The Holy Gospel According to Coming Out Stories
by Rev. Amanda Nelson
Proclaim member and Executive Director of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries
In college, a dear friend of mine did her senior thesis on the coming out process for LGBTQIA+ individuals. To write her thesis, she interviewed many of our classmates and friends who had already bravely come out, and some who were not yet ready to do so publicly.
At the time, I had not yet come out to her and had only started to give myself permission to even think of the possibility that I wasn’t straight.
I remember talking to her many times about her interviews and finding myself fascinated with what she was learning. One of the major points of her thesis, something that sticks with me even to this day, is the role of vulnerability and fear.
I asked her again recently to clarify this point for me and this is what she said: [when you come out] you lose control of how people will view you because that view could change. When you don’t come out, you retain the power and control: you are keeping this idea to yourself, no one can judge what they don’t know. The moment you tell people, you lose control as you don’t know how people will react/respond/change their views on you.”
There is so much truth in this! In my life and in my work, I encounter countless individuals for whom their relationships did change drastically when they came out.
Some relationships changed for the worse: communication was cut off, closeness was replaced with distance, and depth replaced by superficiality. At its worst, coming out can inflict physical, mental, and spiritual violence from those we thought loved us.
And, many of my peers who have come out have experienced relationships that changed in truly beautiful ways: fear of acceptance from our family and friends was met with unconditional love; fear of being able to express our identities in public through dress, speech, or displays of affection were quelled by the celebration of Pride in our communities; and, suffocating silence was transformed by safe, brave spaces into liberated voices of joy in our churches and schools.
At its best, coming out can mediate reconciliation of body, mind, and spirit.
To be honest, it’s not an “either, or” – you either have good experiences in coming out or bad ones – because what things in life really are binary? It’s more like a circle or a spiral of different reactions and experiences. It is a spiral we experience the first time we come out…and it is a spiral we experience the one thousandth time we come out.
It is this spiral that can hold many people back from ever fully expressing their identities.
When I am experiencing the hurtful phase of the spiral, I can deeply understand why people choose not to come out. And, when I’m experiencing the joy-filled phase, I feel as tho I have been lifted into a holy embrace with God and I want to shout it from the rooftops.
Fear and vulnerability are such powerful forces in our lives, and, they are transformational.
Brene Brown, who writes so beautifully on the subject of vulnerability, has said, “Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”
In this season of Easter, of resurrection, I am finding gospel “good news” in the coming out stories of my peers and colleagues. Throughout these next two months, we are excited to share many of those stories with you.
Thanks be to God for those who serve our church publicly out, and for those who help to ensure that gender and sexual minorities experience a holy embrace from our church in celebration of those identities!
Rev. Amanda Nelson (she/her/hers) is Executive Director of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. When she told her friend that she was gay her friend laughed and said “uh huh, yeah”…because many people had jokingly “come out” to her because of the topic of her thesis. When she realized Amanda was serious, she apologized and was perfectly loving and accepting. Amanda is grateful to her friend, Elena, for her unconditional love.