Today, I gave birth to my fifth child, and I've just come up from watering my plants.

Twelve years ago, this would have topped a list of autobiographical statements that I would have thought could never apply to me.

It's not simply that lesbians are unlikely to have more than one or two children; it has to do with my entire relationship with my own femininity.

Discovering difficulties

Like many same-sex attracted people, I wasn't drawn to lesbianism merely because of simple physical lust. I had become aware, somewhere in the shoals of adolescence, that I was different from other girls. Other girls wanted to talk about their periods, about boys, and they wanted to go to the mall and buy bras together. That wasn't me. I liked boys just fine -- provided they were more interested in philosophical discussion than in kissing me. And I was perfectly comfortable talking about the female body -- in the context of feminist analysis -- but I never could get that excited about shopping for underwear.

Throughout high school, I found it difficult to relate my personality to the idea of femininity. I adopted the philosophy that gender was a socially constructed phenomenon, and I decided to valiantly defend my position outside the box. I had something unique and fragile, my own, my precious self. I was determined to keep it safe from the prevailing winds of peer pressure and heteropatriarchy.

Guise for protection

Lesbianism was my haven. Under its auspices, my identity was protected. It was given social justification and sheltered from the risks of heterosexual engagement. By being gay, I was not merely allowed to sleep with whom I wanted; I was allowed to be who I was.

Then God entered the picture. If ordinary, mortal men were a threat to my identity, he was its doom. He meant, I thought, the utter destruction of everything that I considered to be myself. But salvation was such a beautiful cataclysm that I couldn't turn away from it.

A wise man once said, "For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it" (Mt 16:25).

Twelve years later, has God shaped me into a different person? The good, Catholic mother of five who potters about in the garden?

Not exactly. I'm a home birther who watched "Rocky" to get ready for labor. I garden partly as an act of political protest against the agribusiness giant Monsanto, and partly to prepare for my ambition of becoming a gap-toothed crone. I would still rather talk about the ontology of time, or postmodern aesthetic critical theory with my male friends than gab about the local gossip with the girls. If anything, I am less like a stereotype of femininity now than when I identified as lesbian.

'Who I was'

Twelve years ago, I would have told you that lesbian was "who I was," that I couldn't become "straight" anymore than I could become an elephant. In a sense I was right; I could not become the modern heterosexual woman from the billboards and the sitcoms. I couldn't become the 1950s mother with the baked-on smile and steaming plate of apple pie. I couldn't become the pious Christian wife who teaches Sunday school and runs the Church bazaar. Even now, in the old-fashioned sense of the word, I'm still a little queer.

I was wrong, however, in thinking that "who I was" was incompatible with who God wanted me to be. That the Catholic Church was no pond for odd ducks. That my unusual femininity wasn't feminine. That being authentic meant being involved in homosexual relationships.

So long as my identity was rooted in myself, it was something delicate and private. Now it is rooted in God, and it is strong enough that I am able to give it to others -- to a husband, and to my children -- without being afraid for its survival.

A change of the heart

"Where do we arrive, then? What is homosexuality? What causes it?

I don't know. Frankly, I don't think anyone else does, either. I do know this: that what we speak of as homosexuality is profoundly individual. It is a point where many factors meet: self-determination, identity, psychology, philosophy, genetics. Any one of these things might be sufficient, in an individual heart, to add up to homosexuality; and any one of them might be radically insufficient in the heart of another. So what are we talking about, then, when we speak of a person "changing: from homosexual to heterosexual? We are speaking about a change of orientation: not the orientation of sexual organs, or of the psychological matrix, but of the heart. We are speaking, in short, of what Christain theology has always called 'repentance," a turning away from something in order to gaze, instead, at God."

-- from "Sexual Authenticy:An intimate Reflection on Homosexuality and Catholicism

Melinda Selmys is the author of "Sexual Authenticity: An Intimate Reflection on Homosexuality and Catholicism" (OSV, $15.95).