Thursday, June 21, 2007

Sister Smith

OK, her real name's not Sister Smith. I'm just trying to keep things cool.

Every Sunday I go to Church now, there's just this little bit of a knot in my stomache, because I know Sister Smith is waiting for me there at the entrance to the chapel. She must be at least in her 70s, maybe 80s, and the bishop has called her to be an usher. And she's very faithful in her calling. So nowadays, like clockwork every Sunday I can count on being harangued on my way in.

"Good morning, Sister Smith," I smile as nicely as I can. Maybe if I smile real nice, she'll just let me pass.

"So, are you still living with your friend?" she'll ask.

"Yes," I sigh.

"What? You haven't left him yet?!"

"No," I reply calmly. In my mind I say, "Nope, not since last week."

"Why haven't you left him yet?" You can hear the desperation rising in her voice. "Don't you want to go to the temple? You're running out of time!"

"Yes, Sister Smith. I very much would like to go to the temple. But I'm not leaving him. I love him very much."

Now there's disgust and anger on her face. "Shame on you! You can't love a man! Not like that!"

I take a deep breath before I reply. "Sister Smith, I've come here to worship. I'm not going to argue with you."

She rolls her eyes and thrusts the program at me, and I realize I'm done. I've survived the trials and may now proceed through the door, find my seat at the back of the sanctuary and pray in peace. At least until the next week.

I "came out" to Sister Smith only after many weeks and months of her sniffing and prying. I could tell she knew something was wrong. She knew there was something about me that smelled odd. Something vaguely three-dollar-bill-ish.

"Are you married?" she had asked one week.

"No," I had replied. I knew that was a half truth (hopefully God wouldn't smite me for lying at Church). But I figured she wasn't ready to deal with the whole truth. And I knew in any event that as far as she would be concerned it would count for precisely nothing that, in August 1995, Göran and I gathered with our respective families and 110 of our closest friends to make vows of love and commitment to each other. I knew that from her point of view the lie would have been answering, "Yes, Sister Smith, I am married to a lovely man named Göran."

One week she asked me for my phone number, and in a moment of weakness I gave it to her, knowing that she was lonely and hoping that maybe it would do her good to talk once in awhile.

She called and would poke and prod with personal questions until finally, in desperation, I admitted to her, "Sister Smith, I'm gay. I am in a relationship with a man whom I love very deeply. We've been together for fifteen years."

It felt good, after all, to have that out in the open, despite the now weekly harangues about whether I've put my partner out the door yet.

The silver lining to this dark cloud is that, as obnoxious as Sister Smith's behavior is, this is absolutely the worst thing I have to put up with at Church. Most of the other folks either know (because I have discreetly told them or because I asked the bishop to tell them), or suspect, and have chosen the path of blissful non-confrontation.

The bishop has even apologized for Sister Smith's behavior. "She's not well," he explained, somewhat embarassed.

"It's OK," I told him truthfully, "I understand."

And even she has moments when I can see the regret in her eyes. "I shouldn't have said that," she has occasionally apologized, "You should have just told me to shut up and mind my own business." And I realize that she is, after all, a lonely old woman, just trying however misguidedly to forge some kind of meaningful connection with me.

I have experienced far many more moments of extraordinary kindness and consideration at the Church than harassment. Nothing more need be read into folks' basic acceptance of me than that they understand that Christian charity requires it, and that, whatever they might think about my lifestyle, I matter, and we can be friends. That kindness, and the fact that here I can feel the Spirit most strongly, makes it enough for me.

Some day, if not in this life, in the next, Sister Smith and I will look back at these days and smile.


Knight of Nothing said...

You're changing the world, one Sister Smith at a time. :-)

J G-W said...

Don't we all?

J G-W said...

I should add... A friend of mine who is a member of the ward read this post and got quite a chuckle out of it. Apparently, many members of the ward have received similar "welcomes" on Sunday morning from "Sister Smith."

It's just one of those kinds of stories that makes community interesting!

MoHoHawaii said...

I find your situation extraordinary. You must have a very easygoing ward.

Do you go to the social activities? Alone?

I have this image of two men sitting (who are not missionaries) sitting together in sacrament meeting, one with his arm behind the back of the other as couples sometimems do. It could happen.

Best of luck to you.

J G-W said...

It's possible that my ward is a bit more socially liberal than most. Certainly more liberal than my parents' Springville, UT ward! It's an inner-city, Minneapolis ward, and a lot of our members are urban professionals who are likely to know openly gay people in work settings, and what not.

At the same time, I haven't seen any indication that people are lax in terms of their beliefs, or that they don't accept all of the church's official teachings about homosexuality. Those "official" teachings include the notion that all people are supposed to be welcome to attend worship, and I think it's simply on that basis that I am welcomed.

Also, my partner is kind of scared of the Mormon Church, and really doesn't want to have anything to do with it, so I attend church pretty much on my own. I suppose it could be a bit more challenging for some folks if they saw the two of us sitting there together every week; but most folks, I think, would take it in stride.

The main social activity I've participated in is ward choir. I'm also singing in a special multi-stake choir event that will be doing a special performance on the 4th of July! They're always looking for more tenors...!

The Baron Alexander von Sternberg said...

You big three-dollar-bill, you. I did like reading this.

sara said...

The way you are able to take this and know what you said in the last line shows that you are an incredibly good soul.