Coming Out

Coming Out…Again

by Rev . Louis Mitchell

It seems that my last 40 years has been about coming out.

And each time I come out, I’m filled with awe by the courage of those that have come before me. I’m afraid that those who have professed to love me will change their minds. I’m certain that I will again be “too much.” I also wonder if it’s even worth the trouble. I cry and I wrestle.

I pray and I ask questions, sometimes surreptitiously. 

To be fair, my initial coming out wasn’t my doing. I was outed—twice. My classmates outed me to each other in high school. In 1974, that was a pretty big deal!

My second coming out was actually a sneaky way of getting the word to my parents–I was super out in front of an especially gossip-prone relative. I was 16 or 17, still in the 70’s.

Amazingly enough, neither of these experiences turned out to be especially traumatic. My popularity at school was only slightly compromised. I had the good fortune of being one of the “cool kids.” I imagine that I’d have fared far worse if I hadn’t been. My family was nonplussed and chose to respond with denial or the sincere hope that it was a rebellious phase.

Years later, as a young adult, I confirmed with my parents that this “phase” might just last a lifetime. 

That was a tough period. My mom and some of her church friends put me through a Southern Baptist version of an exorcism, complete with holy oil anointing and laying on of hands. I found out later that across town, some of the men of the church were doing the same with my “boyfriend” Keith.

I did my own award-worthy Linda Blair imitation, complete with speaking in tongues. But that night, as my parents slept, I packed and left the house. I felt fairly certain that my relationship with my parents and with God was forever lost.

After years of bouncing about, trying various faith and spiritual practices, abusing drugs and alcohol, attempting suicide (both actively and by putting myself in life-threatening situations), I found myself in those then-smoky 12 step rooms.

Why, I asked myself, did God, even a “God of my understanding” have to make an appearance in order for me to recover? 

Putting what I was taught into practice, slowly and painstakingly, I renewed a relationship with my family and with a Higher Power.

After many years of recovery and relative comfort in family and community, I finally came to terms with my gender. I’d always felt a little off. There are a few folks from my adolescence that now swear I told them I would someday be a man. I have no recollection of ever letting those thoughts out of my mind, but then again, I was often under the influence, so I’ll trust their memories more than my own.

So, after nearly two decades of being a dyke, a butch, an activist, I came out as trans. I was shocked by the cold responses from my women friends at first. I came to understand even though it still hurt. I was suddenly transformed from a haven to the face and voice of their oppressors and their perpetrators. I was no longer a safe refuge and strong lover to hold them in the storms of misogyny and sexism.

Looking back, I still hold them blameless and in my best regard. I owe my life to the womanist, lesbian and butch/femme communities that loved me through those years.

It was no small challenge to leave the safety of those communities to venture into life as a black man in the US. 

I came out to my mom, yet again. That was the hardest part of my transition. I was terrified of losing her again. My father had already passed away, so my mom was all that I had. Her theology was mightily challenged by her dyke daughter. How on earth was this going to be okay?

I was so fortunate to have a Pastor to pray with and for me and to counsel me through this coming out. She told me that it might be better than I feared/expected. And it turns out she was right.

For quite a while all was well, but there were two more “coming out” adventures ahead.

Much of the activist world that I entered was secular. People of faith were the enemy. Christianity the religion of the slave master. Coming out as a person of faith—and one with the audacity to believe that an organized Christian denomination might someday ordain me—was a big deal. It was nearly a déjà vu experience.

Some who I loved and who loved me felt that they no longer understood me. 

They feared that I would be judge-y and spend my time proselytizing them. I scraped off old scabs of their wounds of religious abuse. I don’t blame them either. I’ve seen plenty of that even within the LGBTQIA+ community.

I’ve taken some tough verbal knocks for believing as I do. And I’m okay with it. My theology has room for people not believing as I do and for people to take space for their own comfort and well-being.

My last coming out is current and just as frightening as all that came before it, if not more so. There are a great many who are okay with me being a man of trans experience and being a Christian. But even in churches that affirm gay and lesbian people, and even in churches that are learning to be trans inclusive, biphobia and binary and hetero-normativity still exist. The respectability politic runs deep.

I challenge their comfort by being out about my queerness and commitment to non-monogamy.  

Many are praying for me to find that “one” so I can get it right. They, like my parents in the 70’s, think this is some rebellious phase. It is, in fact, the outcome of a lifetime of discernment.

It is an honest response to years of denial and hurting people with infidelity and serial monogamy. It is a commitment to compersion, to love, and to truth-telling. It is an ability to see people as loveable whatever their gender, sex or identity, and it is an ability to be fully open to where my heart and spirit might take me.

Yes, I’m afraid of how this will affect my chances for ordination and ministry. And also, I stand firmly in the truth of me—remembering that in each coming out, some could stand with me and others couldn’t. I also stand nakedly in the light and lens of the All, trusting that my call to serve will find the right places and times.

I am a picture of the kaleidoscopic diversity of creation.

I am not just a black man of trans experience, who is queer and non-monogamous. I am a believer in God and a follower of Jesus. It is my prayer that my incarnation of intersectionality will be a gift that challenges others to grow to see me and others like me and hold us in love and kinship in the Kin-dom of God.