The following post is by Jason Bilbrey, our Director of Pastoral Care here at The Marin Foundation. You can read more from Jason at his blog,www.jasonbilbrey.com or follow him on Twitter at @JasonBilbrey.
The term “coming out” is an interesting phrase (with a long and fascinating history that you can find out about here). The imagery associated with it is one of emerging from a closet (a place of hiding) into a room (a shared space). It’s moving from a private space to a public one. It implies a decisive moment for an LGBTQ person. One minute their sexual orientation or gender identity is a secret, and the next it isn’t.
I’m not so sure about this metaphor. When a loved one comes out to us, they’re not stepping into our world. They’re inviting us to step into theirs.
In contrast to the “closet,” let me offer my own floorplan-based metaphor. When someone says, “I’m gay” or “I like other girls” or “I was born into the wrong body,” it’s an invitation to come into their house. This is where they live. This is their space.
So what kind of guest are you going to be?
We all know what a bad guest feels like. He overstays his welcome. She sneaks a peek in your medicine cabinet. They offer unsolicited advice on your decor. Bad guests violate your hospitality.
Good guests, on the other hand, know that there are boundaries. They know exactly how far your hospitality extends.
Let’s say you’re stepping into the foyer of someone’s house when they come out to you. Where you go from there is up to the owner of that house. Let them lead you around. Or respect their decision to keep you under the doorframe.
Asking intrusive questions is like pushing past the homeowner to take a look around. Here are some examples of questions likely to be considered intrusive:
- Asking about how or whether they have reconciled their sexuality with their faith.
- Asking about tension within their family dynamics surrounding their orientation or identity.
- Asking about their relationship history or current status.
- Asking about their sexual ethic.
When individuals come out, they’re deciding which pieces of information to disclose and which to withhold. They’ve likely been doing this with you for far longer than you realize. They may have tested the waters with inconspicuous questions, comments or behaviors. They wanted to know whether you were a safe person to trust with this information.
And even after they’ve disclosed their orientation or identity, they’re still likely trying to gauge how much further to let you in and longer to let you stay. They’re asking questions like, “Do I want this person’s voice in my life?” or “Does this person feed my soul, or darken it?” or “Do I trust this person to give me advice about (blank)?”
If you’re resolved to be a safe person, a good steward of delicate information, a respectful houseguest (and I hope you are), here’s three great things for you to say:
- Thanks for sharing this with me. I feel honored that you’ve trusted me with this.
- Nothing you could ever tell me will make me think any less of you. You and I may not always agree on everything, but I’m proud of who you are and that will never change.
- What do you need from me, if anything? How can I support you?
Take every step you can to be a good guest, one who gets invited back.