Saturday, October 29, 2016

No More Masks

     I find it appropriately ironic that both National Coming Out Day and Halloween occur during the month of October. For many of us, the years that preceded our coming out involved the crafting and wearing of a number of masks and identities. Some feel betrayed when we remove these masks, expressing anger at having been deceived. Those we come out to are certainly entitled to these reactions and to their own process of reconciling our full-truth with the half-truth they had previously know or assumed. Still, the greatest deception is the one that LGBTQ+ persons perpetrate against ourselves by denying and fighting against our own truth, not in an intentional act of deception, but in a desperate attempt to preserve our own safety, survival, and acceptance.

It has been seven years now since I took my first steps towards claiming my full truth, stepping out of the shadows into a much brighter and fuller world. I was 33 years old at that time, and I had spent my entire life up to that point hiding who I was, and the last 13 years actively fighting against it.

I think back to being a child and dressing up to go trick-or-treating.  It was fun to dress up as a favorite character and head out with my mom and little brother in pursuit of candy.  I grew up in a pretty rural area; so, trick-or-treating involved more driving than walking door-to-door. At the end of the night, we returned home with our haul of candy, and, as much fun as it had been to dress up, it felt great to take that mask off. It was so stuffy in there. My hair was always matted to my head with sweat.  It felt good to cool off and to be able to see the world more clearly instead of through two tiny eye holes.

Now, imagine that you've been wearing that mask not for hours but for years.  Imagine that you've only allowed yourself to see the world through a very small and narrow perspective.  Imagine that no one has been able to see or touch the real you because of the artificial barriers you're used to shape yourself to the expectations of others. When you come out, there isn't a basket of candy waiting to be sorted through. In fact, some come out only to experience the very rejection and abuse that they feared. Sometimes, depending on our age and circumstances, staying in the closet is our best means of survival, but I would urge those who need to stay in the closet for now to do so with an eye towards the future, taking this closeted time as preparation time to seek out the people and resources that can support you when you decide that you are ready to take those first steps beyond the threshold of the closet.  I promise you that there is a whole world of LGBTQ+ persons and our supportive allies who are ready to embrace and affirm you.

  Having spent so many years within a conservative Christian framework, I feel particularly encouraged when I encounter others who have had similar journeys. Just as the United Methodist Church finds itself poised to either split or go through a major restructuring of the way that we live in connection, leaving such a faith environment often means leaving behind many or all of those that one has been in community and ministry together with for a significant length of time.

     Two of the most visible examples of this in the past couple of years have been Jennifer Knapp and Trey Pearson. As musicians and celebrities who were at the pinnacle of conservative evangelical Christianity, they have had to face the scrutiny and criticism of those who once adored them in a very public way. What I respect most about both of them is that they have not allowed that scrutiny and the harsh words to drive them back into hiding.  While embracing their truth and their gifts, they have both stepped out and used their stories to give hope to others and sought to use this greater authenticity to fuel their careers and seek audiences that respect their truth.

Me with Jennifer Knapp in San Antonio in 2015
I was blessed to be able to see Jennifer Knapp perform a couple of times and to meet her in 2015.  I also read her book, 'Facing the Music', and bought her new album, 'Set Me Free.' I greatly enjoyed both, but it was also important to me to be able to, in some small way, to support and affirm her in her journey, a journey that ran parallel to my own, just on a much larger stage. Trey Pearson now finds himself in a similar place as he prepares to launch a solo album that will be out in 2017.  Having the boldness to step back out onto the stage and into the spotlight takes a great deal of courage.  A local to my hometown here in Columbus, Ohio, I've had the opportunity to meet Trey a few times as well since he came out earlier this year in 6-1-4 Magazine.  He is now traveling, sharing his story, and speaking out of the convictions of his faith during the current political season.  In this time, when the only voice of Christianity that is often heard is that of judgement and exclusion, it is powerful to see both Jennifer and Trey living into the fullness of who they are as individuals and empowering others to do the same.

Trey Pearson from 6-1-4 Magazine
     Here's to the day when masks are no longer needed and no one seeks to mold themselves to the assumptions of others!

~ Culbs