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.
I finally psyched myself up to watch the video of an airman coming out to his father the day DADT was repealed, a video that has received plenty of attention and over 4.5 million views.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!