Queer + Christian // National Coming Out Day

To my LGBQTIA Family…The things that make us different, those are our superpowers. Every day when you walk out the door and put on your imaginary cape and go out there and conquer the world — because the world would not be as beautiful as it is if we weren't in it. ~Lena Waithe (Emmy award acceptance speech)

Cue the rainbow colored lights, cue the glitter, cue the legend herself Ms. Diana Ross with all that fabulous hair, wearing the neon purple sparkling bodysuit, singing "I’m coming out, I want the world to know, got to let it show!" Cue all my friends and family together in one room clapping wildly and waving pride flags and holding signs that say things about Jesus being over the moon about me, as I stand on the stage making my announcement in the most dramatic way I can dream, that “I am here and indeed queer!” Tears of joy stream down my face, and I feel free and celebrated and embraced. Ms. Ross puts her arm around my waist and holds the microphone in front of my mouth. The wind swings her hair in my direction, covering my face, and she tosses it back with her hand as iconically as she always does. We sway side to side laughing, and then we sing, "Reach out and touch, somebody’s hand, make this world a better place, if you can,” and it is everything….

Today is the 29th anniversary of National Coming Out Day! I figure, what better day to dream up my fantasy coming out experience, so thanks for humoring me. Fam, as someone with a background in theater, working with an extra dose of dramatics, I can’t tell you how much the above scene delights me. And couldn’t coming out as LGBTQIA really be everything if society would just get this love and justice thing all the way together? Actually, if that happened, coming out might not even have to be a thing! Anyway, in my case, instead of this Diana Ross, one time event of fabulousness, the reality of coming out felt more like a long and exhausting press tour that was met with mixed reviews! For me, coming out was necessary. It was hard and painful and yet one of the most life-giving things I’ve ever done.  

What felt most unbearable was the fear that they would question my relationship with God, wondering if I was truly Christian...

I went through a long and non-cyclical process of accepting my sexuality and figuring out if my Christian faith could be reconciled with being queer — the first of those things hinging on the second. In thinking back over the years of that process, I feel so loved as I now realize the ways that Jesus was right there through the entire journey urging me forward, wanting more than anyone else for me to truly know that I was made with intention to be gay and that God loved me for this, not in spite of it. I will never forget the day when everything aligned for me. I was taking a walk through my neighborhood praying, and in a way that I only know how to describe as supernatural, became convinced that I was gay, and that God was great with that. Impressed on my heart so strong was that Jesus had died for freedom and that the closet was the opposite of that. Right at that moment, I knew I had to come out. Commence exhilaration and terror!  

Coming out is a complicated thing to navigate.  It’s deeply personal and a different journey for everyone. Some of us never do it, either because we and those around us have been clear that we were queer, pretty much since we got here. Or for some of us it’s because publicly layering on another marginalized identity isn’t safe. We weigh the pros and cons of being our true self versus the possibility of losing the critical support we need and the people we love. For others, coming out is how we claim our power. It’s how we resist oppression and break down the stereotypes of what it means to be gay. We do it in time, and realize that it’s a lifelong process. For me, I felt mostly safe physically — I was financially independent and was living and working in places where I knew I could continue doing so while being out.  But, if you’ve been following this column, I bet you can guess where the risk came from: my spiritual community.

With my family and closest friends being Christian and learning the same doctrine I was taught regarding “homosexuality,” I knew I was risking being ostracized. What felt most unbearable was the fear that they would question my relationship with God, wondering if I was truly Christian, reducing me down to someone who had made God into my own image, instead of the reverse. The other was the fear of being shut out of their lives, or worse, being held at a distance because of being seen as someone broken and disqualified from participating in their lives spiritually.  

I won’t lie to you, Fam: all of those things have happened, sometimes from people who I thought would have been in my life forever. It brought about some of the deepest grief I’ve had to contend with yet. But something else happened, too. I became acquainted with God in a way that I never had before. Because that’s what always happens in the wilderness, right? God shows up more real and consuming than ever before. No one else is dictating who She is to you, or taking up the space that is reserved just for Her. All the extra stuff that masquerades as God, but is really just the current culture, is sifted away and you’re left with what’s actually real. The other immeasurable thing that happened when I came out is that I became more of the me God created me to be. Because things don’t grow well in closets. It’s dark in there and it's hard to breathe. In opening that door and stepping out, light came into my heart, and love came into my world as God brought new relationships and strengthened existing ones.  

Because that’s what always happens in the wilderness, right? God shows up more real and consuming than ever before.

My mom was one of those relationships that only got stronger. I came out to her the day after Easter one year. I felt so much trepidation, but I worked up the courage to tell her that I was attracted to women and that I was dating someone. The conversation to follow was one of the most beautiful experiences, and I’ll always remember it. She told me that I never had to be afraid to tell her anything and that she loved me and trusted my relationship with God and that she wanted to meet my girlfriend. We talked for a while and prayed together; it was incredible! A year to the date later, I got a text from my mom. With the date of Easter changing each year, I hadn’t remembered the exact date I came out to her, but she did. Her text said, "It’s our anniversary!!" Last year on this date you shared a most intimate detail of your life, and I appreciate you sharing in your timing and that you trusted me with this aspect. I love the person that you are. Bless you forever." This has become something that she and I celebrate every year now.

God loves the person that you are, Fam! God created you and called you good. We all have closets to come out of, even if not in the traditional sense. Places that restrict the important parts of who we are, people who want to make sure we keep conforming to their standard, lies that we’ve internalized that keep us from being our most authentic selves. Know that you are being cheered forth into the light. Know that each of you deserves air. Know that you are good and beautiful and needed.  


SHAE WASHINGTON

Shae Washington is obsessed with podcasts, coffee and her wife. She lives in the Washington, D.C. area, and she writes and speaks about social justice issues and her life as a gay Christian