Note: I agree to host this blog post for a friend who is an alumni of Gordon College and who wants to speak out on this issue without outing her old roommate — which would happen if she posted under her own name.
My alma mater has been making a lot of headlines lately, and not for the reasons I’d like. Previously known for being one of the more liberal Christian colleges, highly ranked academically, and encouraging of intellectual inquiry, my college is now making a name for itself in the realm of discrimination and GLBT rights. As an alumni, I’m extremely disappointed in the recent choices the college’s President and Board have made, and I thought I’d talk about my specific experiences with GLBT students at Gordon. Because, yes, they exist.
My freshman year I was assigned a roommate from the south. Her Mom wore slips and talked in a gentle accent. My roommate wore pearls in her senior photo. To a girl raised on the West Coast, whose wardrobe consisted of flannel shirts and baggy jeans (it was the 90’s, don’t judge), they were people from a foreign country. From the beginning, we had issues living together.
Our dorms had been built using government funds, and a stipulation of the funds had been that they government would pay for everything in the room not touching the floor. This meant that the bed, desk, and closet, were all attached to the walls. Literally, the only thing touching the floor were our desk chairs (and if they’d have been able to find a way to suspend those in space, they probably would have done that, too). Even though I’d been raised in a conservative home, I’d taken dance all my life and was comfortable around nudity. So it wasn’t uncommon for me to take a shower, walk into my room, and toss my towel on the bed before putting on my clothes.
This made my roommate very uncomfortable. She took to climbing into the closet to change her clothes. No, really, she got into the closet to get dressed . Then she didn’t like it that I had to walk to ‘her’ side of the room to answer the phone, so she bought a double phone jack and a phone for ‘my’ side. Yes, this was still when people used landlines. At one point, she tried to put masking tape down the center of the room and forbid me from crossing it.
Despite all the signs, I was clueless as to her real motivation. After our freshman year, I moved into a single (kind of done with weird roommates after that), and she moved in with other girls. We tried to stay friends and went out for coffee occasionally, but half the time she’d make excuses and cancel, or act very awkwardly around me.
At the same time, the brother of two other students came out. I wasn’t friends with these girls, but I was aware of the quote, end-quote, controversy surrounding his being gay.
People would confront them in the cafeteria and ask if they were going to stop speaking to him – after all, their brother was now a sinner. Others would talk in hushed voices when they walked by – how could they still love him? How could they stand to have him around at Christmas? Others would offer the fake sympathy at which some Christians excel. “We’re praying for him, we know that God has a plan, and he’ll change his ways. Sinners can be redeemed!” With the earnest pressing of their arm, the offer of an unwanted hug.
I watched from the sidelines but, as much as I wanted to say something supportive to them, I didn’t know what to say. We hadn’t been friends before, so I didn’t know if it would be welcome to walk up and tell them I supported them, that I thought it was okay for their brother to be gay, that I was sorry everyone else was reacting this way. So I kept silent. I’m sorry for that.
After my freshman year, I wanted to transfer out of Gordon. But they’d given me a lot of scholarship money and grants, and my conservative family came down hard on me when I tried to drop out. It was easier to just go back, keep my head down, and finish my degree. I was so desperate to get out of there that I graduated in just three years. Talking to many fellow alumni in the past few days who are on the same page with me re: gay rights, I wasn’t the only one.
A few years after I graduated, my roommate called me. We’d still meet about once a year for coffee to catch up. She knew I’d just gone through a really bad break-up and asked me for advice. “You know I’ve been seeing that guy named Chris, right?” she said.
“Yeah, did you break-up?”
“We were living together, I kicked him out. But, um, I have a confession to make.”
“His name wasn’t Chris, it was Christine. And she was a girl.”
It may have taken a while, but the pieces finally clicked. She told me she’d been struggling with her homosexuality while at Gordon, that the hours spent praying and talking in tongues had been asking God to ake away her sinful urges. When she’d recently told her family that she was in love with a woman, that her roommate was in fact her lover, that gentle Southern woman who’d worn dresses, slips and pearls to drop her daughter off at college had gone ballistic. Yelling, screaming, sobbing. Constant phone calls urging repentance from other family members, her pastor, people in the church. Being told she’d been put on the prayer chain, that they were fasting so that she’d repent of her sin.
Constant, constant, constant pressure to not be who she really was.
I can’t imagine going through that, having people you love turn on you, the pressure to just conform with their worldview, stop making them so uncomfortable. Now that I’m a parent myself, I can’t imagine doing that to my child. She broke down sobbing on the phone with me, telling me she was going to go to ‘gay therapy’ to be ‘cured.’ I sat in my car, parked next to the Boston Commons, in a city that stands as a beacon of freedom in our country’s history, crying with her. But not for the same reasons.
I’d been raised with the same dogma, the ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’ crap that gets spewed in self-righteous tones as Christians try to tell gay people they don’t hate them, per see, just their lifestyle. Because who you love, or who you’re attracted to, is a lifestyle choice. At the same time, I’d been surrounded by gay men in the dance world. I loved many of my teachers and had always struggled with the concept of learning from them, respecting them, but hating their sin. It had never seemed right to me. In the years during and after Gordon, I’d done a lot of reading up on the subject and come to firmly believe that the word translated as homosexual in the New Testament was mistranslated.*
And, if it’s one thing I’m sure that the Bible is very clear on, it’s that God is Love. Not hatred, not bigotry, not telling your kid that who and what they are is anathema to you. To me, creating someone as gay but then telling them that they should be celibate – the compromise some churches have reached on the subject – is cruel. Hey, I made you gay, but guess what? You can’t ever have sex or you’re sinning! Ha, ha, joke’s on you.
My roommate went to that gay therapy. She never called me again, and the few times I tried to call her she never called back. She’s married now, with a kid. I hope she’s happy. God, I hope she’s happy. But a mutual friend of ours ran into her a while back and her only comment was, “She’s lost a ton of weight, she’s scary skinny. Like she’s trying to just fade away.”
And isn’t that what the church, what the President and Board of Gordon want? Just fade away, go away, stop making us confront all this uncomfortable stuff in our community. Accept the bone we’ve thrown you – you’re okay as long as you’re celibate. Accept that we’ll expel or
fire you if you have sex, even though I could sit here all day and enumerate my straight friends who had sex at Gordon, both on and off campus.
STOP MAKING US LOOK AT YOU.
Well, to all my gay friends that I stand beside, keep making them look. Keep standing tall. Don’t fade away. You exist, you’re valuable. And, yes, you belong to God, too. Not that you need my validation, or anyone else’s for that matter.
They tore down my freshman year dorm. No more closets hanging on the wall. It’s time that Gordon truly acknowledged that there is no more need to hide.
*who’s read through a 200 page dissertation on the subject? This girl!