So for those who’ve not had a “coming out” experience it may seem, from all the talk and Glee type hype, that coming out is a one-time event with two possible outcomes. The story seems to go something like this: First we inwardly acknowledge who we are then we announce to the world, rainbow gymnastic ribbons a’flyin’, who we are. We are either warmly embraced by our friends and family or we suffer an Exorcist-like intervention to try and cure us from our “sickness”. After that point it is either all Pride parades and glitter bombs or a tortured life of angst and repression. Yeah, I’ve read the propaganda too. But as it turns out, it is not as simple as all that. Though those experiences do exist, there are many more nuanced layers to this trifle we call life.
For some we always know who we are and either embrace it from the get-go or struggle mightily and slowly come to terms with who God has created us to be. Maybe we fight against it, desperately seeking to be loved by our families while accepting that we may never love or even like the inner pulsating glow of who we are. For some it may be a coming out that happens in concentric circles; an awareness that dawns slowly, sometimes over decades, or a complete unawareness until a cosmic frying pan smacks you upside the head with the rush of the first crush on a glowing creature of your same gender. How we welcome people into this awareness varies as much as Lady Gaga costumes. And yes, some folks do have that take-the-field, banner busting moment and just rush on out of the closet – pom-poms a shakin’. Many others take things much slower; first allowing an inner core of friends to know us then to open up, like a gardenia on a sultry summer day, eventually revealing to more and more people who we are.
More often than not I have encountered folks who come out over an over again, in degrees, vacillating between reticence and confidence within each sphere of their lives.
For some, like my own partner – it remains a safely guarded secret in her professional life, where only a select few are permitted access while our home and community life is lived openly. A life lived bifurcated that flourishes at home with love and wholeness yet in her work setting, even where she has worked for 17 years, there is not a single picture of the whole family her desk. Conversations at work that include references to one’s spouse are guarded and whispered if they happen at all.
And me? I mean I am out there – gay as the day is long and life is short, but still…I have a new job, a wonderful new job, where I have been “settling in” for just over a month now – and I have chosen to play the pronoun game (as Laura calls it). My new professional home is about as open and affirming as a place of work can be and there are out LGBT folks in nearly every department. Still, I have taken things slowly, not yet naming my partner or even speaking in gendered pronouns. I skirt the issue saying things like “my other half” and “the bossy pants at home” (sorry hon) and a lot of innocuous “we” and “us” without making clear who we are. Now sure, I imagine that most folks in my department, my little office, have long since figured it out. I mean damn, my Facebook activity just reeks of big ole gay Christian love right? I have felt what so many folks have told me they feel; I want to be taken as my professional, thinking, creative, team-playing, Protestant work ethic self first. As it turns out, once we tell people the little fact that we are gay or lesbian that often becomes the first thing about us, the central thing. We become the “lesbian police officer” or the “gay writer” or the “transgender pastor” rather than just officer, writer or pastor. So I, Ms. Coming Out Christian, have not even put so much as a family photo on my own desk.
And you know what? All of these ways, and a myriad of other ways, of coming out are right. What is never right is outing another person without their permission or against their will. And it is never ok to use fear and ignorance all tangled up with proof-texted religion to abuse someone as they figure out how to live into who their Creator has made them to be.
But today, National Coming Out Day, just a couple of days before Pride in Atlanta, I am placing my favorite family snapshot on my desk. I’m not going to tie a rainbow balloon to the frame or march it into the office making a scene like Baton Bob. I am simply going to take it out of my bag, place in on my desk and then go grab a cup coffee. It is such a simple thing really. How many of my non-gay friends have not even considered the significance of your unquestionable freedom to do things as simple as tack up a photo of your last camping trip on your scratchy cubical wall? But there it is – the little, seemingly insignificant things that actually matter a great deal.
So, all that said, I’d like to lift up a prayer for people young and not so young who will be coming out today – and every day.
God of male and female,
of gay and non-gay,
of bisexual and transgender souls
remind us that you are the maker of us all.
Open our minds
that we may invite and be invited
Open our ears
that we may hear the cries of those who suffer,
Open our mouths
that we may offer solace
Open our hearts
that we may enter and feast at your table.
Save us from believing
the lie that we are unloved by you.
Grant us courage
to be who you have, in your own image, created us to be
And make us a light in the world,
that all your people may experience and embody your mercy.