Four years ago through a moment of terrified bravery my home became safe.
Four years ago I confessed to my sophomore roommate that I struggled with same-sex attractions. It was almost 2am on a Saturday night and we were up late, as we often were, chatting until the early morning. I’d been friends with my roommate for over a year and we, along with 4 other friends, shared two dorm rooms our sophomore year of college. For several months I’d been wanting to tell my roommate about my deep struggle with my sexuality but for various reasons it never happened until that night in October. He could sense the weight of what I told him and offered to come along side me as a brother and friend, to defend me should anyone speak against me. More than anything he allowed me for the first time to feel safe.
It’s not that my family home with my parents was unsafe, but in a way few people understand the deep, and often irrational, silencing fear of rejection that comes with being LGBT stands in the face of even the greatest families. In fact, it was knowing that even if every friend and family member from that night on rejected me and alienated me I still had one place to rest and simply be. This sense of security enabled me to share with my parents my same-sex attraction only five weeks later. Once my dorm home and my family home were safe, the Great Wall of my secret shame began coming down. Perhaps it wasn’t so much that my walls began coming down, as I began coming out.
For the first few years, after sharing with another close friend my freshman year, I would tell friends and family that I “struggled with same-sex attraction.” There was safety in that phrase and it helped me to begin being honest about what I was feeling in a way coming out as gay couldn’t have. In the last few years though, I’ve begun to use more culturally understood language by “coming out” as “gay” rather than sharing that I “struggle with same-sex attraction.” They are both imperfect phrases and both can sometimes cause confusion but I truly believe that there is a value in identifying with a group of people so often only seen as other. By identifying my experience of romantic same-sex feelings and attractions with the broader culture’s language, I am able to slowly rebuild the Christian church’s experience of these terms and make a “them” issue an “us” issue. As a gay man who believes in a traditional view of marriage and sexuality I often will further identify as celibate in order to give voice to my pursuit of faithfulness through singleness and chastity.
This experience of safety has expanded far beyond my home and covers all relationships where I feel known and loved. When I talk about feeling safe I’m referring not as much to my physical safety, which I’ve never seriously doubted, but rather to feeling safe enough to be myself, not always have to vigilantly protect my secret. It’s hard enough to fight a battle internally against shame and fear but it is even more difficult when you’re fighting the same battle externally with friends and family. This sense of safety to simply be me, ask the questions I’m struggling with and not always need to defend where I’m at, only comes through being honest with others about my sexuality.
I look back on a few of the letters I had composed to friends where I shared a secret so shameful I felt it was understandable if they ceased to be my friend altogether. Letters where I felt the need to thank them for simply finishing the page as opposed to burning it along with our friendship; I struggle to remember the hidden heart that once wrote those words. I’ve basked in the light of feeling known and loved by a community of friends and family for long enough now that the salve of acceptance has all but healed the once deep scars of feeling unloveable and unknown. These scars haven’t completely vanished and as I begin the next stage of my life in graduate school some of the same fears come back. The racing heartbeat before casually mentioning that I like guys has come back once or twice as I’ve shared in class and with classmates about being gay. I’ve felt eager to share this simple fact with as many new friends as possible because I am unwilling to live behind the wall again. My time in graduate school and the beautiful community God has brought me is far too valuable to again waste by feeling unsafe and unknown.
That night in October nearly four years ago is indelibly imprinted in my memory. Like the few conversations before it and the dozens after it, that sense of safety and freedom I can never forget. When I open my heart in a moment of brazen vulnerability I allow God’s grace to come into that moment and begin the process of reshaping my heart into a heart that trusts and can be loved. In those moments when I first began revealing parts of myself that had been long hidden away, love slowly ceased to be doubted. When the part of me that seemed so utterly worthy of rejection simply became one piece of who I was, I began to understand how God too could love me too. When my home and relationships started becoming safe I more fully began to understand that I could feel safe in the presence of God as well. Honesty with others began to allow deeper and deeper honesty with God about my brokenness. My parents, my roommate, and dozens of others have shown me that I am worthy of love, thus allowing me to believe that God could love my imperfect heart as well.
Human love is always imperfect and our experiences of imperfect love scar and shape our lives in ways too painful to understand. I’ve been incredibly blessed in countless ways but my life is only one of millions. I’ve heard enough stories of pain and rejection from LGBT people to know just how rare my experience is. I’ve shared my life as means to encourage each of us to become, by the grace of God, more deeply capable of loving others well. Perhaps they too can begin to experience healing and know that they are deeply worthy of love.