It’s been a year since I came out, so I am trying to revisit some of my first blogs and expand upon them with the knowledge and perspective I have gained this year.
I wrote that getting started was the hardest part. After a year, I would still say that’s true. Coming out is hard, and dealing with the results of coming out is hard, but getting started is still the hardest.
Let me see if I can explain why.
Probably because you’ve never done it before.
I still cannot fully articulate in words what it’s like to be a gay Christian before coming out. People have told me I was lying to myself and others, that I was in denial, and all sorts of other stuff. That’s not how I would describe it. It’s kind of like you suspect, but you don’t want to know, so you don’t care to investigate. When something is not an option, you don’t consider it. Like for me being a famous singer or music artist is so far outside the realm of possibility that I’ve never even considered even looking into what that might require. When you’re a devoted Christian and a youth worker, being gay seems like the furthest thing outside of the realm of possibility, so you don’t even consider it, even if you suspect that you might be gay.
From what I understand, it seems like my journey has been a little different from many others. Most gay Christians describe how they “struggled” with their sexuality and experienced times when it wasn’t really an issue and times when it really was. Many ACT on it in some way or another and feel good, right, natural while doing ACTing on it, and then beat themselves up with guilt, shame and remorse for a long time. To be honest, it wasn’t really like that for me. It was always somewhat on my radar, but I never really “struggled” with it, and I never ACTed on it. I honestly think maybe I’m just not as sexually charged as most people in general, because as far as I can tell from other guys, it’s just not as much of a thing for me. I didn’t really start “struggling” with it until I was in counseling, and it wasn’t as much of a “struggle” with sexual sin as it was a “struggle” with unlearning unhealthy, ignorant and uneducated views on this topic and relearning more realistic views on it. It was hard for me to reconcile my faith and relationship with God with my sexuality, but maybe less hard than others because I am pretty confident in who God is and who I am. Of course, that confidence has been through the ringer this year, but what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
It’s very hard to accurately describe how that refusal to consider that suspicion builds up over time, and the effects that it has on all aspects of life. I think it’s kind of like something is just off, and that offness comes out in different ways.
Ok, let’s get real here. You know how gay people are kind of weird? I’m not trying to be offensive, but this is the only way I know how to articulate what I want to say. I work with high school kids, and they joke about who they think is gay, but when they actually think someone’s gay, they say something like, “I think Billy actually is, he’s so weird.” And that’s right in front of me, their openly gay 27 year old religious leader. Being gay is kind of weird to straight people, but it’s more the effect of hiding an innate aspect of personality, even if you don’t know what it is or why you’re hiding it, that makes people weird. It’s kind of like we can tell something about ourselves is a little “off” or “different” long before we know what it actually is. For even the most well-balanced, self-confident people, I think that causes a subconscious insecurity that affects how we interact with everyone in our world. It’s impossible to describe how we’re really just the same, except for this one difference, and we can’t fully relate to straight men, straight women or gay women. In my still relatively few interactions and conversations with other gay men, there seems to be this unspoken understanding, this mutual relation created by a shared experience. If I could try to tie that back into my original blog, the students I’ve done my two mountain climbing trips with are the students I am still closest with and most in touch with. When you experience something that difficult and that unique together, you never forget the inside jokes, the unique struggles, or the feeling of accomplishment at the end. Gay men kind of seem to have all that in common, even though the journeys are separate and individual. But yeah, gay people are a little weird, and closeted gay people are probably a little weird in a different way than openly gay people, because hiding part of yourself, whether you know you’re hiding it or not, will inevitable make you a little weird.
I can look back and see how I was a little weird. Especially in the six months or so before I started counseling, and during counseling, yeah, I was weird. Depression and anxiety in general make people withdraw socially and isolate. I became pretty uncomfortable in certain social settings, and I had a hard time relating with my peers. I am an introvert, but I can also be pretty outgoing in large groups. For me, I could do large groups or like one or two people at a time, but it was probably the medium sized groups that made me the most uncomfortable. Why? I don’t know, I guess maybe I always felt like people were analyzing what I said and how I said it, or how I moved. All my life people have thought I was gay, even though I don’t present very effeminate or show some of the more stereotypical signs. I was never really teased or bullied, and pretty much all men are called gay multiple times throughout their life, but I guess people said it a little less jokingly when they said it about me, because they could see it. When you’re a gay Christian youth worker, it’s hard to tell what’s worse- being gay or knowing people think that you’re gay. People made comments about how I talk, the tone of my voice, the way I sit, the way I dance, my mannerisms, and other things that contributed to making me subconsciously insecure. I’m not blaming anyone, because it is and always has been my own issue. I’m just trying to say that yeah, that’s probably why gay people are weird, and that’s also why starting the journey is the hardest part.
I recently met a guy through a mutual friend who reminded me so much of myself before I came out. We were in a medium social setting of about ten people, and he was so withdrawn, quite and awkward that I could tell he was dealing with something major. I don’t know if he’s gay, but he had social anxiety written all over him, and it’s hard to believe that that was me not too long ago. If you have subconsciously been micro-managing your natural characteristics for a long time because you want so badly for that suspicion to remain out of the question and not an option, taking the first step toward accepting reality is more like a huge leap than a first step. It’s hard.
Since I came out, my personality and character hasn’t changed at all, but I notice that I’m much more comfortable in all kinds of social settings than I was before. Most people I interact with know that I’m gay, and that actually makes it more comfortable because I never have to worry if they’re wondering, and I’m not wondering myself. I used to feel strange going to kids’ sporting events because I always thought parents might be thinking like, “Oh, there’s that guy that’s always hanging around kids, and he’s kind of quiet and weird, and what if he’s gay?” I thought going to public events like that after coming out would be harder because everyone knows that I’m gay and there is still a stigma, but it is actually much easier and much more comfortable.
The other thing that made it hard was the understanding of what came next. I knew that first step was the beginning of the end, and I was right. I don’t want to be dramatic, because I’m pretty good at seeing bottom lines, and if I look at my life today the bottom line is that not much has really changed. But in the sense of what it was, there’s no denying it’s different. People see me differently and treat me differently because they know that I’m gay. As a gay Christian, religious people don’t respect a word I say, and anything I might say about theology and relationship with Christ suddenly became completely invalid the day I came out. I legitimately felt that beginning to study and research sexuality from perspectives outside of what is accepted within my particular background of Evangelical Christianity was like a betrayal to all the pastors, mentors, professors and peers that had been integral in my spiritual journey up to that point. The knowledge that coming out would be seen as some sort of huge moral failure, and that I would be forever seen as “that guy” who started off well but eventually succumb to the desires of his flesh, was almost enough to keep me from starting the journey. When everything you’ve heard about gay people, and the way you’ve seen gay people be treated, aligns with that train of thought, it’s nearly impossible to think anything else. It takes a lot of psychological strength to overcome that deeply ingrained stigma and take that first step, and that’s why getting started is the hardest part.
The other thing that I just read in my first blog was when I said there was a difference between accepting my sexual orientation and accepting that I’m gay. That’s one thing that I have come to see differently. That’s a classic Evangelical traditional thought, that there’s something different between being a homosexual and being gay. The term “homosexual” is a sterile, scientific term used to describe someone who is attracted to the same gender, and the word “gay” has traditionally been attributed to encompass more, like something to do with identity, lifestyle, character, personality, morals, and whatever else. When it comes down to it, there’s no difference. It’s been a year that I’ve been calling myself gay, and I’m still waiting for some sort of “what now?” There is no “what now?” because being gay has not changed who I am, what I believe, my personality, my character, my values, my morals, or my actions. The only thing that’s “gay” about me is that I’m a homosexual- if I ever get married and have sex, it will be with a man instead of a woman. But still, I can’t deny that that was part of the journey- believing that being gay had any implication on my life other than my sexual orientation.
Now that I think about it, everything happened pretty quickly. I spent a lot of time worrying about what everyone else would think and how they would react, and I spent little to no time thinking about how I would react to those reactions, if that makes sense. My journey is my journey, and I don’t regret anything, and I wouldn’t change anything about it. If you’re just starting the journey, I might encourage you to prepare yourself a little more emotionally, spiritually and mentally before you come out. Everything you fear will happen will happen, and there’s no avoiding that, but you may be able to manage things differently than I did- not for anyone else, but just for yourself and for you own well-being.
My advice for starting the journey:
- Seek help from a licensed medical professional. Most pastors, clergy and church volunteers like to think they know it all, but most have little to no formal training or education in psychology, mental and emotional health, and sexuality. Have all the conversations you want with whoever you want and get all kinds of perspectives, but do not engage with anyone who practices conversion therapy or believes that homosexuality is wrong or that it can and should be changed, denied or suppressed.
- Trust your doctors and be 100% honest about absolutely everything. The relationship and all conversations are privileged, so they are legally bound to secrecy about everything, unless there’s something they need to report. If you’re even wondering if there’s something that should be reported, be 100% honest about that too, because it is best for you and everyone potentially involved.
- Trust God enough to challenge you and your beliefs about God. When Jesus ascended into Heaven, He left us the Holy Spirit, who is still leading us into all church. Just because something has been commonly believed by a lot of people for a long time, doesn’t mean it is right.
- Remember that God is our ultimate authority, so we all have to do what we genuinely believe God calls us to do. Do not be loyal to people, organizations, denominations or traditions over God. None of them will be loyal to you when you come out, and that is a lot easier to withstand when you’re confident that you’re being obedient to God’s call on your life.
- Read a lot about a lot. If you’re just starting the journey, the issue of homosexuality in the Christian context is much, much, much bigger than you can possibly know at this point. Read the related Bible passages, read commentaries and research on those passages, read from Christian and non-Christian authors, read from gay-affirming authors and non-gay-affirming authors. Read about psychology, the histories of marginalized people groups and their oppressors, the various people groups who have justified the mistreatment of various people groups in the names of various gods for various reasons. Read about science and how biology, genetics relate to sexuality. Explore the concepts of nature and nurture. Read a lot about a lot. Don’t agree wholeheartedly with any one author, perspective or opinion.
- Find your friends. You will need good friends throughout the whole journey and life in general, and the sooner you find them the better. If you’re in a religious setting, chances are many of your friends won’t agree with you and will probably say and do some hurtful things, both intentionally and unintentionally. Expect that, and feel whatever you feel when whatever happens happens. In a national survey of what people look for in real friends, the top two qualities are “someone who is trustworthy” and “someone who tells the truth.” As long as your friends can do that, they’re real friends. Of course, to many Christians telling their gay friends the truth means expressing that they think it’s wrong, and that they disagree and whatever. If they do that, remember that they are telling you what they understand as truth, so that doesn’t have to disqualify them from being real friends. If someone lies to you and about you, and lies to others about their beliefs, policies and actions they have taken in private conversations with you, they are not trustworthy and not willing to tell the truth, so they are not real friends. Stay away from those kinds of people until they are willing and able to be honest about what they have said and done.
- Don’t ever think you’re done. You’re not done after you take the first step, you’re not done after you accept your sexual orientation personally, you’re not done when you come out, you’re not done when you accomplish your goals, you’re not done when you overcome depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts, you’re not done when the anger, bitterness, frustration and hurt subside, and you’re not done when you think you’re done. Life with Jesus, or without, is a lifelong journey, and we’re never done.
Start the journey, it’s the best (and worst) thing that you will ever do.