One year ago today, I made the hardest phone call of my life. I knew my grandparents loved me. I knew that our family didn’t just disown its members for being different. But I also knew that our family wasn’t afraid of speaking our various minds and occasionally showing our anger or disappointment in each other. But what if this time was different? What if I picked up the phone and it was not only a negative exchange, but it was the last time they ever spoke to me? What if they couldn’t accept that I was gay? What if I clumsily said something in defense that pushed them away?
I’m pretty sure my hands were shaking. I can’t recall if my voice was, but it would be fitting. My mom, siblings, a few friends, and a cousin already knew. I’d had no bad reactions from them save one friend that I wasn’t that close to anyway. That was it. I looked at my high success rate of loving responses and just knew my luck had run out. Telling my grandparents and aunts and uncle couldn’t possibly go so well.
I had only realized I was gay a couple years before, at the age of 35. What took so long is an awkward story about repression to near asexuality, shyness, low self esteem, and being a demisexual that I’ll save for another post (or three). The first year was spent in hell: the worst depression, chronic pain, and insomnia that I’d ever known as I prayed for God to change me back, to take it away, to show me what was necessary for Him to love me again. At the end of that year, I was not given the answers or solutions I’d sought. I was given peace, a peace that passes any understanding I could have at that time, and I just rested in that peace in the arms of my Lord who had, I then knew, never stopped loving me.
Theological questions still abounded in my mind; but, I was so tired that I needed to let it all go and trust God hadn’t brought me to that peace for me to over-analyze it. (If you know me, you know I over-analyze everything!) I quit trying to deny my reality and let myself come to terms with what this meant. I had about a year of resting emotionally, getting used who I was. I was closer to God than ever, but it hurt to not be able to explain that to those I loved. At one family dinner, both my grandpa and one of my aunts had said within a few minutes of each other, “You’ve really changed. It’s like you’re a whole new person!” How do you explain that it’s because you finally know yourself after 36 years and you are learning to no longer hate yourself? You don’t. You don’t explain that to a very conservative family.
The following year, God brought me a plethora of answers. (I can recommend some resources for those interested.) At the same time, I was growing increasingly uncomfortable with people. The closet is a stifling place. People can talk badly about you to your face and never know that they are talking about you. You stand there torn on how to respond while hiding how personally you’re taking it. If you don’t hide, they’ll know; and, you don’t want them to know after you just heard their opinions! You can speak out as an ally, but that’s tricky too because you don’t want to give away the wrong thing that tips them off. At the same time that I wanted to run from people, I was growing stronger in my peace with God.
Last summer, I reached a tipping point. At 37, I knew it was time. Living in the closet was killing my spirit and I knew, no matter how devastating it would be, even if I lost everyone I’d ever loved, I would be okay. Somehow, God would see me through that, though I prayed it wouldn’t happen. For the first time in my life, I knew that I loved and respected myself enough to claim my truth no matter what it cost. I needed to know what it felt like to be fully, authentically me, without apology. I also needed to give them the chance to accept or reject the real me.
So I dialed. I shook. I talked in circles and somehow got everything out. And the world didn’t end. They loved me anyway. I know that isn’t the case for so many people and that breaks my heart. I am thankful for people who are willing to love even when they don’t agree with you (and many people don’t agree with me). And I am thankful for the past year, even though it was often difficult for many other reasons, because I was able to grow into the truth of who I am and to learn how to hope for a real love for my future.
So many people have walked this road before me and I owe so much gratitude to them and the stories that they risked everything to tell. For the past year, my voice has been added to their chorus for all to hear: I am a gay Christian.