In the past few weeks it has come to my attention that I am Out. Exposed. Dangling on the proverbial grapevine that everyone is looking at, talking about, and passing around. We’re in the everyone knows just-right-now stage, and so my name is being dropped over coffee, at parties, through texts starting with GUESS WHAT I JUST HEARD? and ending with Did you see that coming? I am feeling around for my walls, my edges of comfort, but they’re gone. The closet, it’s gone. And the air is rushing all around me.
/ / /
At the elementary school I work at, we recently took a field trip to the Children’s Theater in Saint Paul to see the play The Mitten. It’s based on a book we read in class. A little boy loses his homemade mitten in the forest and, one by one, all sorts of woodland creatures crawl inside it to escape the chill of winter. It starts small with a mole and then the animals gradually grow larger in number and size, leading up to a full-grown bear squeezing in. The climax occurs when the whisker’s of a mouse tickle the bear’s nose and the whole big ball of yarn launches into the air like a deflating balloon.
In my real-life version of the mitten, I started with a therapist, and it took me a year and a half to let her in. I couldn’t even say it out loud. I had to pass it to her in a crumpled up note. Years later, I let in my family, and a year after that, my friends, another year, my readers here on the blog and I have felt the warmth of such safe company. And… I have also felt myself hurtling to the end- to the great wide open, all eyes on me.
Over drinks the other night, a close friend told me that he was at a party recently where my name was the center of discussion. It was kids from my conservative Christian college, and he told me that some of them had really nice things to say. Others, not so much.
I heard again, last night, from another close friend, that people had been asking him more and more frequently if it’s true, if Ben Moberg is really gay. I gave my people permission to tell the truth long ago, so he did and I suppose these people told others who told others who told others.
And this is what coming out is: relinquishing control; trading your former, staged reputation for the real one, and then letting it out into an unpredictable world. A world that can love you or leave you. You can speak your truth to it, but you never know what will come boomeranging back. When you give up control, anything could happen.
But if you’re an evangelical, then you could probably guess what will. Here, coming out is seen as an act of leaving, of tossing away your faith, your cross to carry, and despite the fact that you’re still physically here, still spiritually strong, plenty will dismiss your life as if it were a tainted memory, a wrong turn, a deviant gone astray.
I remember in my own closet days when some classmate would come out and the kids in youth group descended like a pack of hyenas. Gossiped and gossiped like charismatics talking in tongues. Faces became contorted amongst the guys, who would then fake throw up, and the girls would get sad, say it was such a shame this person was disappearing into the darkness. And then, inevitably, someone would say, do you think there’s anyone else? And my face would flush, throat would dry up, and an acute realization would hit me that one day, they’d all be talking about me.
And so… Here we are. It’s happened and I’m all the way out and people are talking about me without me. In my head, I thought I’d be breaking out of dodge by now. I thought I’d be running away.
And I think it’s because for a long time I’ve clutched at my closet like a shield between the world and I. A brace keeping me from really moving forward. And it’s only now, with my story streaming through all this conversation, all this gossip, making people turn and reflect and think about me, can I see how brave I have become.
Every step taken out has shaped me. It has made me daring and sharp, more sure of myself and my ability to walk even there. In this place where everyone in my world knows and I should be a bit on edge, a bit anxious, making a dive beneath the blankets to cover myself up, I am seeing just how much coming out has changed me.
It started with a crumpled up note passed across a room, to a crawl into my parents bed, to pulling over the car and saying it straight out to a friend, and what I am learning about bravery is that you have to grow it. You have to face this unpredictable world and know that you are strong enough to not look away. Alive enough to run right into it.