One of the biggest fears and largest deterrents to coming out was my fear that people (especially men) would treat me differently. For years I had run from solid male friendships out of fear of rejection, and I was finally getting to a point in my life where I had made a few good male friends. In a really dramatic sense, I felt as though God’s call to me coming out to my male friends risking my friendships with them was similar to God’s call to Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac1. The idea that God would bless me with male friendships (something I desperately needed at the time whether I wanted to believe so or not) and then demand that I risk those friendships seemed unjustly cruel.
As you know already, God used my coming out to bring incredible healing to my life, and instead of losing friendships, I greatly strengthened them (which happens to be a social theory, doncha know?). However, it wasn’t simply a bed of roses. It was not a perfect understanding. For example, I didn’t come out to B. only to have him understand my heart completely. What do you mean how do I reconcile my beliefs with Scripture? What’s not to understand?
I found that there were levels to coming out. It wasn’t simply a one-and-done deal.
On coming out, Wesley Hill shares, “At one profound level, I’m as out as can possibly be. Even so, there’s another, seemingly deeper and truer sense in which I’m still coming out, or would like to be. I want to be further known, better understood.”
Not only did I have to correct numerous stereotypes and combat discomfort, but I also had to wrestle with these same things inside of me. The fear that friends will judge you harshly for being gay doesn’t go away when you come out. Sometimes it slithers around lurking within the deep shadows in your heart only to jump out at the slightest confrontation, the most miniscule of gestures, the smallest microexpression (It also doesn’t help that minorities tend to be more perceptive).
But this fear is one I had to work through (and in many ways am still working through). Here are two points I would like to highlight.
A Lot of it is Your Garbage
A lot of it really is your own garbage. One of the biggest things I discovered after coming out to my closest friends was how little they thought of it afterward. For a topic that seemed to be always on my mind, for wolves that seemed to always howl inside my soul, for a thorn that would press so sharply into my fleshy body, it was largely something that never crossed their minds when they interacted with me.
When I came out to my sister, our relationship actually wasn’t that much of a difference. She had known me for twenty years at the time so to her I was still her brother (albeit a more fancy version of her brother). She ultimately knew that I didn’t fit into certain stereotypes or have certain sinful dispositions simply because of an orientation. My coming out to her had largely filled in several holes for her in her relationship with me, and we were all the more closer because of it.
Then several months later after starting grad school in the fall, I came out to a group of four men that I had barely known (about a month and a half at the time) in our first session of our small group meeting. For quite some time afterwards (several months actually), I overanalyzed all of my interactions with them, and there were times I was paralyzed with fear. Did they think I was holding my gaze for too long? Did they think that when I patted them on the back that I was trying to rub them down or something? Did they think that the compliment that I just gave them was me trying to hit on them?
I remember going home for break and breaking down in my room. Had I gone too far in coming out to these people so soon? What if they all thought I was so disgusting that they didn’t want to be friends with me anymore? Were any of them really my friends to begin with? Why was I so pathetic?
I found that despite my own crippling insecurities, when my friends tell me that they’re not thinking about my homosexuality, they mean it. When they tell me that they’re not uncomfortable or disgusted with me, they mean it. When they say that they love me, they mean it.There wasn’t some hidden agenda behind their actions where they felt forced or obligated to love me because it was the Christian thing to do. They legitimately loved me despite my feeling unloved.
I learned that a lot of my big insecurities were largely my problem and were things that I needed to work on and wrestle through with the Lord. In a lot of ways, I had the same insecurities that my peers did (Do they like me? Am I good enough? Do I come off a certain way). I just hid mine under the veil of I’m-a-homosexual-so-nobody-understands-me.
C’mon man. Take responsibility for your insecurities that you’re projecting on others and deal with them.
Yet, Some of It is Theirs
Yet, at the same time, some of my insecurities weren’t completely unfounded.
I’ve had to correct a few misunderstandings about my behavior where people have read far more into my actions than I intended. I had to deal with one of my friends acting really oddly around me for a few weeks after my coming out until I finally called him out on it. I have also thus far had five separate conversations with one of my roommates who has confessed to me his feelings of discomfort around me. Of course, they are always padded with self-disclaimers and a caring tone, but they are conversations about how I make him uncomfortable nonetheless.
But I learned something in talking with my roommate (who has since become one of my best friends). How can I expect someone who never interacted with a gay man in person, who never had a friend who was gay, and who grew up watching television shows that promoted a gay stereotype of a super flamboyant, effeminate, sex-crazed man to know me and my heart after just a few months of living with me? Should I not have a bit more grace in this matter?
So yeah, of course people aren’t going to be able to be super sensitive. Of course they’re going to say potentially ignorant and hurtful things. However, I’m obligated to give them the benefit of the doubt, extend them grace and calmly critique them without taking to heart what they never meant to be hurtful.
To Be Fully Known
One of the real reasons many of these encounters bothered me, though, was because of my desire to be fully known. I had just spilled my guts on a secret that I had buried deep within the recesses of my heart and in many ways expected then that these finite human beings would be able to know me fully and wholly.
We’ll definitely continue to progress in our friendships, and there will definitely be more and more times for misunderstandings and confrontations. However, there will never be a point where I will be known as fully and intimately as I want to be known. My hurt and insecurities largely stemmed from this desire to just be completely known.
And here’s the joy. The One who knows me most fully is Jesus Christ, and He alone has promised (and has the power to back it up!) to be with me.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet he did not sin. – Hebrews 4:15
Christ knows me. He knows every little temptation, fear and trial that I have faced, am facing and will face. Though the world may not always understand me and the pain, sorrow and suffering I have gone through, my risen Lord does. And that’s all that matters.