Is authenticity possible for the LGBTQ community?
Last weekend my dad drove up the 3 hours to where my wife and I live to spend time with us…well mostly to spend time with our children. It’s just about the sweetest thing ever to see my dad’s love for my kids. By the time he arrived Friday evening, the kids had already gone to bed, so the three of us sat at our dining room table just talking. I don’t remember how the topic came up, in fact I’m sure it wasn’t me because I’ve always tried my best to steer clear of it, but my dad asked the question he had never asked before, “How long have you guys been together?”
He knew that we have been together “for just over 4 years” but he’s never asked about my relationship with my wife so specifically. If I’m honest, I’ve dreaded him ever doing so. The reason is simple: I didn’t want to hurt his feelings by admitting we had lied to him. We have actually been together longer than four years, but during that time I had kept my true self hidden from him. I cannot tell you how often I hear an LGBTQ person lamenting over this same struggle, wanting to be authentic with those they love but having to hide who they are in order to keep the truth of their sexuality hidden.
When my dad asked, I looked over at my wife knowing she’d answer quickly, not having an awareness of my anxiety. “Just over 9 years,” she said. My dad’s face flashed with surprise and he quickly began doing what every single person in this position does; he began to take mental note of all the times spent together, conversations had, trips taken and memories where he now realized that Crystal and I were together. He began to ask, “what about this time, or that?” and with each question, my heart broke. I desperately wanted to blurt out, “I’m so sorry dad. I love you and I know this kind of news is confusing and hurtful,” but for some reason, I stayed silent. The vulnerability of the moment just felt too painful. Maybe a part of me was hoping he wouldn’t think it was a big deal. “Yeah, okay, there were years of memories where he had no idea I was in a relationship and where he experienced Crystal just as my best friend, but,” I reasoned, “Maybe he won’t feel as hurt as I think he will, or maybe he won’t blink an eye to know there were almost 5 years where he didn’t know the full truth about my life?”
My dad is a thoughtful, kind man and I think he must have not wanted me to feel bad for having kept this from him so he simply said, “Wow. That’s a long time.” And with that, my daughter woke up, needing attending to. The conversation was over. I felt both relief and grief that I had stayed silent about my feelings.
I’m sure if you’re in the LGBTQ community you can very much identify with my struggle of wanting to be known and authentic with those I love and yet feeling sadness and confusion regarding the many lies told throughout the years. I’m not a liar – in fact I’m pretty terrible at it – yet somehow I spent years of my life telling lie after lie. And if you’re straight with someone in your life who is LGBTQ, there is a high probability you’ve had to experience the sting of knowing you had been lied to. You thought your son or daughter, sister or brother, even best friend was one person only to find out they’ve been someone else all together. So lets talk about this lying that happens.
First off, it might seem obvious, but it feels important to address and talk about why those in the LGBTQ community even need to lie. Is it that we are all cowards, or secretly believe we are doing something bad and feel shame about it? As Christians we are inundated by messages that say being LGBTQ is the worst sin there is. It’s not just a sin, but the traditional narrative maintains that your very personhood is damaged. With these kinds of messages, of course there’s shame. But outside of the internalized shame that comes from Christian messages by people of faith (who, it still needs to be said, call us “abominations to God”), I believe there are a few main reasons we lie about being LGBTQ.
The first is that when we come out to a particular family member they beg, threaten and/or demand that we not tell others in our lives. This happens way more than you’d think. Sometimes, our parents are pastors, deacons in the church, community leaders, or our family is seen as the “perfect family” and our parents don’t want to lose that. They are scared they will lose their jobs, their positions of power and influence, even “standing” within the extended family. On some level they think their son or daughter being LGBTQ is a negative reflection on them as parents and that it not only means something is intrinsically wrong with their child, but even more that they must have been the world’s worst parents to have a gay child. In some cases (and this is a much more rare occasion) one parent fears the negative response of another parent and they want to protect their child from experiencing that rejection. It becomes a secret that divides not only child from parent, but child from parent from spouse.
If I just stay on the surface of thinking about these types of parents, they totally piss me off. I mean, how freaking selfish can you be? Lets be clear, it is a self-absorbed way of reacting to your child coming out to you. Your child has somehow found a deep conviction and the courage to tell you the truth about who they are, they’ve faced self-hatred, doubt, and mind crumbling fear to tell you this news… and your reaction is to ask them if they realize what the cost will be for you??? Shame on you! Whew, I know them are some strong statements. Thank goodness I can calm myself down a bit! And once I do, my heart begins to soften and I see these parents as victims to the conservative Christian world as much as their children are. While I would never say their pain, fear, or loss is even as close as someone in the LGBTQ community is, I am saying their response of a demand for silence just shows the power of oppression and how far it reaches. It actually leads right into the second reason people in the LGBTQ community lie, the fear of loss.
We fear we will lose friends, family, housing, jobs and that at times our safety will be at risk. Sometimes these fears are created from our own anxiety and we end up finding out there’s way more support than loss in us coming out. However, there are just as many times, if not more where there is a very real possibility these types of losses will be experienced when coming out for us, those who are LGBTQ and our parents. For example, I think it’s total bull shit that a pastor would lose the opportunity to shepherd a church because his/her son or daughter comes out, but lets be honest, it does happen. While I believe someone having an LGBTQ child would actually increase their ability to pastor in a deeply meaningful way, there are many people who disagree and so sometimes our parents do experience loss in their lives due to us coming out. Again, it’s total crap that a prominent real estate agent would actually loose clients because their child comes out, and yet there are people who in the name of God choose someone else to sell their home because of something like that.
Dear gay person, you DO NOT need to feel guilty about the losses your parents will endure on account of you coming out. This is not your fault or burden to carry. You can release yourself from that grief. While I know it’s painful to have your parents ask you to stay closeted, for a brief time, give them a bit of grace. They are new to this and not used to feeling this kind of fear. They are not used to being as courageous as you and might need a bit of time to come around. As much as possible, have conversations where you can be kind in your responses to them. You can let them know how painful their request is to you, while also affirming you know how scared they are and how difficult it is to face these possible losses. But do not do this for so long that it costs you your own heart. Patience and compassion go a long way, but at the end of the day, you are your priority. Sometimes it’s helpful to ask your parents to talk to a therapist who can help them during this time and also give them a timeline of how long you’re able to wait. This is not an ultimatum, but a clear way of letting them know you support them, but that you support you more.
Dear parents, every time you feel fear, grief or anger over what you think you will lose, remember that your child has experienced that to the hundredth degree. May these experiences increase your feelings of pride and support for your son or daughter. Let this move you to radically love and accept your child. And at the end of the day, I’m sure you can agree your child’s heart and life is way more important than anything you might lose. Lastly, let this experience deepen your dependence, need for and relationship to God. God is close to the brokenhearted, those experiencing loss and injustice. God is with you. And in terms of relationships? Well, that really gets to the heart of the matter.
I think the biggest reason those in the LGBTQ community lie about their sexuality has to do with how highly they value relationships and those in their life. We love our parents, siblings, extended family and friends so much that we’d rather stay in pain and stay silent instead of doing the thing we think will hurt you, telling you we are LGBTQ. We fear the truth will hurt your heart and even more than that, we fear it will mean our relationship will either change, or that we will lose you and that reality feels unbearable. I know for me, that was one of the main reasons why I waited so long to tell my dad. I can’t tell you how many times I longed to tell him the truth about who I was, or that Crystal and I were an item. But I could not bear the idea that I might lose him from my life. I wasn’t strong enough to face the possibility that he might reject me, nor could I bear that he might not want to be as close to me if he knew the truth. And when I say, “I wasn’t strong enough,” I want to make it clear that no one is that strong. What I mean is, gay, straight and everything in-between, no one ever is so big and strong that they wouldn’t care if their own parents rejected them. We are created to be deeply relational beings, needing and wanting to be close to those who we love and our families are at the heart of that.
Did I lie to my dad for years? Yes.
Did it hurt him? Probably so.
Do I feel sad that it had to be that way? Every time I think about it, a resounding yes. But do I believe I was I a bad person for lying? No. My “bad” feelings aren’t because I realized I was a bad person, deeply flawed, or a pathological liar. I can believe that there was really good reason for me to lie while also grieving that there were lost years of my dad knowing me and being fully involved in the details of my life… there is loss and a cost for both of us. I wasn’t a bad person and neither is any other person in the LGBTQ community who holds the truth of who they are back to those they love. We aren’t bad people because of our hearts. Our hearts are filled with a deep desire to please God and be authentic. When we see that, we can know that our lying wasn’t done with a malicious heart but one valuing relationship and fearing that if we didn’tlie it would hurt someone deeply or damage an important relationship. To me the key is to remember the motivation and truth of our hearts.
Some people will easily poke holes in what I’m saying, pointing out that lying is never okay, but to those people I’d ask them to walk a day in the shoes of an LGBTQ Christian. I think they would see things very differently. I think they’d find themselves surprised by the beauty and depth of the ache to be authentic that lies in the hearts of every LGBTQ person.
Now it is our responsibility to do what we must do to work on finding the courage to be ourselves in this world and find the right time and courage to tell those in our lives the truth about who we are. But no one gets to determine that time except for you. And until that time, my prayer for you LGBTQ person is that you will easily forgive yourself and give yourself grace for the lies you’ve had to tell. My prayer is that you will intuitively know the best time and way to come out to those whom you love but are nervous about telling the truth to. And my prayer for those in the straight community who will some day realize they’ve been lied to is that their hearts will be generous and warm in their response. That they will find a deep love they never knew existed for that person and that both people involved will experience the depth of Gods love in a new a profound way.