Linda Robertson’s story, Just Because He Breathes, is not our story, but the parallels resonate deeply with me. It inspires me to share a little more of our story with Kat.
A Starting Place
When Kat came out to her mom and me, she was already deeply depressed, just unhappy with life from the very core of who she was. We felt like failures as parents. How could our daughter think she was gay? What did we do that was so wrong? If people knew that she was gay, we would be exposed for the horrid parents we truly must be. So we determined to silently endure while we sought a cure for her being gay. We weren’t ready for conversion therapy but hoped to be able to fix this ourselves.
I quickly realized that this was not going to be easy, so I formulated a loving strategy. For starters, I began to frame the problem as follows:
- Kat is depressed
- Kat thinks she is gay
- Kat has rejected her faith in Christ
- Kat has rejected her faith because she does not feel accepted as a gay woman by the church
- Kat’s depression is a result of the conflict she feels between the truth of God and her mistaken identity as a gay woman. Her depression is also related to the rejection of her faith.
- I do not like where Kat is. I want her to be well, well adjusted, happy and to know the truth of her (hetero)sexuality.
- The best possible chance for her would be for us to love her right where she was… completely without conditions. In an atmosphere of truly unconditional grace and love, she could begin to heal.
- It’s a risk. I might not get what I want.
Important Note: This is where I started from, not where I am now.
Somehow I set aside my beliefs about the “lifestyle” she was “choosing”. I honestly do not know how I was able to do this. I didn’t change my beliefs, just decided not to address them with Kat. It was as if I put them on a shelf in the closet (pun intended) and shut the door. My dogma was clearly getting in the way of Kat’s feeling loved and accepted. At that time, she felt more tolerated than loved. It was going to take genuine love over a long time to prove to her that she was truly loved and I was determined to do just that. It was more important to me that she feel loved than that I be right.
It reminds me of this passage from The Velveteen Rabbit (emphasis mine)…
“Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’
‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.
‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’
‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’
‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
~Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit
Over a long time, bit by bit, Kat began to change. As I hoped, as I dreamed, she began to become her real self. She transformed from someone in the pits of despair to someone with hope. Sometimes I go back through photos of her and you can see the transformation in the images. It is amazing and wonderful to see.
Early on, I remember my wife asking Kat if she would she be open to becoming heterosexual in the future. Kat responded brilliantly with a question of her own, “Will you accept me if I don’t?” She was really asking if we truly loved her just as she was. Our question unintentionally communicated to her that a heterosexual transformation was an implied condition for acceptance.
What I did not consider and I did not expect was the effect truly unconditional love for Kat would have on me. I began to see her differently. Although it was not my intention and certainly not on the agenda, I began to take the whole issue of homosexuality down off the shelf and wrestle with it (alone or with friends… not with Kat). What was it I believed and why did I believe that.
Bit by bit, this social issue became personal for me.
I think much of the pushback from the evangelical Christian community comes from the fact that this is still primarily a social issue. For many it is simply not personal. It’s easy to talk about “those homosexuals” when you don’t know any. It is much different when you know and love someone… and then it turns out they are gay. (For my friends who have a hard time with my stance on this topic, I ask you to turn off your defensiveness momentarily and replace it with curiosity and empathy. It won’t hurt, I promise.)
As I gradually saw Kat for who she was, I softened. As I wrestled with the sources of my beliefs, the sharp edges began to wear down. As I softened my dogmatic position, Kat felt more and more loved. As she felt more loved, she became happier and healthier. Lest you think this was a cheap way of making everyone happy, I assure you it was not. It was a long process over several years. I invite you to read about it here.
We lost Kat to cancer on September 23, 2013 (Read her journey on Caringbridge). The cancer was completely unrelated to her depression, completely unrelated to her sexuality. It was a rare version of cancer known as PNET. As her doctor so plainly stated up front, she did nothing to cause this. There was nothing she could have done to prevent it. As horrible as it sounds and as inexplicable as it is, it just picked her, plain and simple.
As much as we miss her, I am happy to be able to say that our discomfort about her sexuality was resolved well before she got sick. Somehow we were able to get to a place of loving her unconditionally. It often takes a tragedy to rock our world enough to help us see the larger picture. It didn’t have to end that way.
- What if we had chosen dogma over daughter?
- What if we had loved Kat with our words, but only tolerated her sexuality?
- Worse yet, what if we had rejected her because of her sexuality?
I am thankful that we chose the path of leaning into our own discomfort and taking the more difficult journey towards love and acceptance. I am thankful that our reasons for choosing this path were nothing less than our love for Kat.
When Kat left us, she knew she was loved by her family. She felt our love with every fiber of her being. What more could a parent want?
Update: In October, 2018 I gave a talk at TEDx Charlotte about my journey to accepting Kat’s sexuality. You can watch it here: https://youtu.be/GkUhpgrle1Y