Friday, January 11, 2008

Coming Out Fridays! From the Baby Jesus to Baby Dykes

The following guest blog is part of Fannie's Room's "Coming Out Stories" series. In the following post, regular reader and sometimes commenter, "Hammerpants" recounts her coming out process. Knowing "Hammerpants" in real life (one could say that she's my "committed friend"), I thought that many would find her perspective and self-realization interesting. See, she was raised in an Evangelical Christian environment, which means that she used to be all about the baby Jesus and stuff. She is no longer part of this religious movement, proving quite nicely that one can become an ex-Evangelical ;-)

On a serious note, I find it brave and admirable that during college, she sought out information that conflicted with the religious views she was very devoted to her whole life. By realizing and accepting that she was gay, "Hammerpants" simultaneously left a safe comfort zone where everything was already figured out for her and entered a scary morally ambiguous world. While many Evangelicals find it easier to live in a world where right and wrong are black and white, she actively searched for shades of gray.

Anyway, enough of me talking. Here is her story in her own words (It's sorta long, but worth it):

"First I want to thank Fannie for this opportunity to share my personal Coming Out story. At first I was hesitant to write this because writing to an audience about anything is an act of vulnerability, let alone the act of writing about something so personal. But if at least one person can relate to or find comfort in or know a little but more about gay and lesbian people because others and myself tell our stories, then it is worth it.

Its been 5 and a half years since my personal Coming Out and, since then, I've realized that coming out isn't just a difficult talk with your parents or a rough Ani-infused semester in college when your heart is shattered by your new worldly feminist best friend turned crush who you've recently realized has a secret lover who is also your roommate. Yes, it very likely involves those things, but really only at first. For most openly gay people, Coming Out happens daily. Fortunately, it usually gets easier than those first few runs of clumsy and emotional self-disclosure to close friends and family. But the choice to be honest about ourselves and our lives is one that we confront every day with neighbors, co-workers, real estate agents, doctors, lawyers, grocery baggers, new friends and new family.
So, I will tell the story of my first Coming Out—the time I chose to be honest with myself.

For me, there was one distinct moment in my mind when I said with surprising ease, "Ah, yes, that is who I am." The seconds that followed gave way to the most peaceful clarity of thought that I had ever known. It didn't last log, but it was an instant of peace. For a brief second, the world made sense. It was as if the first 19 years of my life I was trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle but the pieces didn't quite fit so nicely. And in a moment, they snapped into place. I could be happy. I could envision a family, a partner, a life. In this moment, I was more human and the more alive that I had ever been. The months leading to that moment were angsty, desperate, and, more than anything, scary. But the exchange of that dark journey for my first sense of true honesty was worth the surrender.

I was an independent child who, like most children, had very strong feelings about who I was and how I wanted to present myself. Whenever I could, I would sneak into my older brother's closet and steal his clothes to wear to school. I loved wearing boys clothes and I think it wasn't until the third or fourth grade that I realized I actually wasn't one of the boys in school. I mean I always knew I was a girl, but that was a mere technicality. I sat at the boys table for lunch, I played with the boys at recess, I identified with male hero figures in history and on TV. I felt limitless when it came to gender. I never felt like I was viewed differently for being a girl because I never really felt like other girls. Later, as I entered fourth, fifth, sixth grade, I had much difficulty. I felt expressly different from other kids. I did not know why. But I do remember crying at night, telling my mom with all the self-assurance I could muster, "I am different." I learned quickly that its okay--actually cute-- to be a tomboy until a certain age. After that age, people don't view it with the same endearment. So I caught on and started dressing more girly. I wore makeup and made a close group of girl friends in junior high. Finally, I felt like I belonged.

All along I was raised in an Evangelical Christian household. We were not subscribers to Focus on the Family, but I did grow up believing in an absolute Truth and a message of salvation, embodied by the Word of God. I did believe that it was by the grace of God that I was blessed to know this Truth and that sharing this message was part of my purpose in life. I did believe that people are inherently sinful and, alone, incapable of good. For I could only do good in this world by seeking out God's will and letting it be my compass. I felt like I was a child of God just as all of my fellow Christians were. It was with this firm grounding that I set off for college, trading the comforts of California for the foreign terrain of Chicago.

Things changed quickly.

Once dutifully arriving my freshman year, my earnest intent was to find a nice local church where I could meet and have fellowship with other Christians. Any good Christian knows that having well-grounded Christian friends is fundamental to a good walk with Christ. As the Sundays passed though, I found myself surprisingly not wanting to go to church and I began to objectively wonder why. Objective is the key word here. I tried to examine my feelings without judgement or guilt, but to just say, "Why am I feeling this way?" Looking back on it now, the best answer to that question is that I was beginning to realize that my life is my own and if I want to go to church, I am doing it for myself. Prior to my new-found freedom, I never had expressly felt like my faith was chosen by anyone else. At this cross-roads, I recognized more ownership over who I was and who I'd choose to become than I ever had before. That realization of ownership opened up the next chapter: reevaluation of everything I'd assumed I already knew.

Like all newcomers to college, I met a lot of people. Most importantly, I met a lot of people who were different from me. They came from different countries, different points of view, different upbringings. A few of the people who I got to know very well were types of people who, had I been in California and had it been six months prior, I never would have taken the time to know for the simple reason that they were the opposite of who I wanted to be. From what I could tell, they were not Christian, they were a bit rebellious, and they were, well, gay. With a good deal of hesitance, I let myself engage in conversation, just a little. A tiny part of me was curious and a large part of me was scared, mostly because I began to see myself in them. After a few months, a few of my gay acquaintances became very good friends. I learned that they were very good, honest, passionate people. Their kindness came at face value. No expectations, no judgement. They were just good, decent people who sought to understand and to be understood. And the paradox of it all was that they were supposedly the enemy, or at the very least the sinners who who most in need of redemption. They did not know God. And yet they seemed more Christian than most of the Christians with whom I grew up. It was so strange. Everything felt turned on its head.

I was confronted with serious questions with serious implications: Did I think that they were sinful for being gay? Did I think it was wrong? Well I thought it was wrong. Was I wrong? But who was I to say what was wrong when the people who were supposed to be wrong were really the kind loving ones and the people who were supposedly the right ones always made me feel like I was so wrong? I did not know. So I did the only thing I knew to do to find out what was actually right and true. I read the Bible. I went through every last book and I took note of all of my favorite Bible verses, many of which I had memorized in Bible school. I wrote many of the passages in my journal and most of all I scoured the pages for any hint of what God actually said about gay people. I already knew what other people said. I wanted to draw my own conclusions. I read it all. All of the quoted verses about men lying with men and blah blah blah. And after that I still knew nothing. Except that in my heart I knew that these were good human beings. And for the first time, I knew a few non-Christians for whom I did not pray in hopes that they would become Christians. I did not want them to change. I began to see for myself that the compass for knowing right and wrong and good and bad comes, at least partly, from within.

For the first time, I let myself be the judge. I did like it... until I realized what I was actually thinking: gay is a-okay. More than that, what I choose to believe about this world and this life is up to me. Panic set in. If it was okay for other people to be gay, then its okay for me to be gay. Am I gay? Just because its okay for me to be gay doesn't mean I am gay. Why do I think I might be gay? Suddenly a flood of pubescent memories stole me away. There was that time when I spent the night at Jessica Bergman's house in the 8th grade and all I could think about was kissing her. Then there was that obsession with the Ellen show (not her talk show but the old sitcom) and especially that one episode that my parents and I watched together when she came out. There was that deep yet distant feeling in my gut that night that one day I would do the same. And then there was that secret hope that Megan and Carrie from my high school basketball team were secretly having a lesbian love affair. They did have matching tattoos. More than anything there was a deep uncomfortable longing every time I thought of the possibility.

Following rigorous existential analysis of my feelings, my psyche, and my beliefs with the aid of some good books for about 4 months, it was in one of those uncomfortable longing moments when I just stopped. It was too much and I wasn't getting anywhere. I just tried to picture myself 20 years from that very place in time. Who would I be? What did I want? How did I see myself? With a flinch and a deep breath, I let myself picture another woman walking beside me, holding my hand. That was THE moment. The moment of instant relief. I said, "That's what I want." After that, nothing else mattered. There was no book to read to figure out what to do. I knew--very very deeply--what was true.

Up until that point I had felt like a spectator in life, never feeling like any of the world's offerings were for me. And now I felt alive. That time was very scary. What was scary was not so much the prospect of my being gay, but rather coming to find that I have power to choose what I believe and how I will live. The idea that what I knew most deeply in my heart to be true conficted with my one source and resource for Truth and direction was devestating. Everything that I had known in life added up to this not adding up at all. That is when I chose my new Truth over my old one: that if God did exist, He made me who I am. And I now I know who I am.

About two weeks after my personal coming out, I chose to come out to my new best lesbian friend (aka, my very first crush). She had become a good friend. She was kind and gentle and listened for 2 hours straight as I just talked and talked, sitting on her bed, petting her roommate's orange cat. At the end of the night, she let me down easy. She knew I liked her and I knew nothing would happen between us but what she gave me I have treasured since that night. It was a calm, ready ear and a deep understanding.

Later that year I came out to my parents. That time was very very difficult. The day after I told my mother, she looked right into my eyes and with fresh tears on her cheeks and from her gut and with a raspy voice she said, "I knew. I knew all along." Later that night, my dad told me that my mom had worried about my being gay since I was 5 years old. She would mention it to him often throughout my childhood. She really did know. Despite their inklings, both my parents stuggled with the news. I think they still struggle. But they have come to see that I am no different from and am actually more so the little girl who refused to wear a dress and arm wrestled the boys.

There may be people who read this story and say, "See its a choice. She chose to be a lesbian." To you I say, "I chose honesty over deceit." I chose happiness over emptiness. There may be some people who say, "It was those gay friends of hers who convinced her to be gay." To you I say "it was my gay friends who did not feel the need to convince me of anything." There may be some who say, "She gave into the temptation and doubt and was not steadfast in her faith." To you I say, "that's damn right."

My first coming out was very internal. It began as a deep struggle between my heart's belief and my heart's longing. In the end they became the same thing. I do very seriously belive that there is much room for God, gods, goddesses, no god or a lingering question of the existence of a god-like being in the lives of gay and lesbian people. Likewise, there should be room for gay and lesbians and bisexuals, and queer people, transgendered people, and questioning people as well as people who know and love and embrace people who are different from them in the church or place of worship of any god(s) or God or whatever. This was my personal journey through what had appeared to be and what I had previously believed to be two foes. Since, I have taken to not really knowing what I believe in terms of god or God, but I do acknowledge that its just downright silly to ever feel like I have knowledge or belief or faith that is superior to or more true than anyone else's. It's still a work in progress.

'Faith is not being sure. It is not being sure, but betting with your last cent... Faith is not a series of gilt-edged propositions that you sit down to figure out, and if you follow all the logic and accept all the conclusions, then you have it. It is crumpling and throwing away everything, proposition by proposition, until nothing is left, and then writing a new proposition, your very own, to throw in the teeth of despair... Faith is not making religious-sounding noises in the daytime. It is asking your inmost self questions at night and then getting up and going to work... Faith is thinking thoughts and singing songs and making poems in the lap of death.'"
- Mary Jean Irion, 1970
from "Yes, World: A Mosaic of Meditation"
available from

Thanks "Hammerpants," for sharing.

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