A few days ago I had a conversation with a gay man in his sixties who is joining my next Christian Closet support group for gay/bi men in mixed-orientation marriages. I wrote about my conversation on Facebook:
I just got off the phone with the sweetest guy. He’s in his 60s, and he’s been married for over 30 years. He is just starting to acknowledge and affirm that he is, in fact, a gay man. Not a sex addict. Not a “same-sex attracted” straight guy. Not even a bisexual. He’s a beautiful, made-in-the-image-of-God gay man.
Pray for him, please, and for his wife and kids. This journey is not for the faint of heart.
I’m so grateful I have the privilege of loving and serving these precious men. I think my group is going to be so helpful for him – and for all the guys in it this time around.
And no matter what he chooses – to leave his marriage or to stay in it – he will be giving up something, sacrificing something profound – AND receiving something beautiful and true. It’s both/and. Rarely either/or at this point of the journey for men like us. But at least from this point on he can live authentically. It’s so exhausting to put on a costume every day of your life.
There is great power and freedom in telling the truth, in living authentically. Jesus himself said that the truth sets us free. I can testify to this reality.
My life is far from perfect. I don’t have all the things I long for. And I continue to grieve the loss of the life that my former wife and I built together.
But I am living in authenticity and freedom. I never have to hide again. Priceless, y’all. It’s priceless.
There were lots of encouraging comments. More and more people are understanding and supportive when people come out of the closet later in life. Just this last week, British television personality Phillip Schofield came out as gay at the age of 57 after 27 years of marriage to his wife, Stephanie. I myself only came out publicly at the age of 44, after 23 years of marriage to my wife, Luanne. Since our TEDx talk came out in 2016, I have walked informally with literally hundreds of people in the same circumstances, and over the last year, I’ve had the privilege of supporting nineteen gay/bi men in mixed-orientation marriages in a more structured setting with The Christian Closet.
But in addition to the positive comments, there were cautious and worried comments too. And those who didn’t feel comfortable commenting publicly sent texts and private messages of concern. The common thread running through all of these messages? Sadness.
- “I find it very sad.”
- “I’m sorry, Matt, but I cannot celebrate this. More than anything else, I think it’s just sad.”
- “So sad to think that someone might leave a marriage after so long.”
And here’s the thing: The people saying these things are right. It really is sad. I have tried for three and a half years now to be transparent about the joys AND the sorrows of the path that I have walked, to tell the truth about the consequences of the choices I have made. For all the joy of authenticity and freedom, there is the deep pain and grief of ending a marriage that, for all its incompatibility, was still strong and good in many ways. This path has not been easy. Facebook and Instagram don’t always tell the whole story.
So I agree. This is all very sad. But many of us will have to go through sad and painful things to help make a difference in this broken world. I believe the work I’m doing is helpful in these individual situations, but it might be even more important in the Christian world in general. I hope and pray for the day when young LGBTQ+ kids won’t be pressured into heteronormative marriages by their Christian cultures. Because this is the pain that results. I know it’s getting better, but we continue to need people to speak up and tell our stories so that the world can continue to get better and better for queer people specifically and marginalized people in general.
And as I always make it a point to say, I do not necessarily believe there is one “right” path forward in these situations. Many people in mixed-orientation marriages do choose to divorce and come out of the closet, but some choose to stay and be authentically themselves in the context of their heteronormative marriage. People who read my post assumed that the man I was talking to is leaving his marriage. I never said that. I am not a fan of divorce. I am happy to support a gay man who chooses to remain married to his wife if that’s what they both want, if that’s a healthy choice for them.
When things get bleak and heavy for me, I like to remember that slowly but surely people are waking up to the reality that LGBTQ+ people exist and that we too are created in the image and likeness of God. As more and more of us come out and tell the truth about our lives, even conservative Christians are starting to realize that they have been wrong. We are not broken. We are not sick. To quote Catholic theologian James Alison, “We now know something objectively true about humans that we didn’t know before: that there is a regularly occurring, non-pathological minority variant in the human condition, independent of culture, habitat, religion, education, or customs, which we currently call ‘being gay’.”
This is all very “gospel.” This is good, good news. In many ways, this world is getting better and better. I am often filled with hope when I see how naturally accepting young people are. Of course two women can love each other! Of course boys can wear dresses or play with dolls! But this beautiful affirmation, this open-mindedness among our young people has come at a steep price. We stand on the shoulders of people who sacrificed so much so that we can live freely today. I owe a debt of gratitude to those who gave their lives so that I could come out and live authentically in 2016.
And my hope and prayer is that young LGBTQ+ people who see my life will choose to live truthfully NOW, to avoid the heartache and pain that I have been through, to avoid the grief that I have put my former wife, children and family through.
Because it is sad.
It’s sad that our heteronormative culture has told LGBTQ+ people that we are broken or sick or addicted or sinful, when in reality we are simply created differently than the majority.
It’s sad that members of the LGBTQ+ community are more likely to experience a range of mental health problems such as depression, suicidal thoughts, self-harm and alcohol and substance misuse.
It’s sad that the Christian church has taken so very long to acknowledge reality. I understand it. But it’s sad.
We have to do better, friends. It’s 2020. Educate yourself! Support inclusive faith communities and commit yourself to being a better ally! It’s sad, but it can get so much better. Amen.