Coming out is the scariest thing any one you know will ever do. It takes all the courage at your disposal and when you say finally those three words, it drains a lifetime of pent up emotions. It will make you feel relieved, but vulnerable. Light, but exposed. Afraid, but held. A million different emotions, but by any estimate, it is better than the closet.
Next month, on October 11th, it is National Coming Out day and it feels fitting that we share coming out stories and advice and prayer. I’ve been haranguing some writers to tell their own experiences and the goal is two-fold. I want my gay friends to tell what it was like to come out and offer advice to those that are reading that might be preparing to. I want to see some stories, hear how the courage came and how the world has felt on the other side.
Also, I want my straight friends to talk about how they received that confession. How they felt and reacted, what they said and what they wish they hadn’t, what they wish they did. I want their words to guide any reader, currently ill-equipped, and that has or will find out someone close to them is gay. Basically, I want this moment of coming out to be as perfect and holy as I believe it was intended to be.
It will make you sick to your stomach just thinking about it. Rehearsing the script in front of the bathroom mirror you’ll try a new line, a different tone of voice, but words really fail here, don’t they? Who can sum up an ache carried for a lifetime in a noun and a verb and a few choice adjectives? Where will you even begin?
Staring hard at your reflection you’ll put on your best brave face and for a moment, you might feel it as true, but then there’s that cold realization- the big words to be said and the inability to take them back. And for days, weeks, months, you will pick your moment and at the last minute cancel, because it is Too Much all at once. It is This Big and it is This Sharp and those words will fall like three sticks of dynamite. Who’s to say how they’ll land? Who’s to say you won’t end up tossed out in the cold?
I want you to know that you’re in the right place. Things are coming into true focus. Perhaps for the first time. This is normal. You’re almost there.
It isn’t your fault that you’re here, no doubt- you grew into it. Only after some time did it start to materialize around you, thick and safe, whispering about a world that doesn’t want you. You inhaled deeply, inside your secret secured, and without realizing it, you were swallowing shame, like a poison. The longer you stayed the more convoluted and chilling the world outside appeared. Before you knew it, it turned on you. The secret shook you thin and smashed you to bits and Beloved, you don’t belong in there. God’s children are to live in the light.
What I know about being inside the closet is that everything is upside down. For instance, what is Truth is that you are beautiful and human and created by the Holy, but the closet will twist that all up. It will say you are gross and icky and un-normal and everyone out there, the rest of the world, they are beautiful. They are whole and natural and the second you choose to surface, you’ll stick out like a sore thumb. You cannot be known because you will not be loved.
So you decide that being alone is probably better, for all parties involved. Who needs a world so eager to reject me? Who needs all that pain? Who deserves to know my secrets? (this is the closet’s greatest trick. It convinces you that this dank space is Safety and what’s waiting out there is Pain. It is a delusion of shame.)
After years of wanting to and then receding from, I finally cracked open the door. I’ve come out in tears and in laughter, in eloquent speech and disjointed words, but what I have learned, through all of it, is that there is some kind of holy beauty in the moment. There is something about allowing yourself to be authentic.
You know exactly what I mean when I say that word, authentic, because it is all you’ve ever wanted. To be real in friendship, to go deep in intimacy, and no matter how many other parts of your heart that you’ve bared open, it is still like not enough. You are still so distant.
I remember sitting at the bar with one of my friends one moment after I stepped out of the closet. He folded his hands on the table and looked over at me. He asked me, “have you ever felt like, like you could go deep with anyone? Any of us?”
Memories fell open all around. Wednesday night Bible study and it’s the time to be vulnerable. Everyone goes around, bares their soul, tells us where it hurts and we stretch out our hands in prayer. I’m sitting against the wall, knees tucked beneath my chin and at my turn, I say something about homework. In this memory I am acutely aware of how fast I am disappearing into my own darkness. How badly I wanted to stop and say so.
But now here I was, at the bar, sunk to the base of my authenticity. My truth and heart transparent, with all their beauty and oddness, and he was smiling. Smiling. He told me how much it meant that I brought him in. How through my opening up, he felt better about us. He felt more confident in our friendship. And I realized that this moment, with all its’ joy and warmth, wouldn’t have happened the same way if I hadn’t arrived from where I did. I realized there is some kind of privilege of leaving the closet.
It’s a spiritual thing, this coming out; it’s not a solitary act. It is something shared. It is something risked. It is lowering one timid foot to the ground and trusting the other will make it hallowed.
And it is here, on this ground, that you chose them. That you chose yourself. You leapt off the edge in hope and they caught you and, Beloved, that’s a moment both of you will never forget. You will celebrate it forever.
Look, all I have are my stories. All I have is my promise that you are loved. And all I want, more than anything, is for you to experience that love. For you to taste it. For you to rest in it. And that means coming out. It does.
And as you think about your moment, your day, your person that you choose, I don’t want you to see it all as something to get through. I want you to appreciate how holy that action is. How it will be commemorated, consecrated, frozen in time forever. Easing yourself into the light of day, person by person, confession by confession, I want you to hold each memory tightly. Because, the Truth of it is, you’ll never want to let them go.