Side by side we walked. Kathy’s slender hand gently enveloping mine and then the tiny pulses began. One. Two. Three. “I love you.” One. Two. Three. Four. “I love you too.” We have little codes that we use to convey what we are feeling. When we hold hands, lightly tightening our grasp three times means, “I love you.” four times, “I love you too.” As we marched in Salt Lake City’s Pride Parade for the first time as a married couple I could not help but to keep saying, “I love you. I love you.” in our tiny secret language.
Four years ago I could not have imagined that I would make such a walk with my wife by my side, that I would have a companion to compose the music of living with, let alone that the voice of a loving God would be written into it. It was only after almost two decades of wandering secretly in the desert of want, of years spent in the wilderness refusing the mana of God’s great love, that I finally allowed myself to come out as someone who is attracted to women.
I walked in a very different space before coming out. After years and years of wrestling with my sexuality I had become convinced that I could not have both companionship and acceptance from God at the same time. I believed that I could only receive one at the expense of the other and in that impossible bargain I decided that I would somehow have to power through alone, even as my feet grew heavier. In all of it I studied my scriptures, prayed daily and nightly, and faithfully fulfilled calling after calling though I could never quite find the outline of God’s countenance in the tapestry of my life.
Over the years I found tiny things to give me comfort, an intellectual life teeming with books and more books, writing, podcasts, and the world of ideas but my heart was inhabited by little to no feeling. The only time I would allow myself to acknowledge what I was running from was through the occasional coded song I’d write in which I would reveal tiny intimations of what was happening to me*. Clonazepam, that wonderful amnesic sedative helped me not to feel and to forget the longing in my heart. Sometimes, for a season here and another there I would get lost in excessive exercise, trying to punch, kick, run and swim my way out of that feeling what was demanding to be heard- the desire to be held and to be comforted by a woman. But at the end of it all, try as I may to outrun myself the ache in my heart remained.
Almost two decades after becoming aware of my attraction to women I finally allowed the power of God’s transcendent love to pierce the great mist of darkness that I had been stumbling through.
By this time I had attended and left BYU and my family had eventually all moved to Utah. I was staying in the spare studio adjacent to the main part of our family home. It was a particularly large and cavernous space with only a chair and a bunk bed in the corner. The rest of the room sat empty and dark except for a small lamp on the chair. No outside light could get in because the windows were covered by blackout curtains. I had set up a little tent on the lower bunk of the bed because it felt like a safe place to hide from myself and the depression that had come to punctuate every step I took. I called it the rat at my heels. No matter how hard I tried to walk with lightness there it was always biting at my feet, causing me to stumble, bloodying my raw and weary steps. In this condition I felt I could no longer continue to live in so much pain and isolation and had decided that something needed to change or I hasten my departure from this life.
I could no longer think, read, medicate, run or swim away from myself. I couldn’t even compose or play the instruments that had once brought me consolation and solace. I had lost my music and light. It was in this state that I finally allowed myself to be vulnerable with God in a way I hadn’t been before. In that tiny tent I prayed, “God, do you love me as I am?”. The subsequent love that I felt come over me was enough to forever change my perception of God, of life, of myself. I call it my sacred grove experience. There were no trees, no wilderness to romance the narrative. It was just me in that cavernous room, but that prayer completely altered the path I had been walking in secrecy, isolation and shame. It lit the way out of the valley of the shadow and to the place of green pastures, beside still waters. It restored my soul and revived me.
Becoming acutely aware of and finally accepting God’s love for me as he created me made it easier to bear the uncertainty and antagonism with which coming out would sometimes be met.
As I have borne witness of my story to ecclesiastical and political leaders, some receiving it with antagonism and others with an open heart, and now as my beloved faith tradition has labeled our family counterfeit and my wife and I apostates, enemies of the faith we know and love -I have this to bear me up: I know God loves me. I know LGBT souls are a beautiful iteration of the great diversity of his creation, each a revelation and a promise -and this propels me forward. Where intractable uncertainty lay I have found my footing and feel finally that the foundation beneath my feet is sound
My faith has become something more inclusive than the tribal exceptionalism that we so readily embrace in Mormonism. After all, I have had many experiences with God’s affirming love for me and my wife individually and as a married couple. I witness the fruits of the spirit in our little family even when the ecclesiastical leaders of my faith tradition assert that this could not possibly be so. I know what is like to be a fourteen year old boy with an unconventional experience with God to share, and to have people, even religious and political leaders of the highest repute say that it could not possibly be so. But here I am feeling profoundly loved and affirmed by the divine as an LGBT daughter of God and I cannot deny it. Now more than ever we can feel God’s hand gently guiding and lighting the way for our little family.
With God and my wife by my side my anemic motet has become an ever evolving polyphonic exchange: three parts moving dynamically to create a harmony written in the key of perpetual metamorphosis. An estranged solo has become a chamber piece among three friends -a triumvirate that tutors my heart daily in what it means to be a disciple of Christ.
And so Kathy’s slender hand gently envelops mine and side by side we walk into the undiscovered country, into our future together. One. Two. Three. “I love you.” One. Two. Three. Four. “I love you too.” And in all of it we have God as our companion. He knows our secret language, walks with us on our sacred journey and lights our way.
~ Berta Marquez
*a song from the time when I was deeply closeted and could only express what I was feeling through coded music