“Coming Out For Good”
by Tom Taffel
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 gay Christian Science Sunday school student in search of my identity.
Although I was athletic and courageous, I was also sensitive, kind, creative, compassionate and artistic. 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 – to which society said I should be naturally attracted. 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.”
At age twelve, while attending a New York City public junior high school, I was brutishly “outed,” and from the seventh through the ninth grades, I was blackmailed, taunted, threatened and bullied, relentlessly. 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, resentment, ridicule, isolation, self-loathing and shame. My life was in crisis and suicide weighed heavily on my mind. All I had for protection was an unshakable love of God.
My adolescence was painfully difficult – with rejection, angry rhetoric and homophobia constantly surrounding me – the temptation to commit suicide as a solution to my inability to find refuge, 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.
Although my mother and father were Christian Scientists, homosexuality was a taboo subject, and not up for discussion. Back in the 1960s there was no one with whom I could speak, no self-help books or support systems. With no adult guidance, 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.”
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.
As a graduate from The Mother Church Sunday school, I felt I should try to conform to what had been traditionally accepted as the “right” expression of love and family. I met a beautiful and dynamic young woman, (also a student of Christian Science). We were engaged to be married. Tragically my fiancée passed on suddenly. I was devastated. My eventual healing of grief and depression helped release me from the self-imposed demand to conform to the approved-of behavior I had been trying for many 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. I was able to see clearly what Mrs. Eddy meant:
“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. (The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany, p. 268:9)”
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.
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)
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. No longer considered to be a mental illness, the American Medical Association and American Psychiatric Association have reversed their positions on homosexuality. 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.
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. 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 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 44 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, p. 131:20)
Looking back on my rewarding life of world travel, lecturing, research, teaching 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, 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, p. 81, “Admonition”, and Miscellaneous Writings, p. 226, “Perfidy and Slander”)