Coming Out to Myself

The following post is from Brent Bailey, a Master of Divinity student at Abilene Christian University. You can find his blog at oddmanout.net

October 11 is National Coming Out Day, a date on my calendar that makes me tender for the courage of individuals taking the risk of stepping into greater transparency and wholeness. As more and more LGBT individuals in our culture have come out to their friends and family—many of them on October 11s—we’ve collectively learned better ways to come out to others and better ways to receive someone else’s coming out. In my own reflections over my journey coming out, though, I think I’ve often overlooked what a daunting task it was merely to come out to myself, and that oversight has prevented me from empathizing with those LGBT individuals who can’t come out to others because they haven’t yet come out to themselves.

Many LGBT individuals can point to a specific moment when they looked into a mirror and spoke, or opened a journal and wrote, those life-changing (or, maybe more accurately, life-integrating) words: “I think I’m bisexual.” “I think I’m actually a woman.” In my case, coming out to myself was a series of episodes of increased self-awareness and honesty, some of which preceded and some of which followed my initial conversations coming out to other people. I had to acknowledge to myself I was attracted (physically, emotionally, romantically) to men in a way I was not attracted to women and in a way most other boys my age seemed to be attracted to women. I had to acknowledge to myself my feelings were consistent and persistent, that they still hadn’t changed by the time I started high school, and still hadn’t changed by the time my family moved when I was in tenth grade, and still hadn’t changed by the time I started college. I had to acknowledge to myself there were words in our language that described precisely what I was feeling, that my experience of sexuality wasn’t particularly special and couldn’t be explained away as an anomaly. Each of these was an agonizing process, slowed by my own trepidation and doubt.

Whenever you start coming out to others, you may expect a variety of reactions: Some may celebrate, others may grieve, and many may find themselves surprised at how their attitudes change over time. Ideally, you quickly identify the people whose posture toward you is love, and you cling tightly to them, and their support allows you to weather the reactions of people who may be unloving. Before I ever reached a point of taking the risk to tell someone else I was gay, though, I had to take the very same risk on myself. That may have been the most intimidating coming out of all, because there wasn’t any other person in a posture of love I could cling to, not yet. Coming out to myself felt like a horribly lonesome undertaking in which I was simultaneously my only advocate and my worst accuser. I happened to be much better at accusing than I was at advocating for myself, so the fears and lies about what my orientation meant for me shouted loudly enough to trap me in a state of confused denial for years.

Then, something changed. In what I can only describe as a religious experience of God’s intervention, there was a particular autumn night when I became overwhelmingly conscious of the quality of God’s faithfulness. With breathtaking swiftness, the reality of God’s faithfulness to me became a greater certainty than all my fears of what could go wrong if I acknowledged my orientation. Suddenly, I had my advocate, one whose continued presence itself would attest—even to me!—to my value regardless of whether everyone else left. Though my fear persisted, the possibility of integrity and vulnerability had become too enticing to abandon. That night, I became more honest with myself about myself than I had ever been, and two weeks later, I came out to one of my closest friends.

Every year on National Coming Out Day, there’s plenty of celebration and momentum surrounding those who come out to others. My advice to people who receive a coming out is generally simple: Be gentle. Listen. Ask questions that invite honesty. Assure them of your faithfulness in continued relationship with them. This year, though, I’m particularly conscious of those people who probably won’t come out on October 11 because they haven’t come out to themselves. Perhaps fear and trepidation have slowed their journeys like they slowed mine, and maybe the sluggishness of that journey has become agonizing. Perhaps, like me, they’re better at accusing themselves than they are at advocating on their own behalf. Perhaps fears and lies about what their orientation or gender identity might mean for their lives have shouted them into a state of confused denial.

My hope for those people is that, before they ever take the step of coming out to someone else, they would receive the same overwhelming appreciation for God’s faithfulness I received: that God is gentle, that God listens, that God invites your honesty, and that God will be faithful in continued relationship with you. May that faithfulness lead each of us to a place of integrity and vulnerability, first and foremost with ourselves.

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).

  • Lola

    God is good and God is soverign. God will never ever leave you, regardless of what youre going through and regardless if you feel him near or far. He is always there.
    But God is not only that, God is love. God is just and God is fair. God is a God of mercy and grace.
    While I do not doubt your faith or belief in this awesome God, I am a bit skeptical of your understanding of Him. He has clearly stated over and over again that the act of homosexuality is a sin. NOT being homosexual, but acting on it. Also Paul reminds us that at times we have desires that we know are contradictory to what is right, but we still have them. THAT is when we go to the Cross and beg for mercy,grace, and love. We ask God to change us even though we find it impossible to change. I do not believe being attracted to the same sex is a sin, but acting on it and encouraging that lifestyle is not God’s plan for our lives. He will love us regardless of what we do, but He is sad to see us live in a state of disorder. Just like one may battle with anger issues/tendencies for the rest of his/her life, one may battle with homosexual desires for the rest of his/her life. That doesnt change God’s love, rather it MAGNIFIES His power to overcome the flesh. The flesh and the Spirit are in constant battle and there are clear, very clear indications in the Bible of what is right and wrong.
    I do not write this in condemnation but rather in hopefulness that you will see, be open, and understand. God loves homosexuals just as much as He loves everyone, children, parents, murderers, teachers….because at the end of the day, that is NOT your ultimate identity. Your identity is based on Christ and his work on the cross. Because of that, He wants us to live a life is that pure and true and in line with everything He says in His Holy Word.
    Thank you for reading this and I wish I could give you a hug.
    In Christ’s love and your Sister in Christ,
    Lola

    • Tiffany

      I only have one reply. God made him, God doesn’t make mistakes, God loves him as is, period.

    • Roy Rhodes

      I’d like to challenge you a little Lola. You want to speak into Brent’s life regarding the most intimate part of himself, his sexuality, which–if you’ll read the article again–you’ll realize that you don’t know much about. He doesn’t say anything about how he “acts on” being gay, as you put it. Nor should he; this post is about him coming to understand that he is same-sex oriented, and that God loves him. And I really think this is where the breakdown in conversation has been between Christians and sexual minorities; we are too quick to speak, and too slow to listen. We speak to someone experience without understanding that experience. (It may interest you to know, for example, that many Christians still identify as gay and speak about being a sexual minority, but who hold to traditional understandings of marriage and seek out celibacy. Who’s to know that because a person identifies as gay that they might agree with you regarding homosexuality, unless you listen and enter into a relationship with that person? After all, who knows the intimate details of your sex life except those closest to you?)

      I’d also like to press against this statement: “We ask God to change us even though we find it impossible to change.” I am very close friends with gay Christians (and former Christians) who asked, and asked, and asked, and asked to be heterosexual. Some of them entered into reparative therapy, and attempted to change their orientation by pursuing holiness and therapy. Orientation is not the same thing as temptation. Of course, I didn’t understand this until my friends were gracious enough to share that part of their lives with me. Until they came out to me.

      Coming out isn’t just the beginning of redemption for gays and lesbians; it’s the beginning of redemption for all of us who had no idea to what extent we had failed to love our neighbors as our selves. Peace, Lola.

  • CM Goodrich

    Brent,
    Thank you for your insight, bravery and frankness. I have read what you have written, and other people’s responses. It seems to me that you are identifying things you have realized are true for you. You also share that you know God’s unconditional love and character, and that you understand the process others are going through in coming to terms with who they really are. Hats off to you for encouraging others to be honest to themselves, and to God’s commandments! It is only through understanding, acknowledging, and accepting who we are that we can begin to keep one of God’s greatest commandments- to love others as we love ourselves. Each of us in God’s own creation are created in His image. God’s word tells us so! This is not up for argument!
    I am grateful that God’s greatest commandment is to love one another. As someone who identifies herself as a Christian, I try to always remind myself that God commands me to love other people. Am I loving other people for the sake of Christ, because He commands me to? Is it God’s job to judge me, or is it my fellow Christians’ job? God’s word says “For as you have judged, so shall you be judged!”
    I really appreciate what I think you are trying to say. It is a good reminder to me to be honest first with my self and with God. This is a good thing. The rest of the world may pretend to know what God wants for me, only He can tell me that. If God loves me, the rest of the story can be worked out between me and God. Isn’t ‘t that the way it is supposed to be? It really isn’t any of my business or anyone else’s . God says I need to take care of me; He will do the rest.

    Cindy G.

  • carolb12

    Precious Brent; This is so beautifully written. I felt your heart in every word. How very difficult this must have been for you, but I believe with all of my heart that you have done the right thing. Our son waited until he was 26 yrs old to come out to us after yrs of suffering in silence. We all grew up in a very conservative SBC and raised our children there as well. I truly believed this was sinful until our son came out, and as his mother, I wanted to know why, so I began turning over every stone possiible and reading everything I could get my hands on. Many of my Christian friends couldn’t understand this, and walked away when I no longer believed as they did, but God NEVER LEFT ME during this entire journey, and continues to let me know every day that I am on the right track with this–If people who have differing opinions would only do the research and not take verses out of the context they were written in. I don’t believe people do this to be mean, I just believe it isn’t their problem so they simply don’t bother–It also bothers me that Paul (in the Bible) also stated that it would be better for all people to remain single, but I have never even once heard that preached on, and even though I am 55 yrs old, I have never had a SS teacher or anybody else tell me that I should seriously contemplate celibacy. There is just so much hypocrisy out there when it comes to this issue :-(

    I think you are articulate, brave and wise, and I KNOW God LOVES you just the way you are–continue to walk with God Brent, He will never leave you–Bless you!!

  • Peter’s Legacy

    Thanks for a wonderful testimony. One can easily see the depth of your faith. Only the blind would exclude you from full Christian fellowship. It always makes me chuckle when I see people suggest celibacy is the appropriate lifestyle for gay Christians. I suppose it’s doable. So is fasting for forty days and forty nights. Real holy stuff. But just a little overboard as far as I’m concerned. Clearly the Holy Spirit is in your heart and in your actions. That’s more than enough for me.


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