This weekend, Christians around the world gather with their families and loved ones to celebrate the amazing mystery of the Incarnation. There is much to ponder about God became human, but one truth it affirms is the goodness of being embodied beings in relationship with and loving other beings.
Sadly, this weekend can also be difficult for many LGBT people if lack of acceptance for their identities and/or relationships has caused pain or division in families and communities. Returning home for Christmas can be a moment where holy embodiment is forgotten, and LGBT people are asked by misguided loved ones to leave the fullness of their lives and their love at the door.
As Christmas celebrations begin today, it seems a fitting time to reflect on the words of Amy Morris-Young in the National Catholic Reporter who recently told the story of her brother’s coming out as a gay man, and how families can respond with love.
Morris-Young begins her tale with an anecdote about being a child in the 1960s, riding around in the back of her family’s car. In a silly game, the siblings would try to elicit reactions from drivers by waving at them while saying through clenched teeth, “Wave if you’re gay!” But when they grew up, that childish statement took on a different meaning. She explained:
“My baby brother, Tom, was now 19. He had just completed his first year at our shared Catholic university, and was driving north for a visit. He told me on the phone before he left Southern California that he wanted to talk with me about something in person. He had decided to come out. He was gay.”
Tom had already come out to his family, friends, and Catholic parishioners, and these conversations did not go well. But Morris-Young was already prepared to greet him in a special way:
“When I opened our front door, and saw Tom standing there, road-weary and squinting at me through the glass of the storm door, I just smiled and held up my hand, saying, ‘Wave if you’re gay.’
“He slowly raised his hand and wiggled his fingers.
“We both laughed as I let him in.
“When he dropped his duffel bag, I hugged him. He started to cry, his head heavy on my shoulder, his body shuddering with each sob.
“We stood there for a long time. When he finally straightened up and sniffed, wiping his dripping nose on the back of his sleeve, I saw that his tired, sad eyes made him look a lot older than 19. I had moved away to college when he was 11, and never moved back. He had been through a lot since then.”
Morris-Young said the two spent a week catching up, including many conversations about growing up in a Catholic family, a Catholic parish, and a Catholic school. Tom had suffered “trying to hide his attraction, and his shame. . .trying to force himself to be normal.” During the week, it came out that Morris-Young had known her brother was different since they were young. She told him a story:
“I said, ‘When you were 3 years old, and I was 10, you walked into my bedroom, and said, “Amy, there’s been a big mistake. I was supposed to be a girl. Who do we talk to?” ‘
“He said, ‘I don’t remember that.’
“I smiled, ‘Tom, you were 3. Of course you don’t. But I do. I don’t remember what I told you, but I do remember that you were super disappointed that I couldn’t fix it for you. I mean, I was your big sister. I was supposed to know everything, right? I felt bad.'”
Morris-Young said that she was “happy [Tom] had been brave enough to come out, but I was still scared for him. And for us.” Acceptance by the rest of their fellow Catholics was slower, and Tom was “trapped at the edges of our family” and “marginalized.” When she mentioned the story about his question when he was three years-old, the adult Tom cried. She remarked:
“The pain of knowing exactly who he was at three years old — followed by a lifetime of continually striving for dignity and acceptance in a world that can still be harsh and judging and dangerous — seemed just as fresh as it had been more than 20 years earlier.”
Morris-Young is now a mother and a grandmother who knows that our contemporary times are a very different fromm the era when Tom came to understand his sexual identity and live authentically. She promised that she would offer a better response than her ten year-old self if a child or grandchild were to ask, “There has been a mistake. Who do we talk to?” Her thoughts are ones we should all remember this Christmas season:
“I promise an answer full of love and acceptance and hope. One that says God doesn’t make mistakes, and we are each created to be exactly as we are. That above all, we are family, and we are on this journey together. And that I promise to be your designated adult, to do my best to keep you safe from everything I can — from choking on small objects to having to face unkindness or injustice all alone — forever and ever, amen.”
As we remember anew the promise of love God makes to us through the Incarnation, knowing that when God became human, our embodied beings were affirmed wholly as wonderfully made, let us make that same promise to one another. We will always answer our loved ones with love, acceptance, and hope. We will promise to do our best to accompany them the way that Jesus Emmanuel accompanies us.
–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, December 24, 2016