I suspect that there is a continuum of sexual orientation. The people at each end of that line could not imagine having a sexual relationship with, in the case of a heterosexual person, a person of the same gender or, in the case of a homosexual person, with people of the opposite gender. They actually speak of being revolted by the idea. Then there is everything in between with bisexual people in the middle, which is possibly the hardest place to be. While this is my view, I believe we have much to learn about sexual orientation. Using this theory of the continuum, I would place myself somewhere maybe about 75 per cent down the line -“ well and truly homosexual in orientation but not at the extreme end
Perhaps this is why it took me so long to decide who I was. I can only say that when I dared to claim homosexual orientation, there was not one shred of doubt in me. I am a lesbian and, whether I realised it or not, I always have been. People, especially in the church, often talk about sexual orientation as though it is about sexual activity alone. They see it as some sort of temptation to a particular type of sexual activity and you just have to decide to stop doing that and all will be well.
In fact for people like myself, and many others with whom I have spoken, the reality of our orientation is absolutely profound. When you own your orientation it is like finding yourself and coming alive in ways which are impossible to describe. It is like at last fitting into your own skin. When I finally came out publicly, I bought myself a brooch depicting a flock of birds flying high because that is how I felt. I was flying free in the universe and claiming my real place in it. I was soaring into the clouds in joy and peace and moving into my future as a whole person at last. It felt as though all the fragments of myself were finally coming together and I was settling down into a serene peacefulness. Nothing could touch that, no matter what lay ahead, and I have never had a single moment of regret that I chose to live my life as I believed it was truly meant to be.
I felt a wholeness of body, heart, soul and mind in this relationship which was something I had never known before. As a person who had lived all their life in the church, I was in no doubt about the fact that some of the church would disagree with my joy and my understanding of the leading and grace of God. I knew where those people were coming from, especially in their approach to scripture, but I disagreed with their views and believed that, in doing so, I was being more true to mainstream biblical scholarship and theology than they were.
The churches which formed the Uniting Church in Australia (Methodist, Presbyterian and Congregational) had not trained their clergy in a literal view of the Bible for more than 70 years. In this, we were and are part of a whole respected stream in the church internationally. As the daughter of a Methodist minister who was a fine theologian and biblical scholar, I had never been raised to view the Bible as a literal document. It was always presented to me as open to interpretation and answerable to the witness of Jesus and the Gospels -“ neither of which even mention homosexuality, which is very strange if it is such a deadly sin.
Gradually I informed the church about who I was -“ person by person, group by group, and then publicly at our assembly in 1997. Knowing the church very well, I was not really surprised that I had no option but to resign my job as National Director for Mission at that stage. The church in general has, of course, ordained thousands of faithful priests and ministers throughout the centuries who were lesbian or gay -“ some celibate and some not. I believe that it would prefer us not to reveal ourselves because, in its heart, it knows that we do indeed have the gifts and grace to be ministers and priests and this challenges the view that we may be abominations. I also believe that the Holy Spirit is challenging the church to change on this issue and that the question will not go away until the change takes place.
When we try to sort out who is representing God most truly we need to remember that Jesus said, By their fruits you will know them. He said that firmly to his disciples who were trying to work out who were the real followers of Jesus and who were not. I look at the fruits of those who oppose us and see mostly exclusion and hate, and often abuse and even violence. I see people who seem not to notice the grace and gifts of the people they are denouncing, who have no respect for their loving relationships and who themselves seem often to be obsessed by sex. I have also experienced people who disagree with me and are yet quite loving -“ or try to be. The trouble is that when people speak of loving the sinner and hating the sin, it is hard to experience them as truly loving when the sin is so completely linked with one’s sense of being.
I have been told, You are just clinging to this lifestyle because it makes you happy, Dorothy. What a strange thing to say. I suppose they mean that sinfulness sometimes seems to make people happy, but it is really a form of self-indulgence. I can only say to them that I think I am capable of seeing the difference between sinful self-indulgence and the deep peace and happiness which is a gift from God. I suspect that most people are. I am a serious, responsible person. I am a Christian minister who regards that calling as a grave and sacred trust. I can only say that I have no sense of indulging myself in sinful temptation in relation to my sexual orientation. Far from it.
I believe that I am being true to my creation before the God who made me and that I am now engaged in a responsible and loving relationship which deepens my experience of God and the life of the spirit. I also believe that a life lived in true relationship with God is profoundly joyful and we should expect it to be so. I do not believe in a God who mocks us by creating us differently and then saying to us that we should not express that difference. Nor do I believe in a God who mocks us by telling us that what we experience as beautiful and genuinely life-giving is a sin.
When I consider why God made us differently from some others, I just look at the creation itself and see its infinite imagination. Why should we all be the same? We are of differing races, languages, histories, cultures, appearances and abilities. Maybe God had an another idea about difference. Or maybe we simply evolved that way at some early stage. Why not? Who are we harming? Nobody that I can see. In some cultures, homosexual people have been regarded traditionally as the particularly creative members of the tribe, or the people with special gifts for healing. The idea that we are threatening families ignores the fact that we are all part of families and can be creative members of them with no more negative impact than any other diversities which lie there.
There are words for homosexual men and women in the old tribes of most cultures. Sometimes they are words of approval, sometimes not. Sometimes the disapproval stemmed from the need for the tribe to procreate -“ that was probably a factor in the Hebrew tradition. Well, in world terms, we are hardly short of children now. Sometimes people disapprove of particular sexual activity in which they believe we are engaged. I have never heard anything mentioned which is not also practised by heterosexual people.
The fact that the apostle Paul did not approve of homosexual activity in a particular context of time, place and culture is to be noted but not necessarily authoritative for Christians. After all, we do not follow his thoughts about it being best not to marry at all. We no longer affirm slavery as he did and most of us have real questions about some of his ideas for relationships between wives and husbands. In fact, Paul was not really too inspired about issues of human relationships in general -“ his strengths lay in other directions. He was very wise when he discussed the relationship with God, especially the free and gracious relationship with God, through Jesus Christ. The biblical witnesses were mostly stronger in that area. They did their best to interpret and order their own community and personal lives through their understanding of God, but they were very clearly people of their time and place, just as we are. In fact they had no word for homosexuality as such and clearly no concept of homosexual orientation. It is strange that conservatives take advice from ancient peoples on this issue when we would simply assume that they had much to learn on many subjects which have become more developed over the centuries in the company of a living God.
The Uniting Network was set up around ten years ago for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people and their friends to further justice in the Uniting Church and I am proud to be part of that. Our opponents have referred to us as the homosexual juggernaut which is somewhat laughable considering the fragile people included and our lack of funds and minimal capacity to organise. However, we have achieved a good deal -“ much of it, in my view, because many people in the network are deeply respected by those around them in the church.
It is a strange thing to battle for your right to exist. In the women’s movement we were on new ground because the struggle was for ourselves, rather than some cause, but it was never about our right to exist. As a lesbian, the fact that I am and live out my life in this way is in itself part of the struggle. I am also proud to be the patron of Twenty-Ten which is an agency which cares for young gay and lesbian people at risk.
I live with joy, not just because I am who I am and find delight in claiming that, but because I have found the love of my life.
Sometimes I find this so overwhelmingly good that I wonder if I can ever deserve it. Then I realise that I waited almost 60 years for this relationship when most other people assume they will have this experience many decades earlier in their lives. Most of the time I don’t think of my sexual orientation at all. I simply rejoice that I go home to the woman I love, the one who expands my life every day -“ the one who makes real the concept of being in love.
Thanks be to God for this gift, a gift which invites a flight of freedom towards the songs in the universe. It is, indeed, a life of joy.