LGBT Alumni & Allies of Taylor University

(This) Gay Man’s Guide to Attending a Class Reunion at Taylor University


1. It’s okay if you don’t go, dear. You’re okay if you don’t go. You’re the best judge of what you can handle.

2. Think about why you enrolled in Taylor University in the first place. It wasn’t because Taylor was forward thinking and accepting of gay people. You showed up looking for a tried and true Christian school—and you withdrew (for a semester) after one year because Taylor was too liberal, not Christian enough to suit you. Ever hear of poetic justice? Now you’re too liberal for Taylor. And not nearly Christian enough.

3. You know Taylor is not a safe place for you. You know not to count on church people for a warm welcome and unconditional love. You long ago learned to look inside yourself, find love and acceptance there. Don’t expect it from others. That’s not what you’re going back to campus for. Is it?

4. So what are you going back to campus for? To see people? Revisit the place? Remember who you once were? Fair enough. Go and good luck. Be sure to stop at Ivanhoes for ice cream.

5. What’s your greatest fear in returning to campus? Physical violence? Soul-crushing comments, more spirit-deadening messages? Public shame and humiliation? Speak its name. Look fear in the eye and shake its hand.

6. Take care of yourself, sweetheart. Diffuse your anxiety as best you know how. It worked last time to ease yourself onto campus, remember? You skipped the first alumni get-together, walked around campus solo. You found two shelves of gay-themed books in the library. Comforting to know current Taylor students have access to information about gay issues. In the old prayer chapel you found an anonymous note from a Taylor graduate who, 10 years out, has left the church behind, found life outside of Christ. A kindred spirit. They do exist.

7. Last reunion you decided to be matter-of-fact about being gay. You’d not go out of your way to drop hints, but you would answer questions truthfully. If you came out to others in the course of conversation, so be it. You remember what happened? The first person who learned you are gay pronounced his disapproval, questioned your faith, and cast a pall over your experience. After that you pretty much ducked personal questions, steered clear of people, hung back. Do you want to do this again? Take your husband with you this time. There’s safety in numbers. Introduce him as your husband from the get-go, forestall surprised reactions mid-conversation.

8. People self-select. Those who show up to reunion tend to be the successful ones. Slim and trim. Men with full heads of hair and intact marriages; women with advanced degrees who really do look 29. Good Christians. Ones who fit the Taylor mold. Don’t expect them to admit to times of hardship, tragedy or doubt in their own lives, nor to want to hear about yours.

9. Expect chit chat: career, kids, college memories. Keep conversation light. Steer clear of heavy subjects. Reign in your tendency to disclose, your desire to get real. The time is short and not conducive to covering substantive ground. Save that for another day, place and person.

10.  Questions are your friend. Ask lots of questions. Be sincerely interested in people’s responses. Ask follow-up questions. Use the journalist’s Big Six: who, what, where, when, why and how.

11. You’re back on campus for a day, maybe two. Be as present as you can be in this moment, now this one.

12. Have a backup plan. You can always leave early if need be. And whatever else you do, stop by ’Hoes. The peanut butter-fudge-chocolate chip milkshake is every bit as good as you remember.

Dear members of the Taylor Community… [a current student comes out]

Like the dawn, it slips in quietly, almost when you’re not looking. Courage.

Taylor University students arriving for breakfast at the dining commons this morning found a yellow sheet of paper typewritten on both sides sitting there on each table, right alongside the “News of the Day’ campus announcements. This was a different sort of announcement: Student Senate President Jeffry Neuhouser, a senior history major set to graduate in May, coming out as a gay man in an open letter to the campus community.

“I want to personalize what has become simply an “issue” on campus,” he told my husband and me this morning over breakfast at a cafe near Upland. His phone kept up a steady hum all through the meal. “I’m getting a flood of text messages and emails,” he said. “People have a lot of positive things to say.”



Here is his brave and heartfelt letter:


Dear Members of the Taylor Community,
Forgive me. Forgive me for not being completely honest with you. Forgive me for hiding behind my fear and trepidation. Forgive me for the mask I have worn. More often than not I forget 2 Timothy 1:7, “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”

This is my story.

I have struggled with same sex attraction since middle school and I thought for the longest time that I would be able to change my attractions. I believed that the struggle was just a sin that I was susceptible to and that I could get over it with enough prayer and determination. After coming to college, I tried multiple times to date because I believed that attraction to women would come with a relationship. I tried several times, but eventually realized that the attraction was not going to come to me. That was the point when I finally “came out” to myself.

I realized that I am gay.

I was not able to change my attractions. So, the question I faced at this junction was, “How does my sexuality play into my faith?” The process has been long and hard and I have not reached all the conclusions that I want to nor do I have the answers. I will be the first to tell you that I do not have all the answers! I do, however, have a renewed understanding of God, of struggle, of pain, and of people. There have been points when I have felt like giving up on God and have questioned whether he even exists or not. But through my journey, I have determined to keep living for God and seeking to find out his will for my life. I do not necessarily seek to be happy even though that would be nice. Rather, my focus is searching for truth and finding joy in truth.

Why am I coming out publicly?

I do not come out to you, my community, as a way to gain attention — at least not for myself. I do this to help you become aware that same-sex attracted people exist at Taylor, and we all have names and faces. Up to this point you may have only heard anonymous quotes and stories in the Echo … but do gay people really exist at Taylor? Yes, and I know this because I am one!

I am writing this letter to you all for the sake of people like me. We are your roommates, we are your classmates, we eat in the DC with you, we play football with you, we sing with you in chapel, we pray with you in church, we are your friends, and we are your siblings, but most importantly we are children of God created in his image. Many of these people are scared, as I am, of what will happen if and when they come out.

I am removing my mask, so that you may know the truth about me.

You have probably also heard the quote by CS Lewis: “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” I love Taylor and I love the people at Taylor. I love you all too much to lock up my heart, but in my comfort I am afraid I will lose my chance and ability to be vulnerable and open with the Taylor community. Honestly, I am terrified right now of all the potential fallout, consequences, and backlash. This fear is what has kept me from coming out sooner.

Lastly, but most importantly, my purpose in opening my heart to you is to glorify God. My story, and by default my sexuality, means nothing without God. I hope to glorify God by helping people understand the stories that God has written because each of our stories is precious to God and should be used to shine light on him.

How should you react to all of this new information?

Reflect on this new information. Rethink how you treat people and how you view the issue of sexuality. Reread Scripture and try to look at it with new insights. Listen to people’s stories. Are your words and actions showing that you are safe and open to people sharing their stories with you? Educate yourself on the language surrounding same-sex attraction and the arguments on both sides. Most importantly, respect people and their personal experiences.

None of us have everything figured out. I am just Jeffry. But together, we are a community, willing to take a position of humility to better understand and hopefully work this out together. There is so much more I want to say, but I will wait for a later time and venue. Perhaps we can grab coffee some time.

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” – MLK, Jr.

Walking together towards Christ,

Jeffry Neuhouser


Action step:

Join the LGBTU Facebook group


Note:   Jeffry’s letter is posted on the Choros page, a campus organization that seeks to create a safe place for discussing sexuality. Jeffry was president of the group this past year.

Photo credit: Megan Long Photography

This is How You Lose Us [link]

“Seek and save the lost”—how many times was I enjoined to do this during my growing up years? I never thought I would become one of them, one of The Lost. I never imagined how many religious boots would be planted against my rear-end kicking me out the door, to the curb, to hell, if not back. In the following post (text and link below), blogger Kohleun sounds an alarm I hear increasingly being raised: religious institutions are at the forefront of the movement to alienate people, to draw bold lines between us and them, and to make sure the Thems know they are not wanted, not welcome.


This Is How You Lose Us: an open letter to religious institutions of higher education
by Kohleun

I completed my undergraduate education at an Evangelical Christian university, and my master’s degree at a university in Britain. The latter was so large and liberal enough not to keep much of a tab on the personal lives of its students or to feel like its students’ personal lives had much effect on students’ academic performance. It was pretty well observed that skipping lectures and seminars due to hangovers was a stupid idea. At the latter I was also told by an undergraduate student that if I wanted to flirt with academic staff members, undergrads, or to watch academic staff members flirt with undergrads, the philosophy department reading parties were the place to be. This was surprising knowledge coming from my undergraduate institution, where I later worked as an adjunct instructor, and where there are people I love and people with whom I have tense relationships, and people with whom I have faith those relationships will someday heal.

The world of Evangelical Academia has faced a lot of potential challenges and changes in the last few years—mostly social and political—regarding racism, sexism, religious exclusion, and inequalities leveled at undocumented persons and at gay, lesbian, bi, and trans people. When I was an undergraduate student almost ten years ago (gulp), we were having these conversations even then, as were classes before me. There are alumni groups from multiple religious institutions that have come together to advocate for inclusion and equal treatment of students, faculty, and staff. Years and years of graduating classes. We are smart, we are hard working, we are willing to speak up for those who may not have the resources to do so, and we are tired of having to prove that we belong in universities that claim they want smart people, world-changing people, loving people. We grow weary. And they can’t expect to keep us.

Dear religious institutions of higher education, This Is How You Lose Us:

Make only some of us prove we belong here in non-academic ways. There are gay people, trans people, non-white people, undocumented students, and even women who are smart, kind, and hard working. We want a solid education. We can contribute to an intellectual community. We have money, or otherwise qualify for funding. If you want to refuse queer people because they’re sinners or undocumented persons because they’re breaking the law or not support women in spiritual leadership, then I shouldn’t have been admitted, because I once shop-lifted popcicle sticks from the craft store (accidentally), and I consistently lied to my parents about brushing my teeth through much of first grade. Oh, wait. I graduated with the top grade in my major, studied at Oxford and St. Andrews, and hold a distinction on my post-graduate degree, AND I’ve never had sex with a woman? Okay. No worries.

Throw us under the bus, because funding is more important than integrity. The arts and sciences are both avenues for further thinking. They’re what we’re here to learn, to be a part of, and even as students, we are here to speak into the existing discourses and further scholarship. When you censor our work, say a controversial theatre production or findings that humanize non-Christians, because you’re afraid donors will pull funding, you are essentially not trusting us to learn. You are withholding our opportunity to be responsible with our own findings, and to tell meaningful stories. You are fearful of what we might do with the truth. Fearful that we, in our learning, will lose you money. Don’t short-change us. Don’t underestimate our hearts and our minds.

Foster an environment of exclusion. Why must we who are not white straight cis-gender males face added scrutiny in our work, or be called “diverse students” rather than “students”? (I was actually at a luncheon where a high-ranking academic official referred to students of color as “diverse persons,” and if one person could be diverse.) Why do female pastors at many of your institutions still face disrespect from their students and colleagues on the basis of sex and gender? You should protect those you employ from harassment. It’s national law. Why do non-white students still juggle deeply personal questions about their ethnic heritages upon first meetings? Why do trans and otherwise queer students have to stay closeted or face expulsion or “no room at the inn” when it comes to on-campus housing with their friends? You are a community that by definition is about thoughts manifested in action: in scholarship, culture creation, medical advances, and social development. Don’t tell us you can’t proactively work towards creating awareness and inclusion in your administration, faculty, and student bodies.

Don’t anticipate change. React against it, or pretend it doesn’t exist. The world is changing, yes, and it’s hard to keep up, granted. But here’s a not-so-secret secret. There have always been people who are different from you. There have always been multiple possible outcomes, perspectives, and ideas. You can’t pretend them away. When you close your eyes and think of England, they’re still here. We’re still here.

Be inconsistent. I didn’t know until after graduating that students of my Evangelical alma mater did, in fact, party.
“Like birthday parties?” I asked.

“Yeah, some of them were birthday parties.”

“With cake?”

“Sure, Koh, with cake.”

Some students had sex, smoked, and drank even though all traditional undergrads and faculty weren’t allowed to consume alcohol or tobacco or have sex outside of marriage. And to this day these behaviors continue. But, if you are one of the university’s best and brightest, you can get away with a don’t-ask-don’t-tell sort of deal. In the meantime, students who are outwardly queer face the Hammer of God. Way to encourage honesty and way to go on cutting down on student drunkeness and pre-marital sex.
Encourage shame and ignorance rather than personal growth. In The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Charlie asks his friend Patrick why he sees his boyfriend, Brad’s, painful outing so positively. Patrick replies, “Because at least he doesn’t have to be drunk to love me anymore.” When you foster shame for normal human experiences, you also foster secrets being kept in darkness, and ignorance and fear of these experiences as well. I know of three recent Christian college grads whose first sexual experience was post-graduation, induced by heavy alcohol consumption, and completed without protection. Now I’m not blaming these unfortunate experiences on their college environments alone. But as I think back to recent discussion panels on sexuality at some institutions, I remember shame and holier than thou currents in equal measure, neither of which able to understand each other. If you truly are grace-filled institutions, why is it that I know faculty members who have shared their stories about sexuality—who were open and brave—only to be shut down and discouraged? Why do many students graduate ashamed of their bodies and their choices, ready for self-harm rather than knowing appropriate steps towards healing?

Keep us in the Anger Stage. I cannot tell you how many people have told me they don’t like feminists, because the only feminists they have encountered are fresh from the Evangelical Uni. experience. They’re angry, militant, and loud. I tell folks, “Well, they should be. For a while.” It has been my experience that Christian universities have some very progressive-thinking people who nurture students who want to see equality. But when we come up against a culture and implicit and explicit rules that don’t allow us to make changes and to grow, we stagnate. We stay angry. So, if you don’t want a bunch of angry activists running around your campuses, hear us. Let us put our egalitarianism to work. We promise, it won’t hurt anyone.

Stop being brave for us. Private discussion groups in the upper room of coffee houses are great. They give us an outlet for our anxieties and our hurts, and a safe space to talk about important things. Telling us God loves us just as we are helps. But don’t stop there. If you have the power to rock the boat, rock the boat. We know it’s a risk. But aren’t we worth the risk? Aren’t the people we are and who we represent something to be brave for? Thank you for treating the symptoms of inequality. Please continue to stand with us against the disease.

a disenfranchised student


photo credit: Monsieur Kaox, flickr

What else I might say—if asked—to an LGBT student at Taylor University

credit; Beth Jusino, flickrActually,  I might not say anything at all. Rather I might suggest, “Keep your ears open as you read this post by a favorite blogger of mine, Esther Emery. She’s writes a letter to a woman called to leadership in a society that isn’t all that sure it wants a woman in leadership. If you can, hear in Esther’s words/warnings/hopes/encouragement an address to the LGBT soul in you, called to stand free and proud and humble and happy and grateful and giving in a society and church and college that is not all that sure it wants to hear your voice, or face the fear felt when you are seen.

Esther begins with these words:


I don’t know exactly who you are. Maybe a young woman, just now stepping out into your life. Maybe a mother or a crone, entering a new phase of your authority. Maybe just my beautiful dominant four-year-old, who is ready right now to start setting the world to rights.
But I know something. I know this. You are called.
You are called to stand up, speak up, use your voice. You are called to the front of the room. You are named. And you are called.
Rise up.

The darkness does not want you to use your voice. You are so full of light. The darkness will tell you that you are too much.

Too loud.

Too greedy.

Too masculine.

Too angry.

Too emotional.

Sometimes you will believe this. Sometimes you will try to make yourself small, and quiet. Sometimes you will hurt yourself trying to be small and quiet.

Do this with me. Walk outside and look up to the sky. Reach your hands up to the wide, expansive sky, far above the crowdedness and the jostling. There is room for you up there. There is room for every bit of you up there.
Continue reading here

What I might say—if asked—to an LGBT student at Taylor University


The world is bigger than you imagine. The heart of the divine is vaster than you can know. What people tell you are the rules are not, except for these two: “Know thyself” and “Moderation in all things.” The world you seek must be born within you, created out of your own essence, your spirit, your heart. You are good. You are good as you are. You are not nearly so bad as you think you are. Nor quite so stunning, either. At the close of day, the simplest things are the most amazing. This, too, shall pass. And probably be transformed into its opposite.

photo credit: Tiffany Terry, flickr

photo credit: Tiffany Terry, flickr

Welcome to Taylor University, where in Christian love we invite an outspoken homophobe to nurture our students’ spirituality

The morning’s chapel services at Taylor University, my alma mater, kicked off Spiritual Renewal Week. This means a special speaker for the week, a series of chapel services, presentations and special events aimed at fostering spiritual growth and development.

heart broken

Today I see posted on the university’s chapel calendar the guest speaker for the event: Dr. Erik Thoennes, La Mirada CA. Never heard of him. I google that exact phrase “Dr. Erik Thoennes, La Mirada CA” and my heart sinks. The very first listing that pops up is titled:

Petition | Apologize for Homophobic, Transphobic, and Racist Rant …
A video clip is attached, as well as a petition bearing the names of over 700 signatories calling on Thoennes to apologize for statements characterized as “deeply harmful,” “homophobic, transphobic and racist” made during a panel presentation to Biola University students.

A video clip is attached, as well as a petition bearing the names of over 700 signatories calling on Thoennes to apologize for statements characterized as “deeply harmful,” “homophobic, transphobic and racist” made during a panel presentation to Biola University students.

Theonnes serves as Professor of Biblical and Theological Studies and Chair, Biblical & Theological Studies Theology Department at Biola University’s Talbot School of Theology.

Biola alumnus Jos Charles outlines his concerns in an open letter to Theonnes and university administration. He says,

i love hate you copy

“Perhaps I take this for granted, but I assume faith communities agree LGBTQ people should not live under fear of violence. Dr. Thoennes’ comments however contribute to, enable, and even encourage these sorts of violence. In the sexuality forum, queer students heard their desires and struggles publically (sic) likened to racism and mocked as a joke. Because of such bullying, LGBTQ Christians face some of the highest rates of suicide and homelessness in the country. Dr. Thoennes’ comments institutionally encourage attacks—whether it’s through a half-joking slur or physical assault. Dr. Thoennes cheered on our oppression. He took the bully’s side.”

This the individual invited to address the Taylor student body with an eye to spiritual development. This the level of sensitivity and respect Taylor University accords LGBT students, alumni, (shall I spell it out?) donors, potential donors and their allies.

As I say, my heart sinks.

How long til the thaw?

The question is on my mind, even as Indiana legislators expend energy to “preserve marriage” by attempting to amend the state’s constitution to bar LGBT couples from full participation as equal citizens. How long will Taylor University remain in the deep freeze of anti-gay sentiment? Even if it doesn’t always seem so, warm breezes are sweeping the country. They may reach even Indiana. Even Upland.                           [Photo courtesy, Montana State University Library]

COMING TOGETHER: LGBTIQ Alumni & Allies of Taylor University in Support of Current Students

Sometimes it doesn’t take much. In four words, we can voice a powerful message to LGBTIQ students currently at Taylor University: “You are not alone.” Or in three words: “It gets better.” In two, “Keep hoping.” In one, “Welcome.”

When I came out to myself as a gay man I very much believed I was the only gay man on the campus of Taylor University, perhaps the first ever. I was that naive, that arrogant, that stupid. I felt that alone, that overwhelmingly alone. Noah-opening-the-ark-door-and-looking-out-after-the-Great-Flood alone. Jeremiah-in-the-bottom-of-the-pit alone. A-lamb-chop-dropped-into-the-lions’-den alone.

I wasn’t, of course. Wasn’t the only LGBTIQ person at Taylor, wasn’t the first, wouldn’t be the last. Nor was I so alone as I imagined. In time I found a loving, supporting, welcoming community of LGBTIQ persons and allies—outside of Taylor, beyond the village border, out in the “real world.” This was an important step in my journey and healing.

Today I find it affirming and instructive to touch base with others regarding their experience of Taylor University as LGBTIQ persons or allies. There is strength in numbers—comfort, too—and in growing awareness of the many facets of a shared experience.

TU detail


Taylor makes its official stance quite clear, seeing gender variant persons and their relationships as unacceptable, misguided, pitiable, broken, sinful. No news here: misleading and demeaning messages about sexuality and sexual identity have lasting negative impact. Doesn’t matter if those messages of intolerance are built with hate speech or come cloaked in church-talk, delivered with the best of intentions. Across much of the evangelical landscape and from many corners of the Taylor campus, LGBTIQ persons hear the sermon that they are less than whole, less than human, less than worthy of full participation, acceptance and welcome. Such messages are as insidious as they are pervasive, and inflict moral injury. They perpetuate self-hatred, depression, alienation and feelings of isolation.


As LGBTIQ Taylor University alumni and allies, we are uniquely poised to be of service and offer support to LGBTIQ students and allies currently at Taylor who may be struggling with the integration of faith, sexual orientation and gender identity. Many of us have been there, have “fought the good fight” and have come out the stronger for the deep personal and spiritual work we’ve done to reclaim our souls and celebrate our selves. We stand as living proof that there is a broader worldview and are more options for putting together a life than that and those sanctioned by the university.


As LGBTIQ Taylor University alumni and allies, we can serve both as example and as resource. We can create an online space where our stories can be shared, accomplishments celebrated—alumni news and views the university ignores or suppresses. We can offer website links to resources we ourselves have found helpful; we can serve as contact persons for students who want to process their thoughts and feelings. Together, we can blend our voices to break the silence on issues of sexual orientation and gender identity many of us experienced during our time on campus.


As LGBTIQ Taylor University alumni and allies, we represent diverse life experiences and theological points (or non-theological) of view. We don’t all think, act or believe alike. Herein lies our strength. We don’t have to subscribe or agree to a uniform code of doctrine in order to unite our efforts on behalf of others. I like the way it’s put by One Wheaton, an LGBTQ and allies group of Wheaton College: “… we need to be clear that we are not a church, denomination, or ministry; therefore, we have no need for theological or doctrinal unity. Our unity and common ground is ready-made in our shared experiences as Wheaton alumni, and beyond that, as alumni who are able to embrace and affirm LGBTQ identities and relationships. In our life journeys, some of us came to believe that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with being a Christian and in a same-sex relationship. Others are still wrestling with these issues and are working to synthesize these different aspects of their lives. Others have moved on from beliefs they held in college. Because of this diversity, we feel we are uniquely situated to help students trying to piece together their identities as they enter adulthood.”


One Wheaton posted an open letter to the college campus, initially signed by 600-plus LGBTQ alumni and allies. That’s a powerful example. If you’re interested in signing your name to a similar open letter to the Taylor community, please contact me [ ]. Then contact your own network of LGBTIQ Taylor alumni and allies. Share this on Facebook and other social media sites. Ask your friends if they’re interested in learning more, and/or lending their name to the effort. There is strength in numbers. Perhaps we can’t wield 600 signatories, but our voice may be heard more clearly and ring more loudly as it is amplified many times over.

We can make a difference.




Photo credit:  Detail, photo by A. Moore (

No endorsement implied by the photographer or Taylor University.

Note: this post is duplicated on the blog page, “(proposed) LGBTU Alumni & Allies Group,” making it easy to post the link on Facebook and Twitter by using the buttons at the bottom of the page.


Speak Out: we LGBTIQ Taylor U alumni and allies can make our voices heard


Gradually, queer voices are making themselves heard across the Christian college landscape. Taylor University is not the only evangelical educational institution to find itself promoting messages and policies harmful to the psyche and spirit of students. I was on the OneWheaton site recently and am inspired by what other college alumni are doing to reach out to current students. I’ve long felt a need for this with regards to Taylor, and have been involved in past efforts to connect. I’m willing to step forward and see where the path might lead in 2014.

My immediate thoughts: explore the interest, network and connect with Taylor Uinversity alumni, lgbtiq-identified and allies. Now that we’ve found ourselves, let’s find each other. Then let’s collaboratively reach out to current students, offering a message of hope and acceptance different than that espoused on Taylor’s campus. All this not in a combative spirit, but in sincere concern, genuine regard and the perspective that lived experience gives.

We might include an open letter to current students, along the lines of the one posted at One Wheaton, that one signed by over 600 alumni, both lgbt persons and allies.

We might include our own stories as testimony to what we’ve learned about ourselves and integrating our varying sexualities into our lives as whole persons.

If you’re interested in being a part of this project, please email me a note to that effect:

United, our voice will be better heard.


This effort is not endorsed by Taylor University. But you knew that.

This photo has been modified. the original is by Rick von Glahn, Rickvg at, 2006. No endorsement made or intended by the photographer or subjects.

How does a coward speak truth to power? Softly.

By temperament, I am a shy and retiring wallflower. Confrontation is not my forte. Very probably I am an ideal candidate for assertiveness training. So far I’ve chosen to muddle through on my own recognizance.

Not that I haven’t or can’t stand up for myself, mind. Rather that I often choose not to. I prefer to pick my battles, and to limit their number.

Is this wisdom? Cowardice? A bit of both?


Among my acquaintances is a fearsome battle-axe of a woman. She thrives on drama and drives her way through life over the bodies of those who stand in her path. She regales her listeners with tales of her fortitude: the time someone didn’t do what she ordered and she took a sledgehammer to their house, punching a hole in their defenses. Another time, in order to make a point, she cut a living room couch in half with a chainsaw.

Anytime she buys an inferior product she’s the bane of customer service. She gets a lot of energy from confrontation and from getting her own way.

Part of me is attracted to her. I stand in awe of her talent and abilities. I admire her strength of will, her cussed determinedness. Her willingness to be her own advocate. I could learn a thing or two from her.

In fact, I already have, and it hasn’t been pretty.

I acted foolishly, though in good faith. I placed my trust in her and made myself vulnerable to her. She used this to her advantage, and how. The details still shock me. Suffice to say she wiped her feet all over me, with consequences that are still making themselves felt in many areas of my life.

In the aftermath, I did have the sense to distance myself from her. I cannot avoid her altogether as we both serve a specialized target population via an organization that regularly brings us into face-to-face contact.

Enter fate. In recent weeks her choke-hold on life has begun to loosen; her stance of being in control begun to fall apart in serious and irremediable ways. She faces medical issues far beyond her scope, way out of her control. When I first learned of this I thought, “serves you right.” Then I felt pity that anybody should have to go through what she is. Later I felt compassion to learn she has a limited support system, no one to talk to about her feelings or what she’s going through. This came out in a discussion we were having. I took it as a sign of her being at wits end that she should say anything about it to me. At the same time she suddenly became much more human. Seeing her vulnerable side, seeing the mighty brought low, made her approachable.

I’ve opted for kindness and genuine regard. I’ve asked her questions, listened to her voice her fears, tried to create a space where she could be herself without the bluster. She has surprised me in responding in what I take to be an authentic way. I feel for what she is going through, am willing to bear witness to her suffering. I have no answers for her. I think they are all inside of her, such as they are, waiting to be discovered.

As she walks alone into the unknown, faces an especially difficult stage in her journey, I wanted to speak my truth to her. I gave her a homemade card with a threatening bear on the cover of it.

I took a chance and spoke frankly about how she comes across to me.

grizzly2a2 copy

Inside the card I describe the little girl I suspect she carried around with her, her inner child. Surely all that outward gruffness masks a softer core.


I conclude with a sincere wish that makes no promises about a happy resolution to her situation, envisions no Disney ending to her story. It feels real to me. It feels honest. It rings true for me. And it feels like in some small way I am speaking truth to power.


Really, I suppose, I am voicing a truth I need to hear, as well. Inside me–inside each of us–is a vulnerable childlike spirit that needs tending, want attention, benefits from self-care. No matter who we are, no matter how strong we appear.