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 reasoned that 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 sexual practices? No, probably not right then. He was likely only 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 later 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, 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 really does affect 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 the 2018 Revoice Conference 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.
To that end, I have worked with Revoice for the last three conferences, helping plan and lead worship. I want non-straight folks to experience life-giving worship in the context of community. This is something in short supply in many churches and it’s not only sad but depressing. In case you wonder what that worship involves, here’s the liturgy from the 2019 and 2020 conferences.
The conferences have meant a great deal to me because it isn’t just for non-straight folks; the conferences have helpful insights for ministers, parents, and concerned loved ones. These are resources which simply were not available to me when I was growing up. Fortunately for those growing up in the Church now, things are not exactly the way they were when I was growing up. I want to be, in some small way, the person that someone in the congregation looks at and sees themselves on stage. That’s representation. That’s belonging.
To close, some advice to a few different groups of folks:
To parents: there is help for you to process your feelings. Know that your child or your adult offspring has a lot to process themselves and that there are resources available to all of 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. God has made you and, if you are a Christian, he’s marked you as belonging to him. He doesn’t just put up with you—he loves you. And if you aren’t a Christian, part of living a good life is being honest with yourself and with your friends. Not everyone has a right to your story. Share it…and share it wisely. There are safe people to tell. And it’s ok to take your time figuring out who they are.
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. I’ve been loved well by mentors who are gay. Some of them share my views and some don’t—but the diversity of voices has been extremely important to my being shaped as a man and coming to my own conclusions about my calling. So, as you’re able: be that mentor who listens, encourages, and, as necessary, challenges.
Happy Coming Out Day. Show love. Be gracious.