I am a gay male in my early 20s. I came out to my family about a year ago. They are Evangelical and refuse to accept me for who I am. We still see each other, they haven’t shut me out, but it’s very uncomfortable to be around my family now. I don’t know what to say or how to act. I feel judged all the time. How can I learn to be myself around them again?
- Searching for Home
I heard Gene Robison speak just a couple of months ago. Robinson, the first openly gay bishop anywhere in the church (take note of the word “openly” — there were plenty of closeted bishops running around before Robinson came along) was a few weeks away from retiring. In his presentation, he reflected on his career and, in particular, on the time shortly after he took office some 10 years ago. Back then, he told us, he and his husband were regularly the targets of vicious slurs and even of death threats.
In the crushing stress of those days, Robinson went to see his spiritual director. She advised him to take up a practice in which he spent five or 10 minutes a day picturing God’s love washing over him like gloriously warm water. Feel God’s love holding you, she told him: know that you are loved by God entirely and without condition.
Robinson said that he made that practice a regular part of his prayer life. And he said that doing so was transformational — that it gave him the strength to set aside his fear and his anger. That it allowed him to live fully and bravely and generously and abundantly.
I’d like to suggest that you take up a similar practice, Searching — that you regularly take time in which you allow God to tell you how much She loves you. You can facilitate this act of holy listening by populating your world with as many allies as you are able. Find friends who will serve as God’s voice and hands in your life, affirming in word and in deed that you are loved. Find a worshiping community which will do the same, which will sing forth the truth that you are God’s beloved child, just the way that you are.
You need to know that you are loved by God deep in your bones, because that knowledge is what will give you the strength and the confidence to do something hard but vital: it’s time for you to parent your parents.
Much like the father who marches his child back to the store from which he has stolen a candy bar, it is now your job to take your mom and dad by the hand and to insist that they behave better. Sit your parents down and let them know that you have been listening to and relying on God’s love in your life and, because of that love and because of the love that you have for them, you don’t want a relationship with them that is predicated on anything less than honesty, empathy, and respect. Tell them, therefore, that you aren’t willing to accept a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy; that you won’t tolerate even a whiff of hateful nonsense like ex-gay therapy; that you refuse to listen to cherry-picked Bible verses which turn you into an abomination; that you insist on the same rights that they would extend to a straight child.
And then tell your mom and dad that these are the conditions under which you are willing to spend time with them.
One of two things will happen after you give your parents this loving ultimatum, Searching. The first possibility is that they will refuse. In that case you will, indeed, be shut out of their lives, at least for the time being. That would really hurt. But my guess is that it would hurt a whole lot less than the status quo in which you feel that your folks are sitting in constant judgment of you. The second possibility is that your parents’ love for you will prove to be stronger than their fear. In that case, they will agree and the three of you can begin something new.
There are plenty of resources that you can send your mom and dad’s way to help them along. Robinson, for instance, has a new book called “God Believes In Love: Straight Talk On Gay Marriage” — among other things, it makes the scriptural case for extending queer folks a place of dignity and equality. And I guarantee you that your local chapter of PFLAG will have at least a few members who have walked the same road that your parents are on now.
Let me leave you with a final thought, Searching: I suspect that your mom and your dad knew that you were gay long before you came out. A year ago, in other words, when you made the beautiful, faithful, brave and necessary decision to name the truth, you didn’t tell them anything that they didn’t already know. Rather, what you did was to refuse to keep participating in your family’s sickly fiction that you would someday fall in love with a woman. Three hundred and sixty five days is enough time for your parents to bury that fiction, to stop mourning the straight son who never was. It’s time, now, for them to embrace you — the wonderful son whom they actually have.
You are God’s beloved child, Searching. Let the light of that love shine through your pores. Let that light be a gift to your parents, to yourself, and to the world.
Do you have a question about ethical decision making, living a faithful life or theology? Leave a comment below or send your question for Martin Elfert to firstname.lastname@example.org.