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. 

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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. 

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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.

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                           “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.”

~