I initially journaled these thoughts in 2019, but with today being National Coming Out Day, I thought I’d post them here to mark the occasion. Here’s to celebrating greater authenticity and closeness!
On Saturday night I met a guy who told me he came out when he was only 13. That sounds so young to me as someone who only started coming out well after adulthood, and I know plenty of people twice my age who still haven’t come out. So it was really strange to imagine a 13-year-old boy navigating the same complex conversations at such a young age.
But it also highlighted to me how much more reluctant Christians are to come out. Speaking anecdotally, my non-Christian gay friends have come out around a decade younger than my same-sex attracted Christian friends. Many of my gay Christian friends plan on never coming out at all, some because they are quite happily content with the way things are, and many others because they fear the repercussions in their families, churches, friendships and workplaces. Make of it what you will, but it seems that Christians are the most likely to stay hidden in the shadows. So this post is mostly speaking to you, the same-sex attracted Christian wondering if it is worth taking risk to come out.
First, I want to name that it IS taking a risk. I’m convinced coming out is a good thing, but I want to acknowledge that for many people, coming out isn’t a safe or viable option for you right now. I don’t intend to pressure anyone into a decision that they’re not ready for, but I do want to encourage you to consider how you can be taking steps towards greater transparency, whether that’s with a small group of friends or with everyone in your life.
I also understand that in other cultures, coming out can have different and complex risks, so I share my thoughts as someone limited by the perspective of my own Western culture. I’m not suggesting that coming out–as I understand it in a Western culture–is always going to be the safest or most fulfilling option in other cultures. I would love to hear your own experiences on culturally diverse experiences of coming out.
Having made those disclaimers, I DO think that coming out is something you should seriously consider. I spent many years agonising over my own decision to come out, so I’ve done plenty of personal thinking–and overthinking. I have also seen dozens of people I love come out. I’ve seen most of them suffer the ramifications of that. I’ve also seen the eventual growth and flourishing that made it worth it in every single case I’ve observed. It is costly, but I think it might just be worth it for you – and here are eight reasons why:
1. Deeper Relationships
God has designed us to flourish when we are most truly known and deeply loved. If there are parts of us that are not truly know by those around us, the love we experience can only be “inauthentic validation:” validation for the inauthentic persona we project rather than the real, whole person underneath the mask. Authentic validation only happens when we are truly known and deeply loved.
“The young gay boy who learns to ‘fake out’ everyone and act straight becomes starved for authentic validation. He immediately and unconsciously discounts all validation since he knows what he is presenting to others isn’t authentic.”Alan Downs, The Velvet Rage, 26.
Most people in the closet don’t realise the pressure this puts on their relationships until after they come out and experience a whole new depth of friendship when they have bared a vulnerable part of themselves and experienced unconditional love in return. There is a terrifying vulnerability in coming out and a thrilling affirmation that comes from having someone responding with tenderness and compassion to that vulnerability. Few things have deepened my friendships more than this kind of vulnerable trust.
Living a double life will eventually destroy you from the inside. By ‘double life’ I don’t just mean hooking up in secret and having covert relationships; sometimes it’s just a matter of having a whole realm of your thought-life and experience that is different from the life everyone else sees. Sooner or later, it’s important that a healthy life integrates these two experiences into one life. That’s where the word integrity comes from: a healthy integration of different factors into one integrated, multi-faceted person. Keeping secrets about your sexual orientation involves compartmentalising, presenting different versions of yourself until you end up with a ‘dis-integrated’ sense of self. I have a friend who lived a dis-integrated life for many years, becoming an expert in compartmentalising to the point where he dissociated from some of his sexual experiences so much that it feels like they happened to someone else–not the real him. He now feels the ramifications of this dis-integration and is having to build from the ground up, even having to take personality tests in an attempt to finally understand which version of him is the real him.
Secrecy is the perfect environment for breeding sin. We all need accountability to pursue holiness, and we know that we’re not designed to go it alone. Coming out finally brings everything into the light and allows the SSA person to be fully seen, fully loved, and fully supported. On the flip side, people who struggle with sexuality in secret tend to, in my experience, turn to much less healthy ways of seeking love and understanding like anonymous hookups, a dating apps, or pornography. I know a guy who has kept his sexuality extremely private for years while being very involved in church community, but frequenting Grindr under cover of darkness. Until we bring trusted people into the private parts of our lives, we fight this battle against temptation alone. We need accountability, and we need people who know us deeply because that’s how God designed us to flourish.
4. Controlling the Narrative
The older I get, as a single guy who’s never been in a romantic relationship, the more people start to speculate about reasons why I might be single. I know for a fact that many of my extended family have speculated to my parents about my sexual orientation. It feels uncomfortable and invasive that people would surmise about a private part of my life, but whether I like it or not, that is what happens. Conjecture is rarely fruitful, and people come up with all sorts of crazy ideas about my faith and sexuality that are far from the truth. Part of my reason for coming out was to take control of the narrative and put an end to speculation by telling my version of the story. This allows me to speak to the central part that Jesus plays in shaping my experience of sexuality and share why singleness and celibacy are actually beautiful things for people who know God. If I allowed people to speculate about my orientation, I would miss the opportunity to show people the most important part of my sexuality: how it points me towards a deeper understanding of God’s grace.
Maybe you’ve read this far and you feel like coming out still isn’t that important for you. Maybe you’ve already shared your sexuality with a few close friends and reaped the above benefits, so the idea of making it more public doesn’t have much to offer you. Well, let me encourage you to think about coming out, not because of what it offers you, but because of what you have to offer others. It’s not all about you. Maybe you don’t need to come out to flourish as a person and a Christian – in fact, maybe coming out would even make life harder for you, but here’s why I think you should do it as a way of loving others:
5. Reach the World with the Gospel
You have a unique opportunity to show the world that no one, not even a gay person, is EVER out of reach of Gods grace. When I was still quite private about my story a couple of years ago, I had a dear friend who was gay and not a Christian. I’d often talk about my faith with him and share encouragement from my experience in church, but never mentioned my sexuality. One day as I was raving about how special it is to be part of a loving church community, he told me that this sounded like such a special thing that he wished he could be a part of… except that obviously being gay disqualified him from going to church. I was devastated to realise that he thought he was ineligible to be a Christian because of his sexuality, but it made sense when I realised that he’d never met an openly gay Christian. That experience taught me that something as simple as speaking openly about being gay and Christian can powerfully show other people that their sexuality has no power to keep them away from Jesus’ love! I only wish I’d realised that earlier so our conversation could have gone a different way.
6. Serve the Church through Vulnerability
The church desperately needs people who bear witness to God’s grace and sufficiency through showing their vulnerability. We don’t just need the confident ‘functional’ Christian leaders who speak publicly about their sexuality; we also need the humble, broken, ordinary person who struggles in their sexuality and faith, but through sharing their struggles quietly proclaims their utter dependence on God’s grace. If the Western church needs anything, it’s to wake up from our complacency, see our own brokenness, and realise how desperately we need God’s grace. Showing vulnerability about any issue is profoundly helpful, and especially sexuality. When a celibate gay Christian invites someone into the personal space of their story, they serve another person by modelling healthy vulnerability and humility. It doesn’t even need to be a ‘success’ story; the messier your life, the more powerful the vulnerability. Over time this transparency transforms friendships and communities. I recently had a married couple invite me over and share some deeply personal struggles in their marriage that they had only confided to a handful of other people. I thought it was strange for them to choose me of all people – the single guy who’d never been in a relationship – but they told me that my own vulnerability about my sexuality had made them feel safe sharing their own shame and brokenness with me. As we shared our brokenness, cried together and prayed together, God transformed our friendship and our spirituality to depend on him even more fully for our redemption.
7. Advocate for LGBT+ people
The only reason I’m able to write this post and share it openly without fearing imprisonment, unemployment, or violence, is because of the LGBT+ people who have come before me. Those pioneers took huge risks to come out of the shadows and advocate for the freedom and safety we enjoy today. Some of them suffered and died for it. If I care about the humanity and equality of LGBT+ people, I have a certain responsibility to advocate for them–even sometimes if that comes at a cost (though it will rarely cost me the way it cost my forebears). People who are committed Christians and attracted to the same sex are a minority within a minority, and we need advocates now more than ever. We all want to be understood and cared for, and that means someone has to take one for the team and start allowing themselves to be seen and known. Could that be you? The predominant gay culture in Western countries is so devoid of any Christian presence that most gay teenagers wrestling with their sexuality only see one option: give up their faith and pursue a same-sex relationship. Imagine a world where gay Christians had such a strong presence that devoting your life to Jesus in chastity was actually seen as an even more viable option. The biggest obstacle to that world becoming a reality is these gay Christians choosing not to use their voices to advocate for other LGBT+ people.
8. Become a lighthouse for other SSA Christians.
Maybe you don’t feel like you need to come out because you have processed sexuality well on your own or with the support of a few close friends and confidants. You should still consider coming out publicly, not for your own sake, but out of love for your other brothers and sisters struggling with sexuality in the shadows of the church. They desperately need a beacon of light to help guide them through their faith journey, and God has uniquely positioned you to be that lighthouse. You might not know who those people are yet, and it might even seem like you’re the only one in your faith community, but let me promise you that the moment you share your story openly, people will come out of the woodworks, desperate to connect with someone who understands: God will use your courage to minister powerfully to others. I love the story of my mentor coming out to one of his close friends. It took a huge amount of bravery for him to pick up the phone and call his mate to have this conversation. When he finally choked out the words, “I’m gay,” and waited for his friend’s response, after a moment of silence, he was shocked to hear his friend reply, “Me too.” Imagine how long their friendship might have continued without them being able to share this journey if one of them had not had the courage to come out. Through their friendship and transparency, God has blessed them richly in their friendship, and indirectly that has impacted me as they’ve been able to welcome me and others into a network of same-sex attracted Christians who meet together to encourage each other in our pursuit of faithfulness. This network has been a huge support to me in my faith, and it can only exist because of a couple of ordinary individuals who took the courageous step of having a difficult conversation.
Who might you start by having that conversation with?