If I were the person who got to pick the analogy for those who are not open about their sexuality, I wouldn’t have picked a closet; I would have picked a prison. (I can see the look on people’s faces when I tell them “I just got out of prison.” So I see why they picked closet instead.) It’s small and dark. It’s where you store things like shoes, clothes and board games. You shove junk inside when your parents visit hoping the clean floor will fool them into thinking it is always clean even when they are not around. (Or is that just me?) When you grow up gay in the Nazarene bubble, escape doesn’t seem possible, so you learn to adapt and live a shell of a life surround and contained in your closet. (I was trying to avoid an R. Kelly reference). Mine was not a closet it was a prison. I locked my gay away so far down it was never going to surface. Maximum security. Cell Block D. Solitary confinement. No chance for parole.
I was taking this secret to the grave. (I chuckle when friends mention that they don’t think I can keep a secret). Barring getting Alzheimer’s and mistaking the doctor for a former childhood crush, I was on the track to do just that. I had girlfriend, and you know being Nazarene and 20+, was long over due to get married. That world came crashing down. My old friend depression came back to visit, and stayed for 4 months before I realized what was going on. People break up all the time; my friends didn’t understand why I was taking it hard. I told them I was I love with her, and perhaps I was, emotions are complex. Maybe I had just enough love to get me walking down the aisle. That’s all I needed right? I wouldn’t get a chance to find out. Little did I know that the events of July 9th would start me on the road to leaving the Nazarene Bubble, this blog, and coming out?
My closet. My prison. My hell.
A place I never want to step into again. I’m still jumping back and forth, in and out of the closet, depending on if the people I’m around know. Even after I’m fully out, the scars of the closet will linger with me. Coming out doesn’t make your closet go away. It follows you behind every picture on Facebook, every birthday, every school year, every wedding, every funeral, every mission trip, every memory up until coming out, are echoes created by the double life.
I’ve searched for examples or metaphors that would help explain what it is like so that a straight person could step into my shoes for a brief moment. The closet is a suffocating cloud that muffled your speech when you want to say that guy at the mall is hot. It wraps around your arms so you never feel comfortable holding hands with your girlfriend, but you’re too scared to admit why. It builds a barrier between you and your friends; an invisible wall that keeps them from seeing the real you. Your friends can’t name it, or see it, but something is going on, like it’s always in the corner of their eyes never able to get a good look at what is causing it. It places a blur on your personality so that you don’t stand out too much. It constantly reminds you of all your insecurities so that you’re acutely aware of them at all times. It kills any kind of happiness, personal triumph, or celebration by whispering you how far you’ll fall and how fast it’ll all be taken away if anyone found out.
I don’t ever want to be there again.
I came out to my friends over the course of a few weeks this past winter. Each time my heart raced, my knees buckled, and my hands got numb. (Some how I kept it together and didn’t cry.) For my church isn’t ready for homosexual-members much less clergy, and the state I live in isn’t known for its welcoming of different people groups.
Leaving the Nazarene-Bubble helped me some, but it still didn’t give me a guarantee. Of all my friends I told I was probably the most nervous when I told Blake. Here is a guy that has nothing in common with those you typically associate with being a Straight-Ally. Blake is male, Christian, registered Republican, loves the NRA and likes to hunt, lives on a ranch, in a fraternity, and did I mention he is from Texas. (He’s going to want me to add Ladies-man to that list as well). I didn’t have to tell him. For a while I wasn’t going to, but I talked myself out that because I knew that fear was driving my decision-making. Because along with all those things listed above, Blake is also one of the nicest, and most genuine guys around. And for someone who could pick anyone hang out with, he chooses to spend his time with me. So I needed to be genuine with him.
He was working that afternoon, and after exchanging texts and not trying to sound too needy, about wanting to meet him for lunch, we finally met at a place near campus. I had a mutual friend there for moral support, but just ‘happened’ to be in the area and joined us. I got some scone-thing and a Mountain Dew. I said I already ate, but truth was my nerves made me lose my appetite. Funny the things you remember. After we exhausted everything under the sun to talk about, I turned to our friend sitting next to me, took a deep breath and started to tell Blake.
He was the only person I needed someone else to help tell. Mainly so I’d actually do it, but in case Blake pulled out tar and feathers, I could escape. Blake had the recipe for disaster. Fear, in my mind, turned the possibility of a negative reaction into the expectation of one. Sitting next to me in a wicker seat, Blake took a drink of his tea, which everyone down here calls Coke, and said “So what?”
You know that feeling when you light a firework and it didn’t go off, well that’s what it felt like, except dud was a very good thing! The tingling and numbness in my hands started to slowly go away, and my legs stopped bouncing nervously under the table. We spent the next hour talking. Blake was still my friend, and more importantly I was still Blake’s.
I expected the worst each time I told someone. What actually happened was completely different. He was surprised I was gay, and I was surprised he was still sitting at the table talking to me. Truth be told, 100% of the people I’ve told have been absolutely cool with it, it makes me wonder why I waited so long to begin with. To quote Rod Stewart, “I wish that I knew what I know now when I was younger.” For too long I’ve let fear control my life. I live in the Bible belt and I always thought “if only I was in a bohemian district like Greenwich Village in New York or Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco, then coming out would have been so easy” and I would have done come out much sooner… The truth is, even living there, I probably would have come up with another excuse to delay it.
I’m not one for surprises. I like things on lists and details planned out. Life doesn’t let you do that though. The unexpected support and love of my friends has been a very welcome surprise.