by Jaime Sommers, a bisexual 50 year old woman whose story of abuse by the Church of England will shock many
My name is Jaime and I am 50 years old. I have been dual-attracted to both men and women since about the age of seven. However, my mother told me in no uncertain terms when I was a teenager that she would throw my brother or myself out, if we were gay. So I learnt to be quiet about the large part of me that was same-sex attracted.
At the age of 17, I became friends with an evangelical Christian girl at my local sixth form college. She took me to various church events. I started reading the New Testament around this time and I just knew Jesus was real. New to the faith, I became submerged in the evangelical movement, and at University, became involved in a burgeoning Vineyard Fellowship. They made it abundantly clear to me that homosexuality in any form was a sin, and on numerous occasions both at church and at New Wine festivals, I was subjected to prayer ministry to ‘heal me’ of my homosexual feelings. I was encouraged by my young pastors to marry, though I was struggling with my feelings for women. I knew neither my family nor church would support ‘the real me’ – this was the early 90s – so it felt playing it straight was the only option.
My husband was my best friend and I still love him dearly. I was attracted to him, but not with the same intensity I experienced for women. Nevertheless, we had three lovely children together and shared many happy memories. But I was suppressing a major part of myself, and this gradually took a toll on my mental health. In 2006, I was prescribed anti-depressants by an incredulous GP who strongly recommended I faced up to my sexuality, for the sake of myself and my children. But I had a successful role as an unlicensed preacher by now in a large evangelical Anglican Church and it just felt that I had too much to lose. This decision was confirmed when I was approached by my vicar to explore ministry. I explained to him in confidence that I had some reservations as I was bisexual and that coping with this affected my mental health. He told me on no account to mention this to anyone at Diocese during the exploratory process. So I kept my mouth shut. Nobody ever asked about my sexuality anyway, so that was easy. It was assumed since I was married with children that I was heterosexual.
However, just after I turned 40 and I had begun Reader training in the Church of England, the same-sex attracted ‘demons’ started to emerge with a vengeance. My service leading and preaching gifts meant I was frequently up the front at church, which saw me enjoy a certain degree of adulation. One woman in particular made it very clear she had feelings for me and began to hang around after services to speak to me. Though I smelt danger, I was struggling with depression and repression of who I really was and eventually I succumbed. She was attractive and only a few years younger than me.
There was just one kiss, but it was enough to unleash what I can only describe as a tornado of evil from which it took me many years to recover. We both told our husbands straight away what had happened. Neither partner decided to make a big deal of it, and I naively thought that was the end of it. Unfortunately, the woman in question confided in a retired clergy couple at our Anglican Church, who were known for their hard-line fundamentalist views. “The kiss” was escalated upwards to the Suffragan Bishop, who deemed it a homosexual act. My vicar was then placed in the awful position of having to pay a home visit, accompanied by two fellow church members. Clearly upset on my behalf, he read out a cold statement from the Bishop. I was to be withdrawn from church leadership and Sunday’s preaching duties with immediate effect, on the charge of ‘unwanted sexual advances’ against a congregant.
The scene in my living room was pure carnage. I was shrieking in absolute shock at the injustice and skewing of what had happened, while my husband was furious. I later learned the other party had received a friendly visit from the Diocesan Safeguarding Officer, herself a repressed queer Christian.
My husband and I were then summoned to Diocesan House, where we sat opposite two stony faced senior clergy from the Diocese. They had absolutely no idea what to do with me. They clearly knew nothing about bisexuality and were confused that I was married with children yet had same sex attraction. I admitted I had made a disastrous error of judgement in kissing this woman, but I was not going to apologise for making unsolicited sexual advances to her, which was what they seemed to expect. They didn’t even see us to the door.
They then spent over a month deciding on a course of action. In the course of these weeks, I became very ill and could not be left alone. I remember looking up how many paracetamol it would take to end my life. I lost over a stone and a half in weight and was force fed sandwiches by my husband and church friends. Diocese literally left us to fend for ourselves as a family, while the woman in question carried on singing in the church worship band and co-leading youth group.
The Suffragan Bishop then shared with me that I would be indefinitely removed from training. Church was my whole life at that time, and this felt catastrophic. The sense of shame and injustice was crippling, but through the loving support of family and church friends, I managed to hold it together – until one terrible evening when I received a phone call from the vicar.
He told me that around a dozen church members had received an anonymous letter accusing me of being a sexual predator of women and that my husband and I were into threesomes. We lived in a small community and this was absolutely terrifying – what if my school age children found this out? The PCC held an emergency meeting. My husband and I wanted to go to the police, but the vicar dissuaded us. There was panic in his voice.
I tried to go back on several occasions, but I just couldn’t shake off that awful feeling that somebody in the congregation had written that letter, which was distinctly possible owing to the choice of recipients – all current and previous PCC members. In the end, we left the church – which I suspect was the result the Diocese had hoped for. My husband and I did eventually receive an apology in all but name from the Suffragan Bishop.
Our marriage lasted another four years. We are both now happily engaged to strong Christian women. We never talk about what happened but I still have awful flashbacks. I remain on anti-depressants, though the dose is smaller.
Jaime Sommers is author of 119: My Life as a Bisexual Christian which can be accessed through the Kindle Store.