Be-coming Out (Homily)

Note: this homily appears in abridged form as a Braver/Wiser reflection.

I don’t quite understand why queer folx have to come out. Straight people just bring a person home and introduce them to their parents. And thanks Lady Gaga, but I wasn't really “born this way.” I grew this way: like a bent tree, adapting to wind and water, salt and sun.

A vibrant colourful sunset or sunrise sky over limestone pavement landscape and a wind-bent English Hawthorn tree at Twisleton Scar, in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, UK

I get it, Family: this way of “be-coming out” is problematic for the gay community. The whole “born gay” argument was used for two generations to validate homosexuality. It just doesn’t fit my story. Sexuality is more fluid that we thought.

Regardless, I did not “come out” on my terms. I was a Christian pastor. I was married to a lovely man and we had two young children. Living my life as a lesbian felt like a poor life choice. An ex-boyfriend once called me “bi-curious.” Yes, I had experimented in college. But didn’t lots of young women? I enjoyed sex with a few men. The others…not so much. And that’s normal, right? Why would I sacrifice my image, my career and my marriage to explore a thing that seemed immature and impulsive? And would I even like it?

Coming out was a long process for me. I went to therapy. I read articles about “later in life lesbians” like Glennon Doyle, Elizabeth Gilbert, and Wanda Sykes. I filed for divorce. I broke my family. I moved out. And in the midst of this midlife awakening (or whatever), there was church being all up in my business: me, the lead pastor of a historical, progressive church who had never had a female pastor before. So when I divorced my husband, they were sad. And when I asked for privacy, they couldn’t do it. People assumed that I was lying about who I was, that I was pretending, that I lacked integrity. Psshh. I’m a terrible liar. That part has never changed about me. What I do think is that I had to value my privacy more than my integrity for a while. Pastors are rarely granted privacy for our own souls' growth.

Let the record show, it was hard to go live my best life while still grieving my marriage, figuring out my sexuality, and leading a messy church. Church gossip was getting ahead of me. Magnificent stories were told about me (I kinda wish some of them were true). Alas, I was outed by progressive Christians. It was super disappointing.

I still don’t know what coming out to a congregation looks like. Do we come out in a sermon? Before the prelude? In the newsletter? No one gets to say what the right way is to come out, not even gay people. The power belongs to the one coming out.

What I want people to know about coming out is that it is deeply spiritual. Hetero people should try it. It is vulnerable, intimate, and holy. For straight-presenting people like myself, it’s never a “one and done” situation. When I talk about my girlfriend, people don’t know if I’m talking about my BFF or my live-in lesbian lover. But there were a few moments in my journey when I felt the holy safety of coming out to trusted friends. God makes holy what humans have distorted. Like, when I shared with a church couple in their family room that I am attracted to women, they knew that I was giving them a gift. They thanked me for trusting them with something so special. And when I told my pastoral relations committee, a gay man told me, “I know that it doesn’t feel like it yet. But I am so happy for you. Your life is about to be amazing.”

I wanted every coming out experience to be like these. But that’s not reality. One time, I was invited to dinner with one of the power brokers of the church who berated my leadership while we sipped on herbal tea. Even though I knew she wasn’t a safe person, as I was leaving, I blurted out, “I am gay, you know.” She DID know, and I knew that she knew. But she acted surprised (poorly, I might add). I wanted to be the one who told her. I wanted my power back. Unfortunately, I had to hurry my process before I understood how complex my story is or how to insert my voice into my own story.

In be-coming out, I lost a lot: my husband, my job, my sense of self. But, thank God, I also gained a lot. And—thank you, John from the pastoral relations committee—I have an amazing life: a new girlfriend, a new definition of family, a new definition of ministry. Be-coming out has been a long process. But it's my process. Be-coming out taught me about being human and about being spiritual. Be-coming out shows all people that we can adapt, grow, and emerge victorious.