French lesbian activist Élie Chevillet compares the reality in her queer community with the one her partner experiences having a fundamentalist religious past.
“What you’re doing with Élie is wrong. We miss our Anna. It’s not too late—come back.” Those are the Christmas wishes my girlfriend received from her sister. Actually, there was more: “You’re teaching your kids that they can love anybody as long as it makes them happy, do you realize that?”
“Yes, I do, and it’s exactly the kind of education I want for them.” That would have been my answer, but the homophobic sister didn’t ask for my opinion.
Who I am doesn’t matter. She thinks I am a sinner, and that I turned her younger sister into one. In her eyes, we’re possessed by the devil. “You bring demons in your house,” she warned my girlfriend a couple of months ago.
Love is love, end of the story?
I was raised by an atheist man in France, a secular country. I did encounter homophobia at an early stage of life, but its roots didn’t lie in religion. On the contrary, I remember hearing some beautiful words from religious friends of mine.
One was Magdalena, who had just told her husband and her brother-in-law, devout Muslims, about her vacation at our place. When I asked how her family felt about her spending time at a lesbian house, she said: “Élie, it’s love and God is love”.
Mag had just nailed it. Love is love. End of the story.
Possessed by the devil
I had my biggest religion-based homophobic experience in Germany. It was with my-Christian-friend-who-must-not-be-named, because he’s in the closet.
Our friendship had developed before I found out about his identity or his homophobia. That day, we were drinking coffee at my place and the “gender ideology” at school topic came up.
“Those people are sexualizing, perverting, and confusing kids by telling them about sexual orientation and gender identity. Homosexuals are possessed by the devil.” In his eyes, trans identity and homosexuality were also equally evil.
Fighting with him was okay for me, until he burst out: “I like you”, he said, “but you’re possessed by the devil”.
I finally grasped the cause of his emotional state when he came out. “I was born with female sex organs,” he said, shaking with rage. “You and I, we’re not so different from one another.”
I didn’t care about the disclosure of his gender identity; I cared about my friend scaring me in my own flat—and thinking that we were both possessed. Although he had experienced racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia, he used hate speech himself to remain a part of his Christian community.
The lesbian sin
Today, I live surrounded by a wonderful queer community. Those experiences are far away. Or they were far away, until I met Anna.
When we fell in love, she was still with her husband. They had a perfect-looking family life with their two children.
The separation felt like an earthquake. Not for her. Not for him. But for everyone else around: their families, their friends and their very, very religious community.
The decision was enough to make a sinner out of Anna. She was breaking her marriage, choosing the easy way rather than sticking together. Everybody tried to bring her back to the “right path”, which obviously didn’t work. Back then, people didn’t even know that I was in the picture.
If there is something like a hierarchy of sins, Anna reached the top when she came out as a lesbian.
Growing up fundie
When I met Anna, I didn’t realize where she came from—until a friend accidentally outed her family’s fundamentalist religious background to me.
I tried to show Anna that my love for her was unconditional and that her religious status was no deal breaker. Slowly leaving the shame aside, she started to tell me about this part of her world.
“My parents were missionaries.” The information felt like finding the missing piece of a puzzle. I finally understood why Anna had been spending all this time in Africa as a child.
Outside my queer bubble
Being with Anna reminds me that the world is tough outside my queer community.
It is a world where you need a superhuman amount of courage to come out.
It is a world where my partner wears herself out proving that the kids are all right, that her relationship is healthy, that she’s still worthy of love.
It is a world where she has to lie every day to her boss in order to keep her job.
It is a world where the woman I love is no longer welcome in her community. The pastor forbade her from pursuing the child-care work she’s been doing there for years because of her relationship with me. Her being a child therapist, an educator, and an outstanding mother of two doesn’t count anymore.
It is a world where my partner is rejected by her own people. They don’t care about the fact that she, I, and the father of her kids get along perfectly. They don’t care about the fact that the boys are happy. A sin is a sin, and demons are demons.
In my queer bubble, I tend to forget all of that. I am sorry about this reality of Anna’s. I hope she can find a bit of a home in mine.
Élie Chevillet is a French lesbian activist and writer of queer-feminist columns. Read her other blog posts for Ylva Publishing here.
Follow Élie on Instagram: @eliechevillet
Great article, thank you for sharing and for your courage!
Thanks for sharing Élie! What an important text!
Thanks for the article. As a 70 year old lesbian, It brings back into focus that life for many is not the easy accepting way that life now is for me. Obviously, I’m aware of, and have experienced various levels of prejudice and discrimination over my 52 years of being out, but in my tight knit gay community, I do tend to take my comfortable existence for granted. Your article reminded me of the physical, mental and emotional struggles that so many live with everyday simply because of who they love. And that’s without mentioning those in countries where there is grave risk of beatings or death for being who you are.
Your partner sounds like an amazing person. It’s unfortunate that Christians should show unconditional love but don’t usually. Thankfully you have a great queer community and I hope things get easier for her.
Thank you for sharing.
Your partner is a very strong woman and so are you. Gay hate is still out there whether by fundamentalists or the ordinary Joe or Josephine. We cannot blame ourselves for seeking out the safety of our community. In the ‘70’s and 80’s we found it in small bars tucked away in back alleys. Inside we were safe. Outside the bar hate waited for us with baseball bats. We never allowed anyone to leave unless 3 or 4 of us left with them.
Hate seems to have moved in closer to us now. Parents, siblings and friends make us wary until convictions are stated out loud. It should never be this hard to be ourselves and love who we love.
A 66 year old lesbian.
I have found more compassion, acceptance and kindness in my small Catholic parish in rural Galicia than I ever found in the gay “family” and “community” I was a part of for sixteen years in Scotland. Let’s not be mistaken in thinking that love, compassion, kindness and acceptance are the preserves of the “woke.”
Élie, thank you for writing so beautifully and openly about this topic. I am a 73 year old lesbian living in America. I was raised in a conservative Southern Baptist family. I left the church when I was 18 and finally found the courage six years later.
It too many more years to tell my mother. Her response was to reach for my hand and say, “What took you so long?” Despite that loving embrace and continued support, I always knew that she worried for soul. My brothers, very active in their churches, show me great love. They admire my accomplishments and respect the work I continue to do in service to others. They have also made it clear that if I do not “come to Jesus,” I am doomed to spend eternity in hell. They do not understand that the only hell for me is the one I see in their eyes.
My dear friend in Germany,Christina, told me about your writing and sent the link to your blog. This is only one of the many gifts she has give me.
I wish for you, Anna, and your children much happiness, health, love, and safety as you continue to share your experiences and thoughts.