I’d like to start off with an acknowledgement to country. I begin today by acknowledging the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we meet today, the Jagera and Turball people and pay my respects to their Elders past present and emerging. I extend that respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples here today.
Firstly, I’d like to say how honoured I am to be here today. I have had quite a journey in finding the right church and I finally feel like I am home… so thank you. My name is Rebecca-Jayne, or Bec, or RJ and… I. am. a lesbian. I am also a Christian. This process has been in flux for most of my life, so Paul has asked me to talk about my journey so far, so let me begin.
I don’t come from a particularly Christian home. However, everyone in my Dad’s side of the family, for a few generations, are Catholic in name. That is to say, they do not go to church, they don’t necessarily worship, but everyone is baptised so they can go to Catholic schools. I like to think we have faith in varying degrees, but put it this way, my parents were not religiously concerned when I came out. Nor should they have been. They had always assumed I was straight – why not? They did not have provisions for the ten percent chance that I wasn’t. But that’s okay. They handled it relatively well, all things considered. In fact, at the time I came out, my Dad had employed a gay man to work in his business. It wasn’t really a big deal. My Mum did say she was sad there would be no white wedding or grandchildren but that was always on the cards for me. I just didn’t understand the logistics at that time.
I followed my family into Catholic school, where I lasted all of three and a half years. You see, a fee-paying school was ill-equipped to manage and teach a child with complex mental, trauma-based and neurobiological needs. I was not good at sitting or staying. I talked out of turn, forgot to come back from playtime. Oh, and I flushed an apple core down the toilet to see what might happen.
In other words, I was the naughtiest girl in the school and I did not belong. In my first year at primary school, my teacher dealt with me by hitting me on the arm or asking me to complete my work in the storeroom, at the back of the classroom. I continued to be naughty and she took away my desk. I couldn’t concentrate and I struggled socially, so she thought the best place for me was away from the other kids. Social contagion.
This initiated feelings of religious failure. I felt like God didn’t love me and that I was a black sheep. I had not failed. I had been failed. Because they didn’t teach me the greatest truth, which is that we are all loved by God regardless.
I was yet to learn about grace and self-empathy. After all, I barely knew how to tie my shoelaces. Theology creates some pretty complex ideas for an immature psyche. With that being said, I had a lot of dreams religious in nature at a very young age. I recall a dream where God threw me into a large trash receptacle and I couldn’t rise to the surface. Likewise, another dream I had at a similar age, being bolted down to the floor like a crucifixion because I just did not know how to be better. The stigmata came in the form of night sweats – at the tender age of six. Those vivid nightmares became night terrors as I confronted the grips of PTSD which developed some years later. They call that parasomnia, medically speaking. You may be aware you’re seeing delusional visions in the night but you can’t physically wake from them.
In those early years, I had my own private faith and would pray. I became aware of my sexuality, maybe around the age of 3 or 4. I had a desire to be close to other women. At that stage, it felt platonic because I didn’t know anything more than that, but in hindsight, it was attraction. Homosexuality was not really talked about in the 90s and I don’t remember knowing much about it until I was in high school.
In early high school, I had boyfriends. Boys at that age are pretty easygoing and we would just hang out at the shops, not doing anything in particular. But I never felt anything. No sexual awakening. I wondered why other girls would break up with boys and become upset about it. I just didn’t understand.
After going through further issues in high school, I got kicked out of my first school, went to another high school, then my family moved us all to Bundaberg. There, they chose the most conservative Christian school for me. This was a school that did not spare the rod. Corporal punishment was in, your parents just had to sign the waiver.
At first, I was terrified. I sang in the chapel band. I prayed. I was a devotional leader in year ten. I went to youth group and sometimes, I went to church unaccompanied by parents. In both year 9 and 10, I received the highest academic awards as well as a sporting achievement award. I also competed at district level in athletics, and came 2nd in the 400m event at Christian schools athletics Queensland. I was, and still am, a high achiever.
As soon as some of the fear of being new melted away, I made a very close friend. She was my first real love. It was very platonic at first, and then became a secret in the night. Sleepovers. Sharing the same bed because my parents had no idea. Spooning and cuddling, embracing and kissing. It was then I knew – really knew – who I was.
On the five hour bus trip to the state athletic event, my history teacher sat next to me. She straight out asked me about the friendship I had with that girl. When I confided in her, she sent me to the school counsellor who told me my relationship was the reason bad things happened to me – including the fact my friend had been involved in a car accident and was in an induced coma. She also made me a deal – that I would try not to be gay and she wouldn’t tell my parents I was self harming. Hmmm.
I was young. I was naive. I believed her, that I could change. And so I tried to pray this thing out of me. I believed good deeds were the path to reform. When nothing changed, I became despondent. And then, I was kicked out of school.
“Your values do not align with those of the school” was the official reason cited.
So I had a new school, new friends. I started praying harder than ever before. I got myself a boyfriend. I stopped swearing. Stopped filling my head with impure pop culture. But again, nothing worked. I deleted every impure MP3 on my desktop computer, but I was still existing as a gay woman. I felt broken, like I’d come out of the assembly line flat out defective and was trying to find the way to normal with parts missing.
I started drinking. Yes, underage. I made a new friend who opened my mind again, to the idea of loving and being loved in return. She loved me exactly as I was and I returned the affection.
But I still felt out of step with my faith. After all, it had been written and said to me so many times. It was like I’d jumped out of a plane and the rip cord was just out of reach – I felt like I was descending into darkness. And I did. I became negatively buoyant. I sank. Deep into depression and despair, non acceptance. Melancholy. I had dark thoughts that were reminiscent of a mid-life crisis, rather than reflecting my sixteen year old self.
I had my first mental health crisis at the age of 17. I came very close to ending my own life. I can tell you, Ipecac tastes awful and I hope I never taste it again. I was very unwell, but in a small place and with a sense of shame about who I was, it was difficult to get help. The stigma was real. I stopped trying at school. I’d gone from a high achieving student to a hopeless case. My year 12 English teacher told me to forget about university – and to find a good stable desk job.
So I did. I hated every moment, counted every hour. Back then, I considered myself an atheist. I had done my time in church, and I was finished. When I moved back to Brisbane, everything changed. I started working in a special school as a teacher’s aide and I knew I’d found my people. I met and fell in love with a high school teacher and that was the humble beginnings of applying to university to change my life’s trajectory. The relationship didn’t last but she left me with a legacy of the passion I needed in my early adulthood – and she pushed me to be the first in my family to graduate from university. I also graduated in the top 5% of my cohort which was a nice touch.
It wasn’t until I got into my final year of university and completed a teaching prac in a Christian school that I considered going to church again. About a year prior, I met my now-wife. We decided to go to our local church and we became part of the social fabric. It was great, until it wasn’t.
I ended up working in Christian Schools, and this is something I don’t want to comment too deeply upon because it was so distressing and so homophobic. After 3 and a half years, I left both the church and the school. The covert and overt discrimination was too much. I ended up working in a mainstream primary school with very high social and academic needs. That was when I really felt I was doing God’s work – working in a highly complex environment with kids who desperately needed good teachers. I see myself in all of those little humans. Even if they struggle in different ways than I do. They are fearfully and wonderfully made – beautiful in every way, and I love working with them.
In Esther, it is written that perhaps you were made for such a time as this. I couldn’t agree more. Despite the negativity of some of my experiences, I can’t help but wonder if what I went through made me a more successful and empathetic teacher as well as a better person. Call it a silver lining if you will. If I call it anything else, I’ll go mad.
Because I’ve experienced adversity, I’m good at reading situations, I can understand intellectually the challenges that some people have, and I am good at building relationships. I’m a good listener, even if I talk too much. On a purely cognitive level, I seem to understand the barriers that people have because I have had barriers myself. I also seem to thrive in chaos. This is very helpful, because I work in a special school with kids who have multiple complex needs. So through my trials and tribulations, God has provided me the resources for such a time as this, to serve and love others, and be a reflection of Him in this world.
With all that being said, I want to encourage all of you here today to take more chances with your God given talents. Climb more mountains – preferably with a backpack. Jump off more cliffs – just make sure you have deep water to land in. Go forth and do the thing, whatever it is. You will surely find joy in not just the destinations, but the journeys.
I have experienced the deepest, darkest depths, the dark night of the soul – but it has made me who I am today and I don’t regret any of it. Not even one part. Except I wish I tried harder in school.
I am still a Christian. I still believe. I am still gay. And like everyone else, I am still wholly loved by God. I want to take that love and spread it. Every day, in every way.
Thank you. And God bless.