In college, we used to joke a lot about “that girl.” And by this, we meant the girl who gets on everybody’s nerves because she is always throwing herself at the boys; the one who shows up for 8 am class in full makeup, hair curled… mini skirt and Uggs intact. My roommates used to joke: “thank goodness we are not that girl!” which would somehow inevitably spark a discussion something along the lines of wondering if that girl knew she was “that girl.” No, we generally decided, part of being “that girl” is not knowing it. A self awareness of the fact would inevitably ruin something of the effect.

I was reminded of this old, rather petty discussion, in an entirely new light the other night when I was in the car with my neighbor A, and our intellectual discussion of sexuality dissolved in my own tears. Once I clarified, through my sobbing revelation of: “I might not be straight,” that this was a heart matter for me, and not just a head one, he raised again the conversation that we have been having ever since I arrived here at seminary. Should I leave? Should I stay? And with the added insight I finally provided about why it is so fucking difficult for me to be here, he offered some insight of his own. Namely, that yes, as we had just been discussing at the head level, that it is absolutely essential for there to be faces put to an issue. For people to know someone whose life they can consider and bear witness to, instead of whose “sin” they can hypothetically hypothesize about. Yes, he said, that will be incredibly essential to any real change taking place here. And no, he added, it doesn’t have to be you. You can leave here and never look back. You don’t have to be that person.

And with every fiber of my being, I was screaming… I am not that girl. I am not that person. I have never been that person. I have never been a vocal warrior or a front line fighter. I much prefer listening to other people’s opinions than offering my own. I cry in the face of every argument, no matter how abstract and intellectual it might have been intended to be. I have never wanted to be the face of any cause. And yet…. And yet. I could not shake the haunting notion that the essential thing about that girl is that she doesn’t know she is. Does this surface-level bantering old college conversation still apply here, in a discussion of a girl of an entirely different sort?

And along with his gentle reminder that I don’t have to be that person… that I can leave at any time, A also offered this reminder: that the person who becomes that catalyst of change never asks to be that person. Nobody asks for this. Nobody wants to be placed in the point of history when their very life…. Their race, their religion, their sexuality… will become a point of contention simply by its presence.

“But I’m not strong enough for this…” I told A, and by then I was really sobbing. Because that is my deepest fear. That God will ask me to stay here, and not just to stay here…. but to stay here honestly, authentically, and openly… and that I will not be strong enough for this. I know logically the theology behind this, that God doesn’t give us more than we can handle and all of that. But I am not talking about theology here…. I am talking about my life. And today it is an effort just to walk across campus. To sit in class, to cordially great my classmates… to be present in this place. And right now I am in my stats class, only half way through my day… and that alone is the biggest triumph I can muster, and even that is only thanks to the latte I am clutching, and a pit stop at the coffee shop down the street with an old friend behind the counter…. an understanding glance, a shared unspoken pain, a fleeting moment of laughter.

And what happens if this gets harder… when this gets harder? Because nobody has thrown any rocks at me, or called me any names. Nobody has kicked me out, or stripped my rights, or asked me to leave their house. And I know that this is only going to get worse… just as I know, if only in my head, that it is also supposed to get so much better. But it feels like I am stepping into a long tradition of pain that I am just now begging to catch glimpses of, and I want so badly to go back to not seeing… and in this panic I am frozen in my indecision. To stay or to leave? To speak or to stay silent? And so I hesitate, alternately shouting, sobbing, and refusing to voice the things that endlessly circle my head… I am not ready for this… I am not strong enough for this… I am not the poster child of any cause… I don’t have anything valuable to say…I don’t know how to be a catalyst for change…. I am not that girl. And yet, I wonder, am I? Perhaps I am, in the sense that I can be here, for as long as I am able… bringing a handful of people into my small circle of confidence and showing them the heart of something that once was only in their head… tossing my rambling written observations into the arms of an internet community I will in all likelihood never even meet….lifting my voice not just as one, but as one of many, to join in a collective effort to reclaim our words. Maybe that is enough. Maybe. But I’d be lying if I said I knew.

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