Alma Mutter is by Wheaton friends Scott and Liz, exploring the weirdness and wonderfulness of their life trajectories and offering whatever wisdom they can. They hope to make concrete the strangeness that is being a gay Wheaton grad.
I refer to myself as a “cradle Evangelical,” even though we all know there is no such thing. But my Evangelical parents came from Evangelical families. Almost all of my parents’ friends came from the Evangelical community. My mother led me to Christ on the flowered sofa in our Florida room when I was five. I spent my childhood at Good News Clubs, Fellowship Halls, early services, youth groups and Bible studies. On my own, I read the Bible and I tried to pray without ceasing. I witnessed—I even became a missionary for a summer (pictured above). I didn’t smoke. I didn’t dance. I believed in the Trinity, in original sin, in the virgin birth, in the life of the world to come. I believed Methuselah lived 900 years and Brother Noah built the ark. I believed the sun stood still and the walls of Jericho came tumbling down.
But I wasn’t as firmly on the road to the Celestial City as it might have appeared. There was this: while in Christ there may be neither male nor female, in Christ’s church there certainly was, and as a girl, I was on the losing team. No amount of “God has a special role for you” sermonizing could hide from me the limitations of my engendered female body within the Evangelical world. On the other hand, there was also this: your earthly body is a source of weakness, sin and shame, an impediment to your spiritual journey so that the flesh must be under strict control at all times until that magical night following your marriage to a godly man. I did learn this lesson, and learned it well.
Of course I ended up at Wheaton College in the fall of 1982, the eighth member of my extended family to attend. And that’s where I met Scott.
I started Wheaton in 1982, 3 years a Christian, thrilled to be a part of a Christian College. I had become a Christian as a regular attendee of Willow Creek Community Church and its associated youth group, Son City—which I loved, for reasons which, in retrospect, had more to do with the feeling of social well-being than for any REAL feelings I had toward God or Jesus. My family thought I was a bit odd for choosing a more expensive private college over, say, University of Illinois, but they went along with it. Two weeks before Wheaton, I spent a week at Willow Creek’s summer camp: Paradise (pictured above), eager for my college experience to begin. And I loved it—being away from home, making new friends in a place that wasn’t about drinking, partying, OR, thankfully, having sex—something I wasn’t really prepared to think much about anyway.
I was floating happily in a calm sea of making new friends, being engaged intellectually, and living away from home, oblivious to many things—and unencumbered by what my co-writer Liz might call “Cradle Evangelicalism.” I was astonished how much money other students came from (I came from a confirmed lower middle-class family), and I’d never before met MKs or PKs, who oddly always seemed to have the most disposable income of anyone. And I was embarrassed at how much I didn’t know about American evangelical culture. But I was eager to learn and mostly happy that first semester because I hadn’t yet had any real identity crises or confrontations with feelings I really didn’t want to think about at age 17.
Freshmen at Wheaton were assigned “Big Sibs”—a sophomore man and woman who volunteered to be sort of mentors and arrange social gatherings for groups of 8 freshmen—4 men and 4 women. So my roommate and I, two other male roommates from my floor in Traber, and 4 women suitemates from Smith dorm, all met on a first outing. After pizza, we went to a park in Wheaton that had a small zip line. On this outing I met people who would be important to me for the rest of my life—most especially, Liz—the person I now, 30 years later, share this column with. Liz fascinated me from the moment I met her—perfect smile, and one of the most amazing minds I have ever encountered. I have always had a strong bond with Liz in ways that I keep continuing to discover.
That bond is indeed multivalent. In recent years, I realize how much, even as subtext, we shaped each other’s lives around that unspeakable area of sexuality. I’m gay as a picnic basket (in fact went to grad school in literature, focusing on gay and lesbian studies), and Liz has been with her partner, Pamela, for over 22 years. But if it weren’t for Wheaton, my life would be immeasurably diminished—mostly by the absence of people like Liz.
Liz and Scott:
30 years after meeting, Scott is no longer a Christian (atheist actually), and Liz is “not a real Christian,” as her mother would say. But our experiences at Wheaton created an amazing friendship that has enriched us both. We never came out to each other while at Wheaton, but if we have one initial message on this blog, it is that your friendships last longer than Wheaton does—and there are reasons you may not yet even be aware of why you gravitate towards certain people. Never feel alone—trust your friends. You might even be surprised that they’re thinking the same things you are. In our experience, VERY few Wheaton friends turned us away for being gay, even in the years we were somehow afraid to turn toward each other.
We promise our blogs that follow will be much more fun, but we wanted to introduce ourselves here first before we start being completely irreverent.