I travel domestic more often now that I’m in the south, and I’ve found I really don’t like flying in smaller planes. Maybe it’s something to do with getting older, but whatever it is, it’s inconvenient and a bit embarrassing. In landing and in turbulence my body is convinced I am about to die. She tells me in no uncertain terms that these are my last moments. She says: you are about to die right now, or if not right now, at some point in your life doing this exact (crazy) thing, you are going to die.
The feeling is a kind of liquid dread, one that fills every pore – toes to scalp. My insides explode outwards, or they feel as if they are exploding outwards, as if they can’t possibly take any more input. My skin is on alert, absorbing the rumble and blast of the engines as if I were actually sitting inside them. My hearing is acute. The slightest change in tenor of the vibrations or the addition of an unfamiliar sound sends my stomach into paroxysms. And I don’t have the science to reassure myself.
So I sit hunched over with my fingers in my ears, and I squeeze my eyes shut in any attempt to deny the reality of what I am experiencing. And I repeat the mantra which runs through my mind at the height of the anxiety; my guttural response to what feels like the end. My husband knows I love him, my daughters know I love them, I told my mother the truth, I told my father the truth, I told my sisters the truth. And in that moment, I know there is only one thing that matters.
I pay attention to the flight attendant in the “what to do in an emergency” dance. You bet I do. I watch very carefully and make note of all the relevant details within my vicinity. Under my seat for the life jacket. Somewhere magically dangling in front of me for that funny yellow plastic thing. I take out the instruction card from the pocket in front of me to confirm the correct bracing position for my seat (it is some comfort to see I have options). The flight attendant reminds us that in an emergency there will be no time to pick up our belongings. “Leave everything behind,” she says. I smile.
A long time ago I measured the value of money in plane tickets. A few days after I finished high school I got on a plane, my first solo trip. The plane took me to LAX, where I sat waiting for eight hours, only taking my eyes off the clock to eat a hamburger that tasted like cardboard and to write in the pink striped journal my sister had given me as a Christmas present before I left. Then it was Lima Airport for three hours, Buenos Aires for one night, and finally Santiago. I had arrived. I wanted to learn how to describe a city. I thought I’d end up going everywhere, eventually.
Flying has always been a resonant metaphor for me. I have flying dreams, dreams where I’m above the earth, where I’m looking down over cities. Dreams where I take giant leaps up into the air and back down again. I’ve seen my life in an instant, watching a plane take off, turn around and land again, and do the same thing over and over until finally it rises up one last time like a space shuttle, straight up into the sky. Was this a dream? A day dream? I can’t remember. But the image haunts me. This is your life, it tells me, and don’t you forget it.
I haven’t lived a truthful life. I hid from myself for a long time. I was beholden. To a person, to a great stack of should-do’s, to a set of beliefs, to my own desperate insecurities. My mind was walled-in, I could only move forward two steps or so before returning back to the exact spot I’d tried to leave. I was deaf to anything I didn’t understand, blind to everything that frightened me. I tried very hard to convince you that I knew who I was, but when you reached out to touch me, I wasn’t there. I shifted, wavered, evaded. I was not who I said I was.
Two months after arriving in Santiago, I returned home. Back to my bedroom, my piles of books and my desk. University started a few weeks later, and there I was transported to the brand new world of adulthood. Everything a door of opportunity waiting to be opened. Or so people said. I came home from the first day pretty unmoved. I had a headache. I can show you the page in my journal from 1993, it’s all there.
I spent the next three years in denial, in various ways. I sat in lectures for my favourite women’s lit paper enchanted with feminist theory, and yet I was absolutely not a feminist – my Christianity had supposedly cured me of that. The best marks I got were in Spanish language and literature papers, and I loved every text we studied (Borges, Garcia Marquez, Allende… all wonders) but saw no value in it, because the only way I knew of individuating back then was to be as unlike my mother as possible, and she was a tutor in the department.
I had a darling crush on one of my best girlfriends at least half of that time, and yet I could no more see it than I could have visited the moon. As far as I was concerned, my gay had been prayed away. It was my shadow life, I told myself. The dark B side I would be living if I didn’t “have God.” If I’d trusted you back then, and we were having a quiet chat at the back of a dim café somewhere, I would have told you. If I wasn’t a Christian, I’d be gay.
Perhaps you can see where this is going. I told you I was bisexual eighteen months ago and I felt like my world exploded with light. But for the three years previous to that, my question hadn’t been am I bi? My question had been am I gay? And the only way I could find an answer to that question was to come down on the side least likely to upturn my life. I love my husband, and of what I understood to be attraction back then, I felt for him and for a couple of other guys previously. So, almost on a technicality, I decided I must be bi.
In November last year I came back from handing my thesis in, and in the headspace vacuum that great finishing created, I realised something enormous. I’m gay. Lesbian. Dyke. Sapphist. Queer. Whatever you want to call it, that’s what I am. It was a knowing that rose up from somewhere deep, and once I faced it head on, after a week of awful grief, I couldn’t un-know it. It was the truth, and it wasn’t going anywhere. Slowly, in tiny and careful steps, I began to tell it.
There are no words to adequately describe how those first few weeks felt. I felt like a bomb that was about to go off and blow up my family. Like I was about to lose everything I had worked so hard to keep. As if I was about to say ha, I never wanted you, respectable nuclear family in the suburbs, I never wanted you at all. But I had wanted it. And what if I still did? What if the thought of losing everything was terrible enough that for a long moment I considered taking it back in? Pretending I’d never said those grave words to Pat sitting on the couch one long evening in November. I need to tell you something.
But I couldn’t bring myself to take it back. Once the words had been spoken, they couldn’t be un-spoken. Once I’d started moving forwards there was no other direction I could go in. Moving felt too good. The knowing made too much sense. It explained so much. And the relief I felt was incredible. It was like finally, after all these years, I could sit down on the inside.
And so I come back to the truth. And the realisation I have when flying – that the truth is the only thing that matters. I can’t take anything with me, I leave it all behind. So this life I have, this very present moment of now, is all I’ve got. I’ve spent so long in hiding, I can’t do it any more. Everything in me, every fibre of me – body, soul and spirit – is calling me to come out.
It’s complicated, obviously. But I married the right man. Pat has stood by me faithfully while I systematically deconstructed almost every part of my life over the last five years. When he had every reason to say I can’t take any more, he stayed. He listened and he sought to understand and he changed and he supported. Whether we stay under the same roof, as we are doing now, or not, we will remain committed to each other. We will continue to be a family. To love each other and our girls the best way we know how.
There have been oceans of grief to travel, don’t be misled. There have been oceans and deserts and low tight forests of sadness. But we did it in a dark cocoon of privacy, down here at the bottom of the world. Few have known the road we’ve travelled since November, and that has helped us to process together, to travel together, to keep saying, over and over: I love you, I’ve never stopped loving you.
I’m not writing to ask for your pity and I’m not writing for your advice. I’m not interested in hearing your anxiety about the future of our family (the girls are doing really well, thanks), or all your bible-bound reasons Christians can’t or shouldn’t be gay. And that’s not because I’m stubbornly forging ahead without any care for anybody else’s opinion, it’s because I already know it all. There’s nothing you can tell me about broken families or church dogma that I don’t already know. Save your breath.
There are many days when the label “Christian” doesn’t fit me. My ideas – about God and the world and how beloved we all are – sometimes feel too wide and broad to fit into a narrow category. But the one constant I’ve felt since November is the gentle tug of something within me, something good and strong and wise, coaxing me forwards, coaxing me out of hiding. Calling me to live. If I know anything right now, it’s that this something within me, this something bigger than me and beyond me and yet in me at the same time, is the surging core of life within all of creation. The life that created me is calling me out. I can’t put it any other way.