"I miss coming out somedays for that very reason"
I received this text from another same-sex attracted friend a couple nights ago, and it got me thinking. I'd just told him about a particularly encouraging "coming out" conversation that I'd just had with another friend.
I've been having quite a few of these "coming out" conversations lately. 14 conversations already this week, to be exact. That might sound absolutely crazy to you. It would have sounded crazy to me a few months ago. I mean...in the past 24 hours, I've already told more people that I'm attracted to other guys than I told in my first 24 years!
So what's the rush? Why this sudden burst of self-disclosure?
As I wrote earlier this summer, I'm on the road to being "out." The Groucho glasses will come off, so to speak, and I'll walk in the light of openness and honesty about what God has done [and is doing] in my life. That's a decision I made a while ago, but there were a number of reasons it couldn't happen right away. There was a chapter of life that needed to finish and another that needed to begin. There were a number of people who needed to hear it straight from me before they heard it anywhere else.
I'm not good with gray area. I'm not very patient. I hate waiting. After I decided that I would share my story publicly, the idea of waiting months to do so seemed unbearable. I was tired of the mask. I was tired of living two different stories. I saw "coming out" as a rather awkward, unpleasant process to be powered through as quickly as possible.
Hence...these 14 "coming out" conversations in one week, with more to come. I'm ready to be done with all this.
That's why my friend's text message gave me such pause. He missed coming out? Why on earth? Here he is, living his life in the open, and he misses the days of double-life and awkward conversations?
But then I reflected on the conversation I'd just told him about...my encouraging "coming out" conversation that made him miss his own "coming out."
The guy who I'd just come out to is involved with the ministry I used to work for. He's a very good friend. I had spent 2 years listening to him and trying to encourage him, love him, and point him to Jesus. Now, a few months later, over pizza, he was listening to me, encouraging me, loving me, and pointing me to Jesus.
I've had many encouraging "coming out" conversations. I haven't had any negative responses, and I've been deeply moved by the love and support shown to me by countless friends and family members...but this guy --let's call him Brad-- Brad took it to a whole new level.
What did that look like? What made this particular conversation stand out among the rest?
First of all, as strange as it may sound...he smiled. He smiled the whole time. Sure, he was just as surprised as anyone else, but his first reaction was to smile. He wasn't being insensitive or callous. He didn't think anything was funny, but he was instantly moved by the power of what I was sharing. He knew what it meant that I was telling him this. When I saw his smile, I didn't see someone glossing over the weight of my story...I saw someone grasping the full beauty of my story, difficulty and pain included. His smile said that he was glad I was sharing this with him, that he knew God was sovereign, that he was hopeful about my future...that this didn't change the way he saw me at all.
Brad's smile as he listened to my story made a big difference in how I told it. I told my story with more hope...more thankfulness. I felt the freedom to tell the harder parts of my story, because I knew he was looking at the bigger picture. It reminded me that despite all the challenges, my story already has a happy ending that can't be rewritten.
Brad listened, he smiled...occasionally he'd shake his head in amazement. He asked questions...good questions. He wondered aloud how hard it must have been for me to live with that secret.
I told him about the impact Wes Hill's book, Washed and Waiting, had on me...and before I could even think to suggest it, he asked me if it would be a good book for him to read, to help him gain a better understanding of the struggles faced by same-sex attracted Christians. He wanted to learn more...to read more. This showed me his support. It gained even more of my trust. It let me know just how valuable he saw my story to be.
There's a place for tears. There's a place for sorrow and weightiness. There's a place for challenge and exhortation, but Brad's simple, authentic response communicated so much to me in that moment.
It said that he loved me, but it also said he respected me. It said he wanted to enter into my story's framework rather than try to fit my story into his framework. It said he didn't see me as someone to be pitied, but rather, someone he could learn from. It said he wasn't weirded out by what I'd just told him...and that I was free and safe to share more.
It reminded me that at the end of the day, my story is not a tragedy. It's a story of hope. It's a story of light. It's a story of Redemption.
I've been blessed with so many of these conversations this week. I only have the space to talk about this one, but that's not to say the others haven't been just as encouraging or moving. The more I see friends respond with smiles, with interested questions, with affirmations of love and support...it proves to me that these friendships were not fake after all. The lies that my heart had told me for so long were false. My friends didn't just love my Mask; they loved me...and when my mask came off, that love for me continued...even deepened.
For the first time, I'm experiencing what it feels like to be truly loved and truly known. It's a lot like being loved by Jesus, and it points me right back to His Love.
So I think I'm starting to understand what my friend meant when he said he misses coming out. These are special days I'm living in. This is such a cool period in my life. It's not a time to be rushed and hurried through. It's not a time to be characterized by awkwardness and shame. It's a time to be characterized with a smile--like Brad's smile--with embraces and words of support, like so many embraces and words I've received this week.
These are moments to be cherished...moments to soak in. For the first time, finally, the love of my friends and family has breached my heart's defenses. It's flooding in. It's filling all those dusty places and dark corners. It's pointing me right back to the love of my Savior, the love that's always been there...the love that's always seemed too good to be true.
I'm moved to thankfulness. I'm fully aware that the support and love I've experienced is not true across the board for many people in my position. Far too many find rejection and fear when they share their story. Instead of being pointed to their Savior, they're pointed away. They're told they have to be fixed before they can be loved. They're told they don't belong...and they believe the lies. They start to believe that Jesus feels the same way. (If this describes you, I'd love to talk more.)
I'm so thankful for the love and support of my friends and family. It's my desire, my passion, my prayer that more and more brothers and sisters would experience this same kind of love from their communities. We need this love. We need to learn how to show this love, and we need to learn how to receive it. This love changes lives.
These moments of "coming out" have drawn even closer to the heart of God, my Father, my Daddy. The day is coming, blog readers, when you too will know my identity and hear my full story...but I'm in no rush. I'm soaking in these moments.
Grace & peace,
Your Brother Behind the Mask