Today is National Coming Out Day which serves the purpose of showing support to those looking to finally come out of the closet and fully celebrate who they are. It’s a day where we remember the feeling of relief we experienced when we finally found the strength to stand up for ourselves no matter how difficult the journey became. It also provides you with an opportunity to see what happens after you come out and what you have to gain by accepting how you are. Because once you burn that metaphorical closet many changes take place in your world and within yourself.
But I want to speak more candidly on some of the things you may experience once you come out. So often when we discuss Coming Out Day we only focus on that moment we declare our sexuality to the world that we give so little attention to the things you may witness afterward. This will be an immense time of rediscovery because even though you retain so much of the person you will learn so much about who you are and how you interact with the world around you.
So the journey does not end of coming out of the closet. There will be much for you to discover about yourself when you announce to the world that you are LGBT. No matter how much you’ve observed of others like you it will not be the same. This is your experience and you will not always feel that things turn out as you had envisioned. At times it may feel completely overwhelming because you are constantly learning what the rules are for you more than any other time in your life. It will not always be easy and there are no guarantees that it’ll always turn out the way you planned. You may have family and friends that abandon you. Hate and disown you.
Some of them may actively work against your best interests and your rights as a citizen of our country. You may still be fired at your job for being LGBT. You may come up against discrimination and bullying you because those around you have not accepted that you have the right to not hide that you really are anymore. You may feel so overwhelmed by the transition taking place in all areas of your life. You may begin to question how normal your life can be as openly LGBT.
You may question the beliefs you had about this community that can sometimes appear too vain and uncaring. You may have experiences that are much to be desired with other members of this community when you discover that the same prejudices about race and ethnicity are still active forms of oppression with other members. Some will hold the same prejudices and hate about your looks and determine you’re too feminine or too masculine. They may even declare because of your preferred sexual role somehow depreciates your value because they are obsessed with status rather than substance. So you will come to realize that some of the misogyny and homophobia and racism still affects members of this community.
But the reward of being able to take a sigh of relief and no longer feel like you’re living a lie is worth it. You’ll come to find an even greater appreciation for the people who not only love and accept you but who also encourage you to explore who you are and how being LGBT is a part of who you are. You’ll find strength inside that you did not know existed giving you confidence to face other obstacles in your life more prepared. It will not always be as rose colored as you had hoped it would be but you will have opportunities to truly seek out the happiness in life you deserve. Make no mistake that even though there are members of this community that hold prejudices against you for trivial matters there are still people who will include you and welcome you no matter what.
Some will say that it is your responsibility after coming out that you should become an activist and you would do well to swiftly tell those people to kiss your ass and go straight to hell. You don’t owe that part of yourself to anyone and don’t ever let someone tell you otherwise. This is your journey. Your story. Your life. Would it be great if you added to the cause and actively contributed to help ending prejudices and discrimination against us? Yes it would be most welcome. Hate still exists towards us. You certainly should be aware of what’s going on in our world and how we are still denied rights and freedoms. But to me, living your life openly is being an activist because it shows despite the challenges we face we will not allow the archaic beliefs of our society stop us from finding our happiness in this world.
See the thing is when people come off with that ass backward logic are always the most hypocritical. They’ll laud about being a part of the solution while they themselves are part of the problem. It’s because they always feel entitled towards anyone that can serve their own initiatives which are always leaning more to their benefit than the welfare of all of us. They only focus on the G, with little mention of L, then laugh at the thought of B and completely forget T. This community can appear fragmented and hierarchical. The same rules of privilege apply to race and the complexities of being of more than one minority group that’s disparaged is too much of an effort for them to really care about.
But again do not be dismayed by the actions of those who seem superficial who only seemed to be focused on their own objectives. Seek out members that have your best interest at heart. Because the further you go the more you will discover that the stereotypes placed on this community are exaggerations of the truth. You will decide for yourself what defines you. And in m9ments when you feel lost and afraid of what comes next there are people out there willing to walk with you every step of the way. There are people out there who are willing to guide you while allowing you to make the best decisions for yourself without burdening you to their own agenda.
There is a support system here for you when you don’t feel strong enough to embrace who you are. There are people that will stay up all night with you and discuss how much your life has changed because we’ve all been where you are right now. There are people that will tirelessly work with you to find you shelter if your loved ones turn their back on you. There are people that will stand up for you if you’re discriminated against at work or bullied. People are here working to make sure you are safe. But only when you’re ready. So once you are ready to burn down that closet and walk into the world the same people who are ready and willing to hand you the match and walk with you along the way.
So today I came across the video that’s making the rounds in the gay community of the remarks made by television host and radio personality Wendy Williams. Known for a very blunt, sometimes crass commentary that seems controversial, today her comments about gay men that date women for years before coming out of the closet illicit a very strong and quite visceral reaction from Williams.
It all started after she was asked about the ex-fiancé of Jason Collins, the NBA player that came out of the closet and sparked a huge debate about being gay and being involved in professional sports. Williams felt that Collins had implied that Collins cheated this woman out of eight years of her life. Known to what many call a beard, or a woman that either knowingly or unknowingly is in a relationship with a gay man that is still in the closet, and in this case, Collins omission about his sexuality was hurtful. That even though the struggles he went through were important, he and any other closeted man should not involve other woman that want to one day have families into that situation.
During this sound bite there was one quote made by Williams that really stuck out for me and I haven’t been able to move past it because it angered it me as it seems so dismissive to what we fear as gay men:
“The one thing that irks the hell out of me is a deceptive closeted closeted man”
To sum it up Williams was making the argument that she was somewhat sympathetic to the plight of men still in the closet and the struggles that it has on an individual but we should know better than to bring someone else into it and deceiving them which results in them losing years of their life. Later on in this candid interview, Williams also inferred to the legitimacy of bisexuality as questionable and that it was not something she.
So is staying in the closet deception? No, I don’t or at least not in the way Williams referenced the term. I’d like to remind Williams that first off, there are no winners in the scenarios of closeted men that chose to be with women but that it is a very delicate subject. Because being in the closet is not only a psychological and emotional dilemma, but can manifest into a physical one as well. The fear of being judged, persecuted, even having your life threatened making you have to constantly be on alert to if anyone around can detect it.
Being in the closet is not about deception as the term is to maliciously withhold information to use against someone. Being in the closet is the time in which we deal with accepting our sexual nature and how society still wants us to conform to some form of heteronormative practices. Its basis has been and will always be about fear. Fear of what judgments can await us from our loved ones, security with our jobs/careers, and those that may try to harm us. This is about protecting ourselves, and in some cases that does mean our very lives.
But we cannot be unsympathetic or dismissive to how it affects the women in these relationships once the man they once believed was straight, a man they once believed desired them sexually, may not have been sexually attracted to her. That she may feel that she was being used as a protective shield around this man’s life all the while whatever dreams she had of commitment and family was not the same schematic blueprint of family that he envisioned. It’s true that he could have had some sexual desire as sex does not always equate to attraction, or that he too wanted to build a family the same way she did and truly wanted to make the relationship work. He may have even loved her but sexual orientation was the thing that made it not work.
And these women have the right to feel sad, hurt, even cheated out of time because in truth that is what has happened. It’s not easy to say but they too are a causality of these circumstances that compels a man to stay in the closet. But I won’t call this deception so much as I see it as two people that were unable to make it work because they are too different. Because this man felt like the only way he could have a family was to subscribe to what our society tells a man how he should act, who he should be sexually attracted to, and who he can love.
This is a touchy subject, but the one thing that I feel Williams and others with opinions like hers need to take into account that instances like this are driven by a deep sense of fear that is sometimes so crippling you do everything in your power to mask any signs of it. One may even begin to convince themselves that you can be sexually attracted to a woman and have sex, that you can build a family, and that you can fall in love until you one day are finally able to see that it is not enough to pretend to believe just to make it so. It’s fear.
Williams also made a snide reference that Collins partner should have been able to pick up on his sexuality, like some animal that is roaming for prey and that frustrated me as well. Because of this busybody mentality, she’s no better than any other bigot shouting slurs at us from across the street. It infers that gay looks or acts a certain way when it does not. Sexual identity is more than any stereotypical paradigm to be identified. And inferences like this puts blame on the woman because it says “she should have known better” when none of this is her fault. So incredulously, Williams insulted the very gender she so flippantly tried to defend.
What would be beneficial in preventing things like this from happening is talking more about our experiences and to stop shaming homosexuality. Comments about the legitimacy of bisexuality don’t help matters at all. It is not about “easing your way into being gay to hold on to some masculinity It’s biology and the one thing we’ve learned from that is that it is all shades in nature. Just like skin color, sexual identity comes in all different shades with varying degrees.
Williams should also remember that since she herself is a part of the problem as she loves to sensationalize the potential sexuality of some of the celebrities she talks about. She makes endless speculations on whether or not someone is gay adding the note of scandal for her viewers to buy into and she profits from it. She may not know it, but doing this infers that it is somehow wrong and shames the men and women that may be struggling in this situation.
None of this is fair to anyone in the situation. I hope that those of us who are out and proud can show the men and women that are still in the closet, still living in fear that they don’t have to be trapped anymore. That our community is growing with love and support that will stand by them. Hopefully those that make scandals out of homosexuality like Williams can see that they’re only adding to a very difficult situation.
One of the most profound changes that occur after we realize that we are LGBT is how we begin to analyze every other facet of our lives. As a result of realizing our sexual identity and nature, we question the validity of everything we’ve been told to believe throughout our lives. From rules set by our caregivers that guide and discipline us to what our religious and spiritual leaders tell us about God, this becomes a time of great introspection and discovery. Most notably the time is marked by a series of questions and what religion and our faith are able to bring to our lives. We question if we can still believe in a religion or rather teachers of that religion that being gay is wrong.
Faith is believed to be blueprint to our morality as it sets to guide us through all aspects of our existence. To an extent, faith is believed to be the figurative parent to our morality. We know that this construct of what faith means is different for everyone. As we have our own unique experiences and upbringings we discover that no two people believe in the same way. So when I was asked a while back to discuss religion and sexuality I had a hard time collecting my thoughts in a way that made sense.
Luckily through social media I had the great privilege of getting to know author and interfaith leader Chris Stedman and he was able to shed some light on how our beliefs growing up may effect how and when we come out. And as time went on he agreed to have a phone interview to learn about his latest book, Faitheist. This narrative work that is both biopic and applicable principles to today’s society chronicles Stedman’s journey of self-discovery as a result of initially wanting others to come together and share differing ideas all the while building a sense of community and acceptance. This serves as a steady bridge for me to approach the subject of faith and sexuality.
I knew that discussing Stedman and his principles would provide clarity of my own thoughts on religion/faith in this discussion and how it could relate to the LGBT community. Let’s face facts; this is a sensitive issue regardless of your stance because our beliefs are always associated with our morality. We are passionate about what we believe in and too often when the subject comes up, especially when it relates to members of the LGBT community, emotions are heightened to a state where emotions overcompensate for reason. Facts are misconstrued and beliefs are treated as vengeful weapons against any opposition. I don’t want this discussion to go in that direction. That’s why reviewing Stedman’s position on the matter shows how differences in beliefs can come together.
Within the first five minutes I learned initially as we discussed atheism and group identity how different my own beliefs are from Stedman’s principles but still related to so much with what he advocates. Always at the ready to having meaningful dialogue, whether that be on his blog or his twitter account, I know that we can discuss this without conflict. When he explained pluralism and how Faitheist demonstrates inclusion of all beliefs it helped erode this stoic, detached persona so erroneously associated with atheists because of their beliefs. Even when Stedman admitted he feels that most of those that have a belief in God or deities are wrong that does not prevent us from knowing one another. His belief does not condemn me or anyone else and we can still relate to each other.
To further advance the reasoning behind his principles, Stedman brought up that while growing up he felt that he couldn’t be both gay and a Christian. He then told me about a religious cross he wore as a symbol of his faith and how he received a lot of teasing and criticism. Of course he was not suggesting that this lead him to atheism but it is something we need to observe because it shows an example that as LGBT men and women we do not belong to just one identity or community. Dichotomies exist within our community that we often enough do not discuss and duality can affect many aspects of our lives. Not only in faith but in racial/ethnic minorities, and even gender and socioeconomic status… Stedman believes that when we talk about this it creates an ethos that will foster experience.
Stedman helped me realize again how cooperation and acceptance are paramount as he discussed how his experiences shaped this principle. When he talked about him growing up in what he described as an irreglious home, he became a born again Christian at age 11 after his parents separated. Before he recommitted to the church he read about different cultures and perspectives and it taught him a greater depth of empathy. Shortly after his parents separated he sought out religion for normality and structure, and a community that was willing to support him all the while giving guidance from a position of authority. Felt their rigidity would provide clear answers.
As I write this I remember a song by George Michael, How you gotta have faith. The video was expressive about sexuality and having faith in your ability to love yourself. Looking back on it now I know the reason I was so drawn to this music video at 8 years old was because George Michael had a nice smile was doing throughout it was because of my developing sexuality. But it also made me question what faith was because I remember asking my mom after watching it what faith meant. She simply referred to it as “something you know to be true”. At that time I wanted faith because I thought it was cool. But I did begin to seek out comfort from it.
Both of our narratives, though completely different in our youth were looking for answers to faith with different environments and outcomes but the stories do reflect how we search for meaning at a young age. Looking for answers to why we feel the need to belong and what that means for ourselves. I think one of the greatest lessons we learn is deciphering what faith means to our self-worth. No matter what one’s own beliefs of faith or non-faith you have to reach a point in which you rely on the strength that resides inside you. A willingness to trust that we are indeed made this way naturally as it was meant to be, by biology or God.
We know that there can be many obstacles that we face before, during, and sometimes even after we come out of the closet. One of the things that we question most is our belief in God. We begin to speculate if we were truly meant to be LGBT because of what we’re taught about homosexuality and wonder if our sexuality is natural. Faitheist is a narrative of someone’s own journey that is continually seeking a sense of community and a celebration of our various differences. The concept of pluralism the respects the differing opinions, beliefs, and philosophies without the need of ostracizing. It gives the reader a relatable account of coming to terms with faith and sexuality.
I loved how inclusive his work is in both his literary work and his ability to apply that people of all walks of life. Faitheist is at its most general definition a story of inclusion. I truly marvel out how when there is conflict of beliefs, whether it’s critics or social media can be done diplomatically. As we delved deeper into this interview I asked Stedman about if the nature and principles of atheism makes it easier for LGBT men and women to process and accept their sexuality and come out. Detailing later in a humble response noted that the issues that face as we process our sexuality and our experiences are not that simple:
Once I began to question certain norms, it opened me up to questioning others, including the normative religious beliefs I had adopted. But I wouldn’t say that I became an atheist as a direct result of coming out, since I was a Christian for the first number of years that I was out of the closer as a queer person. Whether a queer person is religious or not, and whether or not that changes in conjunction with the coming out process, I think that there is a common experience of challenging assumptions and traditional ideas that most of us experience as we come out.
This is one of the reasons that I discuss the topic of coming out so much. Because so often when a person surprises one aspect of themselves, they are likely suppressing their ability to actively question other aspects of who they are. During our conversation I was completely fascinated with the empathy and compassion expresses throughout his work and his pluralistic approach. Onward as we discussed more about the principles he felt necessary like open dialogue are necessary to bridge understanding between belief and non-belief:
Sometimes it isn’t always clear which came first, but they necessarily inform and support one another. Meaningful dialogue, where all parties listen and strive to understand, engenders compassion and empathy; likewise, a compassionate approach enables dialogue in the pursuit of common ground, making it more accessible and more effective.
It takes people out of these their comfort zones when we discuss differences. When we hear stories about conflicts driven by media that are divisive “conflict is the exception to the rule” he stated which suggests that instead of defending their own beliefs we are simply arguing to see who’s right. So we need to approach of our own stories, our own identity as a whole, and not just about what we believe. It’s all about humanizing our differences. Options that both Stedman and I did were not afforded growing up.
But this made me think about the process more and how difficult it can be as a result of religion so I asked if he felt this would eliminate prejudices. We know how religion is used against this community so it’s understandable why many feel that if religion no longer existed that we would have an easier time processing and accepting our sexuality. However, during our conversation this assumption was the one thing that Stedman disagreed with most.
Stedman did not feel that the elimination of religion would lessen our issues as we are naturally have the dynamics of tribalism and a feeling of wanting to fit in with the majority. After thinking about it for a while I see why he came to that conclusion. We will always want to feel like we belong and as a result any inherent differences would potentially stagnate acceptance. It’s also important to note that Stedman expressed that the first people to accept his sexuality were his brothers and sisters from his church before realizing he was an atheist. He hadn’t accepted atheism until years after he came out.. So it is not about beliefs in God, it’s about tribal natural need to belong.
Attempting to think in even more abstract terms I asked Stedman if he felt that atheism was more a philosophy than a grounded, secular belief. When he decided he didn’t believe in God it was sadness and the way he expressed this epiphany felt to me that he was describing the loss of a loved one. Letting go of a concept that you have believed in your entire life has to take some time to process. But atheism brought comfort to Stedman because it taught him fortitude and a faith in himself because no one else could accomplish his goals and overcome any challenges. It motivated and empowered him to become more active.
The incentive of taking ownership becomes stronger and more rich. This concept reminds Stedman to live in the moment as time is finite. It suggests that at some point when we are accepting who we are that we have to take the initiative to persevere no matter what. We have to take control of our challenges and look at our actions in how they will affect that outcome. Being LGBT teaches us that it is up to us to make our lives and our environment better. It may not always come easy or in the time of our choosing but when we hold ourselves accountable for the direction our lives are going it truly invites us to be who we are. It encourages us to live. This point is what resonated with me the most during our discussion. You become appreciative of time when you know it is limited.
It’s important to note that Stedman and I are not suggesting that this discussion was meant to suggest we believe people who are LGBT and in the process of coming out would have an easier time if they became atheists. Far from it. But I do believe those that are going through this process should be ready for how this aspect may have on a subconscious level affected many other facets of their lives and personality.
I believe what Stedman expressed both in his book, and in our conversation, is that examining our beliefs in all areas of our lives gives us a greater sense of self. Throughout this process that we go through in coming to terms with our sexuality and our beliefs we have to trust ourselves more than anyone else, regardless of whether or not you believe in God. Homogeneity is celebrated in our community more than individuality and Faitheist provides examples of how we can approach our different outlooks with diplomacy.
The biggest advantage to reading Faitheist or starting any discussion about faith is that dialogue will allow you to process your opinion and your beliefs openly. No matter those beliefs, with an open mind you can be honest about them and I will always advocate for that. We need more dialogue and opinions and beliefs not only in this community but society as a whole. You can have meaningful relationships with people of different backgrounds and beliefs with respect. This interview along with Stedman;s book accurately and passionately demonstrates that faith is not synonymous with morality. Morality should always be met with humanity and respect. We have to always remember that when we talk about faith, no matter what you believe. But we have to be willing to make that first step. So reach out. Talk.