“But Paul might not like me anymore” is how I talked myself out of coming out for a couple of years. What would the pastor say? Would I still be able to sing in the worship team if they found out? Would I still be able to find success as a musician if potential CD-buyers/label heads/producers found out? What if I met a guy and had A Pleasant Time only for him to sell his story to the papers once he realised I was that guy with a song in the charts?
I’m very lucky to have been brought up by a mother that does not value some sentences in the Bible over her own son. I’m also very lucky to have grown up at a time (21st century) and in a place (the United Kingdom) where The Issue Of Homosexuality is basically not a thing. So I know I speak from privilege.
But you should still come out.
Not necessarily. I once went on a date with a chap from Lebanon and he told me about his father’s business. He told me that he was due to take it over once his father retired and become reasonably wealthy in the process. His father’s views on homosexuality were pretty clear, by which I mean he was extremely homophobic to the point of making threats of violence when the topic came up. “If I had a gay as a son, I’d [you get the picture]”.
Sometimes you are literally just keeping yourself out of harm’s way, a nuance that a lot of out-and-proud people tend to forget.
To people you respect?
Not necessarily. Paul was a fair bit older than me, a sort of Father Figure If You Will that enjoyed passing on advice about how to be a god-fearing man and all that. I told him about my hopes and dreams, the unthinkable and the incredible; I borrowed money from him when I was in a fix; I engaged in that very un-Christian thing called gossip when he gave me a lift. But I still didn’t tell him. “He’s my friend, that’s enough! It could make things awkward for him”. I became a master of misguided empathy.
Who do you tell, then?
It seems obvious, but you should come out first to people you trust. Be strategic. Know any other LGBTQ people? Tell them. Know a leftist that is always posting about social justice on the internet? Tell them.
You can also target people you barely know. Just at the beginning of a friendship or work relationship with someone? Drop it in early. If they ditch you, you’ve not lost much. In fact, you’ve probably gained something: more time not in the presence of People Like That.
More important than having 100% of your circles know immediately is being comfortable with being honest to yourself. No more lying about being attracted to the person that is “well fit” for the sake of your peers. No more joining in with the homophobic chorus to meet the expectations of your colleagues. Use the word “boyfriend” or “girlfriend” or “partner” or whatever with that person you trust and feel The Weight lifted off your shoulders so quickly it’s like you obliterated The Weight with your mega-powerful rainbowthoughts. Know your limits and push them when you’re feeling a bit more confident.
But Ben, family is important!
I still think the Lebanese chap should tell his father eventually, because a person’s sexuality is part of their identity and if you’re unable to be yourself to Your Family Who Loves You then something is seriously wrong, right? Except sometimes you need to have a place to sleep so you can eat and it doesn’t always “work out eventually” because life isn’t actually a Hollywood movie.
I eventually told Paul. I’d already moved to Germany and started a new life at this point. His initial reaction was “we’re praying for you”, but it eventually became “I can no longer interact with you”. That didn’t feel great at first, but I slowly realised that it was a lot easier to not interact with a homophobic person than it was to spend the rest of my life pretending I was something I actually wasn’t. Again, I speak from privilege. I have the option to make friends with someone else, knock on another door, sleep on another sofa. Some people don’t.
But you should still come out.
On your own terms, sure. Slowly, fine. To just one person? If you really can’t handle more than that, OK. Just say something to someone. Don’t keep it to yourself.
Paul is actually called something else and I was kind enough to change his name in this post. Not sure why.¯\_(ツ)_/¯