FOR THE DAY YOU CONTEMPLATE COMING OUT
“… and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
-John 8: 32
Dear Sister, Dear Brother, Dear Friend,
You stand on the precipice of an important choice, one that may seem exciting, or terrifying, or impossible. Maybe you have a crush on your same-gendered best friend, or maybe you know that you are gay or bi or trans, or maybe you are still searching for all the answers, or maybe you have decided that labels do not matter to you at all. Regardless of where you stand, you may feel ready to share something about yourself with a particular person, or the whole world, something that until now you have been holding inside.
It is courageous to testify to the truth, and it is a heavy burden to carry secrets. When we hold back pieces of ourselves, people cannot see or know who we truly are. Secrets build walls and make us feel as if we are living a lie. Jesus says in John 8: 32 that “…the truth will set you free.”
Coming out, telling others the truth of who we are, is more than a personal victory or sacrifice. It moves others to encounter the reality of homosexuality and gender diversity, and it invites them to consider what it means to be gay. For better or worse, if you are out, then whatever you do and however you act expands what it means to be a gay person in the world today. If you stand firm in your faith, in your sexual orientation, and in your gender, if you live in God’s grace, honesty, humility, and truth while boldly professing you are gay, you will be a powerful witness to the unconditional love of God. You will also help break down stereotypes that bind your brothers and sisters and friends. You will help others find the courage to be their true selves.
Yet testifying to the truth can be dangerous. People will sometimes use our vulnerabilities to hurt us. Many of us have lost friends or been rejected by loved ones when they learn that we are different from them. If this has happened to you, I am so sorry. I pray that you find comfort and peace, that they find mercy in their hearts and the will to change, and that you come to a place of forgiveness for the harm they have caused with their ignorance and hate.
Coming out can be good and powerful, but it is vital to be wise about timing and execution. It is not cowardice to remain in the closet if coming out could bring harm to yourself or others. The truth of your identity is precious and good. People do not have the right to any information if they would use it to hurt you. Jesus teaches us, “Do not give what is holy to dogs, or throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them underfoot, and turn and tear you to pieces” (Matthew 7: 6).
I do not believe Jesus wants us to hold judgement, resentment, or hatred for anyone, but I do believe he wants us to live in love. At times, he may call us to risk our safety and sacrifice ourselves to witness to the truth, but other times he may call us to quietly survive until all is made right in time. Each of our lives is a story of God’s saving love. When we face crossroads, we must turn to Her for direction. We must seek Her in prayer, in Scripture, and in conversation with trusted people who truly have our best interests at heart.
Are you thinking of coming out? How exciting! I want you to experience the joy and freedom of living in the truth, and I want you to be safe. Here are some questions to prayerfully consider:
-Why do you want to come out at this time? What are you hoping will happen?
-How would your coming out be a blessing for the people in your life and in your community?
-How do you think people will react if you come out? What would the best case scenario look like? What would the worst case scenario look like?
-Who can support you in coming out? Would it be helpful to have someone by your side when you come out to a particular person? Who would be your best advocate? Who would be the best peacemaker?
-Would coming out put you at risk for physical harm? Would coming out put you at risk of homelessness? Would coming out put you at risk of losing your source of income?
-If you need to stay in a safe place after coming out, where will you stay?
-What words are the Holy Spirit moving you to say, right here, right now, today?
-Whatever you choose to do, how can you offer this experience, and all its consequences, to God? How can you let God into this moment and all the moments of your life?
Ask these questions in prayer and talk through your answers with trusted friends. Knowing the answers will help you make your choices with confidence. It can also help to practice coming out with someone you trust. Ask them to act out best and worst case scenarios so that you can practice how you will respond. Once again, it can be helpful to have someone with you as you come out, and it can help to know where you will stay if things do not go well. If you are thinking about leaving home, or if you have already been kicked out, you can get help by calling the National Runaway Safeline at 1-800-621-4000.
The funny thing about coming out is that it does not happen just one time. Every new school, every new job, and every person you meet is a fresh opportunity to reveal your sexual orientation and gender identity… or not. The choice to come out should always be yours, though sometimes people take that choice away by making assumptions or spreading rumors.
It was difficult for me to come out for the first time. I had no one to talk to about it because no one knew yet. At the time, I was riddled with anxiety and confusion. I was twenty-one years old and until that moment, I had always assumed I was straight. Over several months, I came to realize I was deeply attracted to a man I worked with, but I had experienced crushes on girls in the past. All my life, I had deeply internalized beliefs that denigrated homosexuality. I was ashamed and afraid and I did not know what was happening to me.
I needed to talk to someone about what I was going through. My three sisters are my best friends, but I did not want to burden all of them with what felt like a heavy and painful secret. I decided to talk to my fellow middle sister, Kelly. We have always been close, and since middle school, we have gone for long walks while talking about books, life, politics, faith, and everything else. We left on one of our usual walks through the neighborhood one cold, dry night in early spring, and I told her that I thought I might be gay. Kelly was so shocked that she kind of collapsed onto a park bench and took a minute to breathe with her head between her knees. Both of us laughed nervously for a while. From the first moment, she listened endlessly and supported me through my journey of discovering who I was and who I was called to be. She helped me see over and over the need to give my life to God and trust that God would lead me where I needed to go.
It took three years of agonizing self-reflection before I felt ready to come out to my other sisters and my parents. During that time, I shared my internal struggle with a librarian friend, spiritual director, friend from church, and mentor at work. They were all dear people who loved me unconditionally and took the time to build trust with me so that I felt safe telling them what I was going through.
Throughout this period, I imagined my parents would have horrible reactions to my coming out. I knew my other sisters would fully support me, but I did not want them to feel like they had to lie to my parents, and I was not ready to share the truth with the world yet. I was still trying to figure it out for myself. To further complicate things, I lived with my parents during this period to save up money to pay off student loans. Years of confusion, anxiety, and fear led to a depression that I tried and failed to hide.
When I was settled with a job and apartment of my own, I finally came out to my parents and my other sisters. To my joyful surprise, my family was incredibly supportive. I had built up great fear that they might hate, judge, or reject me, but they told me they loved me, they supported me, and it would be okay. It was a pivotal moment in my life. I realized fear had been a vicious enemy that held me back from embracing the many blessings life held in store for me.
I came out in my mid-twenties when I was completely self-sufficient and established as an adult. It was destructive to hide my sexual orientation for years, yet I felt extremely safe and secure coming out because I was independent enough to care for myself no matter what happened. I also suspect certain members of my family were more compassionate with me because they had watched me struggling for years and could likely guess the cause. Would I change my coming out choices if I could? Would it have been better for me to talk with my family about my suspicions sooner? I do not know. I can only trust that it is what it is, and God has moved in my story to work love, trust, and reconciliation in my family. That is what matters.
If you are struggling with the choice of whether or not to come out, pray. Ask God to lead you and trust that She will. If you feel called to wait a while before you come out, pray for the patience and endurance to carry on, and pray for the wisdom to know when the time is right to speak the truth. If you feel called to come out now, pray for courage, the wisdom to know the words to say, and the strength to endure whatever comes your way.
We know that persecution is part of the Christian life because our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, was crucified for our salvation. As part of the Body of Christ alive in the world today, there will be times when we must share in his crucifixion. Yet we also know that Jesus rose from the grave and conquered sin and death forever. We must walk with him, die with him, and rise with him to be his disciples. In Matthew 5: 11-12, Jesus says, “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you (falsely) because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” When we bear suffering in the name of truth and righteousness, we share in the mission of the prophets and the cross of Christ. We could not be in better company. Trust that God is with you in every trial. No matter what the world says, She made you as you are and calls you to Herself.
Be proud of who God made you to be, and be brave.