It happened again. I was watching an episode of the excellent new TV series “Transparent,” and Jeffrey Tambor’s character Maura was preparing to come out as a trans woman to her adult son, Josh. Maura stood on her balcony and watched Josh’s car pull up, and as she stepped back, anxiously considering what his reaction might be to seeing his dad as a woman for the first time, I suddenly noticed my own body reacting. My heart was pounding intensely. My palms glistened with sweat.
I remember the same thing happening this past Valentine’s Day when actress Ellen Page chose to tell the world she was gay near the end of her eight-minute speech at the Human Rights Campaign conference. By the time I watched it on YouTube, I had already heard she would be coming out during the speech, so I knew the reason for the tremor in her voice, the trembling in her hand, and the awkward posture of this usually composed and confident actress. And I felt it. For those agonizing few minutes, it was my quivering voice reading the words on the prompter, bringing me ever closer to that life-changing paragraph: “I am here… because I am gay.” And the elation and relief on her face after the audience gave her a standing ovation – those belonged to me, too.
I don’t know if I’m the only one who re-experiences the roller coaster of emotions of my own coming out every time I see someone new come out. Thankfully, my coming out experience was mainly positive, so the memories that are triggered, though stressful, are not traumatic. I grieve with my friends who cannot say the same. But even LGBTQ+ people who endured rejection when coming out can usually also point to some friends who offered them acceptance and unconditional love in that scary moment, and ended up becoming their lifelines during the rest of the coming out process.
I recently read Ben Moberg’s moving blog post reminiscing on his own coming out journey, in which he quotes some coming out advice from a friend of his: “Cherish these moments. You’ll want to hold them later on.”
One of my most cherished coming out moments happened during the Thanksgiving season. This is potentially true for some other Canadian LGBTQ+ folks out there, since Canadian Thanksgiving (the second Monday in October) coincidentally happens around the same time as National Coming Out Day (October 11 – the anniversary of the 1987 March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights).
It was Thanksgiving weekend in 2008. At the time, only four people knew I was gay, and I had no knowledge of National Coming Out Day. My housemates and I had jumped at the invitation to house-sit for our friends on Galiano Island, one of the little gulf islands nestled between the coastal city of Vancouver and the much larger Vancouver Island. My youngest sibling, Daniel, who had just moved to Vancouver Island to study musical theatre, had also agreed to take the ferry and meet us there.
Sunday was a crisp, sunny autumn day, and we had all arrived safely back at the dock after a precarious but successful tour around the bay in a rowboat. Though our inept rowing had provoked us all to laughter, my brother had seemed more subdued, almost distracted. When he and I returned to the house to rekindle a fire in the wood-burning oven, he stopped me and said he wanted to tell me something. He sat down beside me on a large pillow on the floor, and, fighting back tears, he stammered, “Beth… I’m not really… attracted to girls.”
In that split second, my big-sisterly pride in his courage and my desire to alleviate his vulnerability overrode my instincts for privacy and self-preservation. Immediately I replied, “Really? Because I sometimes am.”
When he got over the shock of my confession, we cried together for a while, finding it difficult to believe that for so many years we had quietly carried the same burden. Night after night, God had heard two desperate whispers for healing and change from our adjacent bedrooms, and night after night had answered both with a gentle ‘no.’ We were both barely beginning to come out, both of us trying to figure out how to reconcile our sexuality and our faith, which at the time seemed like those two oars on the rowboat, pulling us in different directions. But something had changed in that dual coming out moment – we discovered we were both rowing. That very knowledge propelled us forward, and later that winter, we gave each other the strength to come out to the rest of our family.
My brother now lives in Toronto, so one of the happy side effects of taking this new job as Director of Community with New Direction is living in close proximity to him again. The other happy side effect of the job is having plenty of chances to ride the roller coaster of hearing more and more coming out stories. I have the privilege of praying for, emailing, and meeting both with people who aren’t yet ready to come out (or whose families and churches aren’t yet ready for it), and with those who are right in the middle of it. And really, all of us in the LGBTQ+ community are in the middle of it; we get to come out to each new person we meet. It’s part of the gig, and sometimes it still makes our palms sweat, but it does get easier.
This past Thanksgiving weekend, Danice and I had the joy of hosting dinner for several people we’ve met through New Direction. My brother also joined us, along with his boyfriend. As I feasted on mashed potatoes and stuffing alongside ten gay friends and one straight one (who noted that he was the “queer” one in that particular gathering), I found myself once again giving thanks.
I give thanks for those of you who are in the sexual majority. May you find the courage to reveal your true self to your community, even parts of you that might be rejected, and, without equivocating these experiences to those of sexual minorities, may you be softened with empathy toward them.
I give thanks for those of you who came out long ago. May you cherish the coming out moments that led to deeper relationships in your life, and enjoy the freedom to be both a child of God and openly LGBTQ+ in a country that will not imprison or persecute you for it.
I give thanks for those of you who are still waiting for the right time to come out. May you never allow yourself to be rushed or shamed into doing so until you have the support you need. Please email me if you’re looking for someone to talk to or pray with.
And for those of you who came out for the first time this weekend… I am especially thankful for you. May you find well-deserved rest in the love of the God who knew you before you knew yourself, who is strongest when you feel vulnerable and weak, and who delights in the courage you’ve shown.