I have shared on this blog previously that one of the ways in which I am actively working in the world to make it a better place for all people in general, and members of the LGBTQ community specifically, is by taking my life in a new direction professionally and pursuing a Master’s degree in the field of counseling. As part of this educational experience, one of the ways in which we, as students, explore how we will function as counselors in the “real world” is through role plays.
During this past week, I volunteered to step into the role of a client who was in his thirties who had come to the realization that he was gay and that it was not going to change. Having reached this point of self-discernment, he found himself struggling with whether or not to come out to his family, his co-workers, neither, or both. Seems like something I should be familiar with, huh?
Ever since I came out, I have prayed that I would never forget how I felt during my own experiences of wrestling with my own identity and my eventual emergence as a gay man. Going to work everyday, knowing you can legally be fired for being who you are, and living under the shadow of the possibility of being shunned by family, friends, and co-workers, is near crippling in its intensity.
As much as I have asked and strived not to forget, I am human. To a certain extent, we do forget. I am blessed to now live, work, and worship in environments where I know that I am 100% free to live openly and authentically as me. I also have the benefit of experience. I did take the leap, and I am out, either directly or indirectly, to my entire family. I had the unfortunate experience of being outed to many of them through a front page article in my hometown newspaper. For most of my family it was either a confirmation of what they already expected or it was perceived pretty much as a non-event. While not everyone in my former work environment was supportive of my decision, some of them were, and, even the ones who were not are still friendly towards me. Even some from my former faith community have, after some years have passed, re-established connection with me. While we all know that things might not ever be exactly the same, we share the value of human relationship and acknowledge that we can connect on areas beyond the limits of those things that might divide us. Plus, my life, since then, has taken me in directions that I never could have anticipated before and brought me into contact with incredible people from all over the United States and around the world who are working towards equality and inclusion.
Despite having this past experience to draw from, when I made the decision to step back into that role the other day in class, it was a bit overwhelming for me. It was important to me that I authentically honor the struggle that someone in this position would be going through. Thus, I opened myself back up to the feelings of guilt, apprehension, and fear that characterized my life when I was working to resolve these choices in my own life. I put myself into this man’s shows as he wrestled with the possibility of being cut off from close members of this family or facing termination or social ostracization at work or, even worse, experiencing acts of violence from those who judge based on labels and/or fear of those who are different.
As I went on about my day, I reflected on the experience of doing that role play, and I thought about you, the folks who read this blog. When I look at the analytics for this blog, many of you live in countries where it is not okay, or even safe, to be gay. Please know that my heart breaks for every one of you out there who is not in a place where you are free to live your life as the full authentic person you were created to be. The world is changing, but human beings are creatures infused with a natural resistance to change. We must all continue to work towards a day when everyone feels safe to come out and be open about who they are.
I can tell you that, if you are not out, when you do take that step, part of what you fear will be realized. Some people will turn their backs on you, but I can also tell you that there will be some who will not. It will also surprise you as to who some of the faces are in both groups. I can tell you that, while it may seem as if it will, the world will not end. There are so many people waiting for you on the other side of that closet door, many of whom you haven’t even met. I encourage you to be brave, but also be wise. Be safe. If you are out there and you know that your safety would be compromised by coming out, be wise about that, but I would also encourage you to begin looking at what practical steps you can take to put yourself in safer circumstances in the weeks, months, and years to come. Until then, please know that, if you need a sympathetic ear, someone who knows what it is to live in fear of the world knowing who you are, please feel free to reach out to me at the e-mail below. Please share this blog with others who might need encouragement.