“A Gay Student of Christian Science Speaks Out”
By Tom Taffel
Having read the 1947 mission statement: “‘The Sheaf’ strives to print a paper that will grasp the undercurrents of thought on campus and challenge the student body to more alert thinking,” I would like to share with the student body my thesis concerning Principia’s policy of non-inclusion for those with same-gender orientation, hoping that justice and equality will eventually find its way into the Principia community.
I am a regular contributor to the Christian Science “Journal” and “Sentinel,” a former educator and present voice for progress within the Christian Science Movement.
My sister, Joan Taffel (Stevens), graduated Principia Upper School and College while I attended Daycroft and graduated from Rochester Institute of Technology. As life-long students of Christian Science, we established the Elaine and George Taffel scholarship fund at Principia.
As Principia grapples with the issue of homosexuality and its stance, I would like to share with you my compelling story as both an impaired child and as a successful, well-adjusted adult in a committed, same-sex relationship, of over 42 years.
Walking through the valley of the shadow of death wasn’t the path I chose; but it was the one in front of me as a young, “gay” Christian Science Sunday school student in search of my identity.
Although very athletic and courageous, I was also sensitive, kind, creative, compassionate and artistic…I loved to cook and garden and yes, I was fashion-conscious and fastidious about my appearance. I just didn’t seem to be what society said I should be. I didn’t feel the “natural” attractions – professional sports, girls, cars, and so on – that society said I should be feeling. As I look back, I was very comfortable with both my masculine and feminine nature and understood on some level what Mary Baker Eddy was stating on page 577 of the Christian Science textbook, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures: “The Lamb’s wife represents the unity of male and female as no longer two wedded individuals, but as two individual natures in one; and this compound spiritual individuality reflects God as Father-Mother, not as a corporeal being.”
When I was twelve, while attending a public New York City junior high school in the Bronx, I was brutishly “outed,” and from the seventh through the ninth grades, I was blackmailed, threatened and bullied. The word gay originally meant bright, cheerful, and full of color, but my outlook on life was anything but gay. My young world had become dark and depressing – looming with fear, hatred, resentment, ridicule, isolation, self-loathing and shame. My life was in crisis and suicide weighed heavily on my mind. All I had to protect me was an unshakable love of God.
It was painfully difficult, through all the rejection, anguish, angry rhetoric and homophobia surrounding me, to realize that I was completely “safe in His encircling arms” (Christian Science Hymnal, 53). The temptation to commit suicide as a solution to my inability to find peace and my place in an unaccepting world nagged at me night and day. The dream of death appeared to be the easier path which I contemplated on a daily basis, for three very long years.
My mother and father were students of Christian Science, but homosexuality was a taboo subject that was not up for discussion. Back in the 1950s there was no one with whom I could speak or any self-help books or support systems. With no adult guidance available to me, I trustingly read the daily lesson sermon – the only source of comfort I had. Mrs. Eddy’s statement (S&H 571:15-19) gave me hope and kept me from taking my life: “At all times and under all circumstances, overcome evil with good. Know thyself, and God will supply the wisdom and the occasion for a victory over evil. Clad in the panoply of Love, human hatred cannot reach you.”
Although I was a courageous, inquisitive and somewhat rambunctious lad, I inherently knew there was nothing wrong or abnormal about me. Even though I was a “gender non-conforming child,” I just couldn’t understand why I needed to suppress the feelings I was feeling so naturally and why I was being punished, rejected, and ostracized for being who I was and why societal values were so different from mine.
As a graduate from The Mother Church Sunday school, I felt I should try to conform to what has been traditionally accepted as the “right” expression of love and family. I met a beautiful, dynamic, charming young woman, also a student of Christian Science, and we were engaged to be married. Tragically my fiancée passed on suddenly. I was devastated. My eventual healing of grief and depression also helped release me from the self-imposed demand to conform to the approved-of behavior I had been trying for some years to cultivate. The more natural sense of who I really was, (familiar since my early childhood and drawing me toward same-sex relationships), reasserted itself and, for the first time since those difficult early years, felt entirely right for me.
Now, suicide wasn’t even an option, because I knew my life wasn’t over. I had a lot more to accomplish, and suicide just wasn’t what my life was about or my highest sense of purpose. Intuitively I knew I had a purpose, a mission, and that I was complete and whole, satisfied, strong and free, just as God had created me. Mrs. Eddy’s words resonated deep inside me: “Union of the masculine and feminine qualities constitutes completeness.” (S&H 57:4-5)
I didn’t choose to be gay. Being gay was not a decision I made one day. While being promiscuous may be a lifestyle choice, being gay is not. Looking back, I don’t know why I was concerned with what I thought other people were thinking, instead of dwelling on what I knew was true about me. People’s misapprehension, intolerance and moral superiority could not touch my true identity as the loved, perfect and complete child of God. Today I don’t see diversity as perversity, but rather, a divine necessity as part of the “panoply of love” and the myriad expressions of Life.
Not terribly long ago being gay was deemed “mentally ill” by the medical profession. Over the years you may have observed how society’s entrenched mores have changed, fundamental evangelical shifts have come into vogue, and reparative/restorative therapies have popped up, only to be discredited. The American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association have reversed their positions on homosexuality: it is no longer considered to be a mental illness. But, in the light of spiritual understanding, that’s also just human opinion, albeit professional human opinion. For spiritual regeneration, there isn’t a greater demand to heal homosexuality than there is to heal heterosexuality since, ultimately, neither has a place in the demonstration of our genuine spiritual identity. Whom I love, and am loved by, isn’t the problem in need of healing, but rather it is the world’s perception of who I am as God’s pure, perfect, whole and immortal idea. What matters to me now is the integrity of my day-to-day human experience and the degree of my desire to live up to my highest spiritual sense of Life, Truth and Love. Beliefs about sexuality, whether heterosexual or homosexual, are a “non-issue” to our loving Father-Mother God. “Look long enough, and you see male and female one—sex or gender eliminated; you see the designation man meaning woman as well, and you see the whole universe included in one infinite Mind and reflected in the intelligent compound idea, image or likeness, called man, showing forth the infinite divine Principle, Love, called God, -man wedded to the Lamb, pledged to innocence, purity, perfection.” (MY 268:27-5)
Even at a young age, I knew that God loved me and that the goodness, kindness, charity, compassion, sincerity, and honesty I expressed so naturally came from Him, and that whomever I loved, of either gender, had no bearing on my ability to express these qualities. I wasn’t a gay teen expressing Christ-like qualities; no, these were qualities of the Christ expressing themselves as me. Rather than forgive and forget the injustices and rejection I had endured, I took a different approach: not to forget, but to remember the good things, the snippets of love, acts of kindness and the cherished moments in my life. Because I already knew that God, Mind, is my Mind and the source of all good, those were the experiences I chose to dwell on. Forgiveness and healing are the result of letting go of past grievances because they are not real or founded in Truth. Healing is a perfectly natural outcome in which unkind, un-Christ-like thoughts and actions, directed and undirected, conscious and unconscious, are released and dispelled, just as naturally as darkness gives way to light. True forgiveness is an expression of love which results in healing as it brings to light the realization that nothing real can be threatened because that which is real, good and eternal is protected by God.
As I became aware of my true self, my completeness and conscious worth, my hungry heart became satisfied, peaceful, self-assured, joyous, and healed. I was able to take down the mental barriers that I had constructed preventing love’s appearing in my life, enabling my life partner of 42 years – now my spouse under the laws of my state – to walk into my life. “Where God is we can meet, and where God is we can never part.” The First Church of Christ Scientist and Miscellany 131:20
Looking back on my wonderful life of world travel, research, teaching, public speaking and involvement in the arts, I wish I could have known the adolescent me, as the adult I am today, and reassured that scared little boy who didn’t understand his unaccepting world, that he was valued and loved; that there was a brighter day filled with hope, happiness and completeness just beyond the dark clouds which seemed to be separating him from the light he was so desperately yearning to see and feel.
Being a committed partner in a same-sex relationship is more than sharing intimacy and friendship with someone of the same gender; it’s about home and family and, for some, raising children, and all the other things that life partners desire and work to make possible. It’s about living in the present, in the now, rather than in the past or future. As I fully embrace the present and its possibilities for demonstration, I am able to be the change I want to see now, because society is no longer defining my identity, my truth, my purpose, my lovability or my completeness.
My integrity is living my truth; my honesty allows me to share it with others. Living a lie – in the closet, a dual life, a charade – is neither normal nor natural, and certainly not the truth William Shakespeare voiced centuries ago and which Mrs. Eddy quoted, not once but twice: “This above all: To thine own self be true; And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.” Retrospection and Introspection, page 81, “Admonition” and Miscellaneous Writings, page 226, “Perfidy and Slander.”
The history of our Church is far from perfect as evidenced by the many changes we have all seen. For example, I vividly recall the Carl Welz editorial “Homosexuality Can Be Healed,” appearing in the April 22, 1967 Sentinel, as well as his less publicized retraction in Houston, Texas, on October 11, 1986 – 19 years later before a large group of Christian Scientists, myself included.
The world has benefited from the words and works of eminent homosexuals such as: Plato, Socrates, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Francis Bacon, James Baldwin, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Shakespeare, Gertrude Stein, Oscar Wilde, Walt Whitman, Tennessee Williams, Alexander the Great, Frederick the Great, Peter the Great, Leonard Bernstein, Benjamin Brittan, Aaron Copland, Ira and George Gershwin, Rudolph Nureyev, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, et cetera.
In her chapter on “Marriage” (Science and Health, page 66), Mrs. Eddy refers to the great homosexual philosopher, Socrates, and then devotes to him an entire paragraph on page 215 of the textbook. It is worth noting that Mrs. Eddy mentioned several eminent homosexuals in her writings, among them were:
- Socrates 469-399 BC
- Alexander the Great 356-323 BC
- John Locke 1632-1704
- William Shakespeare 1564-1616
- King James I of England 1566-1625 (to whom the King James version of the Bible is dedicated)
- Alfred Lord Tennyson 1809-1892
In closing, let us never forget the prophetic words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr:
The church at times has preserved that which is immoral and unethical. Called to combat
social evils, it has remained silent behind stained-glass windows, an echo rather than a voice,
a taillight behind the Supreme Court rather than a headlight guiding men progressively and
decisively to higher levels of understanding.
For many regrettable years, racial segregation in our Church was considered the right thing, until, after years of struggle, healing finally came. The time for healing homophobia has come. Christian Science should rightfully be the vanguard of healing social injustice and elevating thought.
Where does Principia stand and where does it intend to lead? Has the time for thinkers come to Principia?