~ This is the beginning of a series of posts on my story, and the importance of words. ~
The two most terrifying moments of my life were when I jumped off of Victoria Falls with a bungee cord wrapped around my legs, and when I pressed “Send” on an email to my father telling him I’m gay.
The fear of coming out is probably one of the most devastating fears people face today. The image of “coming out,” especially out of a “closet,” gives an easy visual to the roiling internal reality that queer people face whenever they consider revealing their identity for the first time. Why is this fear so potent? All people are afraid; what gives the queer experience a unique place in the plethora of human fears?
Because being gay in Christian America means to be a hidden minority.
I was a hidden minority in my church, in my neighborhood, in my family, in my friend circles. And for some reason, even though I never heard it from anyone in authority, and rarely from peers, I had ingested and accepted intense self-hatred for being gay.
So for me, the fear of coming out was the fear of revealing a new piece of myself, previously unnoticed by anyone as I thought, and I was sure that when I was found out and brought to the light, I would be rejected; cast off as disgusting.
When the secret of your minority status gets out, there’s no telling what your friends and family and youth leaders will do, especially when everyone around you is so good at gay impressions, or spouting off about faggots going to hell, or how the homosexual agenda is ruining our country. While this slander was not part of my early coming-out experience, it is universally understood and acutely felt by the queer community. And for a young person with a burgeoning sexuality, what could be more terrifying than baring the most vulnerable part of yourself to peers who are just as emotionally unstable as you are?
So the fear of coming out is related to the fear of exposure. What makes the queer struggle unique from other minority issues is that we can be invisible if we want. We can be silent if we want. We don’t wear our queerness on our skin.
But silence can be deadly, no one wants to be invisible, and secrets can kill.
So in the spring of freshman year in 2009, instead of killing myself, I came out to my dad.
Which, in retrospect, is not the usual course of action for a young gay person growing up in a Christian household. But my father responded with unbelievable love and acceptance, my mother as well, and I went on throughout high school to develop a close-knit group of friends who supported me. My fears of rejection were never realized, and with each person I came out to, I felt a little more free, a little less heavy and dark, and a little more rainbow-colored on the inside.
Last summer, I worked with a Christian organization as a camp counselor, and had the time of my life. On one of our staff retreats, we went to the beach, where several worship stations were set up by the water. One of them was on “loving yourself.” The exercise was to write down our brokenness in the sand, and watch as the waves washed it clean. Then we would write it down again, and watch the waves come once more, repeating this process until it sunk in that God’s grace is never-ending and unconditional.
So I bent down and wrote “Boys” in the sand, because obviously boys were my problem.
But the waves never came.
I stood, growing increasingly anxious, as absolutely nothing happened. I thought frantically, “Maybe I should rub it out and write it closer to the water!” I was terrified someone would look over and see what I had written.
And then I realized: I was terrified. The real issue was not boys in general, but fear in particular. So I bent down and wrote “Fear” above the word “Boys,” slightly further from the shore.
And instantly, a wave came and crashed over it all, washing it away into nothing.
Boys were not the problem: in the area of my sexual orientation, I have rarely been hurt by a boy. I was afraid they would disown me as their friend, but they didn’t. I was afraid they would stonewall me and refuse to communicate, but they didn’t. Instead, it was my fear that caused me to suffer. The boys in my life have been wonderful sources of healing and nourishment; it was my fear that crippled me.
Fear is incredibly versatile. This deep-seated fear of discovery branched out and blossomed into other fears:
I still have a lingering fear of confrontation, which has made it incredibly muddy whenever I attempt to resolve conflicts. I also still retain a moody fear of rejection, which manifests itself in a desperate need to prove my worth, to be a people-pleaser, and to maintain the image of niceness and innocence. I even believed for a time that God was purposefully isolating me from my peers because I was gay. And for ages, I couldn’t stand up to injustice. Not just gay jokes and insults, but also anything else: racism, bullying, sexism, classism… I remained silent.
But now I see my Enemy, and I recognize its face. And so I practice facing my fears, doing those things I know are right regardless of how my stomach feels about it or what my shaking knees might tell me. Slowly, I have begun to hatch from my egg, to come out of my bubble; and not just out of the closet, but also out of shyness into sociableness. And I am learning that with words, fears can be overcome.
All of this leads to the present: This blog is part of my goal to eventually bring my story into the open, to a point where I no longer have to hide from anyone. And I am very close to coming out in a large, complete way at my college. There are extended family members who still should not know, and I could forfeit job opportunities and lose contact with some of my favorite people if I came out on facebook, or to certain friend circles.
But there is change in the air. And not just in my life, but at my campus as a whole, and in this nation at large. If I want to join the movement of God as it leaps into the future, I must throw off the fear that so easily entangles, and take up the yoke of Christ, which is easy and light.
Besides, part of being an adult is the ability to just take a deep breath and press “Send”.