Coming Out: Christian upbringing and the challenge of self-acceptance

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A few weeks ago, we invited Vancity Buzz readers who identify as LGBT to submit their own ‘coming out’ stories as a way of empowering and inspiring others who may be struggling with their own sexuality.

The ninth and final submission of our reader-submitted coming out stories during Vancouver Pride Week 2014 is anonymous.

anonymous male

Age: 41
Occupation: Human Resources

I’d like to be one of those people who can say that he always knew he was gay. I’m not. In fact, although hindsight is 20/20 and the signs were always there, when I was a kid I never even knew what “gay” really meant.

Never mind that the neighbourhood bully called me a “gaylord” when I was only about seven years old. Never mind that all of my friends in grade school and high school were girls, but that none of them were “girlfriends”.

Until sometime in college, my only clear idea of “gay” was Bruce, my Mom’s hairdresser, who was charged for performing sexual acts in a public washroom and had his name printed in the local newspaper for public indecency. But that’s not really where this story begins.

Like I said, I never had a girlfriend. Not a real one, anyway. I dated this one girl from the youth group for a couple of weeks, but our dates pretty much consisted of sitting together in church. I was friends with lots of great girls, some of whom would have been happy to date me. And I should have been happy to date them…but I couldn’t understand why, it just wasn’t right.

You’d think I’d figure things out when, in college (a Christian college, by the way), my first girlfriend and I never got much beyond hand holding (in church, yet again!). But it’s amazing how deep into denial a solid Christian upbringing and a conviction that homosexuality is a sin can push you.

Here’s a frank example: masturbation. All through high school and college I sincerely believed that masturbation was a sin. For years I was burdened with guilt and spent many nights crying myself to sleep, begging God for forgiveness and promising never to do it again.

On top of all that guilt was the fact that my fantasies were about boys. Boys that I just wanted to be ‘friends’ with. And how much worse was that in the eyes of God?

Once, I finally worked up the guts to tell a youth pastor at a Christian camp I attended about my struggles. His solution: “Read your Bible every day and ask God to take away that desire.” Needless to say, it didn’t work.

During my last year at college, one of my best friends asked me to describe “my ideal woman”. I couldn’t do it. I threw out some generic adjectives like pretty, kind, funny; but my friend wouldn’t give up. She pressed me to give an honest answer.

Finally, I had to admit that my ideal was not, in fact, a woman, but a man. That was the first time for me to say aloud, “I think I’m gay!” That friend tried to be supportive, but ended up just sounding sorry for me. I guess she was kind of in shock. And so was I.

A few months later, I began what was supposed to be one year in Japan. Suddenly, as a Caucasian man, I was faced with a new kind of shock: the shock of being a visible minority. In addition to my struggle with a new language and culture, I wrestled with the fears of telling people I was gay.

I did a lot of reading, a lot of praying, and a lot of crying. I tried to hide the truth from people, including myself, until one day I summoned up the courage to tell one of my best friends.

She responded with, “Ya, honey, I knew that the moment I met you. What’s the big deal?” Only then did I realise that being gay wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.

The coming out process began with telling people back in Canada, primarily over email. I got mixed reactions, including several friends warning me what a mistake I was making, and trying to woo me back to Canada. As I learned later, there was even a plan afoot among some of my friends to fly over to Japan en masse and ‘rescue’ me: from the vices of Japan or from myself, I was never sure which.

After more than a year in Japan, I decided it was time to tell my parents. I spent two months making plans. I went to a counsellor. I read books. I did research on the web. I had everything laid out perfectly.

But nothing could prepare me for the big day. Christmas 1997 was not a joyous occasion, and all the stereotypes of coming out to Mom and Dad played themselves out that day. However, in the intervening years, the initial shock, denial, and confusion my parents dealt with have been replaced by encouragement, support, and understanding.

Since that day I have realised that the coming out process never really ends. There are still some important people in my life who, for various reasons, don’t know. There are always people who need to be told.

On a daily basis, I have to make choices: about telling people I’ve met; about facing the reality of homophobia; about hiding the truth for the sake of self-preservation. Sometimes it involves keeping people at a distance to avoid scrutiny of my personal life. Sometimes it is a snap decision, like omitting a masculine pronoun from a sentence, or being evasive when someone asks the age-old question, “So, do you have a girlfriend?”

For the most part, being gay is simply a part of who I am. However, it has implications in the career choices I must make, the issues I stand for, and the people I share my life with. It resonates in every aspect of my life.

Simply put, coming out is not an event. It is a series of actions and reactions, of subtle gestures and verbal cues that define the words and behaviour of every gay woman and man on the planet. This is my reality.

So when someone asks, “When did you come out?” my honest answer has to be, “Every day.”

– anonymous male

 

Featured Image: Gay bible via Shutterstock

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