“It took me years to come out of the closet,” Larry bellowed, “I’m sure as hell not going to hide my politics just because a bunch of gay guys disagree with me.” It was a sentiment many of our new friends shared. In fact, my boyfriend and I felt so disconnected from the gay community that we started our own Meetup group, Conservative Gays. Within a week, we had over ten members.
Some of our friends laughed when we told them the name. “Well, that’s an oxymoron if ever I’ve heard one,” scoffed our friend Jeremy. Other friends politely smiled at us. In the meantime, our membership continued to grow.
The point of the group wasn’t so much about politics, as it was really providing a place for people to meet other gay people away from the bar scene and clubs. I’d spent most of my life in church. The only “dancing” I knew how to do was stepping side-to-side and clapping on the off beat. I’d been a choir director. I’ve never liked the taste of alcohol. All my free time was spent being a dad, volunteering at my kids’ school and showing up at other family events. I didn’t really know how to be “gay.”
Many of the people, a mixture of men and women, who signed up and attended our functions also came from religious backgrounds. Many had been married to the opposite sex and some also had kids of their own. Almost all of them came out later in life. Political views ran from left to right, with most falling somewhere in the middle. I realized in forming our group, I’d found an underserved niche in the gay community.
One of the biggest problems someone from a conservative background faces when accepting his or her sexuality is where to fit in. Part of the difficulty in self-acceptance is a sense of having to leave everything one believes to suddenly become a part of nearly everything one does not believe in. People find themselves in a no-man’s-land. Politics are foreign, nightlife is strange, and even expanded gender roles can be uncomfortable. You don’t fit in the gay community, but you don’t belong in the straight community either. In the midst of trying to find yourself, you’re trying to find where you belong. The task is daunting.
I still remember the first time I set foot in an LGBT center in a town where I was working. The only possible other parent, as far as I could tell, was the straight receptionist who let me into the building for the coming out meeting I was there to attend. My story, amidst much younger people, was different than everyone else’s.
One man from Nashville, Tennessee contacted me a few months ago to say he was ready to come out, but considering his job in the Christian music industry, he knew everything was about to change. He wanted to get his proverbial ducks in a row before he started making announcements and watching his career soar off course. It’s a common theme I’ve seen play out time and time again.
It’s a “shame”
What I didn’t know back then was how much shame controlled my life. If I had felt more confident about who I was, it would have been easier to show up in uncomfortable situations, or even be around people different than me. Any time we feel like we “don’t belong,” there is usually some kind of shame or unworthiness involved.
I’d spent decades hiding my sexuality from everyone, including me. While I was making my way into the gay community, I carried a lot of weight about not measuring up, not being worthy of love, and not being attractive enough to get anyone’s attention. Of course, it doesn’t help that the community, particularly the night life, worships youth. For someone struggling with shame, that’s just one more obstacle to get in the way of fitting in.
Build your own community
I learned in Bible school that no matter where you are, you can usually find a group of people who share your values. I actually learned that lesson from fellow preaching majors who were caught getting drunk and having sex with some cheerleaders. I didn’t even know that behavior existed at Bible school, but sure enough, there it was.
The moral of the story is that there are people just like you, who share your interests. Just like my boyfriend (now fiancé) and I did, you may need to create a place that is comfortable for you at first. I’m an introvert with social anxiety. I also seldom remember people’s faces. You can imagine the terror I felt, stepping into social situations with people I’d never met before (or had I?), and trying to make friendships. If you can’t imagine it, you’re several steps ahead of where I was when I came out.
Meetup.com is a great place to meet like-minded people in your area. I joined the gay professionals group, along with the gay hiking group (I’ve since discovered I don’t care for the outdoors), and even a non-gay group of musicians. I built a foundation of friendships from each of those groups and then created my own.
Whatever you decide to do, support is extremely important. My first recommendation for anyone coming out, is to find other people to talk to, whether it is a PFLAG group, a therapist or a minister at a gay-affirming church. Stepping into authenticity is difficult, no matter what your age, background or political affiliation.
I’ve come a long way since I first came out. While my politics have definitely shifted to the left, and my kids are more self-sufficient, I’m still a homebody. I’m comfortable enough in my own skin now that I’m able enjoy the company of people who don’t always agree with me, may not come from the same religious faith, or who may even have off-the-wall political beliefs and affiliations. I’m no longer intimidated by what I don’t know, or feel a driving need to be a part of something that I feel I should need. Instead, I’ve opted to surround myself with people who love me, regardless of their sexual orientations and ideologies.
Tim Rymel, M.Ed. is an ordained evangelical Christian minister and former leader in the ex-gay (reparative therapy) movement of the ‘90s. He is an outspoken critic of the continued practice of reparative therapy, particularly for minors. He shares his personal story in his latest book Going Gay: My Journey from Evangelical Christian Minister to Self-Acceptance, Love, Life, and Meaning (CK Publishing, 2014).
Tim is also the author of the business book, Everything I Learned About Management I Learned from Having a Kindergartner (CK Publishing, 2012). He is writing his third book entitled, “Ex-Gay 25 Years Later,” a first of its kind exposé into the lives of men who sought to change their sexual orientations 25 years ago, and where they are today.
More than just a speaker and advocate, Tim is the father of two teenage daughters. Together with his fiancé, one dog and a street cat, they all reside in your typical suburban home in Northern California, doing typical suburban things.