When I was younger, I didn’t really think about gender roles or how you should act or what was appropriate. Kids don’t. Lesley, my younger sister and best friend, was just my playmate. We played outside whenever we could, like kids do. Ran around playing Indians (should I be saying Native Americans by now?), crawling through things we shouldn’t have, climbing trees, sledding, any and every reason to be out of the house. Eventually though, I started staying in. Started noticing makeup and clothes and boys and boy bands (BSB, amiright?). She never did. She kept playing, rough and dirty.
When I was almost out of my teens, and started focusing on the world around me, I started thinking more about my sister’s habits. Our baby brother and her have always been close, have always had the same interests and same healthy level of physical intensity (which left me with a few bruises, because I cannot defend myself properly). Her hair was perpetually in a ponytail, she never wore a dress/skirt/lacey thing voluntarily. She had started kicking ass on the basketball court and then the softball field, so then it seemed explicable—ok: she was an athlete. Of course she wouldn’t be as delicate as other little butterflies. (Not that I am particularly delicate; clumsy as an ox better describes me). But that’s the point. Girls typically don’t have the strength or inclination to hit back (slapping is a different story), but Lesley had never backed down from a fight. Girl hits back, especially for others. She didn’t follow any ‘normal’ rules or patterns of a little sister. I’ve never had to ‘take care’ of her. She’s always stood on her own, made her own decisions and stuck by them. She never came to me with questions for advice about boys, makeup, or feelings.
Lesley has never been delicate, has never worn jewelry or dresses or nail polish or spent hours in front of a mirror worried about her hair. She isn’t into flannel shirts or combat boots either though—she usually just throws on what’s comfortable for her, makes sure she has a hat, and is out the door to go play. Every once in a while, I wonder if my experience was more like growing up with two younger brothers.
When she arrived as a freshman my junior year of (private, Christian) college, others started whispering, wondering. I was asked, hesitantly, if I thought my sister might be gay. I was mortally offended—of COURSE NOT. She is just a tomboy, just rough. She’s always been like this. But don’t worry, she’s into guys. Being a woman isn’t defined by wearing makeup or caring about fashion or doing your nails. That was how I masked what my subconscious was screaming at me: she isn’t falling into the same traps other girls do. (Sidenote: I still very firmly believe that a woman is defined by so much more than her physical appearance, hobbies, family, or career. But back then I just used it as a platitude for my sister).
I remember a conversation I had with her when I was about to finish school, about homosexuality. She asked, “But what exactly is wrong about it?” I, in all the heartache of righteous indignation, proudly proclaimed “Because God calls it an abomination. It’s a CHOICE, and ‘those people’ choose SIN.” Now, so many years later, my face burns in shame at my pride. That was my sister, trying to reach out to me, and there I was, telling her she was an abomination and the worst kind of person. By this point, she had struggled for years, and was wrestling with her own feelings of worthlessness and the implied evil. She had spent her adolescence trying to quell her feelings, trying to deny her identity. She was trying to find a light in the darkness as she stumbled around, and I was blowing out any candles she could see.
It’s taken me two years to come to this point. I found out she was gay by accident a year before she came out to me officially, and my first reaction is one I am desperately glad she never saw. I spent a year crying about it, praying about it, constantly thinking about it. I still find myself reconciling myself to the fact that my sister will never marry a man in a tuxedo, will always have to endure disapproving looks from someone, will never have the life I dream about for myself and for her*.
But Lesley will be happy. She will laugh whole-heartedly. She will still fight against injustice, comfort the crying, and protect the weak. She will never back down, always have the last word, and work harder than anyone else for what she wants. She will pray and worship and praise and give and love and never, ever, ever turn away someone in need.
Her experience with love is common to every person on this planet. She has felt the thrill of a new relationship, and she’s had her heart broken. She’s been lucky enough to find someone who wants her as much as she wants them—someone who makes sure she goes to the doctor, makes sure she eats dinner after a long day at work, cleans the house to surprise her, supports her choices, makes the important decisions with her, and sits beside her in church. Their relationship is built on God, trust, respect and love. I find it difficult to criticize her life of love. How can love ever be the wrong path? But I am not trying to turn this into a theological forum for debate. Everyone has their own beliefs, their own ‘evidences’. In the end, we are all accountable for only ourselves. And if my sister says that God Himself opened His arms to her and asked her to quit running from Him, who I am to turn from her? Who am I to condemn?
Today, my pride is of a different kind: of HER. She knows herself completely. You don’t question yourself and God for that many years without getting some answers. There will always be a majority of conservatives who will call my sister a sinner, a reprobate, a destroyer of family and marriage. But isn’t their sin as great as hers? At least that’s what the Bible (constantly quoted) says. I am not mocking the Word of God or those who diligently pursue the truth and beauty of Love Incarnate. I am merely saying if you choose to use it as a weapon, be prepared to feel the blade yourself. You cannot pick and choose what you like out of it.
I think the one thing that helped me truly be at peace with having a gay sister is when, during one of our many late-night, tear-filled phone calls, she told me that I still knew her. She was still the same sister—she had not changed. She had always been this person, but now I knew more about her. She wasn’t alien, foreign, strange and different. The arrival of homosexuality on my figurative doorstep was not evil, menacing, and pagan. It was my funny, witty, strong, capable, intelligent, hard-working, beautiful, playful sister. She is gay—but she is SO MUCH MORE than that. That is only one part of her—but sometimes, it’s the only part of her people see.
*I know I share this with my mother—that this is her deepest hurt for Lesley. I could write a novel on my mother and our fear of her reaction towards Lesley’s choices, and then of our rejoicing at her unmoving, unfaltering, ever-abiding love. Her reaction was the most precious gift, the most christ-like response imaginable.