I’m a strong believer in the value of a journey. Whether it be literal (like a road trip), figurative (like learning a skill), or emotional (like overcoming trauma), a journey gives us a chance to move towards something, prepare for what comes next, and anticipate a new world for ourselves.
For this reason, Advent is one of my favorite times of the year.
So many different people, from Mary and Joseph to the shepherds to the wise men, all have to go on their own special, sometimes scary journeys preparing them for a birth that will forever change the world.
This year, however, their journeys have special meaning to me. As Advent was beginning, a part of my coming out journey ended. For the first time in the ten years I’ve been out, my extended family finally knows me exactly as I am.
The story of Mary’s (and Joseph’s, too, for that matter) begins with a visit from an angel. Mine, however, didn’t start quite as dramatically.
The closest thing I had to an angel was my first girlfriend, whose message was a simple one: I didn’t have to come out to my family if I didn’t want to. Her family had rejected her coming out, to the point that I never once met any of them even though we dated for a year.
Being with her made me feel happy, but also very guilty.
I didn’t like hiding this beautiful part of my life from those who mattered most. At the very least, I owed her my honesty. So, the day after my 21st birthday, I came out to my mother. On Christmas night, I came out to my father. They both had moderate but mostly positive reactions.
Afterwards, I felt somewhat better. I had honored my girlfriend. I had been honest with my parents. I felt like I was done. But really, I was just beginning.
Mary and Joseph’s journey didn’t end with finding out about pregnancy. They had to keep living their lives in this strange situation, presumably amongst some confusion from their community. Eventually, they had to make the long and treacherous trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem. As for my journey? I would’ve taken a trying physical trip over the emotional rollercoaster I went through.
Being around my extended family meant going through great lengths to hide the truth of my sexual orientation.
I lied to my grandmother about my personal life. I combed through my privacy settings on social media so that nothing would slip to my cousins. I bit my tongue when my aunt blamed me because her son “acted gay.”
While openness and truth were tenets I based my life on, silence and secrecy became my mode of operation around my relatives.
I finally started to crack one day during a conversation with an older cousin. We were over my mother’s, having a conversation and generally enjoying each other’s company. For reasons I no longer remember, the subject turned to homosexuality. She didn’t understand why gay people had to “shove it in everyone’s faces.” She didn’t want that lifestyle forced upon her. She thought it was dangerous for them to have children.
I worked, and still work, with children.
Something in me snapped. My silence gave way to debate, which turned to pure anger, which turned to frustration. Wounded by what she had said but unable to tell her the truth, I stormed off into dusk, crying. Going home that evening was one of the longest trips I’ve ever walked. It only lasted a couple blocks.
Mary and Joseph’s journey ended in an interesting place. Factors beyond their control lead them to a newborn, full of hope and promise. This was not a journey they chose, but rather one that they experienced, full of awe and wonder and amazement. I’ll never be able to fully grasp what such a miracle would feel like, but I have a place to start.
A week before Thanksgiving, my mother called to verify my travel plans. Specifically, she wanted to know if my fiancée and I were free Friday afternoon. I told her I had yet to make any plans.
She said my cousin was coming over to help us with wedding planning.
I paused. This was the same cousin who had said those hurtful things all those years ago. That argument stung so badly that I hadn’t dared bring up the topics or homo or bisexuality around her in years, even when they were making front-page news.
“Does she know who I’m marrying?” I asked nervously.
“Yes,” my mother replied.
A number of emotions struck me at once. Frustration that she had found out from someone other than me. Relief that I didn’t have to lie anymore. Confusion that she wanted to help with the wedding. Pain from recalling that past experience.
More than anything, and for the first time in awhile, I felt hope.
Hope, for me, is the ultimate message of the Advent season. It’s what makes us look forward to Christmas Day. At a time of year when things are (usually) colder and dimmer, there is hope for a brand new day. For a young woman and her husband nervously following God’s plan, there is hope for something beautiful to come out of the mystery.
For me, there is hope that my next journey will be out in the open.
Photo via flickr user unbekannt270
Black or African American