The following post is from Trista L. Carr, Psy.D. Dr. Carr is a Clinical Psychologist and has a private practice in San Francisco, CA. She completed her doctorate in clinical psychology at Regent University in Virginia Beach, VA, where she was a research assistant for the Institute for the Study of Sexual Identity. She obtained an M.A. degree in Community Counseling from The University of Akron in Ohio. Her research and clinical interests are in the integration of Christian faith, psychology, and sexual identity concerns. She can be found at http://www.tristacarr.com.
Have you ever moved somewhere? Packed up your entire life and left the place and people you knew to go somewhere brand new—a place where you did not know anyone or the area much at all? It’s stressful! As a matter of fact, moving is one of the top 30 stressors that can happen in one’s life.
There is a lot that is involved in the moving process: planning ahead to arrange for the move, packing, loading the truck, driving, unloading the truck, unpacking, sorting, organizing, putting away. Many times people reflect on their pasts and grieve a little while they pack up their lives. They realize they are going to miss certain people, or certain events. They think of all the things that everyone who is staying behind will be doing in the next few months and years while they are gone from the scene. They reminisce about good times that were had in various parts of the house, they laugh at old jokes that were shared around the dinner table, or remember games that were played in the back yard or the nearby park.
There is a lot of grief that is associated with moving. But there is also a great deal of anticipation of what the future holds in the new place. People get excited the think about the new colleagues and neighbors and friends they will have. They think about the benefits and amenities of the new apartment or house they will live in and the new restaurants and shops to explore in their new town. They think of all the ways they can start fresh and begin again. It can almost be excitingly freeing.
At the same time this anticipation can be negative—it can be more like worry and fear. The thought of moving to a new place can engender feelings of uncertainty and fear of how folks in the new environment will receive them. They can be afraid of the reactions they will get on the new job from their co-workers and superiors. If they are unfamiliar with their surroundings, they can fear for their safety in their new environments. There can be a great deal of negative anxiety about having to find the grocery store or a place to worship or friends to form a supportive community.
Moving can be extremely scary and rewarding all at the same time.
What is true for moving from one city to another is also true for moving from one internal condition to another—or for sexual minorities, moving from being in the closet to coming out of the closet. Moving from a place where not everyone in their lives knows of their situation, their attractions, their relationships, etc., to a new place where now everyone knows, or has the potential to know, can create the same type of stress in the lives of sexual minorities as moving from one physical place to another.
The process of coming out about one’s same-sex attractions or non-heterosexual identity can be both a time of reflection and anticipation. The moments of reflection can be filled with grief over what was endured while living with a huge secret. Oftentimes lies are told to loved ones and friends in order to keep them from guessing or suspecting that there is anything “wrong” or out of the ordinary. Sexual minorities can get really good at portraying themselves in a different light that what they really feel inside. This is especially true for sexual minorities who are from traditionally conservative and religious households or communities. So this time of reflection can be filled with sorrow for all the deception that has taken place over the years. This time of reflection can also be filled with grief over the fact that the deception was necessary in order to keep the sexual minorities safe from real physical and emotional danger that would have occurred if it were not for that deception.
But just like physically relocating, coming out of the closet has a great deal of anticipation about it. Positive anticipation and extremely daunting fears are ever present. Sexual minorities who are coming out of the closet can be excited to be free to express themselves however they want once they are fully out to family and friends. They can look forward to the freedom they will feel internally and the sense of being able to be true to themselves. Unfortunately, more often than not, the anticipation felt by sexual minorities as they are preparing to come out to their family members, friends, colleagues, and mere acquaintances is filled with considerable fear of how these others will react and respond to their disclosure.
And rightly so. We tend to hear more reports of negative responses to individuals coming out of the closet than we do positive ones. We hear more often that parents reject their children and kick them out of the house, or that church leaders recoil and demand that the sexual minorities get help or treatment or prayer ministry for their “sin” or “illness.” There are far too many heinous crimes committed against sexual minorities in the name of Christianity—it is no wonder why so many are filled with fear and trepidation to share their stories.
What if as a church we committed to love others like Christ loved us? What if we decided that it doesn’t matter whether or not someone has same-sex attractions but what matters is that the person is being cared for, loved, honored, respected, and treated with dignity? It is when we feel safe, when we feel cared for, when we feel loved and supported that we can unpack the messy aspects of our lives in our communities in a way that will generate growth.
Moving from one place to another is stressful. But when it is done in and with the help of loving community it can be so much more enjoyable and endurable—there is not as much to fear or be anxious about. The same is true for sexual minorities as they are coming out and sharing their stories. If they have a supportive, loving community they will be more likely to endure and triumph over the stressors, fears, and confusion that have the potential to crush them. Instead, these lovingly supported sexual minorities can flourish!
Let’s love like Christ.
Keep on keeping on…