In pouring out my frustrations it is entirely possible- perhaps even inevitable, that I have been presenting only one side of the story. It is not all bad, life here at the seminary. Some of it, so much of it in fact, has also been beautiful almost to the point of tears. Take, for example, tonight. I returned from having a wonderful dinner with some classmates at my professor’s house, to find my apartment community gathered around a make-shift fire pit in our courtyard, drinking from a keg and singing worship songs. As soon as I entered the gate, they called me into their midst, made room for me in their circle, and handed me a solo cup of beer. This, I think, is exactly what God meant by all the soft, incessant, whispering reminders over the summer about how I really ought to stop bitching and complaining about having to go off to seminary, because a place had been prepared for me there. I’m pretty sure that this right here in front of me, this is it. And even when I got up to leave the group tonight, overwhelmed by the amount of reading I still have to do, and by the amount of internal processing I find myself completely unequipped to do, my neighbor A promptly sent me a text message to say that I looked like I had had a long day, but that I should not forget that at least I have a cuddly dog and a cute red hat, and that’s got to count for something, right?

And the simple kindness of this statement is what finally moved me to the tears that have been building ever since I began my time at seminary. For me, it is always kindness that pushes me over the edge when I am just barely hanging on- I can hold it together until somebody ruins it by asking if I am ok. And the truth is that no, I am not ok, and I feel very much as though I am starting to lose my center, or even as if I hadn’t ever really found it.

Still, even as I sit here writing, I am listening to the laughter and the music floating up from the fire pit below, and wishing so badly that I could explain to all of the neighbors down there, and also to everyone in my cohort I keep studiously avoiding, that the reason I keep disappearing abruptly is not because I doubt that they are all wonderful people who could each enrich my life in one way or another, but rather because I have suddenly become that person we’ve all met at some point who is hesitant to get close to anyone. But what really terrifies me is that I don’t recognize that kind of thing on myself- I’ve never been that person before. I have absolutely no experience with it whatsoever, and apparently I haven’t gotten very graceful at it yet either, because everyone keeps noticing my awkward exits and half-hearted excuses.

But I don’t know how to explain to them that I don’t want to get close to any of them because I am paralyzed. All the time that I was traveling this summer, processing everything I could get my hands on while trying to come to a deeper acceptance of my sexuality, I had this vision that I would be able to come here to this grad school and present, if not a completely honest version of myself, then at least a more authentic one. I thought perhaps I could find a way of using a sort of sexuality-neutral language to convey myself, kind of like the gender-neutral language that is so popular these days (Or maybe its gender-inclusive, which would make the more appropriate term “sexuality-inclusive,” and I like the sound of that much better anyways.) But within the first week, everyone was already assuming that I had a crush on A, and I went ahead and let them believe it.. maybe even encouraged it a little. The thing is, though, they would have assumed I was straight anyway, because not only is that the generalized assumption of our society, it is also most definitely the assumption that is made of girls who show up for grad school at a Christian seminary, wearing dresses with beaded necklaces. So all that optimistic conviction stuff went out the window pretty quickly, leaving me with only the option of directly correcting them in their assumption about my sexuality, and the fact of the matter is that I am just not ready for it. For all I know, they might all be wonderful, open-minded people who are ready to hear it, but I most certainly am not ready to say it.

Still, at the same time, I am also not ready to create this whole new circle of intimate friends who will one day look at me in disbelief if I find the courage to speak openly with them- most likely not so much because of what I am telling them, but because I have not told them any of it before; because, in the course of a thousand conversations in which they came to know me as someone who deeply values authenticity and vulnerability in relationship, I was withholding both of these things all along.

But what I would explain to them, if I was having the common courtesy to explain anything to anyone these days, would be that it is not easy. It is not easy to do school and life and relationships, when all the while you have used up all your strength just trying to create a space within your own self where you feel safe enough to breathe. It is not easy to ground yourself in a narrative that has told you throughout your entire life that you either simply don’t exist, or that if you do, you are an “abomination to the Lord”, whatever the hell that means, anyway.

In one of my theology classes, we have been talking a lot about different levels of understanding the world and our place in it. The chain of things goes from concrete rules, to broader principles, to our basic convictions in which everything is rooted and grounded. This, according to my professor, is the story level, or the overarching narrative that shapes us- the stories we have been told and the stories we have learned to tell ourselves both about who God is, and about how we are made to interact with the world. The critical thing, according to my professor, is that by definition, you cannot change something at the narrative level without it disrupting and changing pretty much everything about your daily life.

What we were talking about in class was more along the lines of our abstract ethical formation, or something like that, but what I was hearing in all of this was that perhaps why I have been feeling so uncertain and unstable lately- why I have been joining hands to claim my place in this sort of collective instability, is because the narrative that I was taught my entire life didn’t include any space for women who liked other women- or at least, not any space for women who liked other women and weren’t damned to spend an eternity being punished for it in hell. So what you have on the outside is a high-functioning, high-achieving woman in her early twenties who is on the fast track to her PhD, supported by good friends, a loving family, and a warm church community. But what you have on the inside looks a lot more like the messy overturning of everything that already exists, and the consequent unearthing of a long-buried little girl who is trying desperately to recreate a world that contains space for her; to rewrite her role in a story that she has been written out of. To redefine everything from the basic conviction level, up.

I suppose, when you look at it like that it’s only natural that things should be a little complicated, what with all the reconstructing, redefining, recreating, and rewriting that’s been going on. We all know that every writer goes through a lot of drafts before they weed through all the crap and sift out what they were really trying to say. Have patience with me while I find my words. Have patience with me while I undergo this messy process of rewriting my story to include a more authentic version of myself. And when I make this request for patience, I suspect that more than anything, I am making this request of myself.