My coming out is a story in three parts.
The first was coming out to myself.
That might seem hard to believe. The common coming out story about always knowing and living in denial is not my story.
For approximately 40 years of my life, I had no idea I was queer. The closet I lived in was big enough and dark enough that I didn’t have any conscious idea I was not straight. Until I was in my forties and on a retreat where I learned to stop and listen to what my body was telling me, I had never questioned my sexuality.
I had grown to be an ally for the LGBTQ+ community. The day I realized I needed to leave the church where I was working as a youth pastor was the day I realized that I could not minister in a church or a denomination that was willing to draw lines in the theological sand about equal marriage because of fear and prejudice. I remember my heart breaking at our denominational meetings when the vote was announced and the denomination decided that they would remove the credentials of any pastor who chose to perform a same gender wedding. I was upset about the lack of justice and the hatred I heard spewed during the discussions. I had no idea that part of my pain was because I was a member of the community that had been clearly labelled as second class citizens, as other. That was in 2004.
In 2012, I attended the Creative Joy Retreat and learned to listen beyond the “shoulds” and the expectations. I never imagined what I would discover. Questions surfaced, but I couldn’t wrap my head around what they meant.
On August 9, 2013, I wrote my way out of the closet. The words spilled out onto the page in front of me. Suddenly so many things in my world made sense. I wasn’t straight. I was queer.
The second was coming out to a friend I knew would support me no matter what.
I knew I wanted to tell this friend from the moment I figured it out. I had helped officiate his wedding to his husband weeks before I went on the retreat that changed everything. But I didn’t know what words to use. How do you explain that you weren’t lying to the people in your life about who you were? You were lying to yourself and you didn’t even realize you were doing that.
If you’re me and you can’t figure out how to say something important, you write it down and it becomes a letter that you give your friend to read. In case you wondered, there are few things that feel more awkward than waiting while your friend reads such a letter. But when your friend responds with a big hug and the hugest grin of acceptance and pride that you’ve embraced who you really are, all of that awkwardness disappears in an instant. I wish I remembered what date that was, but I don’t. I just remember us sitting downtown under a tree on Government Street.
I told that friend that I didn’t necessarily want to talk about what I’d shared and that I wasn’t sure I was ever telling anyone else. I wasn’t sure I ever wanted to answer anyone’s questions about how I’d been so unaware of who I was for so long. I wasn’t sure how I was ever going to explain to friends and family. I was worried about what it would say to the youth I had pastored and led. I wanted to maintain my privacy, because I believed it was no one’s business but by own.
I could not have asked for a better friend to tell. He supported me. He let me figure it out on my own. He was a sounding board and all the way along he encouraged me to be proud of who I was.
The third was deciding to be public; to be out and proud, not just as an ally, but as me.
I didn’t plan to come out. Part of me feels forced out. I certainly wasn’t ready and I still feel that a person’s sexuality is really their own business and no one else’s. But sometimes things happen that mean you can’t remain silent.
On April 7, 2014, I hit publish on a poem The Price of Hate because I realized that choosing to be silent about my sexuality meant I couldn’t speak with authenticity about things that mattered to me. I shared the post on Facebook and emailed it to my dad and brother.
I was fortunate. My coming out has been met with love and support and understanding. And a remarkably small number of questions about how one gets to be in one’s forties before having any clue about not being straight.
The third part of the story is never done.
Almost everyday there are choices about whether to tell my story. To claim my space. To break people’s assumptions that I am straight. Some days I make the effort. Some days I don’t. I still think it’s no one else’s business.
On the days when I make the choice to allow someone’s unspoken assumption that I am straight to stand, a piece of me feels shame. A piece of me wonders whether I am contributing to the problem.
But some days, I need my privacy and I’m never quite sure how someone will respond. I see the posts on Facebook and I hear the news. I know that not everyone believes I should have the same rights or be treated with the same respect and dignity.
On those days, I remember the poem that I published this year and I decide whether I need to speak out and claim our space despite my inherent need for privacy.