Day of Silence

The following post by Brent Bailey was re-posted from his blog at oddmanout.net. Brent is a student in the Masters of Divinity program at Abilene Christian University and he will be joining us this summer as an intern at The Marin Foundation. In the post below, he shares about how the theme of silence has played itself out in his own journey and why he will be participating in the Day of Silence to stand alongside others that have been silenced in some capacity due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

In schools across the country today, students will participate in the Day of Silence to stand against the bullying of LGBT students. Beginning in 1996, it has now become a yearly event sponsored by GLSEN, encouraging people to take a daylong oath of silence in solidarity with LGBT people whose voices have been silenced by harassment or oppression.

Whenever someone gives me the chance to recount my experiences as a gay Christian, there is exactly one piece of my story that makes me cry every time I tell it.

After the first time I came out to a friend, he helped arrange a lunch for me with a guy he knew who was much farther along the journey of understanding and interpreting his own attraction to other men.  I remember feeling apprehensive as I approached the table to sit down with him, but my fears quickly dissipated when we realized how much we had in common.  I hung on every word as he explained his perspective, and I cherished the empathetic understanding shining from his face as I found my own voice and told stories I had never verbalized.  Maybe for the first time, I was able to laugh about pieces of my experience of sexuality, and I remember feeling a bit irreverent as we joked about something that had always felt so heavy to me.

As I drove away after we finished our meal, the warmth of tears rushing down my face surprised me.  (The next line of this story is the part that invariably brings the same tears back to my eyes whenever I revisit it.)  I struggled to name the epiphany slowly rising to the surface of my mind until I had a sudden moment of clear insight: “Oh,” I thought to myself, “So this is what it feels like to have a relationship with another person.”

I doubt my storytelling abilities adequately convey what a profoundly earth-shaking revelation I experienced at this moment.  It was absolutely pivotal in my life.  I’m not using hyperbole when I say it was like a blind man receiving his sight, a poignant and bittersweet mixture of rejoicing the fulfillment of a deep need in my soul while suddenly grieving the lack of something I didn’t know I had been missing.  Was this kind of connection what everyone else was talking about when they described friendship?  Did this kind of trust and understanding come naturally to everyone else?  How had I ever survived or thought I would be able to keep surviving without actually being known by another person?  The kind of relationship I had found with the first person to whom I came out and with this man who shared lunch with me—the kind of relationship I would continue to find as I opened up to others in my life—was addictive in the holiest sense of the word.

Before I started coming out, I had many dear relationships with family and friends and friends who may as well have been family, but every single relationship in my life was distorted by my obsessive need to keep secrets and cover my tracks, by closets full of topics I could never discuss and questions I could never answer, by the pervasive fear that they would abandon me if they actually knew me.  Of course, you don’t have to know I’m gay to know me.  You certainly don’t have to know I’m gay to be a true friend.  My sexuality is only one element of a huge collection of memories and motivations and meanings that constitute my identity.  But the constant fear of being exposed—even when it was totally unlikely!—meant I was never completely at ease, even in the presence of people who truly loved me unconditionally.

About a week before I graduated from college, a deep melancholy swept in and hung like a pall over all of my end-of-the-year celebrations.  I was reflecting on my time at the university and the sort of legacy I would be leaving, however small, and I could not avoid the question that haunted me: “Do any of these people really know me at all?”  By this time, I had opened up to some of my friends about my orientation, but the opportunity hadn’t presented itself for me to share with others who deserved to know.  Outside of those friendships, I was aware most of the people I encountered in college wouldn’t remember me and couldn’t care less about to whom I felt attracted, and I knew most of them only shallowly at best.  Nevertheless, there remained a sharp poignancy in my acknowledging how much of my experience in college (and thus the legacy I was leaving) consisted of self-consciously keeping up appearances and obsessively trying to manage others’ perceptions of me.

The longer I spend thinking and talking and writing about faith and sexuality, the harder I find it to say anything with absolute certainty, but I feel entirely confident when I say: This is not how we were meant to live.  “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ,” Paul writes in Galatians, and I think we’d do well to consider the vast implications of this simple command in the context of the order God has sewn into the foundations of our existence (6:2).  Living in the closet not only made me lonely and fearful; it made me extraordinarily self-absorbed, so consumed with maintaining my image that I had no energy left to attend to the needs of others.  I could not carry their burdens because I was not allowing them to carry mine, and the weight was too heavy.  This isolated, self-imposed martyrdom is not the kind of life God intends for any of us, and we err when we we allow shame to construct walls of defense against the genuine relationships God designed for our proper functioning.  Coming out is not about forcing my sexual orientation or any agenda on you; it’s about inviting you into the reality of the way I experience the world in light of the commitment you’ve made to walk through life with me.  Claiming those genuine relationships God gives us requires such self-disclosure regardless of how comfortable either of us feels in that conversation.

I marked the launching of my blog as the day in my life when I fully and conclusively came out, and I can’t say my life has changed dramatically in any outwardly visible way since that day.  From where I’m standing, though, the world feels like a completely different place.  Although I don’t feel any pressure or desire to assert my sexual orientation to other people, I no longer occupy any of my attention with hiding it, and the freedom that confidence grants me in my relationships is breathtaking.  The attitude that says, “I’m not particularly concerned with whether you know I’m gay,” is worlds apart from the attitude that says, “I need to make sure you don’t know I’m gay.”  Nevertheless, I’d be lying if I said I always feel completely at home outside of the closet; I lived in silence for so long and grew so comfortable there that I occasionally wish I could return to secrecy.  This is not because the closet is a good or healthy place to be.  This is because the chains of slavery cut deeply, leaving permanent scars on the psyche of the freedman so that a bit of him may always believe he belongs in captivity.  I believe in complete resurrection, but I also believe there are some wounds we receive that never completely heal in this life.  Becoming convinced I am worth knowing as I am and that God loves me as I am has been a long, difficult journey thus far, one that the compassion and love I’ve received has nurtured.

This, my dear friends, is why I plan to participate in the Day of Silence and invite you to consider doing the same: because I know what it is to be silent.  Although I have not been the victim of extensive anti-LGBT bullying, which is the main focus of the Day of Silence’s protest, I want to do whatever I can to make our classrooms, our sanctuaries, and our living rooms places where people will feel safe to be honest about sexuality.  If participating in a nationwide protest will help accomplish that goal, then I will gladly put tape over my mouth for a day.  My desire is not that people would feel pressured to come out, to squeeze themselves into identities that don’t fit, or to tattoo themselves with permanent cultural labels for the sake of feeling like they belong.  My desire is that people would be able to travel the journey of sexuality and faith—a journey with innumerable paths and outcomes—with the support of other people who will listen to them and learn from them and challenge them, since I no longer believe it’s possible to walk that journey alone.

So, allow me to say this now, since I won’t be able to speak it on April 20: I do not know where I would be if God had not put people in my life who responded with love and compassion when I took the risk of vulnerability, and I did not know how alone I had been until I was no longer alone.  I don’t believe a wilderness of loneliness has to be an inevitable chapter in the LGBT narrative, and I don’t want the silence of an oppressive society to force others to suffer that isolation I escaped.  I want you to know me because I want us to know each other, and I need you to love me because we need to love each other.

Much love.

www.themarinfoundation.org

About Andrew Marin

Andrew Marin is President and Founder of The Marin Foundation (www.themarinfoundation.org). He is author of the award winning book Love Is an Orientation (2009), its interactive DVD curriculum (2011), and recently an academic ebook titled Our Last Option: How a New Approach to Civility can Save the Public Square (2013). Andrew is a regular contributor to a variety of media outlets and frequently lectures at universities around the world. Since 2010 Andrew has been asked by the United Nations to advise their various agencies on issues of bridging opposing worldviews, civic engagement, and theological aspects of reconciliation. For twelve years he lived in the LGBT Boystown neighborhood of Chicago, and is currently based St. Andrews, Scotland, where he is teaching and researching at the University of St. Andrews earning his PhD in Constructive Theology with a focus on the Theology of Culture. Andrew's research centers on the cultural, political, and religious dynamics of reconciliation. Andrew is married to Brenda, and you can find him elsewhere on Twitter (@Andrew_Marin), Facebook (AndrewMarin01), and Instagram (@andrewmarin1).

  • Sam in San Diego

    Very well written, Brent! To be known by another is perhaps our greatest need.

  • JLynne

    Thanks Brent for this article. Even after decades of being out, and decades ahead of my time on the issue of lesbian and gay civil rights… back in the days when no straight people EVER showed up for any of our protests… even after all this time, I am often dumbstruck when I encounter a situation where someone really sees me or really hears me. Probably the most horrifying thing straight people do to lesbians and gays is completely negate our existence… they don’t seem to really want to get to know us, nor are they really able to see us.

    So every now and then, I am reminded at just how bad it truly is. I met a lesbian friend recently who is a street activist… she got everything about me, we connected in a deep and meaningful way, we had similar experiences at Temples and Churches. She invited me to go to a symphony, and there we were two 50-something butch dykes sitting in first rate seats in the fancy symphany hall. Suddenly memories came back of all the other concerts I had been to with straight people, who never ever wanted to know me. I just cried silent tears over a cello concerto, just the deep deep sadness coming to the surface, brought forth by just sitting with my friend who totally got my very being. I just sat there, as tears came down my face, never moving at all, and my friend, totally getting what this was really all about put a hand in mine, a just held my hand. After the concert was over, we just sat silently together letting everyone else leave, but the understanding and kindness was tangible. I have never ever met a straight person that even comes close to getting this, or being this.

    It’s funny, but I never feel this great depth of feeling for straight people or men, but I do feel it with lesbians my age. To be understood, to be honored, to have your tears understood, to take you to a wonderful concert where your deepest understanding of oppression is made real and understood. I think straight people have a lot to answer for in the oppression and horror of the world they live in routinely. I don’t think I will ever trust them.

  • Karen Everson

    Powerful words, Brent! Blessings in your future walk as an open, gay, Christian.


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