I hid from myself for 20 years. The first time I put language to my feelings, scribbling the words, “I like her, like that,” in my journal, I knew I had a secret I had to keep locked away from everyone. When my parents found out, we started going to church. In the pews week after week, I heard that the path away from hell began with acknowledging I am a sinner without hope of salvation. That part was easy. The intense shame I felt about my “homosexual temptations” was evidence of a corrupted, sinful nature. Throughout my teenage years, guided by my Christian community, I constructed a reality I wanted to believe was real. I amputated part of myself and prayed I’d find healing.
Journal Entry, August 1, 1997
Lord, I want to experience complete healing. I haven’t really been struggling right now, but I want some security. If this struggle keeps me away from you, Lord – that’s enough reason to want that door closed.
I felt tortured by games like Never Have I Ever and Skeletons in the Closet. The entire point of these “party games” was to embarrass each other by revealing “dark secrets.” One girl stole a candy bar from the gas station market. Another snuck into her dad’s liquor cabinet and took a gulp of whiskey. Someone else cheated on last week’s math test. These were the things that humiliated my friends, and it seemed that disclosing them provided a bit of comfort in not being the only one to do something bad. But I didn’t just have a skeleton in my closet; I was the skeleton in the closet. Instead of doing a dark deed, I lived with darkness inside of me. It is no wonder that “closeted” resonates with so many LGBTQ people who have spent any amount of time hiding their sexuality or gender identity. Closets are dark, cramped spaces filled with cobwebs, monsters, and skeletons. To “live” in the closet is often a matter of survival, but it is also death-dealing, both metaphorically and literally.
I tried as hard as I could over the years to hold my closet door closed. My intense desire to authentically connect with others, to be known and loved, sometimes cracked open the door. I was desperate for someone to peek in and tell me I wasn’t a horrible person. Yet during my first year of college, as I was clumsily trying to figure out how to build friendships while being so guarded, I “fell.” After sharing my struggle with one of my roommates, we began a relationship.
Journal Entry, November 19, 1998
I have this sick feeling inside of me. Why can’t I focus on God? Why can’t I do the right thing? I really thought I could do this. Where does this leave me? Can I possibly be forgiven? I feel so alone. I deserve hell. I’m exhausted from all of this. I feel sin-soaked. I can’t hold this anymore. God, please don’t turn away. All I have left is to believe you’ll forgive me and change me. Lord, I feel so bad I want to die. This struggle is so hard.
I spent that year in terrible inner conflict. What could have been an experience of young love and self-discovery was instead a cycle of giving in, drowning in shame and recommitting myself to obey God. When I transferred to another Christian college, I was determined to get right with God, and that meant overcoming homosexuality. For the next several years I threw myself into being ex-gay. That identity was another closet, one I constructed around the other to hide that deeper secret. Being ex-gay held out hope that I would not be rejected or alone. It promised belonging and offered a narrative to make sense of my struggle.
I followed up my undergraduate biblical studies degree with seminary. Through my theological studies, I began deconstructing parts of my faith that seemed problematic; however, I did not allow myself to apply my critical thinking skills and theological tools to the issue of homosexuality. Instead, I spent much of the next decade shoring up each piece of the structure that held up my non-affirming position, even when it meant only keeping one step ahead of the cracks and weakness that kept appearing. I consistently suffered from depression and anxiety during this time.
Journal Entry, October 22, 2003
I’m really afraid of God right now. I keep feeling like he is mad at me or is disappointed in me – that he’s going to leave me or punish me by taking everything away from me. I don’t know him right now as my loving Savior and I don’t know how to lean on him and run to him and trust him when I am afraid of his judgment, condemnation or rejection. But I need him. I need his love. I need his guidance. I need his peace. I’m scared of how broken I am. I’m scared that will mean great loss. I’m scared that will mean a lot of pain. I’m scared that will mean rejection from God.
Hiding from the reality of my sexual orientation required I repress or numb my deepest desire for connection and partnership. I convinced myself that the ache and longing I felt would be made bearable within meaningful friendships. A dream of intentional community fueled my hope for belonging and love. When I could no longer deny that I was gay, I still tried following the path I had been on by submitting to a life of celibacy. Terrified of losing the little sense of belonging I had within my non-affirming church, professional and family relationships, I could not risk coming out of the closet. Yet, staying in was killing me.
A dear friend and mentor encouraged me to revisit my understanding of my sexuality and the theology surrounding it. She saw that my depression was linked to the part of me I refused to honestly examine. Her encouragement turned a key to what I had locked away. Over two years I was able to open the door, step out, adjust my eyes to the light, see the truth and walk forward in peace as a gay Christian. In 2013, I came out as a lesbian who had reconciled her faith and sexuality.
Reading through my old journals to figure out what I wanted to share today for National Coming Out Day, I felt a lot of compassion for the me pouring her heart out in those pages. I was trapped within an existence where I was barely surviving. Even though my theology long rejected the image of God I learned from my first years as a Christian, I was still haunted by the feeling in my gut that I was a “sinner in the hands of an angry God.” Year after year I expressed so much fear and shame. Year after year I fought a losing battle against despair. Reading the words, “I want to die,” in my handwriting so many times reminds me of the oppressiveness of living in the closet.
I came out six years ago, and for six years I’ve been living life more at peace and with more hope and joy than ever before. Life has been full. I fell in love and married my amazing wife. I’ve met so many beautiful LGBTQ Christians living and loving courageously. I have preached, taught and served with more honesty and energy. As I’ve shown up more fully in my life and let myself be seen, I’ve opened myself to a quality of connection for which I only previously longed. Of course there has been deep pain and loss. Life is not without struggle. However, the last six years have been such a gift. No longer burdened by hopelessness, I intend to live fully as a practice of gratitude.