The other day I heard the song “Lady” by the Little River Band on the radio. Boy did it bring back memories. I’ve mentioned before that I LOVE music. When I hear a song, it takes me right back to whatever was happening at that time in my life. Well this was 1978. I was in the 6th grade. Every Friday night my friends and I would go to the rec center in my neighborhood for middle school dances. I thought I was sooo grown up because I would get home just as the television show Dallas was coming on. That show came on at 9pm (smile). I was “big stuff” alright.
These dances were so much fun. They had contests for different dance styles (disco, slow dancing, etc). They even had some singing contests…kind of like karaoke but without all of the fancy equipment. I never did the singing, but I did participate in the dance contests every week and even won a few. As fun as these dances were to me, there were some pretty scary moments as well. Being an 11-year-old girl, waiting for a boy to ask me to dance, was pretty terrifying. What if no one asks? What if someone does (smile)? Awkward times for sure. Being in this scenario as a young gay person, however, adds much more trepidation.
I’m often asked why gay people feel the need to “come out.” Why can’t they keep what happens in the bedroom private? If we were just talking about sex, that would be a valid point. But coming out, isn’t a declaration about sex. I haven’t read one “coming out” story that included anything about sex actually. I want you to know that for most people coming out is a painstaking decision. It is not taken lightly…there is a lot at stake. It takes some people years to take that step.
If you were single for any length of time longer than what your family thought was reasonable, you were probably bombarded with tons of questions at family gatherings by well-meaning relatives. “Have you met anyone interesting lately?” “What ever happened with so and so…he/she was nice?” “What are you waiting for? You aren’t getting any younger you know.” “Don’t you want to have children?” Pretty annoying. Now imagine being gay and getting these same questions. Over and over again…not just by relatives, but by well-meaning friends as well. “I have the perfect girl/guy for you.” You politely decline the “set-ups.” But eventually, these situations are too painful to bear. It’s not just a matter of answering the questions. Sure you can say you haven’t met anyone, but having to do this over and over again starts to feel like lying. Let’s face it…some people are pretty aggressive when it comes to pursuing someone. Having to tell someone “no” many times can be daunting. Especially if you don’t like hurting other people’s feelings.
I can’t speak for someone who has come out, but I have a little glimpse into what it is like because I went through a coming out process as a parent of a gay child. You know how it is when you haven’t seen or spoken to someone for a while who knows your children…the first thing you do is catch up with each other and what your kids are up to. Someone would ask me about my son and I would say he is doing well when in reality I was surviving day by day just trying to keep him alive. I didn’t feel genuine. Instead of facing reality, I was pretending. Coming out and telling my story freed me from those feelings. I am so glad that part of my journey is over. After the initial fear of putting my “news” out there, I felt freedom that is indescribable. I wanted to shout it from mountain tops because it was healing…but singing the Diana Ross song that is in my title sufficed (smile).
I don’t mean to make light of the process. I’ve talked to many gay people who have described their coming out process. Many of these stories are painful. This past weekend I actually got to hear some of these stories in person at The Reformation Project Conference in Washington, DC. My heart is still breaking from some of the stories that I heard that weekend. The people who shared that part of their lives with me have left an imprint on my heart that will be there forever. I met some AMAZING people…so full of love and grace even when treated horribly. And even though there are many sad stories, I also know that there are lighter souls out there because they are being true to themselves. The outcome with family members and friends may not always be what they hope for, but it is often during this process that they realize that God loves them just the way they are.
Of course, not everyone’s journey is the same, and people come out for their own personal reasons. But, if someone comes out to you, treat them with grace and dignity. They aren’t flaunting their sexuality. They are fragile. They are trusting you with their very lives and hearts. So love them…
Because love matters.