I first told someone about my sexuality while sitting in a dorm room at a Christian college in Middle America. The couch on which we sat had seen better days—frayed along the edges of its arms and missing its feet so we had to sink quite low, almost to the ground, to finally meet the seat cushions.
I can’t remember why I chose that night to tell someone after 19 years of silence. Perhaps I felt particularly lonely or maybe my spirit was as low as that couch. I also can’t recall the words I used to share this secret part of me. I imagine they were halting and slightly evasive—just enough to set the scene, but not give away too much of the back story.
But I do remember this: I was scared. Not frightened that my friend would reject me or that revealing this part of my life at a conservative Christian college could land me in trouble. No, my fear in that moment felt like that sense you get in your gut when you’re traveling for the first time to a foreign country. How will you navigate the transportation system if you don’t know the language? How will you get to where you’re supposed to go? Worse, what if you’re not even sure of the final destination?
Forming the words, “I am sexually attracted to men” was difficult because I had never uttered them aloud, but it was the follow-up questions that really worried me. “Where to now?” And “How do I relate to this person who now holds this part of my life with me?”
In my experience, these questions can only be answered in the going. One can imagine visiting a foreign land and can research that place, but only when you step out the door does the experience begin.
Here’s the rub, though, the answers look different for each new person I tell. There will certainly be similarities, but sharing with a parent is different than a sibling or friend or acquaintance. It also changes over time because we are changing—we are lands in motion trying to connect with other shifting territories. And the culture around us is moving too. We are all tectonic plates rubbing up against each other creating friction and heat. We can also drift away from one another.
How then do we begin?
For me, I always start by acknowledging my fear. Even after countless experiences of coming out, each new one raises my anxiety.Even after countless experiences of coming out, each new one raises my anxiety. Less so now then at the start, but the sensation remains—that weird mixture of excitement and worry flipping my stomach each time I set out. I’m guessing this isn’t something only gay people feel when they come out, but that all people feel when they’re sharing an important part of themselves with someone else.
So, it seems a good place to begin by recognizing this feeling in oneself and welcoming it. After all, it means you’re part of the human family and still care to have meaningful connections with others.
After recognizing the inherent fear in the act, I then ask myself, “Is this a person with whom I want to share this part of my story?” Followed by, “Is this a person who would appreciate knowing this about me?”
I’ve seen a growing assumption among gay people that we should tell everyone about our sexuality. I don’t share this viewpoint. It’s one thing to talk about my sexuality in a blog like this, but something else to sit across from a person and tell my story. I am not convinced everyone would value such a tete-a-tete. Further, I’m not sure I want to have that type of conversation with everyone.
It’s okay to have varying levels of disclosure with peopleIn my estimation, it’s okay to have varying levels of disclosure with people; this doesn’t mean all people aren’t valuable, only that we feel greater affinity toward some than others. As Christians, we are called to serve all people, but not everyone needs to know the intimate details of our lives.
Some do, however. I felt my friend did as we sat on that broken down couch in a cinder block dorm room. Since then, he and I have traversed thousands of miles together. We have flown across the country to visit each other. We regularly talk on the phone. We keep venturing deeper into each other’s lands, knowing friendship, feeling love.
I couldn’t have foreseen this adventure from my vantage point on that couch 20 years ago, but the One who knows all things knew I needed it. This One who takes even a faltering word offered in a dingy dorm room and reverberates it in friendship, builds a land out of it—a rich place overflowing with the fruit of knowing and being known.