Wednesday, January 13, 2021

I Knew When to Come out

For years I surrounded my secret in protective armor, afraid of letting anyone else see what I was hiding. Would they hate me as much as I hated myself? And yet at the same time I yearned to be vulnerable. I yearned to be understood and to have someone to talk to. But being vulnerable was super risky. Removing the metaphorical armor would leave me exposed to truly being hurt. I was terrified of sharing my secret and then having nothing to deflect the jabs and punches and strikes that I feared would come. No one could hurt me more than a person that I had opened up to. 

There is a very specific feeling I get when I know I'm supposed to come out to someone. It’s hard to describe, but it's like a nervous, courageous sort of feeling. There’s a stirring inside of me and my heart pounds. It's not anxiety, but more like an invitation that comes from inside of me. When this happens I need to decide if I’m going to trust this feeling or listen to my fear.

I didn't feel prompted to share my orientation with anyone until after my mission. I returned to BYU and dove into dating just like I was supposed to. As I searched for an eternal companion the reality that I was gay was at the forefront of my mind like never before. One night I was sitting in a car with a good friend from my mission. He was telling me about some of his life troubles and I felt this intense need to reciprocate his openness and tell him I was attracted to men. But I was terrified and said nothing. Experiences like this happened again and again. A friend would open up in a private setting and I would feel this stirring inside of me that I would ignore because of fear. 

I wanted to let people into what I was experiencing so badly, but I couldn't because of fear. The Lord said to Joseph Smith, "But with some I am not well pleased, for they will not open their mouths, but they hide the talent which I have given unto them, because of the fear of man" (D&C 60:2). Being gay clearly isn't a talent (but if it were I'd hope to win some kind of prize), but I was hiding important experiences because I was afraid. 

Even after I started coming out it was often lacked the courage to be vulnerable when I got that “it’s time to come out” feeling. I would sometimes be so worried that I felt physically ill. I would hesitate and not initially act on the prompting. But as I got more and more used to what the Spirit was encouraging me to do, it got easier and I became more confident. So when I got that feeling while teaching Elders Quorum I came out. When I got that feeling during a 5th Sunday lesson at church I came out. When I was meeting with my bishop for the first time and got that feeling I came out. And every time I responded to that prompting something wonderful happened. Every time there was some kind of tangible confirmation that coming out in that setting was the right thing to do. Every time I felt uplifted and edified, and so did those with whom I had shared. Quite a contrast from hiding in fear and saying nothing. 

Provo Utah Temple 2018
When I was 33 I was working as a temple worker in the Provo Utah Temple. I was out publicly and anyone who knew me knew I was gay. But I decided to not come out to my fellow temple workers. I didn't want to make anyone feel uncomfortable and I didn't want anyone to say something unkind to me in the temple. My logic told me that it would be easiest to just play straight. One day I was talking with an older gentleman on my shift while we were waiting to do an assignment. He asked me what I planned to do after I graduated with my MSW. I told him that I hoped to work with LGBTQ clients and their families. Right then we had to fulfill an assignment and he said sternly, "Find me after. We need to talk." I immediately started to worry about the lecture I was going to receive on the ills of homosexuality. 

I found him later and we sat on a padded bench. He asked me why I was interested in working with LGBTQ clients. The feeling I knew so well stirred inside of me so without hesitating I told him I was gay. He then got emotional and said, "My son is gay, too." We sat on that bench talking for quite a while. When the conversation was over he thanked me profusely for trusting him because he had needed someone to talk to that day. His last words to me were: "Providence brought us together today." 

This feeling came multiple times as I interacted with temple workers on my shift. It led to beautiful conversations every single time. Even though I had planned to be silent, I was frequently prompted to speak. My coming out in those settings wasn't to get attention, or to prove a point, or to increase LGBTQ visibility. I simply came out in the temple because I felt prompted to do so. 

Mitch, the first person I came out to

I for sure don't know what any other LGBTQ person should do. But what I do know is that I missed a lot of opportunities to come out because I was scared. I also know that waiting until I was 30 to come out publicly was the right thing for me for a number of reasons. I came out on my blog at that time because I had come to recognize when the Spirit was prompting me to speak.

I've heard a number of friends share similar stories of learning to recognize a feeling that invites them to come out. I don't know when the right time to come out is, but God does and He'll help us know. Immense goodness has come into my life as I have followed the repeated promptings to come out. When I hid because of fear, all the kindness that was offered to me was also somewhat deflected by my protective armor. When I removed my armor and let myself be seen, I finally felt the full embrace that my loved ones were offering me. That was the experience God was inviting me to have. 


Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for these words, I kinda need this right now. Coming out is super tough, especially when you feel you might break your families hearts. I just don't know how much longer I can keep it locked up inside of me before I just belt it out on facebook to rip off the band-aid. I just want to unapologetically be myself around those I love, but I don't want our relationship to change because of this. I'll eventually build up the nerve, but until then I'm truly grateful for your words here and for your book and pod cast, you're making our world a better place to live in :)

Sherwin said...

What a wonderful example of following the Spirit. I am sorry that this has been difficult for anyone. I am not gay but I feel so very strongly that above all else, EVERYONE must feel loved and be loved. God didn't command us to judge or harm others, but to love them. May you and all who read your posts feel God's love and your brother's and sister's love as He would want for you.

Jayne said...

As always, I am comforted by your experiences and inspired by your vulnerability! Thank you for sharing! Now I’m gonna go finish some more of your podcast episodes and keep this good thing going!