Yesterday, for some reason (bored?), I found myself looking at my former church’s website, and I learned a few things that made me go “ouch.” I learned that a friend of mine has joined their staff. I also learned that they’ve added those infamous words “marriage between one man and one woman” to the section of their website on marriage.
(Don’t worry, this is not a post on gay marriage.)
Today, feeling a bit lighter after a minor facebook purge, I find myself pondering identity labels. Specifically, I’m thinking through various identity labels that I have adopted, embraced, breathed in for a while, and then shed.
Here are three:
. heterosexual. Actually, I’ve long held to a theory that human beings are naturally bisexual, born somewhere on a continuum between masculine and feminine and often nudged in one direction or another by the cultural and psychological environment in which they live. I was long curious about physical love with other women, and I experimented some along the way. But mostly I considered myself a heterosexual. I pined after various men, married one, conceived and raised a child as a mostly single mom. And then I met my best friend, life partner, lover… and she happened to be another woman. I shed my heterosexual identity and I got to experience being rejected from the christian community. But I found freedom and life in love.
. christian. My family was Roman Catholic. I was a questioner, mostly, until my early 40’s when I surrendered to born-againism for a few years. I landed in a joyful community whose members were committed to learning and practicing healthy communication skills, in addition to their devotion to Jesus. I loved their teachings, and I loved the music. I didn’t think they were literalists or held to a conservative theology. But when Sandy and I told them we had fallen in love, we were told to go. In the two years since that parting, I’ve resumed my questioning and have come to see a flaw in any set of faith beliefs that are inflicted on others. I have shed my short-lived (albeit intense) identity as a born-again christian, and I now more freely explore the ideas of faith, tradition, belief and truth.
. alcoholic. I joined a community when I was 30 that taught me how to grow up, how to forgive, and how to be honest about my flaws. The only requirement was that I have a desire to stop drinking. I had that desire and I stopped drinking. I was very grateful for the badly needed structure and life guidance. But my evolution in thinking about the christian belief system has impacted my thinking about the AA belief system. I see similarities in their dogma and rhetoric. Both communities require particular beliefs and behaviors in order to belong. Both are bound in fear of what will happen if one questions or disagrees too much. I became curious about what it would be like to live free and unfettered of both. And so I’m exploring what it feels like to shed my identity as an alcoholic. So far, so good.
I want to live without apology and without fear. There is an empty space where those labels, those identities, used to be in me. Not to mention my identity as a hospital administrator, from which I walked away 7 years ago. Or my identity as a single mom, which I have let go in two ways: my daughter is now a young adult, and my Sandy is a full partner in the work of shepherding that young adult out into the world.
I don’t want to rush to fill the empty space left by all those identities. I don’t feel lost, like a hole in the donut. I want to continue to play with being alive and awake and present to who I am without labels. I am processing many feelings. Some have already emerged named: chagrin about the time and energy I spent evangelizing as a christian and as a recovering alcoholic; anger at past — and expected future — interrogations from friends who don’t understand or agree with my love, faith or drinking decisions; fear that I won’t be able to rise, unafraid and unscathed, above others’ judgments… I don’t regret having experienced any of the identities I describe here (I would, I think, regret the christian one, except that’s how I met Sandy!), but I am paying attention to what it’s like not to have them glued upon my soul.