This past Saturday was “National Coming Out Day.” Several blogs that I follow had poignant first-person accounts of the sense of relief and congruity that an individual can feel once they disclose to the people they care about the most the reality of their same-gender attraction.
For those of us who are straight, and don’t spend a whole lot of time processing, wrestling, hiding, or managing our heterosexuality, I think there will always be a gap in our understanding of what it is like to be persistently same-gender attracted – particularly within the Christian community. We might like to try to step into a gay person’s shoes – but at the end of the day – I think we can’t really fully grasp the multi-layered complexities of the process of discovery and coming out.
A few of years ago I attended a conference that gathered same-gender attracted Christians of varying perspectives. I intentionally chose to fly under the radar – to attend as a “normal Jane” (which in this situation meant that most people simply assumed I was gay). For two and a half days, I chose to set aside some of my most significant identifiers – wife, mother, New Direction leader. I found it exhausting. I had to be constantly vigilant. It took a lot of energy to watch what came out of my mouth particularly when meeting new people (which I did a lot of) – because those identifiers were so ingrained as part of my “get to know me” script. As I reflected on that conference experience, I think one of the things God wanted me to experience, albeit in a very limited fashion, was the burden of hiding significant parts of your identity. Being a wife or a mom or a ministry leader doesn’t define me, but they do describe very important parts of me. And keeping those identifiers under wraps was really hard – I felt diminished in some way – even though I was the one who had chosen to do so. God birthed a deeper empathy in me that weekend – for which I’m very grateful.
So I have a different take on “National Coming Out Day” than I used to. I’m not threatened by it anymore. I still hope that young kids don’t label themselves too prematurely. And I still pray that those who come out as gay will make wise decisions about faith, community and relationships. But I’m better prepared to understand that coming out, in and of itself, is really just about being honest, being authentic, no longer hiding.
“National Coming Out Day” coincided with a major holiday – Thanksgiving – here in Canada. That meant that when I came to the office this morning I had the opportunity to field some calls from some parents whose kids had disclosed their sexual identity to them over the weekend. Some were shell-shocked. Some had a thousand questions. Some were grieving. I’m delighted to say that none were angry or horribly freaking out (we’ve had those in the past too).
The thing about coming out is that the gay person has had years to prepare for that moment – the loved ones, even if they had some inkling in the past – may be caught off guard.
When we gather parents together for a supportive place of sharing and prayer, this is what I say:
• This is a safe place to process all the complex emotions that may come with your child’s disclosure. • We won’t make any assumptions about you except for one: that you are here because you love your child. • Our focus is on coming to a place of acceptance where you are free to love unconditionally and where you are best positioned to be useful to God in his pursuit of your child. • This is NOT about: o fixing your child o fixing you o theological debate o blame or guilt o everyone having to think alike or agree
Coming out requires grace on all sides. And grace is what we seem to have such a hard time grasping.
If you’re a pastor or a ministry leader, ask yourself, “How many people have felt safe coming out to me?” It’s a pretty good test for whether or not you embody grace.
Frankly, I wish there were other coming out days that straight people could expeirence. Because I wish there was more honesty. I wish there was more authenticity. And I wish there was more grace for the reality of the messiness that pervades all of our lives.
To the kids who came out this weekend: grace to you. To the parents who are now processing: grace to you. To a church still easily threatened: grace to you. To an impatient gay community: grace to you.