I’m a Gay Christian Teenager. How Do I Come Out?

Hey beastly,

I’m a teenager who lives at home and I’ve known I was gay since I was 12 years old but I’ve never told anyone. My dad works at a church that believes homosexuality will send anyone who practices it to hell, but not those who simply resist their urges.

I have a very close relationship with my entire family including my 3 sisters and my parents and I don’t want to mess that up since they are the only people I really have. What would be your advice for me in terms of coming out, I don’t know how they would respond and I don’t want to lose them but I also think I need to be myself.

I feel like I would be loosing everything I have if I come out and don’t know what I would gain from being out but alone. I also do believe in god but I don’t personally believe that homosexuality is a sin and I don’t want to abandon my faith.

Any advice would be greatly appreciated and I want to thank you for you writing

 

You will never be “out but alone.” We take care of our own. You just have to find us.

Part of my childhood was spent in Zambia, Africa because my parents were Southern Baptist missionaries. I was raised in a conservative Christian home and my coming-out was predictably hard. I won’t sugarcoat my reply — the road ahead may be tough. But it’ll get better.

If your family adheres to more conservative Christianity (if they’re not Christians at, say, a Unitarian Universalist church or some other more liberal congregation), they may react strongly and negatively if you choose to come out now. In a way, they have to — in their cosmology, their warped view of the world, they have no choice. You are their child and it’s their job to rear you correctly, and correctly means “straight.”

They may see your sexuality as a failure of their parentage. They might say it’s the work of evil spirits (mine did).  They may suggest various ways to resist your desires, including “cures” and camps. All “cures” are totally fake and non-scientific. You are not sick or wrong. If they do any of this, it will be done out of love. That doesn’t pardon them, but it may help you understand them. Love takes many forms, even cruelty. It’s still love.

I was 16 — a junior in high school — when my dad walked in my room, furious, and made me tell the truth. The two years that followed forged the person I am now — someone who, for better or worse, runs on a deep, inextinguishable engine of rage and has rejected not just God but virtually all forms of belief. I didn’t have a choice in coming out — I did not “come out,” I was interrogated — but if I had, I would have kept my parents in the dark until after college, and that’s what I suggest you do.

I don’t have much advice on being a gay Christian or how to reconcile those two often oppositional states of being, but there are many LGBTQ+ Christians our there. You don’t have to give up God. You can find liberal, welcoming churches across the U.S. (which is where I’m assuming you live). Many congregations do not share your church’s beliefs about homosexuality.

[Edit: Shortly after this post was published, a reader sent a message suggesting two helpful organizations: Q Christian offers digital small groups and support for queer Christians. If you’re Canadian, try Generous Space.]

Now, let me be explicit: if you think there’s a real chance you’ll lose everything — including, most importantly, the shelter and financial support provided by your parents — wait. This may not be the answer you want, but generations of people like us have had to weigh truth against survival. Your life with your family isn’t forever — you will inevitably leave home (probably pretty soon) — so outness is, for most of us, just a waiting game.

I don’t know how old or geographically isolated you are so I can’t gauge your access to outside support in the event that they kick you out — or worse, force you into dangerous (and scientifically disproven) “conversion therapy” or threaten to send you to a camp to “cure” you. Without that information, I can’t suggest actions that can cause physical and/or psychological harm.

If you adamantly want to come out, you have more resources at your disposal than I did when I came out. You have the internet (you used it to contact me) — something I didn’t have freely. And you’d be coming out in a different social climate. Public opinion of LGBTQ+ people has shifted since 2008. Since then, we’ve won national marriage equality and have seen more LGBTQ+ representation in media than at any point in history.

Only you can make the final decision, but I must caution that, no matter how you think they’ll react, you can be wrong. My coming-out was worse than I thought it’d be and it was a dream scenario compared to others’ stories. Have a worst-case scenario plan — more on that in a bit.

Coming out is something beautiful that every LGBTQ+ person must do. But there’s a safety clause to the “come out, come out, wherever you are” mantra: only do so if you can take care of yourself if you lose the financial support of your family.

If you’re close to “leaving home” age — 18, 19 — you’re old enough to support yourself in a worst-case scenario. College, of course, complicates things. If you have college plans or are currently a student and your parents are even partially footing the bill, wait until you’ve graduated before telling them. One of my college boyfriends had to drop out when he was outed to his parents — Christians in Mississippi — and they cut his funding. 

No one wants to think about worst-case scenarios, but they’re real. Queer and trans youth make up a disproportionate percentage of homeless youth. Your father, who works at an anti-gay church, likely has very negative beliefs about homosexuality — as did mine — and that’s not to be taken lightly. Also, a quick word about that bullshit “loophole” for homosexuality: the Christian narrative that gay men who simply “resist their urges” are OK in the eyes of God is the same thing I was told, that all generations of us have been told. It’s presented as a way to stay in the club and exists hand-in-hand with that other flaming piece of bullshit, “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” First, it reduces your homosexuality to action, something you do instead of something you are, which is not true. Second, it’s unspeakably cruel. They would deny you affection and intimacy — things people die without. That’s not an option and never will be.

Remember, you can come out to college friends even if your parents are footing the bill (unless you make the poor choice to go to a college close to home and continue living with them). If you go to college, the sudden freedom will be thrilling, but still be smart. They probably track your spending and you don’t want a gay clothing brand or gay porn subscription on your transaction history. Stay off social media if you can, particularly if you’re friends with folks back home who might blab.

If college is not in the plan, take steps to become financially independent. I still suggest coming out to friends before family — that’s what most of us do. Sometimes we’re out to our friends for years before telling parents and siblings.

What does a worst-case scenario plan look like? Read my response to your comrade below. 

The coming-out period for everyone is rarely easy, even for those of us with liberal, gay-friendly families. But this period is brief compared to the rest of your life as an out, happy person. If your family rejects you, you have another family — a much larger one — waiting. Come find us. 

Love, Beastly 

 


 

Hey beastly,

I’ve read most of your writings and it has really helped me to better understand my community but I still have one big problem, I have never told anyone I’m gay. I grew up in a very religious household, my father is actually a pastor and since I was little I have been told that homosexuality is wrong.

I want to come out however I don’t think i will be welcomed and I think I will be told that I just need to not act on anything. I have very few connections who are not a part of the church and while I am 18 I am not even close to being financially independent.

I guess what I want to know is how I can come out and be me without becoming isolated and having no one to help me. I know this isn’t the type of message you would typically reply to on your blog but if you could send me an email or something about what you think I should do that would be greatly appreciated.

 

My love, your message is why I started this blog. You are the reason it exists.

As you can see, everyone in your situation fears isolation and abandonment. While isolation is relative (there are likely more LGBTQ+ people nearby than you think), abandonment (and worse) is a real threat.

Read my reply to your comrade above. I included these messages together so you — and all others like you who may be reading this — know you’re not alone.

If you think your physical and/or financial safety will be imperiled by coming out, wait. The closet is wrong on every level, but you must weigh it against the real risks of abandonment and abuse. We think we know how our parents will respond, but religious-fueled reactions are notoriously hard to predict. Fervency appears in people at the strangest times.

The first evidence of homosexuality for many straight people over a certain age came in the ’80s with the outbreak of AIDS, which was followed swiftly by vicious and widespread Christian condemnation of gay men. If your parents are late-Boomer or Generation X believers, their perspectives of LGBTQ+ people are almost certainly shaped, at least to some extent, by this rhetoric and its cultural residue, which has never left. That rhetoric fueled panic and inspired rampant violence (and still does). Your parents will invariably associate your sexuality with AIDS and may say terrible things as a result. Be ready.

A worst-case scenario is if someone hits you, beats you, or threatens to send you to so-called “conversion therapy” or a “cure” camp. In these situations, you have to leave. Get on a bus. Go to the nearest city.

Do research now so you’re not scrambling if something happens (if you’re accidentally outed and it goes badly). Learn where the closest LGBT center is — there’s one in nearly every city. There are LGBT youth organizations in cities across the country. If you live in a rural, isolated area, learn where the nearest bus stop is. Have a friend with a car who you can call in an emergency if you need a ride. Have cash for the fare saved.

Keeping emergency cash is important. You probably don’t have your own debit or credit card and your parents can cut it off the second you walk out the door. 

This is important: save the Trevor Project hotline — 1-866-488-7386 — on your phone. It’s a 24-7, non-judgemental suicide hotline for queer youth. If you’re having suicidal thoughts, please call it — I have.

If all this sounds a bit drastic (it’s not), at least have a friend (ideally a gay one) you can call who knows your situation and has a couch you can crash on.

Here’s the rest of my coming-out story to offer some hope: my parents reacted strongly and negatively, but they also paid my way through college and have never stopped supporting me. I was never abandoned, never hit. I have been needlessly harsh in my writing about them, and there are things I’ve written that I wish I could take back. It’s taken me ten years to heal from high school. In those years, I’ve realized it’s wrong to hold my parents’ one great mistake against a lifetime of love and support. 

Over the years, I’ve witnessed two very complicated and beautiful people change for the better. In ten years, you will likely see your parents as different people. Age and distance tend to soften prejudices and force reconciliation. That’s not guaranteed, but it’s possible.

My story wasn’t a best-case scenario —best-case scenario is when your parents, having known you’re gay for years, react with a shrug, and go about their business — but I owe everything to my parents. They’re still Southern Baptists and I’m still a godless homosexual, and we will never understand each other fully. But you can fully love without fully understanding.

Some of us are estranged from our parents — cut off with no relationship whatsoever — and if that happens, you will find that we become family for each other. There are a lot of abandoned kids in our club. But in my experience, the vast majority of us reach some kind of truce and find a way to visit home without having a fight — even those of us with extremely religious families.

This may be a frightening thought, but you are 18, so you’re legally able to be on your own. They’re effectively free to kick you out. Start working toward financial independence.

Make friends outside the church. I’m tough on Christians because they have a historic compulsion to use every possible opportunity (bad economy, AIDS) to call for our extinction. Some of your church friends will support you. Some will not.

Even if it’s hard, do not give up. Live gets better. Stay for the day when you kiss someone in public and it feels easy and right. Stay for the moment when you’re at a party and everyone around you is gay. That moment is coming for you, please live to see it.

Love, Beastly 

 

1 Comment

  1. This is wonderful and practical advice which I wish I had when I was a teenager in this situation. As someone who tried unsuccessfully to live within my church’s view of homosexuality for many years, please find a faith community that supports your living a full and complete gay life. There are faith communities that support gay marriage and sexuality and many that have gay clergy. For your ongoing mental health, please do not stay in a church that tells you gay sexuality is a sin. You are a beautiful gay person who is loved by many!

    Like

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