeply regret the lifelong consequences of having to hide but on reflection I cannot see how things could have been very different considering the fact I was only a child and exposed to intolerance towards homosexuality. At the age of 17 I had my first boyfriend who I then married at the age of 19. I am now 34, have three children, which I am thankful for, am in the process of divorcing, and I have a female partner. I do not have time to describe the emotional turmoil and obvious fallout surrounding these life events but despite the regrets I also have the joy that comes from finding new happiness, love, friends and acceptance.

Sadly for me the process of coming out and accepting that I am gay has been a very long and painful one. To put it bluntly I am a product of not fitting the hardline, fundamental teachings of my church. It is easy to see why I was so deeply lost in denial and governed by the terror I felt believing I would lose everything. This fear of rejection afflicts many but more so those who find themselves facing loss at the hands of a non-inclusive church. They are marginalized with no hope of acceptance or belonging. Where is Christ’s love reflected in these churches? Telling people they have to remain married on principle or be celibate shows a real lack of humanity or empathy but these were the two options I was given. I urge those of you involved with churches which waver on the issue of inclusion to open your hearts to people from the LGBT community. Value the vital work being done by those at the SG and open your doors to those seeking acceptance where previously they have experienced none.

I am ever grateful to those who supported me through the process of coming out and particularly that my mental health has remained intact despite facing times of being in total emotional and mental anguish. Others however are not so fortunate which makes inclusion, acceptance within a holistic framework so important to those facing feelings of isolation through marginalization. I must confess that despite remaining mentally on a par, the mental turmoil and scarring have run very deep. I live daily with feelings of guilt and sadness because I have been told that my love for a woman is wrong, that I am living in sin, backslidden and my love not valid. Thankfully despite these feelings I am still becoming stronger about being comfortable with who I am and yet despite this the fear of what others think remains. I now know more than ever that I must not live in fear of man, only God. I believe He knows my past and my future. He knows what I have been through. He saw the desperation and fear that led to my choice to lie to friends and family when questioned about my sexuality and past actions. He knows my rights, my wrongs and ultimately that is what matters. Nothing is hid from God.

As I move forward in my life, having this perspective is a comfort and help as I continue to face disapproval from those who object to my sexuality and my same sex relationship. A relationship incidentally in which I have found stability, amazing unconditional love and a mutual respect that I had not experienced before. Sadly this has not been recognised but rather, as I mentioned earlier, celibacy proposed as the only right way forward for me. This is not a viable option for me as I believe I have the right to love and be loved but I do respect those who choose that path for themselves if that is their choice and no one else’s.

For me being freed from the fear I felt to conform has led to an opening of my mind. For the first time I am questioning my faith to find out why I believe what I believe. This new found freedom is still viewed by some as an indication of my falling away from my faith when in fact I see it as a time in which a better understanding of oneself will lead to growth and a deeper faith. Feeling no option but to leave my church was incredibly difficult and hurtful but the silver lining is that it led me to seek out those who I could find answers from and have honest conversations with about my life without fear of judgement. I owe a debt of gratitude to the SG where I was accepted unquestioningly and shown warmth and understanding at a time when I felt spiritually alone and bereft of guidance or belonging.

In conclusion I urge readers to aim to emulate this acceptance for it is not only providing a refuge for the marginalized but is also shows great humanity and kindness. I hope that by sharing just a fraction of my experiences that the need to be inclusive to all, specifically members of the LGBT community, will change minds and hearts, leading to greater empathy and openness.

M.Harley

Miriam works as a nurse in a big London hospital. She regularly plays basketball and loves keeping fit. She also finds the time to look after her three children who are 9, 7 & 4. She has been attending the Soho Gathering as time permits for nearly year

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