Coming Out Again

Earlier this week I was talking briefly online with a friend who’s still in the middle of the process of coming out to family and friends. It’s been a few years since I was in his shoes, and hearing him describe both the newfound freedom and the emotional exhaustion of coming out took me back to those moments of my own life.

I think, for instance, of sitting with a friend at her kitchen table late one night. I’d come upstairs from my basement apartment to where she and her husband lived on the third floor of the house, having decided this would be the night I confided in her, dear friend that she was. And even though I counted on it going well, and even though I’d had the same conversation with other friends a half dozen times in the previous weeks, I still felt jittery. Imagine knowing you are about to describe some hitherto hidden part of your psyche and your life’s narrative that, somehow, isn’t just one discrete part but rather something that suffuses the whole. (My hands are sweating a little as I type these words now, even recalling that moment about ten years later.)

I remember sitting across the table from my friend in the half-light of the lamp above the sink, and I started shivering a little, apparently visibly. “Are you okay?” my friend asked, turning up her Minnesota accent a bit at the end of her question in order to convey that she didn’t want to sound accusatory. “Yeah, I’m fine,” I assured her, and then tried to stop beating around the bush. Finally the words tumbled out. And there was, as before, that potent cocktail of emotions—relief at being more deeply known, joy at her mothering tenderness toward me in that moment, fear of what misunderstandings she might nonetheless still be harboring, nervousness about whether anything would be disrupted in our future relationship, excitement and happiness about the prospect of a deeper friendship, and more.

But what I really found myself thinking about this week, in conversation with my friend, was how this coming out process is never, ever finished. There’s a real sense in which it’s done and dusted for me. Heck, I’ve written a book about being gay, and I contribute regularly to this blog. At one profound level, I’m as out as can possibly be. Even so, there’s another, seemingly deeper and truer sense in which I’m still coming out, or would like to be. I want to be further known, better understood. As I wrote to my friend,

I’ve been thinking lately, for instance, as someone who’s in my early 30s, about how there is so much to my current experience of my sexuality—the longing for friendship, the surges of sexual attraction, the moments of being so aware of my difference, the loneliness of singleness, the jealousy of certain friends’ friendships and marriages—that I still find it difficult to talk about, sometimes even with close friends.

All my nearest and dearest friends know I’m gay. And each of them would be willing, at a moment’s notice, to talk with me about it. Yet, somehow, finding words to tell them about how that one spark of attraction last week felt at once so confusing and revelatory and problematic—how do I perform that impossible task? How do I tell them that, even though I write about the comforts of friendship and hospitality, and how I am called as a celibate man to honor and celebrate same-sex closeness and camaraderie, at times I am still searching and not finding that closeness for myself? (Should I even try to tell them?) Or how do I describe something it seems as though I should have gotten over years ago—namely, those stabs of envy I feel on seeing a happy marriage, or observing a double date at a nearby table in a restaurant? (As my gay friend Karen has said, “I have found that life has its ups and downs. I have gone through terrible miserable years, followed by exuberant years, followed by difficult years, followed by bittersweet years. Our struggles and spiritual life ebb and flow in different ways. Perhaps old struggles and joys of the past are gone but new ones arise.”) Or how do I tell my friends—and really communicate it to them—that, even though, as a traditional Christian, I believe in the moral wrongness of gay sex, there are still aspects of being gay and belonging to circles of gay friends that move and delight and instruct me in ways that might be hard to articulate and comprehend?

I’m not saying I feel obligated, or even desirous, of sharing all these things with all my friends. There are, as a counselor of mine once told me, circles of appropriate transparency. Not every flicker of desire or anguish is something even my best friends need to hear. But still, there are ways I feel as though I need to keep coming out, and all the more as any given friendship deepens. In those moments, I am quietly awed by the power of a second, third, thirtieth, or three hundredth coming out.

I often quote G. C. Lichtenburg to my students: that there is “a great difference between believing something still and believing it again.” Tweaking that line, I’d say there’s a great difference between coming out initially—having the “I’m gay” conversation for the very first time—and coming out again—having the “I’m gay” conversation for the thousandth time. The first one is fearful and wondrous, and the second is more than just its extension.

13 thoughts on “Coming Out Again

  1. Reblogged this on Justified Rebel and commented:
    “Or how do I tell my friends—and really communicate it to them—that, even though, as a traditional Christian, I believe in the moral wrongness of gay sex, there are still aspects of being gay and belonging to circles of gay friends that move and delight and instruct me in ways that might be hard to articulate and comprehend?”

  2. I can relate to this. I have been out for several years, publicly written and spoken on this topic. Yet I still can find myself struggling to talk about what is really going on with me. And sometimes I still feel that nervousness of telling someone who doesn’t know. I realized recently that I still worry about how people will treat me. I have had some negative experiences and sometimes I am tempted to just “pass.” With friends that do know I tend to feel like they really don’t understand what it is like. I find it easier to talk with other gay folk. But, in the process, I cut myself off from intimacy by not being more vulnerable with on-going openness about the challenges of living a celibate gay life.

  3. I am relatively young in this new gay-in-a-mixed-orientation-marriage life of mine, at least in the “out” sense. Your words are very encouraging, supportive, and directive to me.

    Thank You!!

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  5. Newbie here, who’s recently felt the need to participate on this website (and conversation), by virtue of having to come alongside a gay relative and fellow Christians.

    I wonder if ‘coming out’ would be easier if the church ‘came out’ also, i.e., created space for such conversations to happen by frequently/routinely assigning Christian gay speakers on the topic of homosexuality in place of a regular Sunday sermon and or mid-week Bible Study.

    Speaking as a multiple-minority individual, I believe it *could* be easier if society and church *created* ‘space’ to recognize and incorporate teachings directly relevant to the peculiar minority, in this case, homosexuality. Then people wouldn’t feel so alone or struggle so hard to be known or understood. I think this would break the many layers of ice that surround many minority issues, and generate ease of conversation about issues peculiar to the minority. Creating such spaces would send a message of ‘acceptance,’ ‘belonging’ and ‘solidarity’ to the minority group, and remove the sense of strangeness that puts strain on such conversation, I think.

  6. This is great. If you think about coming out in this way, it’s true that most of us, gay and straight, have ever-deepening layers of “coming out” to our loved ones. Something like revealing my abusive childhood to a friend shifts our relationship in a fundamental way, just like my sexuality would – hopefully towards depth and communion with one another. But you’re right, too, that it’s not always appropriate to share every passing thought and feeling!

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  9. I don’t know whether this will helpful, and writing it out doesn’t feel very safe. But your post at once reminds me of all of the agonies of my pre-marital life (desperation to be known; specific attraction to, and occasionally very intimate friendship with, people that I didn’t end up marrying, etc.), as well as some of the trials of married life (the realization that you’ll never – at least in this world – know or be as fully known as you so desperately desire; the occasional feeling that you’ve met someone *else* with whom you could also have been happily married).

    Which isn’t to say that you don’t experience these things in different and likely even more potent ways. Just that I imagine you’d find, as you may already know, that some of your heterosexual friends deal with similar internal conflicts as well – and can therefore truly empathize! And sometimes, because we’re “happily married”, it might feel even harder to find the appropriate times and places for discussing them… so they might be glad of an opportunity to hear from you while at the same time unburdening themselves *to* you.

    Thank you for continuing this conversation in such a graceful way. It is one of the few bright spots I experience in what feels most days like a very dark world indeed.

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