There is a common misconception about “coming out” (i.e admitting to someone that you are gay or any of the other non normative variations on human sexuality that exist out there). The misconception is that it is a one-off event, (accompanied perhaps by an explosion of sparkly rainbow glitter and fluffy kittens), at which people either shout “hooray!” or “boo!” (or both) and then you’re done. A happy homosexual forever.*
The truth is that you find that you have to continuously “come out” over and over again. Maybe first to your close friends and family, and then to almost every new person you meet and want to have any sort of meaningful relationship or friendship with.
Of all the places and people I have had to “come out” to, church environments and Christians are the hardest. The first church I came out to (actually it was more a case of admitting my horrible lesbian sin, definitely no rainbow kittens!) took it pretty badly. It was a small church but part of one of the large new-ish Evangelical charismatic-type movements. I went from being respected to being – frankly – vilified. I was seventeen at the time and it felt like the end of the world. I didn’t mind at the time that they were telling me not to act on my feelings for another woman (I agreed with them), but I did mind that in their minds I – and she – were suddenly untrustworthy despite the fact that we were trying very hard not to be together. More than that, they felt we had betrayed the church. We were unforgivable, or at least that was the message I took away with me. Later someone reported to me that when talking to another member of that church, he had referred to me as “a little madam” and advised them to stay away from me. Yes, lesbianism is highly contagious! Indeed I find that women do flock to me to be initiated into the Sapphic arts…**
But there is something worse than “coming out” and being rejected. And that something is being “outed.” In this situation there are layers upon layers of betrayal – you feel betrayed by the person who has outed you, and the church feels that you have betrayed them by not coming out to them yourself. This is what happened in the next church I went to – a big student-focussed Anglican one this time. I thought it was big enough to “hide” in, but reckoned without the Christian Union at my university, which having heard through the grapevine (or, actually, a friend whom I had entrusted with personal information), phoned the big Anglican church and insisted that I be removed from their Student Ministry Team. The official Anglican line is that if you are gay and in a position of leadership you must be celibate. I was in charge of making the tea at the Student service, so I guess that was kinda a leadership position. But again, I was making “gay tea” and everyone knows it is catching. What if I corrupted the freshers? Confused new Christians? Or old ones for that matter. I was asked to leave. First the team, and then the church.
Coming out to Christians is hard because of my past experiences, but I do not like to hide things from people, so often I risk it and come out anyway. I find myself now in a strange position – I am here in a new place without my partner. Do I come out to the Christians I meet along the way, or do I stay hidden? How will their perception of me change if I do? Will I no longer be seen as a “real” Christian? Will the nice vicar I met who was effusive about having a young and, in his words, “Spirit-Filled” person at his worship service decide I am too much of a risk? Will the nice man at my mum’s Catholic church who asked me to sing in the choir because they are short of sopranos suddenly decide that my voice isn’t what he’s looking for? Will the generous Christian family across the road who wanted me to join their home group look the other way when I see them in the village?
And if I don’t tell them, will I feel like I am lying? And will they find out anyway?
Am I supposed to be “out and proud”, an activist? Or am I allowed to “just be”? Can I just be a Christian with no questions asked, or at least not yet? Can I get to know you first?
Same old, same old…but God is big enough to deal with them, and with me, according to His infinite mercy…
“This is the most amazing thing of all about God’s grace. It would be one thing for Him to love us if we could fool Him into thinking that we were better than we actually are. But He knows better. He knows all there is to know about us, including those things that could destroy our reputation. He is minutely and acutely aware of every skeleton in every closet. And He loves us”
The Character of God, R.C. Sproul.
* No sparkly rainbow kittens were harmed in the writing of this blog.
**this has, in fact, happened to me only once. It wasn’t anywhere near as exciting as it sounds.