Reason #127 Not To “Come Out”

There are myriad reasons why I think it’s unwise to “come out” or to claim a sexual identity other than male or female. I’ve written often about the topic, but a few things came up recently that have caused me to reflect again on the question of “coming out.”

I’ve never gone through the ritual of “coming out” to anyone. Though I have told people throughout the years that I happen to live with an attraction to men, I’ve never said to anyone, “Hi, I’m Dan, and I’m a gay guy.” (You can read some of the reasons I have refrained from doing that in my first article about sexual identity here.)

When I wrote that article in the summer of 2012, I knew most people in my life would eventually discover that I find men sexually attractive. I figured when people stumbled upon the knowledge they could talk to me about it if they wanted. Recently some good friends did just that.

Their reaction was very positive and loving, as I knew it would be. But I have also seen one big reason why I think it unwise to “come out”: it’s natural for others to place us in boxes that they construct, and the boxes of sexual identity rarely have much to do with the truth.

Here’s an example of what I mean:

Yesterday I was with one of those friends. A story from several years ago about a woman who had “come on to me” came up in conversation. With a wink-wink and a nudge-nudge, my friend said to me, “well, but of course she wasn’t your type.” I awkwardly chuckled along and the conversation meandered to other topics, but I kept thinking about her comment about “my type.”

Do I have a “type” now that would explain why I didn’t pursue that woman? Obviously, in my friend’s mind, my “type” is now a man, and the reason I didn’t pursue that woman was because “I’m gay.” She’s placed me in a box which defines for her who I am now, at least concerning my sexual identity and orientation.

How does that do dignity to a friendship? How does that do dignity to the uniqueness of the human person? How does that do justice to the complex landscape of sexuality and sexual attractions?

I didn’t have a chance to talk with her much because we were at work. If I had the opportunity, I would have asked her how my past relationships with women fit into the box she’s constructed for me. I have dated some women in my life, and one of those women I hoped to marry. Will people now think those were merely ruses, or that I was repressing my true sexuality? It seems that with some people, I’ve been placed inside the box of “Dan the Gay Man,” and that my entire life is being rewritten from somewhere inside that box, a box built by someone else’s imagination.

I don’t like that.

There are other instances of this revisionist take on my life. One of my oldest and closest friends told me after he stumbled upon my blog that “my life finally made sense to him.” (Was I mystifying before?) I scratched my head wondering what that could mean. It didn’t take long for me to find out.

It seems he thought (or thinks) that the reason I didn’t marry the woman I wanted to marry was because I’m “gay.” It felt to me that he analyzed the situation and concluded to his personal satisfaction that, “Dan’s gay, so of course nothing could have worked out between them.”

man-peeking-out-of-moving-boxPlease get me out of this box, if you don’t mind!

The truth didn’t seem that important. (She didn’t want kids, and I did. Faith wasn’t a big deal to her. It is to me.)

Dan’s life finally makes sense to me now.

Things didn’t work out with that woman, because she wasn’t Dan’s “type.”

What is “my type,” anyway?

I am far more concerned with the truth of human nature, and the dignity of being created in the image and likeness of God, than I am concerned with my subjective sexual attractions or desires. My “type” is a woman–my body reveals that to me. My male body is the true north of my sexual identity–my subjective inclinations and attractions are the compass needle.

Sometimes, a compass’s needle points away from true north.

North never changes directions. A compass’s needle sometimes does, however. If there’s metal nearby, the needle will spin all over the map. A man’s sexual orientation for women never changes directions either. His head may turn towards men more than women, but that just means his sexual attractions are disoriented. To follow them always leads him down the wrong path, even though it feels for all the world like he’s going in the right direction.

So what’s my type? Women. It just doesn’t always feel that way to me. As my dad always used to say to me, however, “feelings are important, but they don’t always tell us the truth.”

Live your life in accordance with the Truth. We’re either male or female–that’s the extent of our sexual identity.

Once you “come out,” there’s no undoing that. One of the biggest problems with “coming out” is that you’re not in control of what that means to other people. You get boxed in, no matter how much you might want to try and define your terms. There are a lot of folks these days who have come out as “gay but chaste Christians.” I see things very differently than they; I think it is very unwise to call oneself gay, lesbian, or any other man made sexual identity. One reason I began writing about this part of my life is to be a counter to their voice. If you haven’t “come out,” my recommendation is don’t. A good friend of mine has wise words about “coming out.” He more accurately describes “coming out” as a “going in.”

I couldn’t agree with him more.

Share this part of your life with some close friends, a priest, your spiritual director, and your family, but not to all. Don’t submit to being stuck in a box. Instead, follow our Mother, the Church, who wisely tells us, “the Church provides a badly needed context for the care of the human person when she refuses to consider the person as a ‘heterosexual’ or a ‘homosexual’ and insists that every person has a fundamental Identity: the creature of God, and by grace, his child and heir to eternal life.”

That’s thinking outside the box.

Here’s a great article on the problem with sexual identity, called A Label That Sticks, written by the excellent and wise Fr. Paul Scalia.

 

 

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15 thoughts on “Reason #127 Not To “Come Out”

  1. Thank you so much for this article! I work with teens some of whom are confused about their sexuality and the pressures they face from society to define themselves. The hard part for me is how to share this with the class without making them feel like I am singling them out or shaming them… Need to take this to prayer.

  2. Dan, I couldn’t agree more – and I too got a comment from a close friend about my life “making sense” — I ponder why, of all possible labels, identities and boxes, do we as a society seem to most focus on the ones having to do with sex?? For all its “openness”, societyIis awfully confining.

    • What’s ironic about the boxes of sexual identity, is that they’ve been constructed out of a notion that they represent liberty and freedom from the confining space of male and female, and yet nothing confines us more in our sexual being than adopting the labels of the alphabet soup of sexual identities.

  3. I don’t have time to write as much as I would like.. but here is a brief thought. I would say I don’t give a flying fig what other people think of me, but that wouldn’t be true. That being said whenever I call myself a man or a twenty-something or an introvert or a Christian or whatever term I use to describe myself, that term will be thought of in ways I didn’t intend. Some people, myself most of all, prefer to categorize people instead of getting to know them truly. And for that I am sorry. But since I cannot control what people will think of me anyway, I might as well try to accomplish some good with what I tell people.

    Yes there are dangers with being “out,” but so too are there dangers of being “closeted.” I’ve asked you before about countering the culture of silence that has pervaded the Church on this issue in the past. But now, when there is so much pressure on everyone about their sexuality, we especially need to have examples of godly chastity. I am willing to be misunderstood about my sexuality every day for the rest of my life if by doing so I could save one teenager from the hell of that silence. There is pressure and misunderstanding anyway, at least by “coming out” there might be some purpose to it.

    That being said, I write with a pseudonym, so maybe I have absolutely no idea what I would be signing up for. But I do know what it is like for friends to seemingly obstinately refuse to listen to the truth of your life. I am sad to see it happen to you, my friend.

    • Thanks for the comment, Ryan.

      Do you really think that there is a direct parallel to someone calling himself a twenty-something and to someone calling himself gay? What would the analogous “boxing in” be?

      But to your larger point–the reason I’ve become public about this is precisely in line with what you’re talking about. I don’t give a fig what other people think of me, if it can help a teenager, or some other folks out.

  4. I would add to that based on emails I receive, a lot of people feel a sense of relief and freedom that they CAN think about their attractions in a different way that today’s culture tells them they should think about it. I think that’s because they feel boxed in themselves.

  5. “Live your life in accordance with the Truth. We’re either male or female–that’s the extent of our sexual identity.”

    Yes!

    I didn’t realize you were blogging here again – excellent posts. I’ve felt so ‘boxed in’ and have felt discouraged – your posts are very encouraging. As I get time I’ll post an link.

    Happy Easter Dan!

    • Hi Terry,

      I took a bit of a hiatus because I was busy doing a lot of traveling and speaking. It seems that since the beginning of the year, I was doing a talk every two weeks. The blog sort of went on the back burner for awhile. But I’m back, and hope to be a bit more regular with my writing here.

      Thanks for the encouragement–and we need to remember that we’re definitely not alone, or boxed in for that matter!

      God bless you!

      Dan

  6. Thank you for a thoughtful post. I exercise discretion when choosing whether or not to discuss my sexual matters with someone. I also affirm the virtue in not stereotyping a person so that what I see superficially is all I believe they can amount to.

    But honestly, I wonder if much of our exception-taking to being “boxed in”, or the perception of it, is largely ‘all smoke and no fire’. Are we not simply experiencing very natural and intuitive assumptions that people make – that WE make each other- which are more routinely accurate than not? The brain categorized in order to optimize knowledge and recall, and to enhance our social interactions. It can be taken to an extreme and forced. But it is natural, and not wrong in and of itself, I suppose I’m trying to say.

    Reading your post I noticed, if I may paraphrase, that you disliked when people, upon finding out you have same sex attractions, connected the dots regarding your not being married to a woman at this point in life. Or never having been so, as it may be. But is that connection really inaccurate on their part? Is this attraction we have somehow NOT the primary cause of our ‘singledom’? (Or if you are attracted to both sexes, perhaps the reason for the misconception on their part was in only mentioning the one attraction and not stating both when the subject was brought up.)

    I wonder, instead, if we simply dislike the demystifying exposure of our deepest selves newly seen. There is no ruse behind which to camouflage the matter anymore, winning us some mystery and mask. I once had a co-worker sit down beside me at lunch and say, “You are a such an enigma to me,” after which she fished for some sort of explanation or revelation about my sexuality. But for those I do tell, is their reaction actually diminutive because they connect the dots? Or does it only feel that way because, with the telling of it, I have suddenly relinquished much control over this deeply private matter and personal mystery – an enigma which often garners a bit of clout or attention?

    I don’t believe the reactions others have given me have largely been inaccurate, even while I may not have liked them. It’s true, some have wrongly assumed I am like every other gay man they see on tv – that I go clubbing and sleep around, or that I want to change American politics. That assumption is off-base. But their assumption only gives my light an opportunity to shine all the brighter as they come to see Who I really am like.

    Thank you for reading. I mean only to stir our minds and hearts toward a gentler perception of our hearer’s reactions, and toward a more robust appetite for visceral honesty and personal insight, undimmed by…whatever may dim it.

    – MK

    • Hi MK,

      Thanks for stopping by. I don’t agree with your assumption that this is “all smoke and no fire.” I view it as directly attributable to the entire concept of modern man that we live in a world of “sexual identities.” The notions of gay, lesbian, bisexual, straight, etc., are still rather novel, which would make no sense to the rest of history. Many authors use that fact as a means of trying to justify a revisionist take on theology, arguing that the notion of “sexual orientation” wasn’t conceived of in most of history. It’s the “boxing in” of fixed and immutable sexual identities that lead to assumptions that the reason I didn’t marry was because of my primary attraction to men. I am speaking of that specific situation, concerning a specific woman, who I loved dearly, on every level. Rewriting my life to fit in with the box of “Dan is a gay guy” does injustice to the truth of my lived experience.

      The problems I see with others “connecting the dots” is that they connect the dots in any manner which seems to fit their conception of whatever they think a “gay person” is all about. My life, and your life, isn’t a random collection of dots by which others can accurately picture us by connecting dots. As I recall from my youth, if you’re going to get an accurate picture of “connecting the dots,” you had to follow the number to where they lead, and if you crossed lines between 8 and 11, bypassing 9 and 10, you’ll come up with either a scribble, or something that makes no sense whatsoever.

      That’s what I have found with a lot of people who have learned about my attractions to men: they connect the dots without any real basis in reality, since they now assume what the picture of my life must look like. They have no guide other than their own conception of the picture of a “gay man.”

      The problem with “coming out,” as I see it, is that it actually impedes honesty about the human person. The whole notion of “I am a gay man” is a moving away from visceral honesty, towards embracing a caricature about oneself. I hold no ill will towards my hearers–I don’t believe that a “gentler” response is needed towards them, since it’s what I expect to receive from them, inculcated as we all are in the modern conception of sexual identities. Since the response is predictable, it is one more reason why it is unwise for people to make public disclosures of their attractions to the same sex. My motivation is also to encourage a robust appetite for visceral honesty: we are men, made for women, with an inherent sexual orientation towards the opposite sex, who happen to live with a disordered sexual attraction towards men. That’s visceral honesty.

  7. And I appreciate your visceral honesty and, as usual, agree 100%. And in my experience, reason #127 leads to reason #128: the wink, wink, nudge, nudge, leading to them trying to set you up with one of their gay friends. This displays their absolute and utter refusal to see the Truth of your life – after you made the daring step to relate it. They focus only on the gay, and what they think it means, and miss everything else. That has lead to some awkward and painful social situations. “Gee, I thought I got invited out because you liked me and enjoyed my company, and not because you thought your friend and I would hit it off.”

  8. Dan, it is interesting and informative to read your perspective on sexuality, but it seems misguided. Why not open your mind to the possibilities of the universe? I was raised as a Christian, but by the time I was about 12 or 13, I realized that I simply did not understand the concept of unquestioned faith. Religious doctrines were established in ancient times when society was much younger. Humanity did not even know that the Earth was part of a larger solar system, let alone an immense galaxy contained in a far larger universe, so peoples’ perspectives limited. I see your point about not coming out to other people; that is a very personal choice. But if you consider attraction to the same sex a cross to bear in life, you are being too hard on yourself. God never cared who we slept with. It was society’s standards all along, but from the time many of us are young children, we are instilled with a sense of good vs evil and heaven or hell. What if there is no heaven or hell, but instead a place where all pure souls go when the body dies? Or perhaps the nature of the energy we create as living beings determines where we go in the universe. Maybe the ghosts and evil spirits we hear about are the ones who just can’t let go of this world to embrace a new realm of existence? If so, we won’t know until we get there. It’s all just speculation.

    • Hi there, thanks for the comment. I don’t agree with you that the existence of God is mere speculation. Rather, it seems to me the most rational conclusion one can arrive at through our more advanced knowledge of the universe. I think “opening one’s mind” to the possibilities of the universe points inevitably to the existence of God. The most compelling cases for me are the argument from contingency and the argument that there must be an “unmoved mover.” From there, it is logical to believe that God is outside of all, that he is literally “Being” itself, and that He has revealed himself to us, that we might know how “to be” as well. But even aside from God, the very nature of my human body shows the absurdity of acting on my same sex attractions. Anyway, this is just a short response, due to a short window of time. I can write back more later, if you’re interested in furthering the conversation.

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