Last week, I finally summoned up the courage to tell my father that I’m bisexual.
For a lifelong Catholic, he took it pretty well. He made sure to tell me that he still loved me, and that having feelings for someone of the same sex wasn’t wrong.
It was my actions, he said, that mattered.
Sure, it’s okay to have these feelings – you can’t control feelings – but to act on them would be what constituted a sin. He asked if I’d had sexual partners other than my husband – to which my response was “No,” but honestly should have been “That’s none of your damn business.” He said that he was only worried because if I went outside the bonds of my marriage, that would be a violation of my vows to my husband. I told him that was for me and my husband to decide, and I’d thank him to stay out of my marriage. He said that he would always love me, and that I just needed to be myself… and I knew, in the back of my heart, that the version of me he loved was not the real me. The version of me he loves is the one that would never act on such sinful urges, the suffering saint who lives a moral life while plagued with demons.
In a way, I suppose that’s not too far off. I am plagued with demons. Accepting my sexuality, discussing it with my husband and being given the freedom and opportunity to understand it and explore it, has helped quiet those demons. My demons are not created by temptations of the flesh; they were created by long imprisonment and starvation of the soul. I am happier now, exploring the possibilities that come with embracing my sexuality and asserting my true nature, than I have ever been.
This is the problem that I have with preaching tolerance. Don’t get me wrong – it’s in the right vein, and it’s a damn sight better than intolerance and prejudice. But tolerance isn’t the whole picture. What we need is acceptance.
Tolerance says, “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” Acceptance says, “There’s nothing sinful about living in the way that makes you happiest.”
Tolerance is the hands-off, “That’s not what I would choose, but it’s your life to ruin” attitude. Acceptance sits down, has a conversation, asks questions, tries to understand.
Tolerance states opinion as fact and, in an expansive and generous gesture, agrees to disagree. Acceptance shares viewpoints and is open-minded enough to accept that faith is personal and truth is not universal, but highly subjective.
My father tolerates my sexuality, but he will never accept it. He will love the sinner but continue to hate the sin, even if it is a sin that brings fulfillment, confidence, satisfaction, and joy to me and my husband. He will magnanimously continue to let me skip merrily down the path I’ve chosen, even if he believes it leads off a precipice into a lake of fire. He will pat himself on the back for being such a loving and caring parent in the face of such adversity as having a sexually deviant daughter, and continue to worry for my poor everlasting soul.
I’ve tolerated my sexuality for some fifteen to twenty years now. In that time my heart has been beaten to tattered shreds as it searched for love, acceptance, and fulfillment in every corner of the empty cell my father’s religion confined me to. His tolerance will always be a cold and impassible wall, and my heart knows not to seek refuge there.
Now I have accepted myself as I am, and had the good fortune to find a lifetime partner who does as well. Now my heart steps, blinking, out of the cell and into the sunlight of a wide and wonderful world. There is pain in this world, too, and dark places to beware of… but I have a measure of acceptance, and with that my heart is free.