Last week I heard one of the sweetest sounds I’ve heard in a long time.
During their daily chapel assembly at a small Christian university in Tennessee, I shared my story with the student body, faculty and administrators on that campus. In many ways, it’s a university similar to the one I attended back in the early eighties. Every day the whole campus stops what they’re doing and they gather in an auditorium for a thirty minute time of worship. For as much as we complained about having to attend that service when I was in school, we also came to cherish it as a time of being together.
Of reconnecting with one another. With God.
Of reminding us of who we were as a people and what we were really about.
I shared my experience of being attracted to my own gender with this group of students. I shared what it was like growing up in confusion, not knowing what to do with all those feelings, and not having anywhere that I felt was safe to share those feelings.
I explained how miserable that was.
I told them how hurtful it was to hear things people often said about someone being gay.
I told them that it was the shame those comments created that kept me from telling anyone for so long. Shame and my own pride.
I wondered what it would have been like to share that secret with someone when I was their age. Would my life have been different? Maybe so.
A slide with my contact information was on the screen behind me, in case someone wanted to talk to me.
“When I was sitting where you are,” I said to them, “I would’ve wanted so badly to talk to this woman – I would’ve wanted to make contact with this ministry – but I wouldn’t have dared to let anyone see me take out a pen and piece of paper to write down the number. Because I wouldn’t have wanted anyone to think that I was going through the same thing. So I would’ve prayed to memorize the number until I could write it down in private.”
Then I asked the students in the assembly to do something.
“What if there’s just one person in this audience who wants to write it down, but he, too, doesn’t want anyone to see him do that? What if we all took out something to write down the contact info with, so that no one has to feel like she’s alone?”
At first it was silent, but then slowly I began to hear the rustling of backpacks being unzipped and paper coming out and pens clipping and people looking at the screen as they plugged the number into their phones.
Everyone was writing the information down. Even the faculty.
The sound touched me so deeply I had to stop for a moment. Because, you see, they were doing that for me, too.
For the girl in me who would’ve given anything to hear someone talk about same-sex attraction when she was in college and had no idea where to turn.
For the girl in me who would’ve been so relieved to find friends who not only didn’t turn away, but who would take out a pen and write the number down for her.
The students in that auditorium were doing that for all of us who have grown up in environments where we didn’t feel safe to say anything about feeling attracted to our own gender.
What a blessing to have classmates who say, at the very least, I’ll take out a pen and write this number down, so you don’t have to feel embarrassed.
So you don’t have to feel all alone.
The sweetest sound of kinship, of connection, of belonging I’ve heard in a long time.
(See more pictures and information about our campus visit at CenterPeace.)