Hiding, as it turns out, is a sure way to keep yourself from the healing that can only be found in the presence of God. In Genesis 3, when Adam and Eve sinned and rebelled against God, their first impulse was to hide, and this has been our human impulse ever since when any of us sin, or when we realize that sin has touched us and left a mark.
God had made abundantly clear what would happen to them if they ate the forbidden fruit: they would surely die. It would have been perfectly good and just for God to make good on that promise immediately, to be done with humanity then and there. But the all-knowing, inescapable God of the universe, knowing they were hiding, does an unexpected thing. Into this dark situation, the first thing God does is ask a question:
“Where are you?”
In what must have been a terrifying moment for Adam and Eve, at some point they hold their breath and step out from behind the trees, their fig-leaf clothing barely holding together. I wonder if what they (reasonably) expected was to be struck down and ended right there. But God, ever gracious even in this most tragic of Bible stories, opts for a different first word to Adam and Eve: He gives the first promise of the Gospel, the proto-evangelion: an offspring of the woman would one day be born, a Son of Man, and He would crush the head of the serpent.
And I come back to that question: Where are you? God already knows what has happened. He already knows where they are. By asking this question, He invites them to step out of the darkness and back into His presence, from which they were hiding (Genesis 3:8). It seems that He doesn’t want them to “get caught” so much as He wants them to come forward. To confess. He invites them back into being seen, for they still bear His image, even if it’s been marred. They are now, like all of us, a mixture of brokenness and beauty, dignity and depravity.
I learned a statistic this summer that has stuck with me ever since I heard it. It surprised me and has stuck with me because it unsettles me.
The average age of first disclosure for Christians who are gay/same-sex attracted is 21. That is, most Christians who are gay don’t tell anyone—not a single person—until they are 21. They have an initial awareness in their early teenage years, usually by 14. This means that, on average, people like me spend 7 years hiding. Seven of the most formative, emotionally-confusing years are spent hiding from their parents, their youth pastors and campus ministers, and their friends. Given how averages work, my own experience unsettles me more. I came out for the first time when I was 15. That means that for every person like me, there’s likely someone who doesn’t come out until well into their 20s.
This is a heartbreaking tragedy.
I wish I didn’t have to come out ever again. If I could change one thing about being gay, I would take away the necessity of coming out. As another school year starts and I’m once again meeting so many new people, I’m confronted with the reality that I’ll never get to stop coming out.
This may sound a little melodramatic—and maybe it is—but the truth is that for the rest of my life, anytime I meet someone new, there is a reasonable expectation that this conversation is going to happen at some point if I’m going to have any kind of ongoing relationship with this person. I’m a generally calm and collected person; anxiety, thankfully, has not been a defining struggle in my life. But this conversation makes me downright neurotic.
When do I bring it up? It would be quite odd to lead with this. This isn’t my whole identity, and it’s far from the most important fact about me. But it’s not unimportant…. If I wait too long, how will this person feel? Will they feel lied to? Will they think I was keeping this from them on purpose? Have I already waited too long?
How do I bring it up? Do I wait for someone to ask if I’m dating (or as it was phrased to me at church recently, if I’m “married yet”)? Should I be the one to proactively bring it up? If I do, do I lead with something like, “Hey, I need to tell you something”? Doesn’t that make it sound heavier and more significant than it is? I don’t want to be too casual, either….
How do I make sure that this person isn’t uncomfortable? Use these words, not those words. Is it clear that I still hold to traditional beliefs about marriage and sex, and also clear that I don’t hate myself or other gay people? Is that what this person was even thinking? Oh no, are they thinking it now just because I suggested it?
This line of questioning assumes I have time to think about it. There are situations when I don’t have time to think about it, like when the general topic of homosexuality comes up in a small group, another thing that happened in the last year. Half the people in the room know, the other half don’t. It’s now tense because this is a controversial issue. I am an embodiment of a controversial issue. I don’t like being a source of tension. It feels like the half who know are waiting for me to say something. The half who don’t know are wondering why it got quiet, and why glances are now darting my way. Do I say something? I don’t want to do this right now. This isn’t the point of this Bible study. This will get us even more off-track. But do I have a responsibility to say something here? It feels like I might, but it’s not like I’m the authority on this issue. It’s still tense and silent. Please, someone just say something so we can move on. Please.
I wonder for the rest of the night if I should have said something. I can’t fully shake the tension from my body until the next day. Like I said: neurotic.
Most of these questions and their attendant anxiety charge through my mind and body anytime I have to come out in a Christian context. There’s one question behind all the other ones: Is this person, or are these people, about to reject me? Even when I have well-founded reasons for assuming that someone is a safe person, that question is still there.
Here is the point: coming out is really, really hard. Especially the first time and especially to people who are important to you.
When I tell my story to people who haven’t heard it before, I usually tell people how I came out to my parents via email. I take that chance to lighten the mood, to joke about how I’m conflict-avoidant, and how I was an overdramatic fifteen-year-old. But I’m going to stop doing that. I am conflict-avoidant, but that’s not why I came out to my parents through an email. Even by then, I’d had plenty of arguments with them, and to this day my relationship with them is one of the few in which I feel secure enough to actually have an argument without the fear that the relationship is threatened.
The reason I came out to my parents via email is because I couldn’t bear to see the look on their faces when they found out that their son was gay. Like Adam and Eve, I didn’t want to be seen.
I don’t share this to make you feel sorry for me. I’ve said it a hundred times, and I’ll say it again: the evidence in my life clearly points to the fact that God has been nothing but good—always good—to me. I’m sharing this now because tomorrow is National Coming Out Day, and I think this is a chance to reflect on what coming out means and especially how Christians can make sense of it. I have a second part to this post that I’ll share tomorrow in which I share some thoughts about how we can respond. But today, going into National Coming Out Day tomorrow, consider the unique difficulties facing gay and same-sex attracted people in our churches. Consider the difficulty of even speaking out loud these things that are true about our experience. Consider, then pray.
How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
Consider and answer me, O Lord my God;
light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”
lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.
But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
because he has dealt bountifully with me.
Read part 2 of this post here.