Coming out has many connotations for me, and everyday I add some. When we become aware of our individuality, say around puberty, we often wonder who we are in relation to the next person. The answer for some comes easier than for others. The degree of ease, to my mind, is directly proportional to the closeness of our personal disposition in relation to societies common values.
We can accept it as fact that these common values have changed through the ages and will never stop changing. What is ‘hip and cool’ today is old fashioned or even detestable tomorrow. Young people, we all know, will rather die than be ‘un-cool’. Snobs will rather move than drive a lesser car than the neighbours. These afflictions of conformity have not passed religions. They too have their ‘fashions’.
Since God is eternally the same, this is all of no consequence – a real pity since it’s such a waste of the time we’re granted on earth.
To be truly happy, I believe, we have to rid ourselves from all that we have been taught which is of man and treasure the things that are of God. There will always be racists and homophobics. There will always be those who believe the world should work they way they want it to and that all people should agree with them. They will also have positions of power and try to enforce these opinions.
Non-heterosexual people will always have at least one homophobic to use as a reason for having a closet. At least one excuse for being scared. This is normal, but a little simplistic analysis goes a long way to relieve most fears: Like AIDS and anal sex, closets are not exclusively gay phenomena. All people have a closet in which they hide. Coming out as the real ‘me’ is frightening, per se, and all people have to do it.
The older I get the more I realise how similar people are in the way they experience things, irrespective of their race, culture or sexuality. Sure, the difficulty for a non-heterosexual person is often greater, but there is little difference.
Coming out insinuates displaying a self that is different from something, which is set as the standard or the perceived original. It is this standard we should question.
When we rid ourselves from all the ingrained beliefs we are bombarded with, and which clutters our conscience with false convictions, then ‘coming out’ takes on a new meaning altogether. It then becomes a question of self-acceptance and acceptance of God’s plan for us. Then it means we have to come out to ourselves and to God first. This will truly set us free. This will command respect and dignity from those around us. This is step one? On a practical level and proceeding to step two, we have to develop a sincere appreciation for the position of the people we feel we want to come out to and those we don’t.
Remembering how tough it was to accept our own sexuality, it will be easier to accept the feelings those people will experience that we come out to. They too need to go through all the stages of acceptance like we do. Denial, anger, sadness, rebellion, separation, etc. are only some of these. We owe them that. Thinking about this, we have to weigh the situation first and make sure that all this grief is necessary. Why do they have to know? When do they have to now? What real difference will it make? For instance, of what consequence is this knowledge to your butcher or baker?
Without intending any insensitivity, it is important to remember that there are 5.5 billion people on earth; being too concerned about people’s opinion we barely know, may rather say something about the size of our world. In such a small world there can never be space for difference and individuality. I have seen many comings out turn extremely sour that at best should have been left alone. The attitude that people have to accept it, that they have to understand, will only breed contempt.
While writing this article an excellent example posed itself in a Sunday service. A newcomer introduced himself and after a little chat, I couldn’t help but hope that his nervousness would ease during the service. As the service started I went to sit in the same bench as a token of support. Little was said.
Later Gareth came to sit next to me and held my hand. This clearly upset this man as he grabbed the bench in front of him with both hands. Still I hoped he would relax. Later the Catholic Father showed a 14th century depiction or icon of Christ. This was the final straw and this man jumped up, made a public comment about idol worship and ran out.
Was this man out of the closet? How big was his acceptance of other people and the way they perceive life? Of what little consequence could it be if he told anyone that he was gay (if he was)? Could he really expect acceptance?
Surely, even if you agree with his sentiments about holding hands or artworks of Christ, you would not lose control, but rather raise a dignified objection? When we are really out, it means we have fully accepted and made true peace with ourselves, with God, and with all of His creation. Then we’ll be able to accept another person’s point of view. Then they will be able to accept ours. As Step three we can then take those things in life we agree with and make it our own and be acceptant of the rest. Then we can be an example of acceptance and compassion.
Being whole, I think, is the initial requirement.
Since we live in a real world, it is also sometimes necessary to come out for practical reasons: Gareth and I are in a committed, blessed relationship that grows stronger everyday. This implies that we want to provide for each other, should one of us become disabled or pass away. If I do not come out at my work, he will not get my pension. We are also paying separate medical funds, which cost a fortune.
Considering the feelings of my colleagues can only help in this sensitive process of their education and thereby earning their support for what and who I really am.
As a final step we must forgive, we must lend a hand to those on this difficult path. We must teach.
Alden Möller lives in Cape Town, South Africa.