In 1988, LGBT activists Robert Eichberg and Jean O’Leary established National Coming Out Day (NCOD), to be observed on October 11—the anniversary of the 1987 National March on Washington for Gay and Lesbian Rights. According to his New York Times obituary in 1995, Eichberg explained the motivation behind NCOD as this: “Most people think they don’t know anyone gay or lesbian, and in fact everybody does. It is imperative that we come out and let people know who we are and disabuse them of their fears and stereotypes.”
Nearly 30 years later, much has changed for LGBTQ people in America, but also much hasn’t.
Increasing visibility and helping people better understand what it really means to be transgender, bisexual, lesbian, gay, asexual, and queer is still crucial to overcoming hate and fear. As I have learned from my own experience, this is especially true for the church, and important and challenging in particular ways for those who are bisexual.
As followers of Christ, we recognize and proclaim that we are made by a God who loves us and sees all of who we are. Even the parts of us we’re scared to show. Even the parts of us the world overlooks or denies. God sees us. And God loves us. And when we are committed, in faith, to following God’s example, we seek to fully see and fully love one another as well. This is why visibility matters, perhaps especially for those of us whose identities are so often erased or misunderstood.
I came out as bisexual about two weeks into my first year at a Presbyterian seminary in the middle of Texas. My denomination had voted to allow for the ordination of LGBTQ people only 3 months before, and it was still a rare and difficult path. Coming out as queer meant leaving the care of the church I’d grown up in—the church that had first taught me that I was loved for who I am. It meant fractured relationships with friends and family, and tense battles with institutions that I’d previously felt comfortable in, like my seminary and my denomination. Coming out also meant finding a new community that became family, finding love with another queer person, and finding a deeper understanding of myself, my faith, and God.
Coming out specifically as bisexual brought its own challenges, and its own gifts.
While I was surrounded by a close knit group of seminary peers who identified as lesbian and gay, I only knew one other student who was openly bisexual. I had friends—both straight and gay—who accepted my queerness but not my bisexuality. They believed it wasn’t real, or saw it as a threat, or just a euphemism for promiscuity (it’s not).
In the years I have been out, the number of bisexual Christians I know has grown, but I am often still the first bisexual person—certainly the first bisexual Christian or pastor—that other people meet. This sometimes feels like a gift, an opportunity to share myself with people and expand their understanding, but it’s also exhausting. Even within my beloved community of fellow queer people, being bisexual was and continues to be a lonely experience colored by other people’s prejudice.
In the early years of my ordination process and ministry, I benefited from knowing a number of LGBTQ Christians who had come before me and broken down many barriers I might otherwise have faced.
I cherished their examples and their work, but few of them were bisexual.
I rarely saw myself or my experiences reflected in church leadership or even recent church history. More often than not, me and the handful of other young bisexual Christians I knew were stumbling along together without a clear guide, relying on our faith and our knowledge of our own God-beloved selves to forge a path that others might follow and that the church might learn from.
Generally speaking, people don’t know I’m bisexual unless I tell them. Depending on everything from the clothes I wear, to my hairstyle, to who I hold hands with, I am assumed to be gay or straight. The only way to be recognized for who I am is to tell people. If someone was to ask me when I came out, I would tell them that the first time was during my first semester of seminary, but that I’ve been coming out constantly ever since. It’s important to me for people to know I’m bisexual because my bisexuality isn’t just about who I’m attracted to. It also colors the way I see the world, and all relationships, love, and even God herself.
I was compelled to come out because in seminary I learned about a God who is inherently relational, and came to understand that being created in the image of the God means that relationship is our deepest calling—the mark of God within us. I knew that true relationship with others, God, and myself meant being honest and authentic about all of who I am—who God created me to be. In so doing, I began to more fully glimpse a God whose love transcends boundaries and defies binaries—be it gender, or humanity vs. divinity, or life vs. death. I also knew deeply about myself, and therefore about the world, that what we see is never the full story and that the gift of seeking to love each other as God loves is cherishing the endless mysteries of one another.
Coming Out Day matters for the church because there are bisexual and lesbian, gay and transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual people everywhere, and we are part of God’s beloved too. It’s important for the church to see us, and to recognize that we, too, are a part of who the church itself is.
We are all created in the image of God—different as we all are.
God is so far beyond our comprehending that no one of us can see more than just a sliver of who God is. But each us sees God from our own unique vantage point in the universe—our own unique sliver. By fully seeing one another and knowing and loving one another, we expand our view of God. Person by person, relationship by relationship, slivers come together and grow and grow and the dazzling infinitely faceted beauty of God is ever more known to us.