It’s #NationalComingOutDay, and every year I think about how I grateful I am to be on this side of the closet door. It’s been over 6 years now since I decided to live in congruence with reality, and although I can’t say that it’s been all rainbows and unicorns, I’ve learned an awful lot.
I was 44 years old when I came out – and for me, coming out meant leaving a 23-year marriage and a long career in evangelical pastoral ministry behind. It was not a decision I took lightly. I’m so grateful for the ways that my children and even my former wife have supported me.
Luanne’s and my TEDx talk in 2016 was an incredible opportunity to share our story and let other couples in mixed-orientation marriages know that they are not alone.
And in the years since then, I’ve worked hard to create safe spaces for others who find themselves in similar circumstances, whether it’s helping people get connected to larger communities of people like us, building partnerships with others doing good work in this field, or finally launching my own nonprofit org last year and being able to do one-on-one spiritual direction and lead support groups.
And on this #NationalComingOutDay, I’m holding so many stories in my heart, so many precious people. And I’m deeply aware that each one of them is unique. There is no cookie cutter “right way” forward for people in this situation, and to suggest otherwise is, frankly, ignorant.
Here’s the thing: Coming out is so important! Every time someone comes out publicly, it makes it a little easier for the next person to come out. I am so grateful for those who paved the way for me! So I celebrate and support everyone who comes out today. AND.
It’s not possible for some people to come out.
It’s not wise for some people to come out.
It’s not safe for some people to come out.
Some people will never come out publicly. And that has to be okay.
In my work with Common Sanctuary, I have the privilege of working with so many precious people. Let me share a few stories, changing names and key details to protect their anonymity:
James is 59 years old and lives in the capital city of an African country. He is married and has 5 children. He is a prominent businessman in his community. I am one of three people who know he’s gay. James will most likely never come out, but in a monthly Zoom spiritual direction session, he gets to be truly known. We pray and process together. He shares his grief and loss, but also his joy. He sees things changing. He follows LGBT activists on Instagram and marvels at their boldness. James and I focus on the good in his life, how far he’s come in his personal journey of accepting his sexuality as a good gift from God, how he has found peace, how he no longer fights it and tries to change. Thanks be to God.
Just last week, in partnership with The Christian Closet, I launched another support group (our 7th!) for gay/bi men in mixed-orientation marriages. Men in these situations often do end up leaving their marriages, but it’s a difficult process, certainly not simple or quick. There are often children involved, and these marriages are not just “for show.” These men have often poured their hearts and souls into these relationships, doing everything in their power to make them work. But they have come to accept – or they are beginning to accept (often after excruciating attempts at trying to become straight) who they really are, and that is going to have a profound impact on their entire lives. Many people are quick to say “These men are living a lie. They need to grow up and come out and live their lives.” Well, maybe. But can we please have a little compassion? Can we at least acknowledge the complexity of their situations?
Days like this can be really difficult for people who, for whatever reason, cannot come out, or at least cannot come out right now. So I just want to say I SEE YOU. The truth is, I was you for a very long time. And for this ENFP, Enneagram 7, external processor, relational, public man, wearing that “straight” mask and costume every day got heavier and heavier with every passing year.
My friend, you are not alone.
And you are just as much a part of the LGBTQ+ community as I am.
You are queer enough, in or out of the closet.