I grew up in a home where anything related to coming out was met with a sneer. “Why do they have to force their sexual depravity on us?” was a common refrain in discussions. From the time that I began actually dealing with the fact that my sexual attractions and my experience of the world just didn’t fit the narrative which my friends and relatives seemed all-too-comfortable in, I weighed the options of coming out.
For years, I refused. My freshman year of college, I was asked point-blank by a friend in marching band: “Are you gay?” I told him no. I had reasons, of course. Being a conservative Christian, I wasn’t actually gay because I wasn’t sleeping with men. I was same-sex attracted and was attempting to be free from the curse thereof through prayer, accountability, and just plain perseverance.
There is nothing at all wrong with any of those three things. It was, for me, a misguided attempt to grapple with reality as I found it.
But was he asking about my holiness? No. He was asking if I liked dudes. And so, I was lying. He probably doesn’t even remember the conversation, but that lie has weighed on me much more heavily than the lies I told my parents.
When I went off to college, my mom rooted through the things I left behind. In those boxes were journals I’d kept. Journals where I wrestled with my sexuality, my crush on a close friend from church—come to think of it, there were probably 3 or 4 of those throughout my teens—and questions of what to do when I saw a guy I liked.
My mom confronted me about these journals. I assured her that it was a phase because I feared that if I told her the truth, she’d have stopped supporting me financially in college and I’d have had no other choice but to move back to my parents’ house. This honestly terrified me, especially given that I was, in fact, living a chaste life. I knew that the mere adoption—nay, naming!—of my sexual attractions would be enough to jeopardize my being able to learn to exist apart from my parents.
I love my parents, but it’s been a hard-fought love. I am confident that, if they were honest, they would likely say the same about me. There are many factors which contribute to this state of affairs, but the one I want to focus on here is this: my parents had no idea how to deal with the revelation that they had a gay son. They were ill-equipped to deal with the emotions that surfaced, the doubts that they had raised me to be chaste both within and without marriage, the fears that my morals would be compromised by taking classes at a liberal university: all of these things like unwanted houseguests who refused to leave for the foreseeable future.
And so I was managing their emotions as well as my own. What was I to do as a 19 year-old? If I didn’t manage their emotions, there would be consequences and my freedom was at stake. So I lied when I told them that it was a phase. And I’m not always sorry that I lied because my life would’ve been that much worse if I’d gone home. Neither they nor I were ready for me to be gay, let alone publicly so.
Coming out affects everything. Despite one’s best efforts, things change. Change isn’t always bad, but it’s almost always scary and/or uncomfortable. I want to live in a world where parents (all parents, and especially those in the Church) do not traumatize themselves or their children who are LGBTQ+. When Eve Tushnet said at Revoice 2018 that it would be great to hear a child of the Church say, “Yeah, I came out and because I’m in the Church, I didn’t have some of the hard stuff others have to deal with,” I nearly jumped out of my pew in excitement. That is what I want to see, in my lifetime.
It’s why I spent my summer months working for Lead Them Home, based in Boston. They have a wonderful book called Guiding Families which is a wonderful resource for pastors, teachers, parents…everyone. I cried as I read the stories therein and it’s rooted in a firm understanding of Scripture and the compassion that Scripture demands. (You can order it here…and they are running a sale on it at the time of this writing).
To parents: there is help for you to process. Know that your child or your adult offspring, has a lot to process themselves…and there are resources available to you. Give your loved one space to think, breathe, and grow. Trust that you’ve raised them well and that God knows and loves them.
To those who aren’t yet out: being out isn’t easy. I fear that not being out is harder in the long-term. Being out doesn’t have to be as public as I am. There are safe people to tell. And it’s ok to take your time figuring out who they are. Reach out to me if you don’t have anyone…I can likely find someone you can talk to if I’m unable to do it myself.
To those who are out: folks who aren’t out yet need our patience and love. Remember that most of you were scared just like they are now. Be the sort of person who is safe to talk to, even to conservative Christians. I was a lonely conservative Christian kid who needed a friend. Now, I’m a conservative Christian who calls himself gay and doesn’t begrudge others their boyfriends because people tend to pick up on my stance from my conversations, my life choices, and the company I keep. But I’ve been loved well by mentors who are gay, some of whom share my views and some who don’t—but the diversity of voices has been extremely important to my being shaped as a man. So, as you’re able: be that mentor who listens, and as appropriate, challenges.
Happy coming out day. Show love. Be gracious.