John Backman is a guest writer whose voice we’re honored to share. You can read more about John in his bio at the end of the piece.
You never expect one comment to upend your whole life.
It happened to me last month in a conversation with a wise elder. I was describing my ideal approach to spiritual direction—to all my human interactions, really—in which I am so locked into the other person that I forget about myself. My wise friend agreed the ideal was pretty good as far as it went.
Then, in a voice so soft I could barely hear it, she dropped the question: “Where is John in all this?”
My conscious mind drew a blank. My unconscious mind saw it for what it was: a golden opportunity to unload decades of repressed schmutz.
You see, learning to let myself out—to disclose my feelings, needs, and vulnerabilities to others, sometimes even to myself—has consumed a lot of my life’s energy. I can tell it’s a problem because, whenever someone asks me what I want, I don’t understand the question.
Over the years, I’ve made a lot of progress with this. But I’m still holding back in some important ways. In my friend’s question and a few other signals, I sensed God sending me a message: You need to pay attention to this. Again.
So I did. It was not pretty: massive emotional drama with a boatload of journaling.
And some interesting discoveries. For instance, this had a lot to do with gender. I’ve explained my genderfluidity elsewhere. Though I experience my inner self mostly as female, my outward expressions of that are limited (to nail polish). This nudge expressed a desire for more expression.
But it isn’t all about gender—not by a long shot. It’s about listening to my inner self for signals that tell me what’s going on around me. It’s about sharing myself to give others the opportunity for a me-too moment, where they see themselves in my experience and realize they’re not alone. Weirdly, it’s about humility: letting people see that I am just one person, utterly human, with all the foibles and imperfections and superpowers that come with being human.“Weirdly, it’s about humility: letting people see that I am just one person, utterly human, with all the foibles and imperfections and superpowers that come with being human.”
It occurs to me that this is a kind of coming out. A coming out that has to do with gender, and a coming out that doesn’t.
I wonder if this holds a gigantic lesson for the body of Christ.
Here’s what I mean. Coming out is core to LGBTQ+ folks. We think about it a lot, because it’s difficult, it’s terrifying, and most of us have to do it many times.
At the same time, the past three weeks have made it clear that we all come out in some way. We all—if we want to be who God made us to be—allow more and more of ourselves to be seen, to be cherished, by the world. This too is difficult, and terrifying, and we have to do it many times.
Do you see the gift in this mess? It’s common ground. If the experience of coming out as gay, or transgender, or genderfluid to one’s loved ones is fraught with fear, and the experience of coming out for anyone is also fraught with fear, suddenly we can speak to one another from a common root of experience. We gain what I call the empathic glimpse: something in your life that gives you the tiniest peek into someone else’s life.
That generates empathy.“What would happen if more Christians—especially those who identify with traditional sexual orientation and gender—began to think about the ways they’ve had to come out?”
What would happen if more Christians—especially those who identify with traditional sexual orientation and gender—began to think about the ways they’ve had to come out? Would that provide the tiniest opening for empathy, a crack in the door that would enable them to talk with LGBTQ+ folks? Would more understanding be possible?
Would love grow?
About the Author
As a spiritual director, an associate of an Episcopal monastery and a genderfluid Christian, John Backman writes and speaks about contemplative spirituality and its surprising relevance for today’s deepest issues—including issues of gender and sexuality. He authored Why Can’t We Talk? Christian Wisdom on Dialogue as a Habit of the Heart (SkyLight Paths) and contributes regularly to Huffington Post Religion. His articles have appeared in RELEVANT, IMPACT, and many other publications.