Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Why come out at all? Why now?

One of the hardest questions - one that I will wrestle with for a while - deals with "why even come out at all?" I wish this discussion could be a clean, sensible process - but for me, there have been multiple issues affecting my decision (or failure to decide), mostly based on irrational beliefs or fears.

(That's both humbling and aggravating to admit.)

Most of my struggles about accepting my sexuality came from my own poor physical self-image, and my own certainty that my physical appearance would be completely undesirable to another gay man. For so much of the last 15 years, what I would say to myself was, "Well, let's see - you can either be 'closeted' as an overweight, middle-aged, greying straight man, or you can be 'out' as an overweight, middle-aged, greying gay man. Either way, your chances of finding a partner are pretty well between nil and none."

So I believed my choice came down to being honestly-out, alone, and in line for prejudice and abuse, or dishonestly-closeted, just as alone, but abuse-and-prejudice-free. I told myself for years that absent the chance for a relationship, there just wasn't any percentage in coming out.

Of course, the fatal flaw in my logic was that so long as I was unwilling to be honest about who and what I was - so long as my own self-inflicted homophobia kept me closeted - there would never be even a chance of a relationship for which it would be worthwhile to come out.

It took a couple of loving and accepting men in AA (straight AND gay) who shared with me that it really came down to "out and honest and at least a chance for happiness" or "hiding and lying and no chance for honest joy whatsoever."

An unfortunate realization out of this process has been how much justification to stay closeted was the out of the desire to remain a welcomed part of a church community. The sad fact is that I believed it was more important to fit in with my church family than to be honest with myself (and everyone else) about who and what I was.

As much as I railed against the position of the Catholic and Methodist Churches (and so many other mainline denominations) I find I have bought into their party line for myself, even as I have campaigned actively against it for others. It's hard to admit, but I really did believe that my very existence as "intrinsically disordered," as inconsistent with Christian life and ministry.

Looking back, I can see that the wrestling I had with my acceptability to God came from this issue - it seemed I would be damned as abomination by God who was supposedly filled with lovingkindness, who knew the number of hairs on my head and yet somehow couldn't accept me as I've been made. Oh, sure, I could be acceptable to God as a celibate - and I did that for nearly 12 years - but don't act on any of those instincts of yours, Steve. That road leads to Hell, you know...

But even more than that - because I worked most of the way through that issue - I knew that the church communities of which I was a member would not have been welcoming to a gay man. Now, I know that most my close friends would have likely been willing to accept me (though several were particularly unsupportive of GLBT folks until they found out that I was one). But I also watched two different instances where a man was accepted, welcomed, and encouraged to participate in our church community - until they either came out, or were outed by others. And then things got decidely cool.

I've already admitted (at least to a degree) how much my own need for acceptance and inclusion by others made it impossible for me to be honest about my sexuality. It just was easier to lie when it felt like there was no consequence - that there was no downside to living falsely. It's just hard to also admit how much the church helped feed my self-imposed homophobia. They weren't responsible for it - but they certainly helped fuel it.

I also bought into the insanity (mentioned in my first posting) that (since I was convinced there would be no future relationship in the cards for me) that it would be more helpful to be an advocate for GLBT folks from in ordained ministry than to be excluded from both ministry and church by being out. I really felt quite noble in my celibate pursuit of service of God and church...

...that is, until the church told me that the issue that would keep me out of ministry would be my finances, and my indebtedness - and not my sexuality. Sadly, under the current rules of the ELCA, I could have been ordained gay - I just couldn't be ordained broke.

Ironic, ain't it....the only way I could be rigorously honest enough to face this, and really be self-honest and self-aware enough to be a minister was through the brokenness resulting from my spectacularly-failed run at ordained ministry...

Part of the first steps of dealing with all this was finding the Fourth Forum, the GLBT ministry of Fourth Presbyterian Church here in Chicago. The group did a weekly study on John McNeill's classic text Taking A Chance on God, which forced me to dig back into a bunch of my pastoral-care texts on sexuality.

Finally picking up Tex Sample and Amy DeLong's The Loyal Opposition: Struggling With the Church on Homosexuality (which sat on my shelf unread for five whole years...) helped a lot, too. But most beneficial of all was finding in the Fourth Forum members a group of gay and lesbian Christians who had come to believe themselves acceptable in God's sight - and taking lessons from them.

This has been a lot of writing - and frankly, it's not done, but I'm done - like dinner. There's probably more that could be said on every one of these topics. But the important thing for me to say is this: I am not where I once was. As I've quoted on so many other topics, the words of the old black spiritual come to mind:

We ain't where we wanna be;
We ain't where we're gonna be;
But thank you, Jesus - we ain't where we used'ta be.


  1. good for you Steve. I think I'll offer some thoughts of my own on coming out and the reasons behind it.

    In the meantime, know and cherish the fact that honesty is, in the long run, always better than even the most comfortable lie.

  2. Geekboi: In the meantime, know and cherish the fact that honesty is, in the long run, always better than even the most comfortable lie.

    Dead on, Geekboi. In some circles, comfortable lies are called "an easier, softer way".

  3. Geek_boi is wise beyond his years. Honesty is... always better than even the most comfortable lie. Or, as is more often the case with those of us while we are closeted, "better than the most comfortable secret."

    [I note that I began writing this comment before Tom's showed up on my computer...]

  4. Jennifer Vanasco has an interesting reflection on being out in the latest Free Press. You can find it at http://www.chicagofreepress.com/news/opinion/vanasco/index.html

    She says among other things, "Unlike [Sheryl] Swoopes, most of us aren’t going to (indeed, can’t—who would be interested?) call a press conference to announce our sexual orientation. And we might not want to force our gayness to the center of every conversation. But we can’t let circumstances or the weight of public ignorance shuffle us back into the closet.

    We’re already out. Let’s stay open."

  5. You might want to check out Mind the Bear(http://mindthebear.blogspot.com/) or link to him from the comments today on Geek Boi Uncensored. Not the same story (except that there is only one story -- creation by Love, falling away from Love, being found by Love, loving back), but with some things you can probably relate to.

    (This will give you an excuse to read GB's ... er, stimulating post, if you need to rationalize.)