It’s a funny thing, the human mind. Tell it not to do something, and it immediately does the very thing it is not supposed to do. I bet you’re thinking about elephants now. And probably asking yourself, what do elephants have to do with coming out?
Coming out is a process, like peeling back the layers of an onion, mostly because both involve a hell of a lot of tears. In my case, I had a surreal start with coming out to my family (It’s always the ones you least expect), and a rather non-event coming out to my four best friends (they could not care less, and the one I was expecting to have the biggest freak-out had known for months already.)
But early into my third year of university, less than 8 weeks after telling my family, I was approached by a professor I respected above all others and was asked to do something shocking: write an essay on what it meant for me to be gay in the United Church of Canada. I still remember the day he asked after class – my brain shut down and this voice that did not seem my own at the time immediately agreed. I had two weeks to write the essay and submit it for the class to review and discuss the following week, on my birthday of all days! And of course, I had to tie it in with the course topic, “Enlightenment and Transformation in Religion”.
Immediately I regretted my decision. I spent nearly the entire two weeks crippled with fear. Was I ready to come out publicly? What would the class say about it? Could I handle negative reactions? What do I say? For the most part, I tried to put it out of my mind, and was very successful until three days before the essay was due.
I had two courses with this professor, the other being “Death and Dying in World Religions”. On this particular day, in the “Death & Dying” class, the professor posed a question: What is it about death that you fear the most? A seemingly innocent and academic question, given the course topic; but it shattered me! I barely made it back to my dorm after that class before I broke down in fits of heart-wracking sobs.
What did I fear the most about dying? I feared I would die without anyone knowing me; die alone, unloved, anonymous; I feared dying a damned liar.
I knew what I would write. I went to my computer and allowed my heart to speak. It spoke of the elephant in the room, of being gay but being afraid to say it. It spoke of living in constant fear of being beaten, murdered, hated, unloved and alone. It spoke of the interminable pain of watching my Church struggle with, and be torn apart by hatred as it tried to bring love and acceptance to … yes, to MY people!
I was gay – not some abstract concept, but a member of a real community. And damn it, a proud member! I would not accept lip service to the goal of equality, but demand real change. And may whatever god you believe in take mercy upon you if you had a problem with it, because I was taking names and offering no mercy.
In the process I discovered that my elephant was not all that big. And that voice that was not my own that accepted the assignment was the true me, the gay me, crying to be set free. I think back on that class, and recognise now the gift that it really was.
It was my transformation, my breakthrough to a form of enlightenment, and the best birthday I had had in a long time! It was a true birth day, the day my gay self emerged into the world as a fully formed, self-aware individual who not only loved himself, but finally loved the world in which he lived.
And oddly enough, it was also the day I realised that the worst thing in the world that can happen to me is that I can die, and that is not something I fear anymore. Thanks to that amazingly wise professor (Again, thanks Eldon!), I am fearless, and free.
Oh yes – and not a negative reaction in the class. To date, I have never had anyone I encounter have a negative reaction to my sexuality. I have truly been blessed.
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