Note: In consultation with the author, we unanimously decided not to publish her name in order to protect her safety and identity.
This morning, I made my usual trek up to the mailbox and noticed a hand-addressed envelope. I was curious to see who had written to me, so I quickly opened the small envelope. Inside were two pamphlets, one titled “The Real Story of Christmas” and the other, “Sin City.” The first pamphlet quoted scripture and invited the reader to use a simple prayer if they were ready to receive “the Christ of Christmas as your Saviour.” The second pamphlet had a more sinister message depicted in comic-book fashion. “Christians are being overrun and targeted by homosexuals for hate crimes. They are perverting the word of god and are ruining the lives of many young people by enticing them into the gay lifestyle.” On the back of this pamphlet the sender wrote,
This message was wake-up call that my relatively new home in the Appalachian Mountains might be even more dangerous than my last in the Midwest.
Although I find the word distasteful, I am lesbian and have been careful not to disclose my sexual orientation in my new community. They do not know me or how I lived in denial of my own homosexual orientation for many years. I tried in earnest to not be gay, only to live feeling deeply repressed and knowing that I suppressed a most joyous part of myself. Coming out for me was the most transformative experience of my life, an experience of liberation that I would not deny anyone, gay or straight.
Although I accept who I am and have no personal reservations about disclosing my sexual orientation, I learned in the last community where I lived in that it would place me at risk. As university faculty, I felt it was important to be a role model for students who are gay by openly sharing my background. I quickly discovered that most faculty in the social work department, all of whom were heterosexual, avoided any interactions with me during the three years I taught there. During my last year, several vocal students interpreted everything I said through a homophobic lens and spread ugly, untrue rumors about me. Only one colleague was supportive. I learned that although I am comfortable with who I am, others might not be.
In my new community, I have kept to myself. Only my colleagues at my new university know my sexual orientation because it is the focus of my research and writing. I rented a little log cabin nestled against a forest some distance from campus. It is a beautiful and serene little place where I enjoy being out in the woods, meditating and gardening. My dog and cat enjoy the freedom of living away from the confines of city life and provide me with many hours of love and entertainment.
My first two winters here were financially challenging. I couldn’t afford to run up high energy bills, so I had to rely on a wood stove for heat. Getting enough firewood those first years was a challenge, but my landlord connected me with a resource, the local wood ministry. I would go on a Saturday and work all day splitting wood with other members of the community, as well as young men out on work duty from the local jail. Although distant (which seems to be a normal reaction to outsiders or folks not from the south), everyone treated me respectfully. And after a day of hard work, they would bring out a load of cut firewood for me to use to heat my cabin.
Last year the wood ministry provided such a needed service to people in the community that they ran short of wood. Consequently, I asked my landlord if it would be all right for the ministry to come and use wood from the property that had been cut down by the power company, clearing a path under the power lines. This year, the week before Christmas, I was surprised by my neighbor, who stopped in to tell me that the wood ministry had sent him out to begin cutting and splitting up the huge pile of logs. The next day, more men from the ministry showed up and deftly cut up the logs, hauling them off to benefit the community.
Although I do not know for sure the originator of my hateful mail, I cannot help but wonder if it has come from the few people I have interacted with most recently, perhaps a neighbor or someone involved with the wood ministry. During the 2-1/2 years I have been living in my little cabin, I have been minding my own business, keeping mostly to myself, and conscientiously supporting local business. I felt that I was at last starting to meet my neighbors, only to then receive such a hurtful message in the mail.
On another level, I am disturbed that my own personal space can be penetrated so easily by a hand-addressed letter. Although I am careful about my personal information, I am not a hermit, nor do I harbor paranoid inclinations that everyone is out to get me. But I am careful and understand that not everyone needs or wants to know I am gay, or that it even matters.
It is distressing to think that because I am a self-sufficient and independent female living alone that a stranger would make the assumption that I am, or choose to be, lesbian—or, to them, a deviant, perverted homosexual. And I wonder why anyone would feel inclined to send a so-called religious message steeped in intolerance and bigotry.
My first inclination was to throw the letter away and not give it anymore of my time or energy. And yet, I do not want to feel alone in this. I want others to know that this is happening. And so I choose to speak out.
Bigotry and intolerance need to end. They thrive under a cloak of secrecy and darkness. I am sharing my story to let others know how important it is to look beyond the superficial differences that separate us.