A few month’s ago, Alex Tylee, (author of ‘Walking With Gay Friends’) did a series of posts (here and here) on her experiences of being a gay Christian. I know lots of people (me included) found these really helpful, so I’ve asked her to say a bit more. In today’s post, she talks about ‘coming out’:
Q: How do you feel about the phrase “coming out”? Is it helpful?
A: There’s a lot of debate among Christians about the language around sexuality. The phrase ‘coming out’ came from the idea of ‘coming out of the closet’, meaning making something shameful into something public and proud. I can understand why some Christians may feel wary of adopting a phrase that implies pride in something like that. I think it’s fine for those Christians to listen to their consciences and avoid using that terminology. I tend to use the phrase myself, partly because I feel it’s such a well-worn term, few people would analyse its origins too much: to most people it just means being open about something that you once kept private. Perhaps that shows a lack of concern for how others may interpret me, but my own view is that I can’t be responsible for other people’s responses to me, to a large extent. I think it’s a matter of individual conviction and conscience.
Q: Would you recommend talking to someone at church, family or friends?
A: There are pros and cons to talking to others.
The pros of talking to someone are that you are suddenly less alone. The burden of secrecy can be a great one for gay people in the church and it’s very freeing to be known at last. It helps to eliminate that nagging thought of “if you knew the REAL me, you wouldn’t be so kind/friendly/loving”. It’s great to have that lie destroyed! Another pro is being able to talk openly about it on an ongoing basis. I often get down when there are upsetting things in the media about it, or I’m hurting because I’m attracted to someone I can’t have, or I’m sick of being single. I need people to be able to say that to instead of saying “I’m fine” when I’m absolutely not fine. Another pro (which often feels like a con!) is having some accountability. If loved ones know that this is your struggle, they might also ask you the hard questions. Telling people can also be a great leveller. Every single person is tempted by some kind of sexual sin, so being open about yours often gives others permission to tell you about theirs. It can help you to realise that though you feel so different, you’re in a very similar boat to everyone else.
There are of course cons in reality, because there will always be people who just don’t get it. That’s a risk you take in telling people, and it can be painful. It hurts if you pluck up the courage to say it and they never mention it again; it hurts if you’re forced to have someone try and pray it out of you; it hurts if people jump to the wrong conclusions every time you hug someone of the same sex; it hurts if people break your trust and gossip about you.
So I guess my advice on coming out would be, yes, to do it, but be discerning. Is there someone you can trust not to do any of the cons, and who could bless you with the pros? Do you feel like the pros (which are big, liberating pros) are enough to risk the cons?
How to raise the issue is a very individual question depending on who you’re talking to and what the relationship is like. Personally, I spend a lot of time listening very carefully to the way that people talk about gay people before they know about me. If they give themselves away as someone compassionate and thoughtful on the subject, I’ll wait for the next time they bring it up, however tenuously, and take that as an opportunity to let them know it’s an issue for me personally. That’s the easiest scenario. I’ve also done it in harder ways, by bringing it up cold, or even by standing up and announcing it to a room (as part of an invited talk, not just as a random thing!).
On the whole I’ve had positive responses to telling people, but I have been hurt occasionally. I’ve dealt with the hurts by investing more in the friends who do support me. I’m also learning to forgive the ones who’ve hurt me. I’m not so good at that and there is a danger in me opening up less to protect myself. I am speaking to myself as I write the above things about the pros being more valuable than avoiding the cons. I can certainly say that I’m extremely grateful for the friends who love and support me wherever I’m at with it. Those friends have been the ones who have stuck around, and who I know will be there always. I wouldn’t give up those friendships for anything, so I’m glad I took the risk.
You can get Alex’s Book, ‘Walking with Gay Friends’ here.