How Taylor Swift Helped In This Man’s Gay Liberation

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I have a framed memory in my mind of hearing “Tim McGraw” on the radio. I don’t know why. But I can close my eyes and still see myself at sixteen, driving down the boulevard, hearing the words of You said the way my blue eyes shine percolating into my pierced ears. The K102 host had introduced it by saying: “Taylor Swift recently said she is not a stalker”, defending herself against her own provocative title. I thought, Yes you kind of are and rolled my eyes. The memory ends. So random. So weird. But then again, that’s my brain, always collecting the mundane, useless moments for later review- however, a possible explanation for it’s resilience could be that I was hopelessly in love with Tim McGraw. In the music way, of course. But the gay way, too.

Overall, though, the song wasn’t really for me. It was so wildly romantic. So bubbly with love. And at sixteen, I was decidedly against romantic love. I was convincing myself that despite what the poets said, it was not magic. It was not happiness. It was not what life was about. It was conditional, for starters. Messy. Hard. And Real Life always shattered it. Wouldn’t it be far better to spend my life going it alone, unshackled and free in this big wild world? I had no choice but to believe it would.

The year her album came out, kids at school were buzzing about it. In the parking lot, her music was blasting out of cars Should’ve Said No, Picture To Burn, ear-budded girls sang Our Song as they strolled down the hallway. Her music found it’s way into the social fabric of my life, so I started listening to her too. I downloaded her first album, Taylor Swift, and ran it all the way through, quietly, as I cleaned my room. And that was when the song came on that made me fall for her.

 

You saw me there, but never knew
I would give it all up to be
A part of this, a part of you
And now it’s all too late so you see
You could’ve helped if you had wanted to
But no one notices until it’s too
Late to do anything

So how can I ever try to be better?
Nobody ever lets me in
I can still see you, this ain’t the best view
On the outside looking in
I’ve been a lot of lonely places
I’ve never been on the outside

 

This song, The Outside, was written about her life in school, her feelings of invisibility and the paralyzing anxiety of isolation. Asked to elaborate on the song, she said:

 

”I wrote that about the scariest feeling I’ve ever felt: going to school, walking down the hall, looking at all those faces, and not knowing who you’re gonna talk to that day. People always ask, How did you have the courage to walk up to record labels when you were 12 or 13? It’s because I could never feel the kind of rejection in the music industry that I felt in middle school.”

On another occasion, she said: “I was a lot different than all the other kids, and I never really knew why. I was taller, and sang country music at karaoke bars and festivals on weekends while other girls went to sleepovers… It’s strange to think how different my life would be right now if I had been one of the cool kids.”

 

I had many friends in school, unlike Taylor. I had close friends that I went to movies with and had sleepovers with, played video games with and on the football team with. I had friends in many pockets, my hand in many cliques. I was well-rounded socially, never left out, never left alone.

But I wept a little when I heard The Outside. Then I played it again. And again. And again. The words falling into the blank space beside the long indescribable definition of my life. I was lonely. I was on the outside. I wanted to be in. At sixteen, I had spent much of my life striking the pose of a good christian boy, a popular peer, rooting myself to the center of both spheres- but always, always, always, I found myself staring through the glass at everyone else, locked out.

 

Of course, I never told anyone I was a fan. When asked about her music by people who adored her, I would typically sneer a little, do my best grunt: “Yeah, I don’t really get her…. but she’s pretty hot.” I put Swift beneath other rock and roll bands, the way I put harsh republican politics and harsh Christian theology over my slowly suffocating self. These were the days when I learned to also not talk with my hands and drop my voice one octave, spit into the sidewalk and talk nonstop about boobs. Being a fan of Taylor Swift would expose me.

 

But I kept secretly listening to her music as it has evolved. Throughout the span of her career, she has moved from country star to country-pop star to the world’s biggest star to now the Princess of Pop Star. From Taylor Swift to 1989, she has moved toward feminism, away from purity culture, and has even started speaking out for gay rights.

 

And as she moved, so did I. Our lives on something of a parallel track of evolution. When the adventurous album, Red, came out, I was in the midst of my own coming out, exploring the treacherous waters all around me, uncovering the scriptures, learning my God. At the very beginnings of owning my acceptance.

When the 1989 album came out, it was declarative, it was self-empowering. It was about shaking it off and learning that the people in our lives are a mix of good and bad, as are we. It poked fun at the public’s caricature, with Blank Space. It spoke powerfully about overcoming, resurrecting, returning to the essentials of who we are in Clean. And I was there, too. I still am. I’ve begun to feel my thickened skin around my tender heart, my ability to claim my acceptance without diminishing someone else’s. I’ve learned how to laugh at the haters. How to laugh at myself.

 

And I don’t pretend to hate her music anymore.

 

Obviously, if you follow me on twitter, you know this to be true. Friends have teased me for having a dog ears whenever her music comes on from some speaker. My first time dancing at gay bar, shake it off sirened me onto the floor. Lately, when I get mad, I put on Bad Blood.

And it’s less about the music than it is about my own self-acceptance. It’s a token. It’s a tribute. I don’t worry anymore about men calling me fem for crooning out her lyrics, the same way I don’t worry anymore about second glances from café dwellers seeing my rainbow stickered laptop. In listening to her music, I am reminded of my own freedom to like who I like, listen to who I want to listen to, to reject the standards of patriarchy.

 

Being a closeted gay, you don’t get little enjoyments like that. Being a closeted gay, you have to learn to like what others like, make yourself into their image, submit to straight pastimes. And then when you’re out and you see how incredibly blessed you are to be on the wrong side of normal, on the outside looking in, you begin to think silently to yourself how differently your life might be if you were one of the straight kids. And then you smile. Give thanks.

On “Persecution” and Indiana

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(above is the cover Time Magazine is running with. I want write all over it. Gays are Christians, too. Christians in America aren’t under attack. Also, check the facts. Correct the error.  LGBT people are attacked on a daily basis.)

The night after the video of the twenty-one Coptic Christians was released, I wanted to write a post. In the post, I wanted to talk about how when words like persecution are overused and broadly used, used to describe events in varying contexts with dramatically different degrees of severity, they become words that are banal, lost, stripped of their meaning. The accurate word to describe for that horrific night was, absolutely, persecution. This was the night the world saw the terrible truth of that word and it mattered that we called it exactly what it was. That we tagged these murders committed because of religious beliefs with the term. That we wrote down the word and saw the men on the beach, remembering their bravery, remembering they overcame, remembering they were persecuted. That we identified for the world, for each other, what persecution was. It mattered that we saw how dark and violent it is in that assembly of eleven letters that led to the deaths of twenty-one men. And then, in the post, I’d go into how often we say what happened to them is the same thing that happens to us when the store clerk smiles: Happy Holidays!

 

But, alas, I didn’t write that post, for good reasons. Though it wouldn’t be out of a desire to exploit a tragedy to prove a point, it might look that way and it might, reasonably, offend others. I didn’t write it because I hate when people do that, too.

 

But now it might be time.

 

The term is once again being grabbed at for reasons that have to do with people like me. Praise the Lord at least some improvements have been made in that Indiana discriminatory law, but even though the improvements are slim, evangelical Christians are not happy about it. They claim vulnerability. They claim the outrageous. If I had a dollar for every pastor I have seen on social media talk about their fears of being forced to marry same-sex couples, I would be rich enough to buy every single one of them a United States Constitution and an insightful book on the separation of Church and State.

 

It’s not new for Christians to claim persecution. Sadly, this important term has been a busy member of the Christian lexicon, being used to describe everything from liberal agenda-wielding college professors to insurance coverage of contraception. A laughable movie came out last year that was literally titled Persecution. It’s about a famous pastor with an unpopular opinion having to outrun the animal that is The Secular Liberal State which is trying to kill/coerce/brainwash him (I only watched the trailer, I don’t know what the State wants from him.)

 

I spent a semester in DC in a political program for Christian college students, a program in which we were all assigned an issue to investigate. Ours was energy policy and it rocked. At the end of the semester, our professors who were the united conservative academics of America and where limping towards the end by our surprise liberal politics, asked us, warily, if the next crop of students they had should study Religious Liberty, because it was becoming a bigger issue with same-sex marriage.

 

Most of us frowned and said no, because most of us in this generation, gay or straight, realize that LGBTQ, Muslim, Liberal, Atheist neighbors and friends were not threats to our religious liberty. We recognized it with that bullshit detector we’ve all grown, that beeping that goes off whenever we here a variation of that crank-filled-phrase: “well, back in my day…”

 

And what we know is that we are not persecuted. We live in a pluralistic world. We live in a faith that has a great diversity of beliefs. And as Christians, we do not fight for the power to discriminate against others, because the essence of Christianity is not about being right, it’s about being humble. It’s not about wielding our power to take away from others, but giving to others the fruit of our gifts. Everything we’ve got to give we give. Especially to the marginalized (amongst whom, you’ll find Jesus [Matt. 25:40].).

 

There’s something so parallel to the way many evangelical Christians claim persecution to the way they read scripture. Picking and Choosing. Building a religion within a religion. Narrowing the gates for only those they like or things that make them comfortable. Many of these bakers, florists, photographers have probably provided services for Barmitzvahs and secular weddings and unknowingly, wishy-washy Christians. Just today, CNN interviewed one such gay-offended individual, asking her if she would serve adulterers and those who’ve dishonored their parents, two big no-nos spelled out in the Ten Commandments. She said Yes. Why, the reporter wondered, was she willing to be a part of one kind of sinner’s celebration and not another’s.

 

She answered: It’s just a different kind of sin to me and I just don’t believe in it.

 

I could almost hear her saying in the same breath how the Bible is the literal bulletproof word of God, but the Levitical commandment to kill disobedient children is completely bound to context and culture.

 

The truth that I want to whisper into her ear is that people all of over the world are being killed for their faith and that is persecution. Our non-muslim brothers and sisters in Nairobi, just today, were ripped from their dormitories and slaughtered in the streets. 147 of them. Lives precious to God and to their grieving families. Do you dare use the same term, assign the same crime, to both your inability to deny service to others and their bodies lying bloodied all over campus? It’s a damn fair question.

 

Words matter. And to use a word that is dripping with so much pain and violence and tears and blood to describe your experience with a gay person wanting a pizza or a bouquet or a marriage license is not just insulting, it’s downright dangerous. It steals from the dignity of those who’ve paid the full price of their beliefs and only serves your own self-righteousness and prejudice.

 

You are not being persecuted. You are cloaking discrimination in the gospel. You are blinded by ideology and fear and might not even realize it. Please, wake up from this nightmare. The world needs to know what persecution really is.

 

Side note:  Some evangelical Christians are the worst. Not all. Also, I’m tired. Also, I want to say, I find so much peace with the fact that I no longer pledge loyalty to this culture. My fidelity is only to Jesus: Friend of Sinners.

From One Degree of Glory to the Next

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World Magazine published a piece that seemed to promote Reparative Therapy and when Rachel Held Evans began tweeting about it, in reaction to it, in her anger over it (and over the follow up posts from Owen Strachan and others) she received a billion responses that said she was wrong. That a gay sexual orientation is evil. That it ought to be Corrected. She tweeted: Christians, teaching that Same-Sex Orientation is “inherently evil” no doubt contributes to high rate of suicide among gay and lesbian youth.

 

And this led to some disgusting responses that I won’t reprint. Honestly, I could barely read the screen, shaking as it was in my hand.

~

Here’s what happens when you tell a young gay person that their sexual orientation is inherently evil: They Die.

 

When I was young and heard that boys who like boys are destined for damnation, I died inside. I died because I couldn’t simply like girls. It didn’t work like that, no matter how badly I wanted it to. I died because in my mind, I was a living, breathing sin. This in comparison to the rest of the Christian world that sinned and was then, by the grace of God, forgiven and able to change their ways. I understood that since I never stopped feeling how I was feeling, forgiveness was impossible for me. I was sin incarnate. I was living breathing sin. That’s what I heard and so that’s what I knew.

 

Over the years this theology led me on to the conclusion that I was one of those not chosen by God for salvation. I read up on Calvinism, predestination, all that, and it suddenly made so much sense to me. God didn’t love me. He didn’t choose me. He didn’t want me from the start so he made or allowed me to be gay. It matched the Truth in my head: I am sin incarnate. God didn’t love me. Should I expect anyone else to?

 

That question led me to a slow dive into depression. Into drinking so hard I couldn’t function for days. If I was already a living breathing sin, what did it matter if I drank myself stupid and played around with drugs? What did it matter? It didn’t matter because I didn’t matter. I was sin incarnate, after all. I was already headed for hell. God could care less about what I did, because for him, I was just white noise babbling. I was just something he made to crush.

 

These feelings wrapped around like wet blankets over a deep desire in my heart: to be known and loved. It’s a desire that never died. It followed me from childhood to my teenage years to college. To be known and loved was the single desire of my heart. To be known, by family and friends, and to be loved anyway. To be loved by God, just as I am.

 

It was an unbearable desire. Something I wanted so badly, but I couldn’t get. So, one night, I almost actually died. I almost willfully died. Because to live with that kind of impossible desire was too much to take. Because I could never be known, and so I would never be loved.

 

And that’s what happens when you tell a young gay Christian that they are “inherently evil.” In a million little ways, They Die.

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Often when I think about my trajectory from the closet to where I am today, I think in degrees of glory. The Apostle Paul used this phrase in his letter to the Corinthians:

“And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate[a] the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” 1 Corinthians 3:18

 

I remember sitting on my mom’s bed, reading this passage to her on the night this guy was to come over, a man who said he could help me become straight. I read it because for me, that’s how I envisioned this whole thing working out. One degree of glory to the next. Degrees, I believed, marked the road between being me being gay and me being straight.

 

I had the road all wrong. It was a bad road.

But I had the right verse.

 

I moved from degrees of self-loathing to degrees of self-tolerance into degrees of better understanding, to serious study, to deep soul searching, to finally, at long last, self-love, feeling at home in my own skin. I moved with God. From fear to careful curiosity. From unbelief to belief. Then, to wide-eyed wonder at the fact that he- what?- accepts me without a thought. Loves me insanely. He pulls me in close, feeling the same way I do when I hold baby Wyatt. Speechlessly in love. Lost in the moment. Rooted to the spot.

 

I can only see it now, but sometime after I started scrubbing away at the muddy mirror before me, did I begin to see who I truly am: Loved. Known. I clutched at that truth and the skies cleared. I felt the warmth of God fall upon me, all around me, like it was the very first time.

 

To those who are young, who are already being beaten to a pulp by God’s people: You are not evil. Your sexual identity, formed completely beyond your control, is not evil. You are not damned for. You are privileged because of it.

 

In a Christian culture that is so insistent on (unbiblical) assimilation, you are a signpost to a better reality. One that shows the bigness of our God. You are- to borrow Brennan Manning’s phrase- “a banana peel to the orthodox foot,” because- to borrow Sarah Bessey’s phrase- in the kingdom of God “there is more room! There is more room! There is more room for all of us!” It’s a faith worth losing yourself in, Christianity. The body might be resisting to the change that is coming, but change is, in fact, happening. And God needs you here to be a part of it. To be the Banana Peel. To wedge your way into that table. To bring about this wave of healing washing through his church.

 

You are always moving from one degree of glory to the next, but not from one sexual orientation to another. You are moving out of the dark corner of this religion and in closer to those huddling beneath the lights, those so marked by the gospel that they don’t know any other way to be than to love others, to lift others, to praise God for drawing all of us into His light, giving us shoulders to hang onto when the world takes our legs.

 

Those in the darkness behind you will continue to mimic the voice of Authority, twist it to fit their own prejudices and discomforts, lie after lie will be shot at your back.  Be slow to get angry. Clench your fists around a balm of grace. Remember the road you walked. Don’t forget who you used to be. Remember, we are all walking, we are dragging ourselves, from one degree of glory to the next, into the warmth of God’s love. Hearts take time to change.

 

Just remember you are loved. You are good. You are held.

You are always beneath the light of God’s love, even when the darkness tries to block it out. Even when the World says its not for you. It is always there. There is nothing that can take it away. So step into it.

image credit

There’s a “Third Way”?

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About a month ago, Albert Mohler of the Southern Baptist Convention wrote a blog post about how there is no “Third Way” for churches on same-sex marriage. You’re either for it or you’re against it, he argued. Your church either marries LGB people, or they don’t. Mohler, of course, is resolutely opposed to recognizing same-sex marriage. But he cited Tony Jones, a progressive theologian who is adamantly affirming of same-sex marriage, as someone he agreed in this with. He quoted a blog post by Tony who also said: There is No Third Way on Same-Sex Marriage.

 

 And the same goes for an individual congregation. At some point, every congregation in America will decide either, YES, same-sex marriages will take place in our sanctuary, performed by our clergy; or NO, same-sex marriages will not take place in our sanctuary, performed by our clergy. There is no third way on that. A church either allows same-sex marriages, or it doesn’t.”

 

It’s critical to key in on what, exactly, is being discussed here. Mohler and Jones are saying that when it comes to church policy, you either marry LGB people or you don’t. You do. You don’tIt’s as simple as it sounds. An either or decision. There is no gray to nestle yourself into. Your church either affirms, or it does not affirm.

 

This feels obvious to me…

 

But the agreement between two polarizing people proved to be an all too tempting opportunity for the Ecumenical crowd, and almost immediately, there were people writing, people shouting, people saying: “Hey! Hey! Look over at us! We’re in the Middle! We’re the Third Way Churches!” And what they were talking about was not a transitory, thinking-over-the-issue place. No, they were arguing that this position of theirs was static. Solid. They had found the Third Way.

 

The problem, obviously, is that when you apply the tiniest amount of pressure to these people, asking them what this Third Way looks like, how a church marriage policy could be crafted that way, how it would function, in real terms- the conversation gets convoluted. They meander into the abstract with zero evidence that all is right at the helm. Half the time you don’t know where it’s going. The word Nuance is said a lot. They give no answers, but they keep on saying it anyway: THIRD WAY. THIRD WAY. THIRD WAY.

 

But Same-Sex Marriage is not the kind of issue a church can possibly ride the fence on. This is a reality. A same-sex couple is going to go to one of these Churches and the church will either affirm their marriage or they won’t. Where is the Third Way? It’s a fair question that isn’t being answered.

 

Here’s why things like Third Way happen: The biggest temptation for the Post-Modern Christian is to look like the adult in the room without actually ever saying anything. Take an “objective” stance to every issue and wave the finger of accusation at “all sides.” Third Way folks plant themselves in the “middle” assuming that this location makes them moral.

 

Ironically, this echoes Fundamentalist thinking on persecution. If the world hates you, you’re doing something right! Third Way folks say, If the conservatives AND the liberals are upset, I’m doing something right!

 

But reconciliation is something beautiful and important and the road to reach it is difficult. But you can’t reduce it to that place of simply stepping into the “middle” and deriding “all sides.” You can’t make up a term like “Third Way” and call yourself a Reconciler.

 

Quite frankly, that’s just cowardice, that’s dishonest. I don’t know. Maybe it’s mostly about people pleasing and blog stats. Maybe it’s those who know where they’re convictions are but are too afraid to admit them. Maybe it’s those who don’t know where their convictions are and they too are too afraid. I don’t know what it is, but making up this Third Way stuff is not the answer.

 

Now, if this conversation were about how churches can better respect their LGB members- that would be something quite different. Third Way, in this scenario, could be the concrete ways churches are coming around their celibate gay members to bolster them and support them as a community. Or it could be a church that works to be more inclusive of its’ gay families, less gender segregated by “mothers” and “fathers”, but finding new ways to bring in parents as a whole. There are many Third Ways but whether or not a church conducts gay marriage is not one of them.

 

If you really a need a Third Way? I would suggest this.

 

Third Way should not be a permanent way. It should, instead, be a Way Station. A temporary place of tension. A place Tony Jones suggested only a few months ago after he argued for a schism regarding gender equality. He suggested Churches should spend time in prayer and community to discover where their Spirit is leading them. Then they should choose.

 

I think going into this “Way station” is one of the most critical parts of being a Christian. It is humbling to set down your brick wall of a World View and see what needs to be reformed, whether it needs to be reformed, all while keeping an ear to Jesus. That is a sacred place to be. That is a place I encourage all people to go. Ask questions! Defeat dogma and apathy, find out where you stand.

 

I also don’t think those that stand on the conservative side or hateful or bigoted. Take Jen Hatmaker’s awesome post awhile back where she unequivocally states her position, while respecting those who disagree with her. I respect that kind of conviction and courage and honesty.

 

And I do, oh, I do believe there is room to disagree. But the problem with Third Way is that it does not want disagreement, so much so that it has created its own Neutral Panic Room where no questions are asked and fingers stick into ears while everyone goes LALALALALA! That, unfortunately, isn’t really neutral, or helpful, at all.

 

In my opinion, to be “Third Way” is not much different than being “welcoming, but not affirming”. It shares roots with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and “Separate, but Equal.” It is this morally relative place that shuts down conversations about justice and shalom and equality in favor of good manners. 

 

All in all, it is a distraction from the actual conversation. Ignore it.

These Hallowed Grounds: Aibird’s Story Pt. 3

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If you’re just tuning in, a reader emailed me her story and it shook me up. After talking it over with her, I asked if she would allow me to share. She agreed. 

These stories need to be told. They cannot be buried or silenced, they are a part of the individual and collective healing. And yes, they’re painful, but pain thrives in secret. We need to have more open and honest conversations, like what my dear friend Aibird is doing here today. 

Part 1

Part 2

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The end of my first year of college I decided to talk to Father John at the Catholic Center, to finally just confront this, and maybe I could end it. I asked him what would happen if someone was gay.  Was that wrong?  He told me that there were two differing viewpoints:

 

1. It was wrong and that it can be cured. 

2. The behaviors were wrong but the orientation itself could not be changed. 

 

He explained that the Catholic Church held the second viewpoint.  It was alright to be gay, but one must never act upon it. One must never lust in one’s fantasies, and one should try to be pure and celibate as a gay individual. I walked home that day feeling sick.  At that moment, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was gay, and that according to Father John, my evangelical friends in high school, and my own family, I had sinned. For I had lusted after Rita in high school. It didn’t matter that it had never occurred to me to think of us as doing anything sexual — outside of a brief kiss — but in the fantasizing of us sharing our life and going on adventures together, I had commited the sin of homosexuality. I didn’t know what to think of it or if it was true. I didn’t understand why I was like this, and how I could have ended up this way. It scared me, left me feeling even more alone, and I began to dread the future. Would I have to live under this cheerful, friendly mask forever? Unable to share my deepest self with anyone? That night I went back to my dorm and visited my friend Sam, where I just asked if she could give me a hug. She asked me what was wrong, but again the wall of silence. I could only shake my head. The words would not come again. I had taken the risk and it had hurt me dearly. Now I was left with two choices, both heartbreaking and terrifying.

 

Fear. So much fear.  That night, a Wednesday, I went back to the Catholic Center for their evening prayer and Bible study. I sat at the edge of the circle, and the topic that night briefly touched upon the issue of gay marriage that was growing in our nation. I felt my stomach twist with anxiety. Several times, someone would mention, “love the sinner, hate the sin” to illustrate a point. That phrase hit me like a sledgehammer.  I quietly left. It was dark that night. Very dark with grey clouds covering the stars. One of the street lamps went out as I passed under it, and I felt so far from God’s love. I felt lost and alone.  I stopped at the intersection, where one street lead down to the river and the other to my dorm. I looked down the dark street, down the hill toward the Memorial Union and the pedestrian bridge. I thought of the rock garden on the west side of the building and how I could fit quite a lot in my cargo pants I wore. The image of me jumping from that bridge just captivated me. It seemed so reasonable, so easy to do. I’d never have to face these conflicting feelings, or the sin of homosexuality again. I’d be free. The Church taught I’d have to go through purgatory to be cleansed of my sins — kinda like taking a shower as the priest explained it, just a really long one — before I met Christ in heaven, but that didn’t seem bad to me. It’d be better than staying here.

 

A young man with bright green eyes suddenly stepped in front of me.  I had been poised to run down to the river, but I shifted my stance at his approach. “Don’t head that way,” he said abruptly, “You have to go back to your dorm. Now.  Hurry.”  He turned and walked across the street toward the trees of the Pentacrest. Terrified by his words and the fact he seemed to know what I’d planned, I turned to my right and ran back to my dorm instead. When I reached my dorm room, I collapsed by my sink in tears.  That is where my friend Sam found me. She led me to my bed and held me as I cried. She drove me home that weekend so I could spend some time with my family and recuperate. She even drove me back again. It was kind of her, but again, even when she asked what was wrong, I couldn’t speak out loud. Fear and shame held me in chains.

 

That wasn’t the last time I thought of suicide. Only a few weeks later I used some rope to fasten a device where I could open the door to my dorm room from my desk on the opposite side of the room. My roommate had laughed at the device, but we both found it useful since when someone knocked nether of us really wanted to get up to open it. One tug of the rope and the pulley by the door would turn the handle and pull it open. It was near the end of the semester, close to finals, when I was lying in bed unable to sleep. My roommate wasn’t home yet, it being a Saturday night and she was visiting someone in a different dorm room. I looked at the rope, and the urge to wrap it around my throat was so intense that I leapt out of bed and ran out of the room. Sam’s door was still open, so I went to her and confessed my thoughts. It shocked her. She asked me why, and I didn’t know how to explain. I fumbled around with stupid excuses, but none of them was the truth: I was terrified of being gay. Terrified that it would ruin my life, and death felt like the only way to end those feelings for good. To stop the torment. That way no one in my family would be shamed by learning the truth. Silence once again bound me. Sam helped me cut up the device and throw away the rope. She was perhaps the most faithful friend I had that year, more understanding than any of my Christian friends, and her belief system was simple: Treat others with kindness and try to understand them where they are. She didn’t believe in anything beyond that.

 

Out of all my friends, she was the only one to tell me to just be myself. Everyone else had emphasized the need to tackle my sins, to try to avoid the homosexual lifestyle, to do this or that to be a good Christian, but Sam didn’t do any of that. She let me be me, and that gave me hope. I began to curtail some of my activities at the Catholic Center, and focused more on my classes and hanging with Sam.

 

The summer before my sophomore year a terrible traumatic event happened, and again the veil of silence draped itself around me. I entered my second year of college with a battered heart and body. I once again hid behind my facade of cheerfulness, and strove to be the best friend I could be. Now I had two secrets to eat away at me in the quiet darkness of night. I couldn’t live with both, one had to be told, but I didn’t know how to speak of either.

 

I met a guy named Terry in my physics classes, and we, and another gal, would work on homework sets together. One day he invited me flying with him. As he was landing the plane, he confessed his feelings to me. I was shocked. I had no idea. I didn’t know what to do because I cared about him as a friend and didn’t want to lose the friendship, so I struggled to just say the words. It took me ten minutes, but I did it, I said out loud, “I am gay.”

 

It changed my friendship with Terry, but in a good way. He backed off and tried hard to just listen to me and treat me as a friend. He asked me if I liked anyone, and again I admitted that I still very much loved Rita. So he came up with a plan. He needed to do a cross country trip in order to earn some flying hours to keep his license current. Rita lived in a different state, but not too far, enough for the trip to take only a few hours in his small two seater plane. I called Rita, and she was elated with this idea. So it was settled. A few weekends later, Tim flew me to Rita’s college; he even let me try my hand at the controls during the flight and it was great fun. He got a hotel room and decided to do some tours of the city, while I stayed with Rita.

 

It took me nearly an hour before I could finally say those three words to Rita. She sat there next to me, and her hands curled into fists. She shook her head violently. “No. You’re not gay. I know you’re not. You’re just confused. College can be confusing. People can lead you astray, you know.”

 

I shook my head. “No, no. I’ve wondered about this for years. Rita, I love you.”

 

“As a friend.” She stood up and started pacing. “Nothing more. It can’t be anything more. You’re not gay. It’s not healthy! Don’t choose it.”

 

“I’m not!” I started to cry. I didn’t know what to do. I felt rejected. “I don’t want anything from you. Just friendship, but I wanted to be honest with you. That’s all.”

 

“I’m glad you did.” She walked over to her desk and started rifling through her piles of documents and books. “We had a speaker the other day. I took a brochure, but I think it will help you more. You need to talk to them.” She pulled out a fairly large brochure and placed it in my hands. It was for Exodus International. “They cure gays. And I know you’re really straight. You just need some guidance and help. Please talk to them.” She took my hands in hers and I couldn’t say no to her. I nodded and put the brochure in my bag. She sat back down next to me, and started talking about the clobber verses. How the Bible says it’s wrong. Even got out her Bible to show me them. I just sat there stunned and hurt. I listened and nodded, but I felt lost again. The momentum and relief from telling Terry had left me. Silence descended upon me yet again, and we went to bed with her feeling relieved that I’d be calling Exodus and me feeling great dread.

 

That same week, I wrote a mass email to my family and tried to come out to them. To see what they’d say. It took me hours to write just a few sentences. The response? Silence at first. Then a few phone calls asking me if this was a joke. My mother yelled at me that it was unhealthy. Dad stayed quiet. I have five sisters and two brothers, and three of my sisters and my older brother talked with one another and concocted a tale to try to explain it away. Only Ariel and Ana (my third oldest sister) let me be. They didn’t say much, other then they loved me. The response left me feeling even more conflicted and hurt. Especially my mother’s response, where she insisted it could be cured. Just like Rita.

 

I wrote an email to Exodus a week later.

 ~ ~ ~

stay tuned for the fourth and final part

These Hallowed Grounds: Aibird’s Story Pt. 1

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Aibird is a regular commenter on the blog and, in bits and pieces, she’s told me fragments of her story. Whenever I wrote a post that really resonated with a similar experience of hers, all the emotions came out for the both of us. And there’s something holy about that. This growth through empathy.

For a long time, Aibird has been edging closer and closer to letting me in on her life. I was stunned today when she sent this to me, giving me a quick note that she was laying it all out. Then my heart broke. And my temper ROSE. And I sat at Starbucks thinking through this series, this blog, and I knew that, at it’s bones, this is a place for sharing and healing. This is a place for hope.  

I asked Aibird if she would be willing to let me publish it, and she graciously agreed. She is truly an incredible person, a beautiful storyteller, and when I read this, her bravery breathes inspiration in me. 

 

 ~ ~ ~

I’ve tried many a time to write this tale, but I simply cannot find a way to say it succinctly. I’ve never tried to write it out in full. All I can do is try since you gave me an opportunity to share it months ago, offering that safe space, and I feel that maybe it’s time I try to write it in full. This hasn’t been easy, and I’ve sat on doing this for months out of fear of what this may unleash in regards to my own emotions and memories.  All I can do is try my best to pass through it and hope that Christ’s love may finally reach me again.  For I have not felt that love for years, and any attempt I’ve made to seek out fellowship in the Christian community has only reminded me of how much I don’t belong. How much of me is a freak and a sinner to them and nothing more.  I have not been to church for five years and have not touched the Bible since then either. Why? Because of the pain, this feeling of abandonment.

 

This is a long story, and I don’t really know how to shorten it.  My coming out is long and complex and happened over and over again.  Each iteration often full of pain. So if you are still willing to hear the tale, RR, here it is in full:

 

I remember from when I was a child that I was convinced of three things:

 

1. I’d never marry

2. I’d have a friend who was a girl, who’d stay with me and we’d spend our life together.

3. I’d write the first novel in space. (A bit of humor to lighten the mood, but in truth, I really did believe this as a child. Still has yet to happen!)


 

Why did I think, at such a young age, that I’d never marry?  Because it was taught in my Catholic Church and by my parents that marriage was between a man and a woman.  Thus, as a child, I took them literally and believed that I just couldn’t marry.  That was the most I thought about me being gay. I didn’t even have words for it. I only knew it was wrong to think about sharing my life with a woman, even though I couldn’t imagine it any other way.

 

I remember one instance in particular where I asked my father if a woman could share her life with another woman. His reply, slightly paraphrased, “As friends, yes. Remember that friends are important but not as important as Christ. Let Christ lead you toward your vocation. It could be marriage or celibacy, and either are okay.” He didn’t give too much details beyond that explanation, and the second time I asked, this time with my mother present, the same answer was given, this time with the addendum, “anything outside of friendship between them isn’t healthy.” They’d ask where I heard it, and I’d shrug. I never asked them again as a child or a teenager.

 

In sixth grade I met Rita, my dear sister in Christ as we called each other. The first day we met was my first day at her school. We were at recess and the bell had just rang for us to line up to return to class. I followed Rita toward the lines at the school doors, each very close to one another but fairly straight since the teachers had no tolerance for us mingling as we lined up. Three boys from the line next to mine turned to me, one stood out in my memory mostly because of how he laughed loudly at me and pointed. His hair also stood straight up like pieces of grass, a tiny detail I focused on since I had no idea how to respond to his question: “Are you gay?” I only knew of one definition of that word, one I learned from all my years of reading books. In the books I read, gay meant happy, and was often used in classics to describe a gay outing, as in it was happy and relaxing at the same time. At that moment in time, I felt happy and relaxed because I had managed to make one friend, Rita, the girl in front of me. 

I said, “Yes.” The three boys began to laugh and hoot. Slapping their knees and pointing at me as they repeated my word. Rita turned to them and told them in anger. Her face flushed. “She is not. Shut up jerks.” The three boys stared at her, and before they could respond, the teacher walked between us and scolded all five of us. I quietly thanked Rita as we walked inside.

 

That moment was etched into my memory, mostly because I didn’t understand why they asked it or what they meant by it. I also didn’t know who to ask. So I tried to forget about it and focus on my faith. I was a child of God. God loved me, so that was enough. I just had to live a life of love and follow Christ. Rita helped me along that journey, and I shared a lot of my fears and dreams with her just as she did with me. We made a vow to wait until marriage, one that I made mostly because I didn’t believe I’d ever marry, so the vow seemed like a no big deal to me. Rita was an evangelical Christian, and she’d often invite me to her church. I never liked her church much because the rock band seemed too loud and a bit pretentious. I came from a Catholic family, where our prayer and worship time together was very meditative. Any music we sang or heard in Mass that was lively held only traditional instruments and a choir. It also wasn’t loud but focused more on accenting the meditative aspects of the liturgy and Eucharist. We were there to focus on Christ not the music, so the evangelical Church confused me. But it also opened my mind to different ways of worshiping Christ, so I went to better understand. To be more open and accepting, and to learn more ways to show my love like Christ did.

 

My view of her church changed one night on Wednesday our eighth grade year. It was a short service and for the youth. It mostly focused on the music worship and the altar calls — another odd practice that confounded me. It reminded me too much of the pharisees in the Bible who stood on the corners looking sad as they fasted, but at the same time, I tried hard to be accepting of this different way of worshiping the same God. So I asked lots of questions to try to understand their faith, and so we could grow as brothers and sisters in Christ. Rita had often asked me many a question about my Catholic faith, so I did my best to be accepting and inquisitive in return. That night a group of girls came up to talk with us after the service. They knew Rita, and when she introduced me, one of them blurted, “Hey, is that the gay girl you’re trying to convert?”

 

Rita frowned at this and shook her head. One of the other girls began to laugh. “No it has to be. She looks so gay. Hey, are you gay?” I stood there in shock. I didn’t know what to say. It suddenly felt like I was in that line in sixth grade again. My silence condemned me in their eyes. “You know it’s not okay, right? The Bible says it’s wrong.” The third girl stepped in front of the other two and shook her head at them. “Hey, love the person and hate the sin, okay?” She turned to me with a smile and held out her hand to try to be welcoming. I didn’t take it. I shook my head and walked away. I felt burned and shocked. I hadn’t expected that at all, and for the second time in my life, I wondered what it meant. Rita had ran after me to try to apologize for their rudeness, but at the same time, she criticized me for rudely walking away. I should have said no in her view. But I found that I couldn’t. I just couldn’t do it. Saying no felt like a lie, but at the same time, even saying I was gay felt so terrifying and wrong that I was left with silence.

~ ~ ~

Stay tuned for part two.

These Hallowed Grounds: Matt’s Story

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Before Matt was Matt he was gaysubtlety, at least to me. He blogged behind anonymity (like I’ve been doing) and then courageously came out, creating a new blog under his name and filling it with a wealth of story and humor and a life lived in grace. I have had the privilege of getting to know him in bits through social media and his blog and I can tell your right now, he’s a far better writer than me and many other writers I know. So excited to share his story with you here today. 

~ ~ ~

I’m not sure I’ve ever “come out” the same way twice.

 

The first time, four years ago in a small discipleship group, was prefaced by a slurred, twenty-minute preamble that feverishly bounced between references to a distant father and a lack of male friends and a blistering self-loathing and a fear of the future and a desperate hope for change and a terrible sense of guilt about it all.

 

The most recent time, last week at church, was a nonchalant, “Um, no?” when a particularly nosy teenager asked me if I liked girls.

 

In between the two I’ve used many different forms and phrases, addressing large groups or just one person, sometimes looking for help and sometimes offering it.

 

I used to think coming out was primarily about a declaration, a statement, a transfer of knowledge; I was letting people know who I was, nothing more. In a way I was right, coming out involves all those things. But now that I’m totally out, writing publicly about my faith and sexuality, I’m starting to realize that the decision to “be out” is so much more than simply making personal information generally available:

 

It’s a promise I have made with myself to live each day with honesty and grace, to never again hide behind a tenuous wall of fear.

 

Coming out is not a one-time thing, nor is it even really a “thousand-time” thing; it is a constant process of rejecting hypocrisy and self-deception, a lifelong journey toward integrity.

 

Time for some kind of embarrassing real-talk, everybody. It took me two years after my first step into the open to come to terms with the fact that God didn’t need to make me straight in order for him to be very, very good. I still wanted to be straight, mind you, but I had to admit that it probably wasn’t gonna happen. (The only dream that has been harder to give up is of getting a letter from Hogwarts – maybe it’s just twelve years late, you know?)

 

One year after that, I had to admit I no longer even desired to be straight. This confused a ton of people, including myself, because I have a pretty conservative sexual ethic and therefore am committed to celibacy. All I knew is that I had finally found contentment and peace in life, and being gay wasn’t the problem I used to think it was.

 

One year after that, only a few weeks ago, I realized I was now terrified of possibly finding a woman attractive. There have been moments, rare moments, in which I’ve casually noted that, say, the female barista who just made my latté was cute. An innocuous, meaningless observation to be sure, but in the split second it moves from subconscious impression to conscious awareness it undergoes an insane transformation, and within minutes becomes nothing less than a berserk thought-Godzilla rocket-punching the skyscrapers of my equanimity.

 

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Pictured: sanity?

 

I was terrified by the possibility of becoming a stranger to myself, just like before, and I was terrified of being used as some twisted example for “People Can Change” sloganeering that would be wielded to harass vulnerable kids and promote the harmful idea that they needed to, or even could, become “straight.”

 

This can’t be happening!” I thought, “I’m gay! I just won’t tell anyone and things will be fine. Just gotta get these thoughts out of my head.”

 

And suddenly I was struck with a deep sense of conviction: I was moving back to square one. Despite being healthier, happier, and more in love with life, I was rapidly sliding into that closeted frame of mind in which I was ashamed of my sexuality, even afraid of it.

 

I was confronted by the reality that even though I’m out of the closet I haven’t been able to shake all of its sicknesses, in this case an addiction to control. Somehow that first desperate act of vulnerability had, over the years, contorted into a grasping attempt to become invulnerable. It appears that openness can be its own kind of mask.

 

Sexuality is a crazy, bewildering, wonderful thing that constantly defies easy understanding. And, if I’m being honest (which is the whole point of this post, anyway), that scares me.

 

I’ve become used to admitting that I’m a gay man, but I guess I’m still struggling to admit that I’m a sexual human being, that I’m still discovering who I am, growing up, learning and struggling and screwing up. If I can’t be honest about that, about simply being human, then I haven’t done justice to the bravery of that trembling sophomore who sat in a tight circle and forced the truth out through stammering lips and into the open.

 

I don’t want you to make the same mistakes.

 

So this is my hope for you, beautiful and beloved person that you are: that you would know the freedom of not having to hide, not having to crawl into bed each night replaying all the small deceptions that let you keep “it” a secret for one more day. My hope is that you will be surrounded by people who, when you reveal the truth that you’re a lesbian woman or trans* or just completely confused, will remind you of the truth that you are, and always have been and always will be, worthy to be loved.

 

And don’t forget, at the end of the day coming out isn’t about the transfer of information or the assumption of this or that “identity,” it’s about giving those around you the blessing of fully knowing you, in all your complex and inspiring individuality, and allowing yourself the grace to finally be honest, to never again be enslaved by the pressure to be anyone other than who you really are. I am so excited for you!

 

Coming out doesn’t mean you have all the answers, as if such a thing were possible – it just means that you’re willing to start asking the hard questions in community with others, beginning that long, thrilling adventure toward reconciliation and joy.

 

Blessings on the journey, friends, and may the peace of Christ that surpasses all understanding be with you always.

 

With love,

 

Matt

These Hallowed Grounds: Nathan’s Story

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I’ve had Nathan Kennedy write here before and it’s been for all the best reasons. Nathan has written many posts that have really resonated with me, taught me so much about the joy of coming out and how to move forward in this unique identity with dignity. He’s good people.

If you haven’t already, check out his blog here. 

~ ~ ~

The other day I bought some shoes. The dearth of great selections at most department stores and retailers disappointed me as usual – after all, I have the unfortunate combination of extravagant taste and cheapness. I bypassed several racks, refusing to bedeck myself in either Chacos or Sperrys, instead perusing the clearance racks to see what overlooked gems remained in stock. I didn’t know it, but this shopping day would prove to be a major personal milestone: it would help me learn a crucial ingredient to what it means to be “out” as an LGBTQ person.

 

I came out a while back. Well, I came out on my personal blog and my Twitter account, and though I’ve always been “out” to my closer friends, my understanding of what it means to be “out” has changed at different times. Most of the time I just think, well, I’ll just be myself and people can figure it out. They usually do. I honestly don’t like spelling it out – I just let my personality speak for itself.

 

And then I stood in the shoe department at JCPenney and found myself face to face with a pair of white leather loafers, as sleek as they were attractive. I had that familiar impulse that we all get when we see something that we like so much. I have to have those! Yes, it sounds vapid, but it’s true. I don’t like shopping that much, but that doesn’t mean I’m immune from that instant infatuation with particular consumer goods that lifestyle marketers cash in on. A marketer would tell you that I didn’t see on the rack the other day a pair of shoes but an identity, a ploy known very well to retail marketers obsessed with peddling fashions and clothing. Smoke and mirrors the illusion may have been, but the fact that these shoes were so damn awesome wasn’t.

 

But I hesitated to buy them. My interior shriek of delight (which, I assure you, was very interior) dampened as I realized that to wear these shoes is, according to some law somebody made up some time ago, “less than acceptable” in some gendered, socially accepted norm. My main concern, once I came to put it into words, reduced to a simple, “No, I can’t wear those. They’re too gay!”

 

They’re too gay.”

 

I let that realization sink in for a moment. Obviously marketed toward men nonetheless, I hesitated to buy a pair of shoes I really loved because I was afraid that people would see me as gay. But I am gay—I’m not only gay, but I’m out. It’s not that my wardrobe tends to be on the dull side; walking down the street, I’ve heard crude epithets hurled at me from a car full of mulleted college students. I’ve been at the grocery store picking onions only to hear someone in a group of frat boys mutter just loud enough for me to hear, “[Expletive] fag!” Middle school and high school were a series of emotional gauntlets I somehow survived. I’ve never described myself as “effeminate,” but I’ve come to terms with the realization that regardless, I’m most definitely queer.

 

And yet, I mourn the fact that I don’t always feel at ease with my surroundings because I am gay. I live in Texas. There are some places, contexts, and crowds that to be conspicuous is at best unwise or, at worst, dangerous. Even walking down the street, shopping in the grocery store, or going to church can be an occasion of high vulnerability. I’m sad to say that even with family, I haven’t always been at ease. When I was 14 and my parents began to fear that I was gay, I remember a big fight breaking out with threats of being kicked out of the house and dying of AIDS and my mother forcing me to read out loud the Bible passages supposedly condemning homosexuality. I remember one of my high school teachers explicitly telling the class that it’s not okay to be gay. I remember my Boy Scout leader having a conversation with one of the other leaders saying that if he were to find out one of his Scouts were gay, he’d show them the door. Coming out has been a process that’s involved great risk to my relationships, standings, and, perhaps, my safety.

 

About four years ago, I pushed myself to the point of a severe nervous breakdown. In the course of living out what I believed to be God’s will for my life – celibacy, spiritual perfectionism, and obedient submission – I carried on too hard and too fast for someone of my constitution. I was in a Catholic seminary at the time, and if my behavior wasn’t policed enough by the institution, some part of my mind took exceeding pleasure in policing it for me. Every mannerism, inflection, and aspect of my appearance and personality fell under uncompromising internal and external scrutiny. As time went on, I began feeling the effects of severe anxiety: extreme insomnia, lack of concentration, and withdrawal. Eventually, my body began to feel the physical effects of this anxiety. I had recurring, splitting headaches, and my left arm developed a sizeable tremor. And then, one beautiful post-Easter Sunday morning, I blacked out and collapsed. A trip to the emergency room led to a CAT scan, an MRI, blood work, Percocet, and a referral to a psychiatrist. It led to my decision not to return to the seminary after the end of the semester. Most importantly, it led to a process of growth and change that, in time, would help me learn to live a more authentic, honest, and joyful life.

 

I believe that a great many of us have been so enamored with an image of God that bespeaks of some demanding, judgmental, perfectionistic entity whose call to discipleship is heavy on the Cross but light on the joy, that to break away from it means a radical break with one’s very notion of God. For me, it means that I’ve been so damaged by this “god” that I had to leave “god” to find God. This false god granted me no identity outside of an ecclesial structure or theological system; it convinced me that discipleship consisted of an endless series of “purifications” that would leave me broken, deconstructed, and crushed with no way to go but up. This “god” had no likeness to human love—it certainly had nothing to do with the kind of love I felt drawn to. This god was no more than a projection of my own interiorized voice of self-criticism and inadequacy—and I suspect that when a great deal of people talk about God, that voice is exactly what they have in mind.

 

So much of my process of coming out has been preparing for and recovering from being deeply hurt. It’s also been listening to voices of support while ignoring voices of detraction. It’s meant learning to make coming out my choice, based on my readiness, not someone else’s idea of how or when my coming out should be, if ever. Given what I had been through, it somehow occurred to me what a defeat it would be were I to pass up on a pair of shoes simply because I was afraid to seem “gay.” My ability to acknowledge and embrace who I am was hard-won and precious.

 

I bought the shoes. They currently encase my feet, dangling over the chair I sit in, revealing a hint of black argyle socks on crossed legs. In keeping with the pervasive lifestyle marketing techniques of which retail is resplendent, they’re “so me.”

 

That’s what coming out really is, after all. It’s looking at the different options for your life and, having come to know yourself, you forge the path that is “so you.” You make the outside of your life reveal the inside of your soul. That involves a lifelong process of discerning and choosing, of a journey outward to express and deepen your journey inward.

 

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For those of us who are LGBTQ, we have the decision to make as to how this affects us. How does being LGBTQ affect my interior life, and how is that to look on the outside? What direction does my experience of being LGBTQ move me in, and in what contexts do I find the most meaning in it?

 

Most of all, how does being LGBTQ deepen my experience and my understanding of what it means to be fully, truly, and authentically human?

 

And yes, people will make fun of me for being the guy in white loafers. They will mutter their insults and their epithets, try to convince me that the God I seek hates everything about my sexuality, and even have me fear for my very safety at times. But they can never take from me what I have won for myself: the unity of my outer and inner worlds; the integrity of my identity with my expression. That, after all, is what being out means. It’s the reclamation of the humanity of my sexuality – and the refusal to submit it to inauthentic definitions.

 

I cannot tell any soul what decision to make regarding coming out. It’s a profoundly personal, dare I say, sacred codification of one’s experience and identity, to which I remove my sandals (or white loafers) and stand in awe at the revelation that takes place to another’s soul. I can only ask anyone considering it to be as authentic as possible. Don’t cut corners in your soul-searching, and don’t try to side-step difficult issues. To those who have family, friends, or loved ones going through this process, my advice is this: stand in awe at the burning bush that you see before you. What is happening is a miraculous revelation that demands respect and humility, regardless of what you believe regarding homosexuality or gender identity.

 

Remember, always, that this is a person’s sexuality, one’s own or another person’s. The ground on which you are standing is holy.

These Hallowed Grounds: Brent’s Story

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I reached out to Brent awhile ago to see if he’d be interested in contributing to a series I was doing leading up to National Coming Out Day. Unfortunately, he is a full time Student and so busy with stacks on stacks of homework and Life and he knew it was best to not commit if he didn’t have time. Fortunately, he has written about experiences before and he took the time to send me the links. This is the one I selected to reprint today because it is most relevant to this conversation. Although, I might reprint a few of his others as the series goes along. They’ve all taught me so much. 

 

If you aren’t following Brent, you really don’t know what’s good for you. Kid is one of the wisest people I know in the conversation about LGBTs in the Church. I’m absolutely honored to reprint this piece today. After you read this, go check out his blog Odd Man Out. Trust me. It’s a treasure.

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I finally psyched myself up to watch the video of an airman coming out to his father the day DADT was repealed, a video that has received plenty of attention and over 4.5 million views.  I put off watching it because, although I already knew the outcome of their conversation, watching someone come out fills me with anxiety.

 

When it comes to social events and conversations, my memory is usually awful, but I remember clearly every single time I came out to another person.  I don’t know how many times I’ve had that conversation, but if you give me a name, I can tell you the time and place of our dialog as well as the reasons I decided to tell the individual.  It’s happened in dorm rooms, living rooms, and offices; it’s happened on walks outside at different times of the day; it’s accompanied meals at Jason’s Deli, Joe’s Pizza, and a Texas steakhouse; it’s lasted anywhere from ten minutes to two hours plus; and it has involved the mediums of face-to-face conversation, phone calls, and email/Facebook.  I can also remember clearly every time someone else came out to me, simply because I know how huge of a moment it was for the other person.

 

After watching Randy Phillips’ video, I thought it would be helpful to share from my experiences coming out.  What’s interesting about the list I created is that my generation has commandeered the phrase “Coming Out”  to refer to any sort of conversation in which one person reveals something about him/herself heretofore unknown to the another person, and I think this list will resonate with anyone who has made a difficult self-disclosure within a close relationship.  So, whether you are the person coming out or someone comes out to you, and whether the “coming out” involves being attracted to one’s own gender, doubting one’s faith, or even voting Democrat, here is what you should know about coming out:

 

1. It’s terrifying every single time

As the list of people I had told grew longer over the years, it became easier for me to find the right words to say and to prepare myself for the emotional exhaustion that would follow; but the anxiety leading up to each conversation never decreased at all.  Every time I came out, I had to take the risk of potentially ruining or changing a significant relationship in my life, and that gamble never gets easier.  The strange irony of it all is that my closest relationships caused me the most anxiety, because even if I could predict with near-certainty how the other would react, I still had the most to lose in those cases.  (This is the anxiety that makes it so hard to watch videos like Phillips’.)

If someone should come out to you, then, receive it as a gesture of trust and intimacy, because it’s not easy to say those words.  Recognize, too, that the person’s fear and hesitation may have nothing to do with your open-mindedness, your trustworthiness, your compassion, or your lack thereof; it’s scary regardless of the recipient.

 

2. The initial response is not nearly as important as the long-term response

I think some people feel a lot of anxiety about receiving self-disclosure because they’re worried about saying or doing the wrong thing.  I may be unique here, but I care much less about how people respond to me in the moment and much more about how they respond in the days and weeks that follow.  Obviously, there are some major things you can get right or wrong in that initial conversation (my experiences have all been positive, but I’ve heard horror stories you wouldn’t believe), but those are pretty self-evident and are not likely to change much based on your reading this post.

Many of the people to whom I’ve come out had very little knowledge of homosexuality before our talk, and I think it would be selfishly arrogant of me to expect people to say exactly the right things and ask the most profound, penetrating questions.  I’ve been thinking very closely about the topic of homosexuality since middle school, but many of the people in my life haven’t had a pressing reason to do the same and may be in unfamiliar territory.  So—barring the obvious extremes—someone’s initial response is not going to permanently torpedo our relationship.

What’s been much more important to me is how the other person responded in the long-term.  Did s/he respect my wishes that our conversation remain confidential?  Did our relationship change drastically?  Did s/he stick around?  These questions matter much more for the future of the relationship than the first words out of the person’s mouth.

 

3. Conversations and relationships go two ways

Lest it sound too much like the outcome of any conversation or relationship depends entirely on the person who receives the self-disclosure, I do want to say the person coming out has a lot of power in the situation as well.  Even though I think the recipient should be as accommodating as possible in light of the difficulty for the one coming out, there are most definitely good and bad ways to disclose something big and to handle the relationship afterwards.  If a relationship goes bad after someone comes out, it’s entirely possible that it has nothing to do with the response given and everything to do with the baggage the person coming out was already carrying.

 

4. In the best cases, it leads to better relationships

As I mentioned above, I have been overwhelmingly blessed by the responses I’ve received.  In my experience, even people who know nothing about homosexuality care enough about our relationship to ask good questions and seek understanding.  Unfortunately, I’m starting to realize that my positive experiences are more of an aberration than the rule, and there are too many stories of self-disclosures that resulted in conflict, physical or emotional violence, and broken relationships.

When coming out goes well, though, it changes everything for the better.  There is nothing like the closeness and intimacy it allows.  The scriptures paint a beautiful picture of the kind of community that can develop if we are only willing to trust each other: we can “carry each other’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2), “confess [our] sins to each other and pray for each other” (James 5:16), and “encourage one another and build each other up” (I Thessalonians 5:11).  I do not believe any of us were meant to be alone, and the fear of coming out to anyone can lead to crushing loneliness.

 

What are your experiences with coming out in any capacity and on either side of the conversation?  What has been the most helpful, the most difficult, and the most wonderful for you?

 

*Be sure to head over to Brent’s blog: Odd Man Out!

These Hallowed Grounds: Bethany’s Story

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I said before that this was a two-part series, a two-part deal, as Coming Out always is. National Coming Out Day is October 11th and leading up to it, we’re going to talk about this thing- Coming Out. What it’s like, how it happens, all the mess that occurs through stammered speech and so many tears. One part is for gay Christians to tell their story. The other part is for straight folks that have had gay friends come out to them.

 

I’ve heard the constructive note of: “is it my story to tell?” from straight Christians wary of sharing something that they were merely a minor character in. But here’s the thing, coming out is a spiritual moment that requires more than one voice. There is a beautiful give and take that occurs. And it’s important to talk about.

 

Doing this is also pragmatic on my part. I want to give tools for those who have either recently had a friend come out or will, probably, have someone in the future come out to them. I am intent on making this moment as gorgeous as I believe it was intended to be. A moment for community. Love. Friendship. God.

 

Today Bethany is sharing her story of her friend coming out to her and I am so grateful. She’s a powerful voice in the blogosphere, writing over at All That Jazz, and even though our friendship has been brief, she has already given me so much encouragement. I love what she wrote for us today.

______________________________________________________________________________________

                       

                           “I have something to tell you… and it’s really bad.”

                                                                                                         “Okay… what is it?”

                           “I just… I don’t really want to tell you.”

                                                                                                         “Are you doing drugs?”

                           “No.”

                                                                                                        “Did you get a girl pregnant?”

                          “No…but it’s just as bad.”

                                                                                                        “What is it?”

                          “…I think I’m gay.”

 

Hearing those four words absolutely changed my world. My friend (we’ll call him Chris) and I were sophomores in high school. He was my best friend at the time, and I had noticed something had changed with him. He was pulling away from me, and I could tell he was hiding something. He kept assuring me that he wasn’t, but then after two weeks of prying, he finally told me.

 

I remember exactly where we were and even what kind of shoes he was wearing (I looked at the floor a lot). We were sitting on the couch in my parents’ basement, and he was wearing white K-Swiss shoes. Tears were streaming down both of our faces after he came out to me. Neither of us had any words for a long time, and I had no idea how to react.

 

When Chris first told me he was gay, he told me he didn’t want to be. He told me that he wanted to change. So being the “good Christian” that I was, I got materials from my youth pastor on how not to be gay and gave them to him. At first he was grateful, but over the next couple of weeks he started to change his perspective. As he came out to his friends from his high school, they encouraged him to accept who he was and realize that he couldn’t change.

 

Two weeks after he came out to me, he came over to my house. He stood in my bedroom doorway and said,

 

“Bethany, I can’t change. This is who I am.”

“…I think you can change.”

“I can’t. And I need you to accept that. I need you to accept me for who I am.”

“I just… I can’t, Chris. I can’t accept that you’re gay, because it’s wrong.”

 

…And that was it. From that point on, my friendship with Chris was disjointed, superficial, and is now non-existent. We tried to be friends, but I couldn’t get over how wrong I believed his homosexuality to be. While we would start out talking about what was going on in our lives, I would always somehow change the topic to his lifestyle and why he thought being gay was okay. Needless to say, he pulled away from me pretty quickly after that.

 

I did so many things wrong after Chris came out to me. I still don’t agree with same-sex partnerships, but I do believe that some people are born attracted to the same sex. I treated Chris as if he wasn’t acceptable as a person, and that there was something wrong with him. He still professed to be a Christian, but I didn’t believe him. For a long time, I believed that if a person was gay, they couldn’t possibly be a Christian.

 

To this day, I still mourn the loss of my friendship with Chris. He was my best friend and closest confidant. I trusted him fully. We had been through so much together, but as soon as he told me something I didn’t like, I threw all of that away.

 

As much as I felt that I was doing the right and loving thing by not accepting him and where he was at, I was incredibly wrong. I hurt him deeply. I hurt him to the point where our friendship was beyond being saved. …And it was all done in the name of love.

 

I wish I could articulate just how much I regret my actions to Chris. My heart still aches deeply over the things I did and said, and it aches for the lost friendship. Besides my husband, I’ve never had another friend like him. He was a once-in-a-lifetime friend, and I threw it away.

 

If I could give any advice to anyone trying to figure out how to respond to a friend/family member who comes out to them, it would be: Listen. Be patient. Give grace. Love unconditionally.

 

Even if you disagree. Even if you think they’re wrong. Love them, love them, love them.

 

Tell them you love them.

 

Tell them you won’t stop loving them.

 

Tell them that nothing they do or say could ever make you turn your back on them.

 

Embrace them.

 

When a person comes out to someone, odds are they really, really need a hug. Even if you feel you have no words to give, you can always hug them.

 

Cry with them.

 

When Chris came out to me, we just sat hugging and crying for a long time, and that’s okay. It was incredibly difficult for him to do what he did. It took immense bravery for him to be so honest.

 

I can’t tell you what to believe. I only know what I believe, and I must learn to love my gay friends in the midst of that.

 

Be compassionate.

 

If the person coming out to you is in the Church, then they probably are incredibly confused. They’re probably trying to figure things out, and they don’t know what to do. Be compassionate towards them. Understand that they are going through an incredibly difficult time, and don’t expect them to be in a different place than they are.

 

Pursue them.

 

Most likely, after they come out to you, they will try to pull away. Pursue them. Show them how much you love them. Show them you care about them for more than their sexual orientation. Don’t just tell them… show them. Show them they are important to you. Show them that your friendship doesn’t hinge on their orientation.

 

And I will say it again and again… Love them. Love them with everything you have.

~

 1 Corinthians 13:13

“And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

~