“For nearly a decade, my role in the feminist movement as a lesbian activist fulfilled me. When the bitterness and anger started to suffocate me, where could I go?”
Last month, Amy told her story to several groups of students at Harvard, the New England Conservatory of Music, Massachusetts School of Art and Boston University. Although she had been scheduled to speak at Boston College as well, the dean of student services pressured the student host to cancel the event because he said "we don't want any 'gay bashers' or 'homophobes' on our campus." If only he had practiced the tolerance he promotes. Read for yourself this moving account of healing and hope.
I realize that what I have to say may be controversial in some circles. Some of you may vehemently disagree with my story — but I ask you to remember just that — it's my experience.
As some of the signs up around campus indicate, in the last three years I've jumped from the far-left to the so-called "religious right." This may seem a little crazy, but this ideological shift has little to do with politics, and everything to do with a decision I made on September 19, 1995.
First, let me tell you about my background. I grew up on the Jersey Shore where, as a kid, I poured my energy into athletics — mainly soccer. My parents bragged that they knew each other since they were three — but I grew up thinking that might be part of their problem — knowing each other way too long. They fought bitterly with each other. Chaos ruled the Tracy home.
My dad was in sales so we moved a lot. I suppose these factors shook up my life, making me feel different than my peers. By the time I entered junior high I was relegated to an "odd," fairly unpopular crowd.
In the 9th grade, however, three things changed my life:
- I joined track and field,
- I fell in love — my first love — with my track coach, Mr. "S" and
- I finally found common ground with my Dad. (He used to be a serious runner, so my place on the team bonded the two of us in our love for track & field.)
I found my niche in running and began to win consistently. Running became my world. I ascended into popularity and received a lot of attention and love from my track coaches and dad. Many of you can recall childhood memories that are so vivid and real that you can almost reach out and touch them. One of the strongest revolves around my dad.
At the end of each race, as I crossed the finish line I'd fall into my father's strong arms. I can still remember the feeling of his long, tweed-wool coat against my cheek and the smell of crisp, November air. My dad never missed a race, or a chance to clip a news story about our team. This, for me, was pure joy.
Then something happened. At some point at the end of my junior year I began to lose. I don't remember a particular reason for the sudden downturn, it just happened. I began to notice my dad and coaches treating me differently. Mainly, they started to turn off their attention and love. Thinking back, I can still recall the pain of finishing a race out of breath, looking up and watching my dad walk away.
As the losing streak continued, my dad's frustration escalated. He turned into the typical sports dad: barking instructions at the coaches, and barking advice at me.
I tried working out harder, but I couldn't bring myself out of the slump. My dad reacted with increasing hostility. For a solid year he beat me after each defeat. What were once loving arms turned into weapons. And my coaches, particularly Mr. "S," reacted by pulling away and ignoring my dad's out-of-control behavior.
At age 16, the failure, the loss of love from my dad and coaches, and the violence created a wall of pain. I remember one cross country event where I stopped in the middle of a race, walked to the edge of a cliff — and debated jumping. I decided against it, mainly because I wanted it to be permanent. Death appeared to be a more appealing option than, once again, having to face the music after the race.
A popular counselor recently noted that many teen girls are wired to crave love and relationship above all else. It's true. The winning wasn't as important to me as the benefits that resulted from pleasing others.
A Major Change
My senior year, with my running career pretty much over, my parents made the decision to send me to a college without a sports program. That fall, I left for a small catholic women's school in Virginia. Once there, I mourned the loss of my identity and struggled with emotional pain so great that at times, suicide seemed like the only way out.
I tried to numb my emotions by partying heavily. But I still felt different, empty and hurting and by my junior year, I realized that partying was doing more to destroy my life than ease it. "How did I come so far?" I wondered. I longed to find my way back to my childhood and purity. The first step I took was to change my major back to my first love — sports.
Let me take you a different direction. Up to this point I had dated guys. And although I always had close girlfriends, I never considered sexual intimacy with women. My junior year, however, I made a decision about my sexuality that would affect me for years.
It so happens that my sports major was dominated by lesbian professors. I don't want my statements to be misinterpreted — this is my own personal experience. But I had a faculty advisor who suggestively flirted with us, and even touched us in inappropriate ways. Many of the professors shared a relationship that was evident and somewhat appealing to me and other students in class. Something in me was drawn to this group of women.
At first I was drawn to them spiritually and emotionally — but it developed into a physical attraction. I began to think I might be a lesbian. Many of you may be thinking, "well I've always known that I was gay," or "that's not the way it happens," but for me and other women I've known, there were complex reasons for claiming a lesbian identity.
As I reflected on the emptiness inside — the feeling of being different and the physical, emotional and spiritual attraction to these women — I began to convince myself that I must have been repressing sexual feelings toward women my whole life. One night after dinner, I "came out" to a lesbian friend who said, "Amy, I always thought you were." That confirmed it.
An Outcast No More
About the same time I "came out," one of my professors advertised the 1989 March for Women's Lives, an abortion rights event in Washington, D.C. I decided to go more out of curiosity than anything else.
This was my first exposure to the National Organization for Women (NOW) and it stands as one of the most significant days of my life. The event's appeal to justice, unity and power overwhelmed me and revolutionized my thinking. That afternoon, in a sea of hundreds of thousands of people, I made the commitment to devote the rest of my life to the fight for women's rights.
The first step I took in my feminist walk was to join a local NOW chapter. I attended an Alexandria, Va. NOW meeting in May of 1989 and was elected chapter president three weeks later. Over a short period of time, I had bought into the entire agenda — it just appeared right and just.
After graduation I got a dream job at the national office of NOW coordinating student interns and volunteers. In this position I worked on the front lines of the feminist movement at a pivotal time in D.C.
In addition to my NOW activities, I was also a steering committee member of the Washington Area Clinic Defense Task Force. For those of you unfamiliar with defending abortion clinics, let me set the scene. Clinic defenders set up an elaborate system to keep the clinic doors open and escort patients in safely. The anti-abortion activists or rescuers attempt to blockade the doors or driveways with their bodies or other devices. They also attempt to discourage women from having abortions by displaying posters and handing out literature.
It was in this role that I first encountered Christian anti-abortion activists. Many were self-righteous, judgmental and sometimes violent. I had my life threatened on three separate occasions. The Christian women offended me the most — they appeared mousy and afraid. Often they couldn't look us in the eye, except for an occasional glare or look of disgust and fear.
We were immersed in a mini war. Both sides had cell phones, walkie talkies and battle plans. Our side arrived at the clinics at around 3 a.m. to scope out potential "anti" cars. We'd wait outside their houses and follow them to the clinic. By noon, with very little sleep, tensions mounted. I often reacted to them in anger — sometimes violence myself.
A Stirring Within
My commitment to the feminist movement solidified as I perceived the on-going threat to women's rights by the "religious right." It seemed that "white male Christians" would go to any length to "oppress women." As I continued to fight on behalf of victimized women and against abusive, sexist, racist, homophobic, patriarchal men, the government and other institutions, my hatred deepened and I hardened.
My last two years at National NOW I served as press secretary. In this position I felt complete freedom to blast the world for injustice toward women. It's there I began to feel a strange stirring inside me. I started to hunger for God. And sometimes, in addition to the hunger, I'd feel a heavy presence of peace come over me. Most of the time these feelings were unprovoked. They happened randomly, while working at my computer or sitting in meetings or walking down the halls.
At first this strange spiritual thing occurred pretty infrequently. But as time passed it happened more often and with greater intensity. Sometimes it became such a "hindrance" that I'd rifle through opposition research material — mostly dead fetus pictures and damning scriptures. I was looking for something that might lead me closer to God. You know I didn't ask for it — I had a successful career, a relationship, friends and the respect of others. But it happened. And it created quite a bit of internal turmoil. Mainly, because I worked in an environment hostile to Christianity.
My last assignment for NOW was to work with our local Pensacola chapter during the trial of Paul Hill (he shot an abortion doctor). On one of the last days I remember standing in the driveway in a bulletproof vest, looking out at the anti-abortion folks on the sidewalk. They supported justifiable homicide (a faulty theological position which presumes that the taking of the life of an abortion doctor or others associated with defending clinics is okay since they themselves are killing) and had flown in from all over to support Paul Hill.
They frightened me as no other pro-lifer had in the past. In court every day, their eyes seemed dead — robot-like. But on that day, as I stood in the driveway of the clinic and looked out toward them, I was filled with an intense longing for God.
I freaked-out inside. "What is happening to me!" I cried. "I'm becoming one of those wackos at the end of the driveway and it seems out of my control!" Knowing that this "God thing" was ruining my career and shredding my sanity, I came back to D.C. determined to purge these feelings through therapy. It didn't work. After two sessions I knew I had to get out of the activist scene.
My girlfriend and I (she was also involved in politics) decided to break out of the stressful, cut-throat environment of D.C. and head for Seattle. My goal was to find a mainstream, non-activist job and possibly dabble in Christianity.
Searching in Seattle
Well, things didn't work out as I planned. In Seattle, over a period of a year, I had managed to wrap myself up once again in the activism scene. I became vice president of Washington state NOW, and worked as chief of staff and liaison to the gay and lesbian community for a Seattle City Councilwoman — the only African American lesbian elected official in the country. Outside of activism, I was still involved in a three-year relationship with a woman I cared for deeply.
Slowly, my heart and mind began to change. Something inside convicted me that my relationship was wrong. I began to crave — sometimes daydream — of a pure lifestyle. I also sought answers to life's deepest questions like "Who am I and why am I here?" I increasingly noticed a lack of absolutes in the gay community. There were so many inconsistencies. Good and bad, right and wrong seemed dependent on people's feelings and emotions. And many of my friends seemed as unhappy and unsatisfied as I was.
Most of all, I realized that at the age of 28, I had grown up to be somebody I didn't respect. I was hard, burnt out and hateful. My hatred of Christians had spread to a hatred of people in general. My life began to close in on me — sometimes I felt like I was being buried alive. Not only did I long for God; I longed for change.
Continued job stress and a huge hangover from a weekend of partying in San Francisco drove me to the bottom. I was engulfed once again in hopelessness. Mixed with the despair was the hunger for God, which by this time, had turned into a nagging ache. One day I decided to walk the streets in Seattle looking for someone to share with me how I could fill this longing.
I looked in the yellow pages and found a big ad for a church with the word Christian in it. On a whim I decided to give the church a shot. The pastor's words filled me as if I were a sponge, soaking them in to every pore of my being. I learned that Jesus Christ was real. That He died on the cross to bear my sin and pain and that He rose from the dead. The pastor said that by placing my life in His hands, radical change would happen. Most importantly, I learned that He would never forsake me despite my failures.
Three weeks later I finally gave into God's pursuit. On Sunday evening, September 19, I walked down the aisle and prayed with the pastor to receive a real and loving God into my heart. There were no harps playing or angels flying around my head. In fact I was worried about being recognized—and overwhelmed by the enormity of my decision. Looking back, the amazing part of that evening was the grace God extended to me. He accepted me despite the fact I came to Him out of desperation and after years of rejecting Him.
In the book of Matthew, Jesus warns us, "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks the door will be opened." I say that Jesus warns us because I know of three other activists who sought to dabble in Christianity and were swept away by the power of God. He doesn't mess around with those He loves.
Embracing the Light
My first year as a Christian was fairly chaotic — definitely not the plan of dabbling in Christianity. I lost my career, friendships and my relationship. My life was turned upside down. Friends and colleagues thought I had lost it. On the surface, I suppose it looked like I went off the deep end. God brought me out of darkness, however, into incredible light — something he promises us in the Bible.
Colossians 1:13-14 says, "For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. My first year, I lost a lot, but nothing compares to what I gained —Jesus, the most awesome treasure on earth — and freedom from darkness and bondage.
Okay, so you found spirituality. Many of you may be wondering how my perception of Christianity could have changed so radically. First, I had possessed a worldview hostile to Jesus and the Bible, and second, the sin I perceived in Christians is the same that plagues all humans. What I found out is that Christianity is not an agenda, an issue, a scandal or a group of people, but a relationship with a loving God.
Christian apologist Josh McDowell says, "you can laugh at Christianity, you can mock and ridicule. But it works. It changes lives. If you trust Christ, start watching your attitudes and actions, because Jesus Christ is in business of changing lives."
How is God changing my life?
1. Hatred — He put compassion and love in my heart. He still convicts me when I'm unkind or feel animosity toward others.
2. Hardness — He crushed the hard shell that separated me from pain and love. He left me vulnerable and open to other people.
3. Freedom — I used to think freedom was the ability to do and say as I pleased, like expressing my anger and rage at the world, loving whom I wished and smoking what I wanted. But what I thought was freedom got old and began to suffocate me. The Bible calls that sin.
I have learned that true freedom is found in Jesus Christ. And true freedom is having the power and presence of mind to do what you know deep, deep inside you ought to do.
As I said before, many thought I lost it after my conversion to Christianity. To answer the question, "how did we lose her?" some said, "she couldn't handle the pressure — she caved in to the other side." There's some truth in that.
I admit to you that I am a broken human being. I struggle with understanding how the issues of my past affect the way I think, feel and react today. Maybe you weren't abused as a teenager, but maybe you're a child of divorce or you've been betrayed and hurt. Or you're just empty and lacking direction.
The good news is that there is someone greater and larger than you who knows every detail. He knows exactly where you are and what you've gone through. Jesus said he came for the sick — not the healthy. He said, "It's not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. For I haven't come to call the righteous, but sinners."
Douglas Coupland, the 30-something, post-modern author of the books Generation X and Shampoo Planet confessed at the end of his book, Life After God, that he's reached a similar conclusion. He wrote,
Now here is my secret: I tell it to you with an openness of heart that I doubt I shall ever achieve again, so I pray that you are in a quiet room as you hear these words. My secret is that I need God — that I'm sick and can no longer make it alone. I need God to help me give, because I no longer seem capable of giving; to help me be kind, as I no longer seem capable of kindness; to help me love, as I seem beyond being able to love.
I don't know where you are right now. Maybe you're satisfied with your life or maybe you're searching. Do you sense His pursuit? If so, I encourage you to not run. Jesus says, "Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him and he with me."
Should you choose to open your mind to the possibility that God is real and that He could know you and love you more than you know and love yourself, I ask you to consider this prayer:
Lord Jesus. I don't know who you are, but I need you. I've messed up so much in my life. I ask you to forgive me for my transgressions against you. Thank you for dying on the cross for me. Right at this moment, I make a decision to trust you with my life from this day forward. Change me into the person you've created me to be. In Jesus Christ's name, Amen.
Thank you for listening to me today. I welcome your questions.
Copyright © 1998 Amy Tracy. All rights reserved.