Coming Out Christian: On the Importance of Our Language
It was nearly midnight and my new friends and I were playing the old middle school of “Never Have I Ever.” The game is simple: everyone holds up five fingers and you go around in a circle, saying something that starts with “Never have I ever …” If others in the group have done that thing, they must lower a finger. The game keeps going until someone does not have any fingers left standing.
My friends were a couple of drinks in, and I was quietly sipping a can of Coke, laughing along and chatting as only possible in the first few weeks of a new university. We were, as one friend commented, playing this game as a good way to get to know each other. I was game, but I was also a little frightened of being vulnerable in front of people I’d known for maybe a week.
In the time-accelerated feeling that happens when you’re living in close proximity to new people and making new friends, I felt like I already knew so much about the people in this room. We’d already developed inside jokes; we were already behaving like we’d known each other for years. But I also know that there are always things friends don’t find out for years, and I was afraid of keeping myself secret from these people. I was nervous to come out.
The coming out process is never easy. On Saturday of the Gay Christian Network conference this last year, I was shaking when I picked up the phone to call my dad and tell him that I’m bisexual. Writing the initial post in 2013 to come out here on this blog was a weeks-long process of fear and anxiety, followed up by an immediate desire to take it all back and to disappear back into the comfortable space of the closet. I’ve been lucky so far – the only negative responses have been from people who have no hold or impact on my life. My dad responded by telling me that he loves me. My brother and sister in law told me that it doesn’t change anything. My friends have encouraged and clapped along as I explored this side of myself, later in life than most.
But being amongst a new group of people always brings up those old anxieties. I’ll casually mention LGBTQ things around campus, and gauge reactions to decide how to proceed further. It’s a complicated, complex system of watching non-verbal cues and slowly, carefully approaching the subject.
On that quiet, laughter-filled evening in the dorm, I knew my friendship with this group had progressed to the point where keeping my bisexuality quiet was more detrimental than it was helpful. But I was still scared.
“Never have I ever … kissed a girl.” There it was – the best opportunity I was going to have. The question was aimed at getting the cisgender heterosexual man to lose the game, but I had to say something lest wrong assumptions perpetuate.
“I’ve dated women, but I’ve not kissed one yet. I mean; I’m bisexual.”
And there it was, out in the open. I looked around to see if there was any kind of responses. Every one of them, to the person, simply shrugged and said, “Okay.”
It was perhaps not the most graceful of coming outs, but I felt a burden release. I smiled, relaxed, and waved my fingers at our male friend, whom we jokingly call Toddler. “So has the Toddler lost yet?”
And that was it. We returned to laughing, giggling, and drinking. My coming out process was over – at least for these few moments.
I’ve navigated the coming out process for a couple of years now, but it never really gets easier. There’s always that moment of fear, that intake of breath, that immediate recalculation of assumptions. There is nothing else like it.
And I ramble through that story to get to this point: that the coming out process is uniquely and completely the domain of the queer. It does not exist as a straight or cis person’s convenient analogy, but as an event, a process solely within itself.
A writer at Buzzfeed this past week co-opted and undermined the coming out process by likening it to her process of existing as Christian while dating in liberal urban centers. As a bisexual woman who is fairly accomplished in doing both of these process – talking about my faith and coming out as queer – I can assert, quite easily, that the two are nothing alike.
Perhaps it is the fact that I’m here to study theology. Perhaps it is the fact that I’m good at articulating my beliefs beyond “sunbeams of positivity.” Perhaps it is the fact that I am an experienced theologian with over a decade’s worth of work in theological, literature, and women’s studies. Perhaps all of these things make the process of telling people that I’m a person of faith easier.
But I am currently in a city that houses some of the loudest atheist minds in the world. I am friends with a man who has Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins on his bookshelf. I am in a program surrounded by atheists, making friends with people who do not share my belief. When I explain that I am interested in theological study and the intersection between theology, women, and political constructions of gender, I’m usually asked if I’m religious.
It’s awkward. I do have to explain that I’m not One of Those Christians. I’ve had conversations explaining what I believe and why I believe it. I’ve had long, tiresome conversations with atheists who think all religious belief is illegitimate and ill advised. I currently live in a world where unbelief is assumed, where I am in the minority amongst a minority.
I come out, over and over, as a bisexual woman. And I tell people I’m a person of faith. There is no closet for my faith. There is no comparison to be had. They are simply not the same, and to say they are is to undermine the deep sense of fear, loneliness, and, yes, the good feelings of acceptance, that accompany the coming out process as a queer person.
Today is Coming Out day. It is a day to celebrate the process of coming out as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, agender, bigender, asexual, or any other identity under the umbrella of queer. It is a day for us. Let it be that.