Out:  A Courageous Woman's Journey

My story begins where most people’s stories do, with parents. Mine were good people, hard-working and educated. My dad eventually retired as superintendent of schools in Little Rock, Arkansas, and my mother was a schoolteacher.

They were also Southern Baptist and brought me up in that religious tradition. My dad always served as a deacon, and both my parents taught adult Sunday-school classes. I took my religion so seriously, I even attended college at Baylor, the largest Baptist university in the world. And at Baylor I had to face the fact that I was different: my roommate and I fell desperately in love.

 (My parents became aware of my feelings toward Karen and Mother had a talk with me.)

 The conversation was pretty much one-sided as she wanted me to “confess” to a relationship with Karen. I was embarrassed that she and Dad knew. Devastated. At one point Mother asked, “Which one of you is the male in your lovemaking?”

I was speechless. I had no idea what she was talking about. “What do you mean?” I finally asked.

“Normally, one of the girls plays the role of the male. Which role do you play? Are you a top or a bottom?”

My mouth probably flew open. Karen and I didn’t play any roles. We just loved each other. The longer she talked, the more condemnation I felt. I was terribly embarrassed but also wanted her to understand my predicament, to sympathize with me. After all, Karen and I hadn’t planned to fall in love! I was heartsick. I’d fallen deeply, everlastingly in love with someone I’d eventually have to part from. We’d never be able to marry, to have a family, to simply share life. How much worse could it get?

The feelings of guilt Mother evoked in me weren’t new. I desperately needed my mother to put her arms around me, to tell me how sorry she was that I was suffering in this way, and to offer help. If she’d done that, I would have unburdened myself, shared everything, but that didn’t happen. Consequently, I never admitted anything.

I loved Karen with all my being and knew of no way to suppress that love, to make it disappear. How much better if I’d fallen in love with a boy—someone my parents would approve of and someone I could marry and with whom I could have children. However, I’d fallen in love with a girl and been shown that evening the condemnation society would display if Karen and I didn’t keep our relationship a secret. We’d always been careful, but now I grew afraid and became even more so as time passed. 

After Mother confronted me, I became much more secretive. I didn’t speak to her for days, angry that she’d confronted me, that she knew, that she’d condemned me, and that she wanted to separate Karen and me. But most of all I was angry at her lack of understanding sympathy. I hated her and became anxious for the holidays to end so I could return to the dorm and to Karen.

 (Karen and I continued to room together at Baylor. This was in the 50's, and at this time, girls were expected to marry. It was simply a given.)

 My parents had two goals for me: to earn my teaching certificate and then to get married. I never questioned this societal standard. By the time I was twenty-three, I told myself to just pick out a nice fellow, marry him, and get it over with. Not long after I made this decision, a friend arranged a blind date for me.

Jim was a nice fellow, a schoolteacher with aspirations to be a school administrator. This goal appealed to me, as my dad was a school administrator. Jim’s dad was a Southern Baptist minister. He loved children and wanted to have a family. I very much wanted to have children, so I asked myself, “What more am I looking for? He fits the bill.” We were married in March 1963.

 (My story continues through 37 years of marriage and four children. Then, in 1999, a conversation with a member of my Sunday School class changed my life.)

As Janie began talking about her artist son, how caring and thoughtful he was, I felt certain he was gay—a homosexual. I can’t explain the feeling but had no doubt in my mind. I believe God put that thought in my head and nudged me to do what I did next. I blurted out, “Is your son a homosexual?”

People simply don’t ask that question in a conservative area like East Texas, and especially of a member of a Southern Baptist church. She hesitated quite a while, then stated in strong tones, “Yes, he is, but God loves him just the way he is. We, too, should love and accept homosexuals.”

I was dumbfounded. Here I was, sixty years old, and I’d never heard a Christian say anything positive, loving, or accepting about homosexuals. Janie’s words broke through the wall within me—the wall I’d carefully constructed to protect myself from the world. At that moment, her words had little impact on me because I felt no forewarning, no hint whatsoever of the devastation, of the uprooting of my carefully planned life her words would cause.

When our class time ended and we stood up to leave, Janie reached over to give me a hug in parting. I’d always avoided touching anyone, but Janie was a hugger, so I put my arms around her and briefly held her close, letting her long, blond hair brush against my face. Our bond began that morning.