Today we have the opportunity to highlight a story that is even more “outside the box” than usual – and that’s saying something when it comes to our community! Alicia and Carrie are celibate, but they’re also covenanted life partners. In this beautiful piece, Alicia describes their journey together so far.
Colouring Outside the Lines – by Alicia Buhler
I have always thought of myself as a conformer. However, as a cisgender woman who leans more towards the straight end of the orientation spectrum and celibate who is covenanted to a woman, I find myself colouring outside of both the straight and the LGBT lines. In the absence of a tidy box or concise label, the queer identity with its fluid boundaries and generous welcome of non-conformers is gradually feeling more and more familiar.
When my life partner, Carrie, and I met during our first year of university and decided to become roommates, we didn’t set out to become a subversive family unit. We simply clung to one another in order to survive the stress of university life. We shared an apartment together, studied together, cooked together, and hung out together. Yet early on in our friendship we began imagining…what would it be like to do this forever? …to live together, to do life together, to eventually become two old women sitting on our front porch in our rocking chairs, crocheting afghans for MCC (Mennonite Central Committee)? Huddled up with piles of textbooks in our tiny apartment during those idealistic days of young adulthood we assumed we were imagining the impossible, but it was still fun to dream.
As every young adult in the process of figuring out their life does, I trudged into adulthood with both spoken and unspoken expectations. After all, in my very intentional Christian upbringing I had received an inheritance of lines from my family, my church, my friends, and my culture. These lines formed certain boxes. While I was given the illusion of choice – like the little bubbles on those standardized test booklets – I knew that I had to scribble in the correct bubble if I expected a good score on the exam of life. I’d been tutored in the faith throughout my childhood and early adolescence and now it was time to prove that I had absorbed all of those important life lessons. I was schooled in an evangelical faith complete with apologetics and literal interpretations of scripture, so I was confident in my sense of right and wrong. I knew the lines, I was familiar with the boxes, and I didn’t want to do anything to jeopardize my proper place in the order of things. After all, God and my community were watching.
I knew the lines, I was familiar with the boxes, and I didn’t want to do anything to jeopardize my proper place in the order of things. After all, God and my community were watching.
One of the most important and well-defined boxes was that of marriage. There was never a need to even mention that this was a union between one man and one woman for life, with the inevitable slew of children to come. Celibate singleness was another, much smaller box next to marriage, offered as the second best option for those poor souls who weren’t lucky enough to find the person that had been chosen for them by God. Faith and family were very nearly one and the same in the world in which I grew up. In order to be a good Christian, I needed to shade in one of these two boxes, with a strong preference toward the marriage box. So throughout my childhood and adolescence I assumed that I would grow up, get married to a man, and start having babies. This was the life that I always imagined and wanted for myself. And I will admit, I loved the certainty that those boxes offered.
Life and university, however, have a way of shaking up our assumptions and certainties. Professors are charged with the task of expanding the knowledge of their students and cultivating the skills of critical thinking. My worldview was challenged and my faith was questioned as professors, course materials, and fellow classmates poked and prodded. My circle of exposure broadened beyond my small-town upbringing, as I forged friendships with a more diverse group of people. Lines were pushed, pulled, and blurred. Some boxes were shattered. Some new possibilities came into view.
As Carrie and I graduated from university and then went on to seminary a couple of years later we moved forward with an expanded sense of possibility, and yet we still didn’t know how to conceptualize our relationship. We were roommates, certainly, and yet we were becoming family to one another. We had a sense that we’d like to keep living together for the foreseeable future, but still believed that our vocations or one of us getting married could draw us apart. The longer we lived together the more people began assuming that we were a closeted lesbian couple, or that we were in denial about our sexuality. We felt awkward trying to define our relationship in the negative, that is, as what we were not. On a few occasions, telling people that we were not a lesbian couple led them to believe that we were homophobic. As we struggled to define our household we sought the council of one of our seminary professors who questioned the necessity of a label; it seemed the label was more for other people than it was for ourselves.
13 years into our relationship Carrie and I had become more or less settled into our unique family unit. With each passing year it was becoming more and more difficult to imagine not being together, and so we started wondering if we really could do this forever. We lamented the fact that there didn’t seem to be a way to mark or celebrate the relationship that we so cherished. So, we borrowed from the Quaker tradition and gathered together a clearness committee to listen and pray with us, to help us discern the sense of call that was emerging around making a life-long commitment to one another. Our clearness committee asked the difficult questions and was overwhelmingly supportive in our decision to make a formal covenant to one another.
Light streamed into the sanctuary and embraced all those who were gathered on that perfect October day as Carrie and I were named, affirmed and celebrated as family. Our pastor told a covenant story, that of Ruth and Naomi, two women who also chose to be family together beyond the norm of marriage. Surrounded by our church family, many friends, and a few family members, we spoke words of covenant and commitment to one another. We sang songs of praise to the God who welcomes all to the table while Carrie and I served communion, our first offering as a covenanted household. And one little girl even danced in the aisles.
Colouring outside the lines has been both a struggle and a joy. Challenging the norms of family boundaries has brought with it a unique grief and a distinct loneliness at times. It has also introduced me to an expansive freedom that comes from living beyond the lines, where the seemingly impossible becomes possible.
Praise be to our Creating God, our Redeeming Christ, and the Spirit of Creativity who aren’t bound by our boxes but are constantly, always and evermore, doing a new thing.