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So it’s been a year since I came out…

So, it’s been a year since I “came out”.

Before I go further, my Instagram bio reads “Christian, Creative, considered” – that’s how I attempt to frame my output. When it comes to writing about this, a first for me more publicly, I hope to bring these three things to the foreground once again. All I ask of you, the reader, is to read this with an open heart and mind and to offer me and yourself the grace needed to humanise those around you, no matter their worldview, that’s not to say agree with their worldview but to respect the right to differ in opinion. With that out the way…7th November 2021 will remain a memorable day, as it marks the day I first acknowledged my sexual orientation out loud. I decided to honestly live out all aspects of my life, including that, and I’m so much better off for doing so.

Now I write the following for myself, and I share it with you because, maybe you, or someone you know, can resonate with some of my experiences – sharing in the pain and the hope I know now, and if you can’t, that’s fine. You can’t rush a flower into bloom.

When I was in my early teens, I was busy being awkward and shy and a bit rigid in how I felt about myself, nothing untoward for the teenage years. I thought of myself as someone aware that they had no idea what was going on with their feelings, hormones, or emotions – puberty eh? It really complicates one’s view of themselves as they learn to handle what it means to get older and more complex as a human being, all the while dealing with the day-to-day of life, which seemed evermore dramatic as the hormones and butterflies and sheer bizarreness of existence seemed to excite, frustrate, and confuse me often. Never was this more apparent to me than when it came to conversations surrounding the opposite sex. Of course, the other lads were thinking about it too, who wasn’t in some form or another, both sexes were waking up to the fact that they actually might like each other after all, but it was weird. As bodies changed and emotions arose, it felt like now driving a sports car when you previously practised in a go-kart, you have no idea what you are doing, but the shiny toys, fancy gadgets and go-faster energy of it all bubbled incessantly throughout my memory of high school. In hushed tones at school parties, in less hushed tones in the lads changing rooms or around the benches at lunch, people had this on their minds. I was no different there. But in those conversations between mates, a girl would come up in conversation – or should I say, conversation about her body or a part of it would come up (I wish I could say we acted more maturely than we did, but didn’t, we were teens and have now hopefully grown past such thinking). I say we because it doesn’t feel right to act as if I was immune to joining in on such conversation, a bit reluctantly albeit, but still. However, whilst I was party to these chats as I got older, I can’t say I ever felt comfortable during them. As soon as they’d start talking, I longed for it to be over because I didn’t know how to contribute, I didn’t want to either, but I wanted to be liked, I wanted to blend in, but in my head, I stood out like a sore thumb amongst some of the other guys. I just wanted the ground to swallow me up God forbid that I said something stupid. My feelings towards fancying any girls were neutral, at best. Growing up I related better with women and even now I feel an ease around them that I felt I had to work at with other men, especially my peers. I just felt like I was existing outside the expectation around me at times and I didn’t know how to express that without being called a “poof”, “killjoy”, or “gay boy”, all words that have been spat at me and around me at some point growing up at school. I remember not wanting to talk about crushes and the upcoming weekend’s party with classmates, for fear of tripping up and saying that I found these conversations degrading for the girls in question, but the desire to be liked trumped my desire to understand or be understood, so I didn’t bother. It was only years later that I could understand that crushes were normal, but mine just didn’t seem like that, because they were for other guys. I didn’t consciously choose to be attracted to men, I’m not even sure how you choose who you’re attracted to. Certainly, with some of the fear, stigma, self-loathing, and isolation I’ve experienced and seen in the lives of other gay or same-sex attracted people, I can’t see why I wouldn’t choose to be attracted to women if that was a tangible reality – my life thus far would have been exponentially easier if I could. And believe me, I prayed for that, day after day, night after night throughout my mid and late teens I wished it wasn’t like this, that I could just be “normal” and “be straight” and then things would get better. But it wasn’t like that, I can say wholeheartedly that in my view “pray the gay away” has not helped me one bit and hindered me more times than I count. I felt for the longest time that something was broken in me from the start, that I wasn’t capable of this kind of desire or attraction for women, which seemed for all intents and purposes, the only way forward.

I grew up in a Christian family – a strictly practising one at that, and my parents, God bless them for all they did get right, didn’t really foster an environment in which I actually felt like I could open up about what I was going through then. My Dad is a pastor and rightly or wrongly, I felt like there was a reputation attached to my family because of that, it wasn’t possible to just live all my thoughts and emotions in the open, and fair enough, living that way in extreme emotional expression all the time wouldn’t likely have been the right thing either, but I was suffocating under the silencing and repression I put myself through whilst living with a sense that something was “off” that I couldn’t fix. I prayed, journaled, and wrote poetry about the idea of being “not gay” and how much easier I imagined life being. In addition to all this time in my own head, the teenage years almost inevitably came the risks that came with social media and the internet – social and physical comparison, jealousy and envy, ingratitude, feelings of isolation, and the risk of seeing things that were unhelpful, to put it mildly, pornography was one such thing.

I came across it maybe when I was eleven, twelve maybe. It was the kind of thing where after the first instance of engagement it was easy to see why people use it, even though you know you shouldn’t be seeing this, you couldn’t unsee it and what’s worse, that offered, alongside the internet more generally, a chance to search whatever was on your mind, in your heart, and subconsciously bubbling under the surface – without the fear of judgement or misunderstanding. I fell into the habit. It became a place to shelter away from all the things I didn’t understand and the curiosity and confusion over my sexuality, the sense of shame and self-loathing for feeling how I did, and the felt sense of isolation of dealing with all of this my own, it became quite the fixture of my teens and it’s something that thankfully I’ve been working my way out of over the last few years. But these “wounds of the closet” as my upcoming podcast guest put so helpfully, are things that are still being healed today. Coming out has been a big step in the healing journey thus far, for the simple reason that it gave me permission to come out of my shell and start reconciling my sexuality, my faith, and my sense of well-being, into one more positive, cohesive, less self-detrimental way of progressing forward in life.

I remember the first time I told anyone about my sexuality and what I was going through, I told three of my best friends, through a teary voice note in 2020 maybe, that I was just not in a good place with all of this. I remember sending those messages, and just realising that I may have just socially complicated my entire life, I had no idea how they would react. I told them because eventually, I had to, I needed to tell someone, anyone that I trusted and who had come to know me well, that I was struggling. And their responses were fantastic, not in that they affirmed anything particular or had an idea of what to do next, but just that by letting me know that they see me no differently than before, that we’re still friends, that we’re still brothers in this… that, that right there, is all I really wanted, it was to know that I could stop going through all this feeling so alone. Because you do just feel so alone when your brain is broadcasting all of your fears and there’s no other channel to choose from.

Now I said before that was the first time I had told any close friends about this, but it’s not the first time I told anyone, I sought counselling in 2017 whilst at university to try and get to the bottom of all these messy thoughts, it was free, and I think one of the most formative experiences of my life. I spoke to a counsellor who incidentally had the same name as my Mum, and when I had our introductory meeting she asked “so, what has brought you here?” And in 50 minutes of near-breathless monologue I outlined all of the fragmented jigsaw pieces of my mindset, I told her of all the thoughts, fears, and traumas that I was trying to make sense of, and how I thought things connected, and basically, let my guard down long enough to tell her that I just needed someone to listen and help me figure out some of this baggage. And help me she did, I don’t think that counsellor will ever read this, but I just need to reiterate how amazing she was at helping me become more comfortable with myself. Good counsellors are gems to be treasured.

In any case, those first two experiences of talking about this, with friends and with professional help, really set me on the course for being honest with myself, not beating myself up for all the things I didn’t understand, and actually brought me closer to facing my sexuality for what it is, a gift from God, part of me, and nothing to be ashamed of. I eventually told a few more trusted friends and the pastor of the church I attended throughout university and these chats in the background really started to coax me towards a disposition of seeing that I am not only my worries and fears, that I am loved, but I am also known, that I am loved by God, and because of all that, why I, with more work in progress, will be just fine, eventually. This is about coming to terms with my sexuality and offering that like the rest of my life, to God.

For me now, that means acknowledging that I’m gay and not shuddering at that thought, and also that upon praying on and reading the Bible’s teachings on marriage and sexuality, understanding that it is not condoned by God to express that in same-sex romantic relations or in marriage* – I’m okay with that. Does that come with challenges, absolutely, but life does come with those, and this just happens to be mine. In faith, I’ll put God first, and in “seeking the kingdom first, all other things will be given unto you” (Matthew 6:33) and that can mean many things, I’ll cherish my friends, I’ll show myself and others as much grace as I can muster, I’ll forgive those circumstances of before and play my part in improving the future, not just for me, but for others who are looking to feel loved and known, I think that’s what we all want, and people are just deciding what they’ll worship in order to get that. It’s this renewed sense of purpose and self-acceptance, and self-sacrifice, which informs much of my sense of self now.

Going forward, part of what I want to do is continue writing these blogs, and making these podcasts, in an effort to be a Christian – creative and considered, and I’d like to add compassionate to that list. When I’m gone (morbid, I know) I want people to be able to say I fulfilled those four things at least. I’ve had to show myself so much grace and compassion these last few years, and pray for that from God too, so whilst I’m living and working out what life is going forward for this God-made-man, I want to make sure I’m doing all I can to show the same grace and compassion to others.

***

*The simplistic rationale I can offer here is, in my understanding, marriage was created by God, for one man and one woman, to act as a “trailer” to the movie that will be the spiritual marriage of God and his church. That spiritual relationship is between God as male, and the church (i.e., the collective church of Christians) as female and is often referred to as the Bride in the Bible (Hosea 2:16-20 particularly stands out amongst the many references). This video from Living Out – a great resource for same-sex attracted Christians– offers a bitesize look at that concept. But essentially, marriage on earth is just a “trailer” for the movie, the full works that will be the reconciliation between God and His church at the second coming of Christ. But as God is male and his church considered female, and one cannot be substituted for the other, in earthly marriage a man and a woman cannot be substituted for two men and two women. In this way too, marriage is the celebration of a union between two different things, on heaven, the difference between God and his church, and on earth, the difference between men and women. I think the saying “opposites attract” does check out here and I think it’s also maybe why we’ve heard in descriptions of same-sex relations of one man/woman having more of a “masculine” or “feminine” role in the relationship. Now that’s not to say that there’s nothing to say for those who are Christians and remain single, whether due to their same-sex attraction or even to be heterosexual but just not being able to marry. I think and hold hope for the fact that there’s so much still to be thankful for and celebrated even as we are single. And we can celebrate that whilst we have it, marriage and sex are not for everyone despite what culture would have you believe, that I think that’s okay, just as it’s okay to want to be married. What I would say is that as a culture, a church, a collection of Christians and just, generally speaking, we so need to improve how we meet and love those who are single, LGBT, or both, so much hurt has been caused, lives have been lost and spirits have been crushed by the church’s inability to love as it was called to do in Matthew 28 – again, I’m not calling for churches to cast aside the traditional sexual ethic I’ve described above, but hot damn we can do a better job of loving people and meeting them where they are than we have done in the past. The first thing is to take responsibility and the second is to make improvements to our ministries and church cultures to be more welcoming, to listen to people, not just judge, and to treat people as people to be loved, not as issues to be resolved.

Resources I’ve found helpful

  • People to be loved by Preston Sprinkle – A thoughtful look at a better response to the LGBT by the church
  • The Plausibility Problem by Ed Shaw – This is a thorough, saddening and hopeful account of Ed Shaw’s wrestling with his same-sex attraction in light of a traditional sexual ethic.
  • The “Life on Side B” Podcast – A US-based podcast that explores many life experiences across the LGBT spectrum and their approach to life in light of their faith in God.
  • Living Out (Website) – Plenty of compassionate and firm resources for helping same-sex attracted Christians live happily and healthily
  • L is for Lifestyle by Ruth Valerio – this just shows the scope of the Christian life I feel and adds contexts for all things of this life that are nothing to do with marriage, romance, sex etc – I think the church at times has made the wrong turn in glorifying marriage above all else and I just love how full the life Ruth spells out is.
  • The Porn Problem by Vaughn Roberts
  • Transgender by Vaughn Roberts – both these books are compassionate takes on difficult subjects
  • A War of Loves by David Bennett – a fascinating account of a gay man against God, who finds him anyway and has his life transformed.

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