Bishop Victor Gill held my hand, looked into my eyes, and said he loved me. Twice. Outside the Parliament. Then, a week later, in Woodford Square, he came off the bandstand and found me. He singled me out from the women with me. I’m determined not to write about the leader of the hate group that’s trying to win the spleens of the nation.
But I do want to write about love.
I’ve told the story before of how much my mother loved me. And how that love had fooled me that she had come to terms with my sexuality. At my events and fundraisers, where she would show up to my surprise, or simply accepting flattery from one of my colleagues or readers in the supermarket aisle, she’d be diffident, with all that mother-authority. The showing up, I now reckon, was to do family: if my sister was going to support me, it would become a family occasion.
I eagerly read her love as acceptance. I valued that more than the love. And it saddened me to acknowledge that she could not love all of me. There was more than one occasion when I ought to have known; but I held faith to my own desire. Faith—or what she believed hers had taught her—was as much the root of how she loved me as was what her gender and generation had taught her.
The day that I suddenly understood the dimensions of my mother’s love, I was speechless. What overwhelmed me most was how the scope of her love had protected me from knowing its limits.
I was loved by men growing up, too. I would not argue that my mother’s love was transformative. One takes these things for granted. What made me suddenly speechless one day was how two men had loved me.
Both married denominational teachers, I think Kenrick and Mac were the same age, 28, when teenaged me showed up at their homes, six years apart, with letters talking about love.
I know it must have been awkward. But they were kind, made me safe, and nurtured me. And I never felt judged. It was only as an adult that I began noticing how awkward my sexual identity seemed to make them. Perhaps they had different hopes for me. But perhaps one reason I am alive is how, when I was a child, they were able to love me. Love might not appear the right word. But I cannot think of another to describe their generosity. I don’t recall anything particular that they did. They both came home and told my mother. Spent time with me. What amazes me is all the things they did not do, which allowed me dignity and wholeness and a trust in the adults I chose to take risks with.
Thinking of love, I recalled Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, where the apostle writes about a love that does not dishonour others, and keeps no record of wrongs. One that always protects, always trusts, always hopes and always perseveres. The epistle’s troubling messages on accepting slavery, wives’ subservience, and sexual immorality coexist with some of the most inspirational and quoted Bible verses that have transcended their first-century origins.
Another one of them is about diversity: “If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be…God has put the body together, giving greater honour to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.”
Economic hard times, periods of rising crime and ones of failing governance are when nations most need to hold on to the things we share. That message was what made President Weekes’s inaugural address so resonant. They are also the times when empathy is most lacking, when false prophets emerge—some zealots; others despots—and people cling hard to tribalism and encourage ignorance.
I hold on to the love of the adults that honoured me as a child, and to the power my country still holds to give greater honour to the parts that lack it.