An often told story in my family, even now, is about a time we took a trip to see my grandparents in Alabama. On the drive back to Atlanta, when we were still at least an hour away, I sat up and stated with a sense of importance, “I think I’ll have a glass of water when I get home.” My family thinks it’s hysterical. I think it goes to show that I have never been one for keeping things to myself.
This compulsive tendency toward excessive revelation clashed terribly with my deep fear of sharing the truth of my sexual identity in my largely conservative, Southern community. As a result, I spent more than a decade of adolescence and young adulthood with one foot dancing outside of the closet, while the rest of me crouched fearfully inside.
In high school, I was often a listening ear to classmates who were secretly struggling with their sexuality.
I offered them affirmation and embrace. To friends whom I trusted, I often described myself as “open” when talking about my own identity. In college, I even occasionally uttered the word bisexual. I never discussed being uncomfortable or afraid about my identity. But the truth is that—whatever I was saying to others—I was telling something entirely different to myself. Time and time again I said to myself that if I ever realized I was gay, I would simply never act on it. What I could effortlessly and vehemently affirm in others, I refused to accept in myself.
I spoke openly and often about my sexuality with others who I knew were LGBTQ friendly, but I stubbornly refused to explore my questions in action. It wasn’t the question I was afraid of—it was the answer. And so I moved through life as if sex and love and attraction were a fun game, but inside I suffered terribly from immense pain, fear, and self-loathing.
When I moved 1000 miles away from home after college, I knew that it was partly so that I could find the freedom to embrace parts of myself that I had previously hidden from, but I was still afraid. I left my questions unanswered and my deepest truths locked away. When I committed to going to seminary, I decided that the only way forward was to stop asking those questions forever.
Then I started seminary, and I quickly learned that authenticity was not only my natural tendency, but in fact the core of my faith.
I realized that I believe in a relational God and I believe that being in genuine, authentic relationship is our most sacred calling. I knew, finally and overwhelmingly, that I couldn’t pursue a call to ministry without first confronting my own inauthenticity. I began to ask my questions again, and with great anxiety and some excitement, I confronted the answers.
I was lucky enough to be surrounded by friends who had walked this path before me. They received me with joy, comfort, and embrace when I finally acknowledged to myself and to others what I’d really known all along: I was queer.
I wish I could say that that was end of my path to self-acceptance, but my struggle wasn’t over. Though I initially described myself as bisexual, this was met with strong resistance from straight and queer friends alike. Since I had come out into a relationship with a woman, I tried to convince myself that I really had no reason to believe that I was anything other than gay. I claimed my lesbian community with pride.
I told myself that my attraction to men was totally inculturated, a distraction from my true self. When I came out to my family and friends, I was careful to dismiss any possible future with men. I was proud of embracing my identity, even though it was scary and hard.
Except I wasn’t proud. Not really. My friends who had also come out described this feeling of “rightness” when they finally acknowledged to themselves and the world that they were gay. I didn’t feel that way. In fact, I felt just as trapped and hidden as before. Though I was glad to finally acknowledge my love for women, I knew inside that I still loved men as well. I felt like I was lying about who I was just as I always had.
I had come out of the closet but I was wearing the wrong clothes, the wrong truth.
It took me a year of being out before admitting that, in a big way, I was still “in.” My second coming out was more subtle, but deeply authentic. Slowly, I began to trade in the word “gay” for “bi.” I resisted the urge to only ever use the word “queer” because I knew that I was avoiding the word “bisexual” out of fear. I was afraid that I would be rejected by both my straight friends and my newfound queer community. I was afraid that others would think I was just unsure or trying to have it both ways. I was afraid no one would accept me.
But I was more afraid that I would never get to feel okay with who I was, and that I would never let myself be fully known. And I was more afraid that in my silent denial, I was helping to keep others locked in the same struggle. And so finally, I sat up and stated with importance to myself and the world, “I am bisexual, and I am happy about it.”
It has been a long journey, and it is far from over. I still struggle and I am sometimes still afraid. But I don’t feel trapped, hidden, or utterly alone anymore. I stand with my friends—bisexual, lesbian, trans, gay, and straight—celebrating the full, God-given truth of who we are and working to build a world where such marvelous revelations are always celebrated. It feels incredible.
Photo via Layton Williams