TW: This interview contains conversation around religious ostracization and sexual assault:
Beth Parsons is a secondary school teacher in rural Queensland, Mum to two dogs and three cats, and a wonderful friend. Beth sat down with us to talk about her experience of understanding she was a lesbian later in life and reconciling her conflict between identifying as bisexual or a lesbian, as well as being excommunicated from her local church. Additionally, Beth is also a fervent supporter of Kate Winslet in the film Titanic (you know which scene I’m talking about).
James: Hello Beth! How do you fit in, in the LGBTQI+ community?
Beth: I now go with lesbian. For a while I went with queer, but after some time ‘lesbian’ feels more comfortable. I went with queer originally because I thought I was bisexual. As well, of my four romantic relationships, three were with men. So I thought to myself “how can I be a lesbian if I’ve pretty much only been with men?”. Eventually I realised that my attraction to men – which I describe as heteroromantic – is totally different to my attraction to women. So with that, I feel pretty committed to being a lesbian.
James: Did meeting your current fi
ancée (Rose) help make that decision clearer?
Beth: I think even without Rose, I was still on a journey of exploring female relationships. I had some awful experiences with Men, so I really had no intention of pursuing those types of relationships. I think meeting Rose helped me settle quicker and if I were still finding a partner, I feel there would be a question mark aro
und my sexual orientation. What I have with Rose was everything I was missing with my relationships with men. I love everything about her – mind, body, and soul.
James: When did you first start to question your sexual orientation?
Beth: Sweet Jesus. I was about 25, literally three years ago. I used to think I was just appreciating the female form, “you know, feminism!!!”. Where I grew up (in the UK) there were no lesbians around me. I knew the stereotypes around what a gay man looked like and what a lesbian looked like, but I only knew one gay man in real life (obviously we were friends). So without having a tangible representation of what a lesbian looks like so to speak, it didn’t occur to me that I could or would ever be anything other than straight.
It wasn’t until my best friend in the UK told
me she was pansexual, and it struck me that if they could acknowledge their pansexuality and those feelings…maybe this was something worth looking into. Perhaps the way I feel about the female body isn’t good old fashioned feminism? I was still a member of the church, so this was a hard time in my life because I was trying to reconcile something that was so important to me, and something that I felt was going to become important.
Before I began questioning it three years ago, there were some VERY clear signs – for example, I used to be obsessed with Kate Winslet’s tits. I used to peek through the door every time Mum would watch Titanic. I also had a crush on my Math tutor at uni, and I’d think “oh they’re just so pretty and smart!”. No Beth. Gay, gay, gay, gay, gay, gay, gay!
James: How did your family handle your coming out?
Beth: I originally only told my Mum. I was in the midst of an eye crisis (Beth has a condition that has left her blind in one eye, and that process involved years of unbelievable anxiety). I was driving back home from PD in Brisbane, and I knew something was wrong. I pulled over and waited for Mum to come pick me up and take me back to the hospital. On the way home, we were talking about me being kicked out the church and I just said “It was especially upsetting to
me because I think I realised I am not attracted to Men”. Mum questioned me and I intentionally downplayed it. I think I believed it was something that wouldn’t really come to fruition. I told my sister at a Missy Higgin’s concert, and she was very cool about it. I told my Dad by just introducing my partner Rose to him. We never actually told my brothers, Rose just appeared on the family Facetime one Christmas – I sure hope they know. Whilst I don’t regret being lowkey when I first realised, I wish I could have told my Grandma that I wanted to be with a woman. She passed two weeks after Rose and I got together. She really would have loved Rose.
James: Talk to me about being excommunicated from the church
Beth: It was when the Plebiscite was happening in 2017. I shared a Buzzfeed article on Facebook about why the plebiscite was awful. I didn’t normally post political things, but I wanted to share this. A friend of mine in the UK wanted to share it on their page, so I relaxed my normally super strict security settings… and the pastor of my church saw it. I still don’t know how, perhaps divine intervention. The post really just stated that all that’s being asked is for equality and fairness. My pastor left the most condescending, patronising, piece of shit comment. My Mum responded to him telling him off, which I thought was great. The way he was speaking to me was appalling, and that mattered more to me than his position on the subject. I had friends of mine ‘like’ the pastor’s comment, which was really dog as it meant they were endorsing the way he was speaking to me.
That Sunday I was due to give a mini-message at church, which I re-wrote to be about love. I intentionally showed up late to miss seeing the Pastor at our pre-worship meeting. I wanted to get in, give the message, and fuck
off. He came late too, and when I realised, I thought “shit on a stick”. He approached me and initially I thought he was going to apologise, but he doubled the fuck down. He kept going on and on, trying to share bible verses with me, trying to convince me. I was trying to reconcile these two parts of myself (the church and sexuality), so I had done this research and had a different interpretation. Someone came in to tell us that the church could hear us, but he didn’t care, and was just relentlessly carrying on. I told him that not even my parents would speak to me in such a condescending and he had no right to chastise me in that way. His response was “I will always speak to you this way if I think you need it”. So I left. As I was driving away, his wife stopped me and told me to come talk when I’d “calmed down”. I got home and was distraught. “When I calm down?”, Fuck off! I wrote a really eloquent letter saying that I don’t need to justify myself to you. Two days later I received an email saying I was no longer needed at the church. I did a LOT at that church, but they decided to kick me out.
James: What did the church mean to you before you were excommunicated?
I’ve always had considerable mental health issues. When I got to uni in the first year, I didn’t drink, and I was depressed. I was lookin
g for something, and I found that in church groups. There was always that sort of idea that you’ll always be accepted in that space. So I think I was trying really hard to make something fit that didn’t quite fit. And I got really good at convincing myself that it did. I got really good at telling myself that ‘no this is where I am meant to be’. I was even sort of bringing in my own more radical ideas and introducing them into the youth group.
I wish I had been more honest with myself earlier. Because if I had realised I was gay, I would have joined an LGBT group. I wouldn’t have met my shitty boyfriend who sexually assaulted me (I met him through a Christian group). I would be a different person now, and I don’t know if that’s good or bad, but I do still wish I were more honest with myself back then. I now feel that I am my authentic self… my hair is blue, I am very gay, and I am actually who I am now.
James: How do you handle living in rural Australia and being out?
Beth: I don’t care, but I do…but I don’t. Now that I am authentic, I don’t want to dull my sparkle. I don’t want to be less of what I am. Which hasn’t yet caused problems, but that doesn’t mean it won’t. Personally, I have had to come to terms with what I am not being what people want to see in the world. So I always try to do things without shame. And I apply that to my relationships as well.
I don’t get scared in my personal life, but I do feel fear in my professional life. I have always been open with my class about my sexuality, but it’s never been an issue. Any time it comes up that I’m gay, I am always on edge waiting for a phone call. If I did have students whose family were against me being lesbian, I would still be myself and deal with the consequences of that.
James: How can we better support LGBTQI+ people in rural areas?
Beth: It’s part of the reason why I am so open because I know there aren’t that many things around. If there are kids who have questions, I want them to know there is someone they can talk to. I think having the
freedom, and at this point the bravery, to live your life authentically is a great way to be visible for these people. We need mental health support and acceptance, but whilst we are waiting
for Country Australia to catch up, we need strong allies. We need people who stop homophobic behaviour and turn it into teachable moments. As a teacher you have that power, and what you permit you promote.
James: What is one thing you would say to your younger self?
Beth: You are gay! I wish young Beth knew that not only was she deserving of love that doesn’t hurt, but she was also actually going to get it. If I had known Rose was coming, I wouldn’t have wasted my time with anything else. Rose is the first girl I’ve been with, and I know she is the only girl I’ll ever be with. If I had known, I wouldn’t have put myself into those situations and dating experiences.
James: What is something you would tell someone who is questioning their sexual and gender identities? Especially someone who might also be trying to reconcile their faith and sexuality?
I would say it’s ok to take time to figure it out. It’s ok if you take the time privately. There is sometimes bit of a push to tell people to come out and live your truth, which I mean yes Absolutely! But you have to give someone the time to do it. It’s OK to be straight passing whilst you’re figuring it out… Googling, talking to your one or two trusted people. You don’t have to put yourself in a box, but you don’t have to come out until you’re ready. Know that it’s OK to take time figure yourself out.