A Coming Out Reflection

It has been exactly one year since I came out, and I want to share the narrative of two people in my life to express some of what I have learned in the last year.

***

A few months after coming out, as I was applying for seminary, I asked a mentor (honestly, more like a parental figure) in my life to write a letter of recommendation for me. This mentor, however, told me they “didn’t believe in a homosexual lifestyle" and decided they were unable to write me a letter. They said they loved me, but their actions told me otherwise.

After this experience, I told this mentor I needed a boundary. I was not interested in being in close relationship with someone who does not affirm my full humanity, and I could no longer engage with someone I was so close to in a way that was not triggering or harmful to my own well-being. I left the door open and continue to leave it open; if that person would like to have a conversation that is open to being affirming to LGBTQIA+ people, then I would be interested in healing that relationship.

***

I have another very close friend who is one of the most loving people I know. When I came out to them, they were extremely supportive, but I knew they were going through their own understanding of affirming LGBTQIA+ people. One day, I asked them point-blank what they believed. They were not set in a conviction, but they were struggling with what they believed.

A few months later, I got a text from this friend saying, “Hey, I need to tell you something.” I had a feeling they had come to some sort of conclusion and wanted to share it with me. When we got supper not long after, they said to me (and tears are literally coming to my eyes as I type these words because I am so grateful for this moment), “I know you don’t need me to tell you this, but I want you to know that I affirm you.”

I had been imagining that moment since my friend texted me, and I immediately gave them a hug. They were right. They did not need to tell me who I was, and my humanity would have been no less without their affirmation, but I was so grateful they shared it with me regardless.

***

First and foremost, since coming out as queer, I’ve  realized I could just as well be the “other” person. While my power may be suppressed as a queer person, I still benefit from the power and privilege of my race, gender, class and religion. And while I recognize the ways in which power has blinded myself and others, I also expect us to hold each other accountable to be called into these blindspots. That is why I leave the door open to my mentor. There is the reality that they have brought about harm, there is  the reality that I could very well be in their shoes in a different context, there is the reality that I would want someone to extend me both grace and accountability, and there is the reality of restoration.

While I love both of these people, coming out forced me to realize there is no middle ground with love. Love is all in.

We often fall into this false, illusory idea of “agreeing to disagree,” however, this idea is often used as a tool of oppression against people who hold non-dominant identities. As James Baldwin says, “We can disagree and still love each other, unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist.”

As much as we all want to believe it, there is no agreeing to disagree in this context. There is nuance, there is complexity, and there is living in the tension of both/and, but there is not middle ground when it comes to injustice and love.

Because of this, coming out became more than just coming out as queer. It also became coming out as against white supremacy, classism, patriarchy, transphobia and all forms of explicit and internalized hierarchies that we hold as a society.

I engage in this continual coming out because I really believe that love and justice will win, and I don’t just believe it will happen “someday.” I actually believe that it can happen today.

One of my favorite anti-racist activists Andre Henry recently said this on a panel about white supremacy, “You should know that history is not a story that is happening to us, but one we are writing together. No system of injustice is the consequence of a sole actor. It's not the attorney general, the DA, the president. Donald Trump can't capture migrant children, guard detention centers, write zero-tolerance policies, and write anti-immigrant propaganda for the evening news all by himself. The American people provide these services to him together. It is our willingness to comply with the status quo that sustains it."

“So if the status quo is maintained by our collective yes, it can be changed by our collective no.”

We could pass universal health care TODAY and grant millions in the working class access to a basic human right. We could have a serious conversation about racial reparations TODAY and address white people’s role in the harm against Black and Brown people. We could pass sweeping environmental justice policy at the federal, state and local level TODAY to protect marginalized communities and the economically most vulnerable to climate change. We could end police occupation of communities of color TODAY. We could abolish prisons and adopt transformative justice practices TODAY. We could equitably fund our schools TODAY.

An immediate call for justice is not unattainable; it is actually possible.

***

Justice sounds radical until it is not. I could have gone years sacrificing my own worth and dignity in a relationship for this mentor who refused to love me in my full worth. My other friend proved I didn’t have to.

When my friend told me that night as we had supper where they  stood, I was immediately reminded of the Christian parable of the lost sheep.

Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. -Luke 15:4-7

My friend had done some hard work, and I still am not sure between the two of us who fit what role in that parable. All I know is  the parable has some uncanny familiarity. Perhaps, we had both been found, and perhaps we were both doing the finding.

Coming out taught me that people might believe immediate justice is radical, and while that might be true, I now see that it is actually really dang possible.