Apparently today is National Coming Out Day. So I thought I would take a few minutes to share some of my best and most painful coming out experiences.
For me personally, coming out or, being open and honest with people about my sexual orientation has always been a humbling, spiritual experience. It forces me to place my trust and identity in the hands of someone else. There’s a chance they may reject me and abandon me. Or, just maybe they value our relationship and the see past that thing that they don’t understand and respond with love and acceptance. For me, each time that the latter happens its a reflection of the love and acceptance I have in Christ. It’s like when you’re a kid and you spend what seems like forever working on a picture and you want to get it just right. But then you finish and it’s not what you wanted at all. You’ve ruined it. It looks stupid and you want to just throw it away. But then mom comes and looks at it and she looks past the mistakes and the ugly lines and she praises it, affirms it and, to your surprise, she hangs it on the fridge. Why? You think. It’s not perfect. It’s not what I wanted it to be. But mothers know that at our most fragile moments, those are the times we need love and acceptance the most. We see God doing the same over and over in scripture. As Christ met people he always seemed (not by any accident) to meet people at their very point of despair, or desperation. It was then He could show his love to them and build them up.
Taking time to Learn
One “coming out moment” that always sticks out in my mind was when I told my mentor and University professor that I was regularly meeting while I sat out a semester of University. This man is quite possibly one of the most intelligent men I’ve ever had the privilege of meeting. I remember sitting across the table from him in the little diner we would meet at for lunch and bottomless cups of coffee each week. And while every part of that meeting is so vivid in my mind, I can’t actually remember the words I used to tell him. I can’t remember exactly how I got to the point. But I’ll never forget his response. He asked a few pointed questions to clarify and better understand and then he admitted that this was an area (LGBTQ Issues) in which he didn’t know very much and he asked me if I would help educate him. Teach him about what I knew and had experienced.
Me, teach him.
It seemed absurd. This is a man I had sat under in class after class and taken countless pages of notes from and in whose class I struggled (usually unsuccessfully) to get a halfway decent grade. And he wanted me to educate him. It was the most humble, affirming and understanding thing he could have possibly said. As a teacher, I understand that the most important thing I can do is to be continually learning, changing and growing. And as I do, and the more I understand the easier it is to see the world through another’s eyes. And he modeled that attitude for me at a moment when I was at my most vulnerable. I am so proud to still call him a friend.
Maybe this was a bad idea…
One of the worst coming out experiences I had was with one of my friends from University. We had both graduated and still met occasionally for lunch or drinks. This one evening we had ended up in this just kinda ok bar in the area near where we were living at the time. And I was slowly beating around the bush trying to get out the words to tell him. And just before I could say it, he interrupted me and said “oh man, if you tell me you’re gay I’m gonna punch you in the face!” Needless to say I tried to change the subject as quick as I could. But at that point it was too late and he figured out that was exactly what I was going to say. We tried to talk about it but whatever part of me that thought it was a good idea to open up and share my heart with this guy was gone. I just wanted to get out of there as fast as I could. The rest of our time was somewhat awkward to say the least. We finished our drinks and said our goodbyes.
That was the last time I ever saw him.
We’ve talked a few times via Facebook. And a few years ago I sent him a letter trying to explain just how badly that hurt. I think he understood. But by that time I was living in Ukraine and he had moved as well. Anything beyond sporadic online chats is very unlikely for us. It was heartbreaking for me. Because this was someone who had been a close friend, someone I trusted. And I feel that on some level, being honest with him was what ended that.
There have been many other coming out moments in my life. And, if I’m honest, there will never be a point when I stop having these moments. But in so many ways, it gets easier. But every time those moments are precious. When I share that part of myself face to face with another person it allows me to be my full authentic self with them.
For me thats what relationships are really about. Living honestly and authentically with other people. The good parts and the bad, lived out in community of love and acceptance.
Wherever you are in your life I hope you can experience moments of vulnerability and love with people in your life. Because the good and bad work together to make us into who we should be!