“It isn’t really an option if it is never a choice…
That’s one of my main mantras.
I couldn’t even consider it.”
With intrigue, I asked a new friend about the moment that words like “lesbian” or “gay” began to filter her reality around who she might be. She was clear; she couldn’t enter a frame of mind of being gay when the spectrum of choices doesn’t present that kind of option. Plus, with a heavy dose of wit, she commented, “oh, and I had already prayed about that. I was covered. You know, ‘God please, don’t make me a homosexual.”
We laughed and chuckled audibly at her facetiousness. We understood – and we knew what she was talking about. “Growing up in a church” often conjures memories of praying for purity, holiness, and everything in between.
We understood, because my new friend had an audience of six women; all of us, having had met at a church small group for LGBT people and allies, were gay – and together. We each were in a partnership with another woman, and thought it might be a good idea for us to hit the town, grab a drink, and share stories. All twenty-something millennial women, our conversation came easy. I mean, it was a triple date, so there was plenty of talking to do.
This happened not because of our relative age, but actually, because we shared two important identities together: gay, and Christian. I have had lengthy conversations about my sexuality with gay friends. You know, the stories of support, the stories of rejection, and the stories of hoping, wishing, that perhaps this didn’t have to be so hard. I’ve also carried my faith into all aspects of my life; integrating this reality into my worldview and friendships. I’ve shared about God, and how I understand and experience God to be, with countless of friends.
But, when, if ever, have I shared both?
It’s happened in a handful of times. My partner and I, most frequently. Loving God and loving each other happen at the same time, so we exist much like bedfellows in this way. But otherwise, the intersectionality of these experiences has been limited to the moments I came out to my community and gatherings of gay Christians in friends’ homes in Denver.
On the triple date, I drank an abbreviated version of a Moscow mule and laughed so hard that only minuscules of oxygen seemed to reach my brain. I was immersed and engaged; I was hearing stories that spoke to me, stories that made my heart feel full. These women – they knew. They knew what it had meant to risk everything. Because that’s the thing: if you come from a religiously conservative background, veering from anything normative is dangerous, risky, and highly questionable. We all had done that. At some point, each of us had to say “enough” and just do it. I was inspired.
Accepting our identities, across the board, had been a struggle for us. It pushed us all to consider: is it possible that the gay, Christian closet is a bit different from the nonreligious variety? How does coming out look different for those of different religious backgrounds, or perhaps more broadly, for those who don’t hold fast to any religion at all?
The Pew Research Center conducted a 2013 survey of 1,197 LGBT adults. Arguably, this was one of the largest surveys of its kind; LGBT data is still relatively new, especially since wider acceptance has gained traction only within the last decade. The survey asked questions related to income, lifestyle, demographics, and discrimination. Four in ten of the respondents (39%) indicated that at some point in their life, they had been rejected by a close friend or family member because of their sexuality or orientation. No wonder the closet, though daunting, is a desirable place to stay. The closet keeps us safe from rejection, from risk, and honestly, from hate.
The closet hasn’t always been a thing.
According to an article from Mental Floss, this kind of terminology to express the experience of a gay person revealing themselves to the larger community, has only been used since the 1960’s. It was pulled from the expression of debutante balls, incidentally, not necessarily with a closet involved. Yet, over the years, as gay people undergo this experience of honesty, authenticity, and saying, “hey guys, I’m gay,” we use the “closet” to understand what that feels like to break free.
My closet was a Christian closet.
This wasn’t because of a forced upon religion in my background or because of rigid demands of my family. Far from that, actually. God, my faith, this Christianity we are talking about, has been something nurtured and growing inside of me for years. My closet is inherently Christian because everything in my life has fingertips of my faith; I see the world as a beautiful creation, as something I get the opportunity to take part in, and as a life with a deep calling for love as a way to bring humanity together.
Still, I carried with me old assumptions about God, and old beliefs about what and who I needed to be. I tried coming out of the closet when I was 23. But my god, I was terrified, and went back as quickly as I came out. Certainly, like all gay people, I struggled with the fear of who would accept me – or not. But there was another element; I had to understand, and know, if God would accept me. This, I think, is an area that makes the Christian closet so different from the closeted realities my LGBT family has to overcome.
This doesn’t mean that LGBT Christians have a tougher time, rather, there is an added reality to break through. The fear of shame comes in a different dose when you fear that God, the most universal reality for many, might think of us as horrible people for who we are attracted to. It’s ominous, oppressive, and a weapon used too often against the LGBT community. That’s why I think it’s critical, as a Christian community, to do everything we can to lift this layer of shame.
God loves us. God loves you. God loves me.
This is what I wish we would tell individuals who are afraid to be who they are. Closets are dark, isolating, and frankly, scary. At my deepest point, I assumed that I would have to live every day of my life in a state of persuasion, telling myself that I would have to be straight in order for me to be in good relationship with God. Even out of the closet, so to speak, I have moments where I am scared, ashamed, or overwhelmed. At a wedding, recently, I realized my partner and I were the only same-sex couple on the dance floor. What did people think? Did they think we were somehow less than someone else? Why can’t I just relax and rest in this moment?
Guys, this is messed up. I’m lucky because I broke through it, but the reality is that many do not.
Ironically, and surprisingly, as it relates to Christianity, as recently as 2016, 48% of LGBT people’s identify as Christian. Why does this matter? It means that a lot of people live with these co-existing tensions: being gay and being Christian. More importantly, it means that these identities do not have to be inherently tension-filled. What if we understand the community of God’s people to be open doors, welcome to anyone? What if Christian communities became leaders in recognizing that LGBT people are humans too, and equally deserving of God’s love?
Who are we to stand in the way of that?
Who are we to construct deeper closets for deeper pain?
I don’t think that’s what Jesus imagined when he spoke of the Kingdom of God. I also do not think Jesus was talking about a utopia, rather, I think he was talking about the full manifestations of love. Love. It’s hard, messy, and difficult to navigate. However, if we commit ourselves to it, I believe that more people can come out, and come out safely. I believe more people can come out and know God. I believe that we can live in a better world, a safer one, one that chooses humanity over law; freedom over subjugation; community over isolation. The Christian Closet is a real, exasperating, and demanding experience, and I hope (and pray) that it won’t always be. I pray that we can always, always celebrate each other, for whatever and whoever we are.
Now, let’s get to work.