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?”
“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.
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.
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.
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.”