As some of y’all know I have been in a bit of a personal spiral since my father died in October and my marriage crumbled in December. Even though I promised that “my personal tragedy would not affect my ability to do good hair” it seems my bloggy bouffant has indeed fallen flat in recent months.
So earlier this week I sent up the Coming Out Christian bat signal asking for folks to share posts via my beleaguered blog, and wow, just wow, so many people have generously offered to share a bit of their wisdom while I get my act back together (if it ever was together).
I am excited to lift up the first of the guests posts by my friend Rachel Pinto MS, LAC,.
Here ya go friends
The actress Ellen Page came out recently during a speech at an HRC event. She was completely genuine and unassuming, as anyone who knows anything about her would expect her to be. She was also, well…nervous. A friend commented on Facebook, “See, even famous people get nervous when they come out!” I know that I was all kinds of nervous during my own season of coming out, and I certainly didn’t stand up in front of a roomful of people to do it.
Regardless of how one chooses to do it, coming out can be one of the most terrifying (and empowering) experiences of life. I’d like to offer a few personal thoughts, mixing in some concepts from my psychotherapy training, in hopes that others will feel supported if and when they decide to take this step.
1. You will be surprised at the goodness of humanity.
I was raised as a Southern Baptist, and I took my commitment to my local church very seriously throughout my life. My personal life was completely integrated into the life of the church I attended; many of my close friends and most of my family members were also conservative evangelicals. Given the stance that this group has taken on homosexuality, this could’ve meant that I would experience rejection or judgment. But all along, I was touched and joyfully surprised by – honestly – how my coming out was mostly a non-event. Granted, this could be attributed to the fact that I just have some really enlightened friends (which I totally support, by the way), but I also choose to believe that it indicates that our society as a whole is becoming more enlightened.
Basically I’m just saying, don’t anticipate bad things. If you need to come out to someone, then do it and give them the opportunity to surprise you – because they just might.
2. Give everyone involved (including yourself) an extra measure of grace.
Depending on the details of your story, you may really be changing the other person’s view of who you are. Should they be accepting? Absolutely! Should they love you the same no matter what? Yes, and again yes! Are some people just really bad on the spot? Also yes! Be willing to bear with people as much as you are able, and as much as you believe the relationship to be worth it.
And give yourself grace. Friend, you’ve never done this before. You are moving from denial and hiding, out into the clear light and open air of honesty. Courage counts. Speaking up for yourself counts. Poor eye contact and sweaty palms and the occasional temper tantrum are par for the course. Make amends if you need to, but please also forgive yourself when necessary.
3. You don’t have to explain yourself to anyone.
There is so much I could say here, but in order to avoid paragraphs full of psychological terms (like differentiation, boundaries, projection, and triangulation – look them up, though, because they’re really interesting! Yay for therapy!) I’m just going to give a brief list of questions that you should never, ever feel compelled to answer:
- “In what way did your mother (or father, or caregiver) neglect (or indulge) you, so that you are this way?” Straight people have imperfect parents, too.
- “Were you abused as a child?” Straight people have a history of abuse, too.
- “Have you even tried liking the opposite gender?” Um, what? Have you tried liking the same gender?
- “Maybe you just need to dress (or act) in a more masculine (or feminine) way.” Ok, this one is more of a statement. But also…what? Wearing more dresses will make me like dudes?
None of the above issues have anything to do with sexual orientation. Not a thing. And more insidiously, they try to make you explain a very basic facet of who you are from a place of lack. Listen, friend…you are not lacking as a person. You are a full human, and fully equal with the human across the table whether they are ready to believe that or not. Don’t explain yourself. Instead, politely say, “I really don’t believe that has anything to do with my sexual orientation, and I am not going to answer that question.”
4. If someone surprises you with the badness of their own humanity, it is totally okay to create some space in the relationship.
Okay, so I am going to use one psychological term: boundaries. Boundaries indicate what is mine, and what is not mine. As I interact with the world, I am responsible for three things: my words and actions, my thoughts and feelings, and what I will or will not allow into my life. In the many conversations that I have with my psychotherapy clients, it’s the third category that seems to create the most complexity. Usually we are surprised the first time someone does something shitty to us, and usually it is only people who are close enough to hurt us who actually do hurt us…and so how do I apply the concept of boundaries (or responsibility) in such miry circumstances?
The short answer is that I’m not sure, because every situation is different. Sorry. But here’s something else I know about boundaries: they can be temporary. They don’t have to be permanent. If you open up to someone you thought you could trust and they hurt you, then it is only wise to take some time and space to decide what needs to happen next in the relationship. Be honest and kind to the other person, but know that it’s okay to take care of yourself. Gone are the days of only showing people what they want to see. From now on, it’s between you and your conscience and your God (if that’s a thing for you, like it is for me).
5. It’s been said before, and it bears repeating: it gets better.
Speaking as someone who has a little distance from her season of coming out, I can tell you that you may lose friends. But, listen – there will be other friends. You may lose your job. But there will be other jobs. And as much as you love your church and grieve that they don’t really want everything you have to offer…there are other churches! So many beautiful fellowships of believers who have already worked out the whole issue for themselves and are just dying to love on you just the way you are. Coming out of the closet is so terrifying and wondrous because it includes both the death of the lie and the being reborn. You do not live in darkness and hiding anymore. You live in the bright land of openness, and in those few terrifying moments right before the new friends and new job and new loves appear, you will be tempted to believe that you are alone and that you will be destroyed. But you are not, and you will not. We’re all with you. Just reach out, and we’ll be right there.
Rachel Pinto is a single mom and psychotherapist from Little Rock, AR. She thinks people and their stories are fascinating, especially her four year old daughter and her stories. They are currently discussing other ways the movie “Frozen” could have turned out, as Jelly Bean was totally rooting for Hans and is a little disappointed by his darker side.