Yeah, dude, looks like you're having a great time out there, but no thanks, I'm perfectly happy right here...in my closet. I like it in here. I do. I promise. Really.
If you've ever seen my bedroom, you of course realize I'm referring to my proverbial "closet." My real closet smells funny...and there may be animals in there. I don't know. Ignorance is bliss.
But no...my cozy closet is the one I've lived in my entire life; the doors that hide my sexual orientation from the world. For years, these doors have convinced all my loved ones that I'm straight--straighter than an arrow, in fact. I'm always a little proud of myself when a friend tells me, "wow...I had no idea" after I come out to them. You're darn right you had no idea. I got this closet business down to an art form.
The closet doors cracked open for the first time in college--late college. I told my pastor that I was attracted to guys. I was terrified, but he responded with grace and compassion. It was the first time I'd ever shared this burden with anyone, and it was incredibly liberating. I thought I was done. Okay, I told someone! Glad that's over with...
I had cracked the door. I let a sliver of light pierce the darkness. I had let someone peek inside, someone I trusted deeply. Now I could close the door back and go on with my life, right? I told my pastor over and over that I was a heterosexual guy who just so happened to struggle with same-sex attraction...like I had struggled with acne. This was just a little bump in the road--something to overcome on my quest to find my hot Christian wife and make adorable Christian babies.
As I finished college and moved on, I told a handful of other people...mostly other pastors or mentors. I was looking for accountability. Nothing else. I needed people who would ask me the hard questions, but I didn't want those people to get too close. If my family and closest friends knew, well...that could just change my life, couldn't it?
You see, as constricting as this mask can be at times, I love my life. Sometimes I forget I'm attracted to other guys. I forget how difficult the road ahead will be; I'm too busy playing my part. I love talking to friends about their relationships. I love talking to friends about my relationships--about the girls I've dated, the girls I want to date. I'm constantly referring to my future wife, my future kids. This is the future I've always dreamed of. It's comfortable. It's cozy. It makes everyone happy. It's not me.
While the world watches me talk of future wedded bliss, I'm silently coming to grips with the fact that wedding bells might never ring for me. I get pissed when friends assume I'm actively seeking a mate, and I forget that I've given them no reason to believe otherwise.
So what's the big deal? There's plenty of people who get married later in life. Some people never do. Why can't I just continue with the act? I've done it this long. Why can't I just tell a few people, a small inner-circle of trusted mentors, and go about my business? Why tell people this secret? Why share this burden? This closet is cozy. It's comfortable. People like me in here.
Someone shared this quote with me not too long ago. It's from Timothy Keller, a pastor in Manhattan.
“To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything.”
I think he's talking about marriage in this particular context, but what about those of us who are unmarried--those of us who might remain so for a very long time? Possibly forever? I identify deeply with his first statement. I'm loved by many, but known by so few. So many don't know this huge part of my story.
Their love is comforting, and they really do love me. But locked away in my closet, their love bounces right off the closed doors of my heart.
Recently, one of my best guy friends was asking me repeatedly if I was still pursuing a certain lady, the one I had seemed so sure about. I said no. He asked why not. I didn't know what to say. Did something go wrong? Was I not attracted to her? I tried to change the subject. I either had to clam up and act like a middle-school boy afraid to talk about his crush...or lie to one of my best friends. I hated it. I certainly didn't blame him. He was asking very valid questions to his friend...his friend who had very convincingly led him to believe they were valid questions.
Now you're thinking: "Wait, you could still answer those questions honestly. Just tell him no, you weren't attracted to her. That's honest, right?" Yeah. Technically. But there's so much more to the story. So much more at play. Do you know how hard it is not to talk about something like this with your best friend? To have to choose your words so carefully and not actually share the enormous burden weighing on your heart? Could I so simply say, "Yeah, I guess she's just not the one" and leave it there? I wouldn't let my friends get away with nonsense like that...would you?
This guy had been an incredible friend to me, but his love felt superficial. Not because it actually was superficial, but because I wouldn't let him in. Way deep down, I was afraid that if he really knew me, he wouldn't love me. Story of my life.
So yes. I finally told him. And it was very good. He is a very good friend.
This was just one conversation of a growing number. Over the last few months, I've been sharing my full story with more and more people. I have a list of "those who know," and that list currently has 13 names. The list of "those to tell" is quite a bit longer, and yes, my family is at the top of that list.
It's scary to open those doors. Once you tell someone, you can never un-tell him. You can't say "never mind" and run back inside. But that's friendship. Friendship isn't hiding...it's vulnerability. It's honesty. It's openness. It's loving someone in the middle of his brokenness. It's bringing all your shit to the table and letting him love you.
I've been blessed way beyond what I deserve. God has given me wonderful, supportive friends. That list of 13 names includes many dear brothers and sisters who have each listened to my story, sometimes in tears, always in love. Despite all their many words of encouragement, it's been their actions that have spoken the loudest, that have most pointed me to Jesus. They have continued to treat me as a friend, as a brother, as...me. They have embraced me. They have told me they loved me. They have wept with me, laughed with me, and walked with me.
I've been taught my whole life that Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. I've been taught that Jesus sees me to my core. He knows my deepest, darkest places, and he loves me...delights in me! All this I've been taught, and I've believed it. But what takes this knowledge from theological abstraction to tangible experience?
After my conversation with this good friend, as I rose to leave, he hugged me. He told me he loved me, and in that moment, I knew Jesus loved me too. The love of Christ was made tangible for me through the love of my brother in Christ. This has happened now time and again...from all these brothers and sisters who know my story...through embraces, conversations, emails, and even text messages.
My closet is very cozy, but every time I leave it, no matter how briefly, it's a little less comfortable when I return. It seems smaller, more cluttered, more...artificial. It smells a little worse (a little more like my real bedroom closet?) I curl back up on the floor, go back to my same patterns, my same lines. It feels so familiar, but yet so fake.
But right now, it's where I live...and for now, that's okay. It's a whole lot more bearable now that friends know where to find me.
When the closet door is open, my sin has nowhere to hide. Satan's lie (that no one really loves me, least of all Jesus) stops holding water. As I tell my story, I can also tell God's Story...the Story of Redemption.
It's scary. It really is. I don't know just how far these doors are going to open. Will I someday be locked out of my cozy little closet, unable to return? I have no idea, but I know Who does:
"I may not know the way I go, but oh, I know my Guide."
I'll trust my Guide with the future. Right now, I'll just keep inching that door open. The Light is hitting my face, and it feels glorious.
Grace & peace,
Your Brother Behind the Mask