As scared as I was to come out to my family, it was not nearly as daunting as coming out to my Bible Study. My Bible Study was a co-ed mix of Christians that varied across the age and race spectrum. The only things we all had in common were our proximity to Laguna Beach, our attendance at a contemporary non-denominational church, and our commitment to weekly meetings where we dined together and discussed the weekly sermon. I'd been a member of this particular small group for several months before I moved in with my girlfriend, Jenny. I was close with one or two girls, so they were already in the know about my relationship, and they also supported my selective silence on the matter. It was harder for Jenny to understand why I did not tell the group I had a girlfriend, having not grown up in a religious household, but she respected my decision, as well. Did I feel guilty for lying to these people who were allegedly my spiritual net, my lifeline to all things Jesus, people who continually prayed for me? Of course I did. But I was young, terrified of their reactions, not ready to endure any kind of preaching, and still unclear on whether or not I was, in fact, disappointing God. So I conveniently avoided the subject, alluding to Jenny as my best friend and roommate and nothing more.
Eventually it became too difficult. It was too hard to keep lying, to keep hurting Jenny's feelings by treating her as something to be ashamed of, and too depressing to keep her separate from a significant part of my life. When my group organized a volunteer day at the nearby children's home, I decided to invite Jenny and finally break the barrier. The week before the big event, I called Trish, the leader, and filled her in on my relationship. She said she had to discuss a course of action with the head pastor (this made me feel nauseous just thinking about it) and that she was glad I felt comfortable coming to her.
When our weekly meeting came about, Trish and I were the only ones who knew we would not be following the normal curriculum. At the beginning of group, after our opening prayer, Trish alerted everyone that someone in the group had something to share. Someone in the group had been struggling with keeping something secret from everyone and that this someone was finally ready to talk. She asked that we please be open-minded, and Jesus-like, and know that Pastor Mike was in on it, as well, and supported a loving and honest circle of communication. As the members looked around the room, trying to ascertain who this "someone" was and what they possibly had to confess, I worked hard at harnessing my nervous energy. I mean, it's not like I was admitting to a hardcore porn addiction or a problem with meth, but that was the kind of preface offered.
So I cleared my throat, and I said, "So, yeah, guys, it's me. Look, it's not that big of a deal, but you know my best friend Jenny? Well, we are 'living together' living together, as in girlfriends, as in a relationship. I'm sorry I didn't tell you guys sooner, but I was honestly worried about your response." Immediately my friend Sharon gave me a hug and assured me I had nothing to worry about. My friend from high school, Kristin, smiled in encouragement, which made me smile back, and of course I felt a sense of relief after getting it out in the open. The relief lasted mere minutes, before I was quickly lambasted by an older woman in our group named Patty.
The look on her face was a mix of fury and disbelief. "Am I the only one who has a problem with this?" she asked, in a demanding manner. "Does no one else find this totally wrong and sinful? Am I the only one outraged?" But no, she wasn't the only one. Natalie, sporty Natalie whom I connected with outside of group, whom I had tried to nudge into a deeper discussion about homosexuality the week before because I was cocksure and immature and thought she just needed a little push before accepting her own grapples with sexuality, had a look of betrayal and a voice of hurt as she concurred with Patty. Those whom I thought would be more supportive suddenly couldn't look me in the eye. Isn't that the way?
And the discussion escalated into a storm of accusations, a line dividing us almost evenly down the middle, Bible verses flung like weapons, tempers flaring, and, of course, tears falling. I didn't know if I should yell back, if I should let my tears turn into the sobs they ached for, if I should storm out, or if I should bring some logic and practicality back into the argument. And the women asked me, "Are you confessing? Is this a confession? Are you seeking repentance and solace in an attempt to overcome this sin?" I was thankful Jenny was not present to hear the attack, and I knew she would not understand that these women believed that they were coming from a loving place.
The yelling did not stop until Trish called us to prayer. And I left, feeling beaten down, bewildered, small. When I walked in the door and Jenny saw my red and tear-stained face, she was devastated. She blamed herself for pushing me to tell the group, but of course it was not her fault. I attended a few more Bible Studies after that night, but eventually I dropped out. I wasn't forced to leave, technically, but after multiple occurrences of our study group morphing into a discussion on homosexuality, and partly due to my own refusal to ditch my girlfriend and seek "purity," I gave up. I even ended up leaving my church, which broke my heart a little, because I loved Pastor Mike. I was not strong enough to endure the confrontations with my "friends," and it tainted my church experience.
Years later this pivotal experience still hurts me. I know it belongs in the column of "critical for your growth, Maria, so accept it and persevere," so I do. I write about it, and share it, and if I start to get really sad about it, I remember that my Christian women's group in San Francisco was never anything but loving and supportive. It's all part of learning and growing, and I embrace it.