The Cost of an Authentic Life

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I still remember the first time a group of frat guys called me a faggot. I had just graduated from Bryan College and I was working that summer in Tennessee. One particular weekend I hung out at a park in Chattanooga with one of the first gay men I’d ever met. I wore a tank top and shorts to endure the humid Tennessean air. We walked around for at least an hour as I asked questions about what it meant to be gay and how the other guy had accepted his sexuality. As we wrapped up the conversation at his car, one of the frat guys yelled from across the parking lot, “Hey, faggots!” They continued to hurl one obscene remark after another, and then they finally laughed and walked away towards the park. I felt gross and exposed, ashamed that I didn’t have manly muscles or that I hadn’t worn a t-shirt or something less…gay. I projected a little of that internalized homophobia by abruptly leaving the other guy at his car and ignoring his calls and texts afterwards.

 

I was afraid.

 

We all tend to operate under invincibility complexes that shield us from the truth that we’re finite and fragile. We’re aware of death, but that’s a foggy idea somewhere in the future. Premature fatalities happen to other people, not us. But we all have moments when the veil lifts and we see our mortality. Six years ago I saw antigay hate expressed in real life and directed towards me. I saw how one aspect of my personhood could be devalued and dehumanized. I wasn’t as invisible as I had hoped, and it was a terrifying realization.

 

I felt that same sickening fear today as I read the updates on the shooting in Orlando where fifty people were killed and fifty-three more were injured. People had been out celebrating Pride Month in a club intended to be a safe shelter from homophobia and hatred, not knowing they would become casualties in our nation’s deadliest mass shooting.

 

Oh yes, the veil has been lifted.

 

There is something truly brave about living an authentic life. Brave not just because one may lose a career, hopes and dreams, and the love and support of friends and family, all of which can destroy a person’s soul. But as last night demonstrated, the bravery of living an authentic life may require an additional steep sacrifice: when people hate a part of your identity so much that they come to believe the world is a better place without you in it. ….And they act on that conviction.

 

If I had to guess, the moment I came out publicly increased my probability of being murdered in a hate crime. It’s a risk sexual and gender minorities take to make their true selves known so they can be loved unconditionally. I have heard countless stories of my friends being harassed in public as they went about life with their significant others. As a blogger, I’ve personally seen the obsessive hatred of Internet trolls who wouldn’t leave me alone, and I’ve heard worse stories from other fellow bloggers. When you risk showing a little vulnerability to the world, there will always be people who despise your unique humanity and desire to crush your spirit.

 

As I was preparing to reveal my identity on this blog awhile back, I had lunch with one of my best friends. We discussed the pros and cons of coming out publicly, and I admitted to him that this choice could result in my death by some crazy homophobe. I compared it to living transparently as a Christian in a country fueled with antichristian hatred. If God called me to live in the light so others could be helped and saved, the result could be a martyr’s death.

 

“Would it be the same thing to die as a martyr as a gay man as it would be as a Christian?” he asked.

 

I paused to think.

 

“If I can show LGBTQ people the love of Christ, I believe so.”

 

It’s a scary existence living as a minority. We live in an evil, broken world and we feel like we’re thrown into a perpetual cycle of suffering. When does it get better? Where is hope in all the darkness? My faith tells me God is working to restore all things, but so often I can’t see this process of shalom occurring in my life. Most days I’m barely standing on God’s promise. But by faith I believe I have the unique opportunity to contribute my life—my body, soul, and spirit—to God’s mission to save his creation. My voice can bring a little more life to a dying world, a little more light to extinguish the darkness. This evil world may consume me, but I am part of something larger than my individual life. I know how this story ends.

 

But tonight my heart breaks for the victims in Orlando and their families. My heart breaks for the LGBTQ community as we experience emotions of fear, anger, grief, confusion, and numbness as we realize how much hatred is still directed towards our existence and just how fragile our lives are. Yet through this pain I must believe this life is too precious and too short to be spent on safety. Safety means silence, isolation, and living without love because no one can know us. The world becomes a better place when we all risk living transparent lives. Baring our souls to one another may cost us everything, but I believe the gamble is worth all the moments of meaning, beauty, and connection with the people I love and those who I hope to spend my life serving.

 

All the homophobes in the world can’t take that from us.

When We Come Out of Our Closets

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“Everyone has a closet,” Jamal Lyons croons in the television show Empire as he contemplates whether to reveal his sexual orientation to the world or remain silent to appease his homophobic father who funds his comfortable life. But Jamal’s right; we have our own closets, LGBTQ or straight. We hold our secrets close fearing we’d lose the people who matter most if we told the truth.

 

It’s been a year since I “officially” came out to the world on my blog for National Coming Out Day. Finding the courage to be transparent and vulnerable took a 10-year process of repeated self-disclosures with family and trusted friends as I learned to trust people. There are few things more liberating than sharing pieces of your identity you’ve repressed and buried, discovering you don’t have to hide to avoid hurt and rejection. The only way you’ll truly connect and belong is to take off the mask and risk everything because you are determined to believe there’s grace and redemption for you too in God’s story.

 

I think we should be cautious of appropriating language, imagery, and other unique features of a specific culture. Some Christians take coming out language from the LGBTQ community without thinking of the significance, suggesting that a disclosure of faith in certain situations is just as anxiety-producing and difficult as the teenager harboring shame and fearing that her parents might kick her out of the house if they find out the truth. Unless you’re talking about Christians under real threats like ISIS, we might roll our eyes at you, just sayin’.

 

And yet, we humans have unifying themes that resonate person to person. In a broken world, we all have secrets. We all have a sin nature constantly at war with God’s redeeming work in our lives. If we’re self-aware, we have places in our heart we don’t want to take anyone. Yes, we all have a closet, to borrow that image from the LGBTQ community. We fester and we hurt and we wonder if we’re truly worthy of love and grace.

 

Have you ever had to see a doctor for something that embarrassed you? You put it off, hoping it would go away on its own, but eventually you had to schedule the appointment and let your doctor look at the issue. You brought the distressing matter to the light so you could be healed.

 

God made us for community. Secrets cause us to hold back, to avoid fully participating in our lives with the people who matter. Our secrets disconnect us from each other. We feel ashamed, assuming there’s no way people would still accept us if they knew the conflicts in our stories. But closets have a way of opening whether we’re ready or not—God’s too merciful to let us suffer alone forever. Light finds its way into the darkness.

 

Healing can’t come until you acknowledge or become aware of the problem. Once you’ve identified your demon, you need a community of safe people to journey with you into the darkness. I like how Rachel Held Evans contrasts healing with curing in Searching for Sunday. There probably isn’t a cure for the things that distress us about ourselves, but there is healing. As I’ve walked through same-sex attraction with the people I care about, I’ve seen God sanctify and redeem parts of my sexuality. I’ve moved past shame and fear to embrace life as a Christian who also happens to be gay. This part of my identity that some might call ashes has been transformed into beauty for God’s glory.

 

Not everyone needs to tell their secrets to the world. Honestly, it’s best to keep some things to trusted confidants. But it takes courage to make that first step and come out to someone. Maybe your secrets aren’t as weighty as my same-sex attraction, maybe they are far more broken. Regardless, freedom comes in speaking the truth so others can join you in God’s work of restoration. I can’t promise everyone will respond well, or that your transparency will make life easier—in fact, I promise you the opposite. But I believe God calls you his beloved and he will ensure at least one person in this world will stand by you as you see seek redemption and wholeness. No one is outside God’s grace and there will be people who joyfully reflect his love into your life.

 

So no more hiding. Come out and bask in the warmth of the sun, my friend.

Seth Crocker

And The Walls Came Tumbling Down

It was cold outside. At least I think it was cold. My body shook as I tried to form sentences, to express what my mouth had never uttered. My best friend and I had stepped outside of church, a storefront sandwiched between a Christian bookstore and a store that sold shoes. We sat on a nearby bench next to the street as cars passed by. It took me awhile to get to the point. Every time a pedestrian walked by I’d stop talking and examine my fingernails or my shoes. I made little eye contact as I spoke, occasionally glancing at my friend to study his expression. “Is he getting it? What is he thinking?” His face looked serious with concern and concentration, nodding every now and then. I inhaled deeply.

 

I struggle with same-sex attraction. I’m drawn to guys the way other guys are drawn to girls.

 

My stomach was in knots saying those words. Roots of shame ran deep in my heart. I was suffocating. I was tired of the conversations about girls; how my heartbeat quickened from the lies. I was tired of having to remember to stick my hands in my pockets so I wouldn’t wave them around and look so, well, gay; tired of remembering to deepen my voice, a silly paranoia for a baritone.

 

How do normal people react when you share something taboo? Growing up, churches never talked about homosexuality. They honestly never talked about sexuality at all. I learned that Christians saw sexuality as something dirty and inappropriate to talk about in public. And that made me feel dirty. Everyone else seemed so pure; no apparent signs of sexual brokenness, while I cycled through gay porn, shame, depression, and suicidal ideation. How could God look at me? And how could He still love me? Sure, we’re all broken. But maybe some of us are too broken for God to repair.

 

I felt helpless confessing my secret for the first time. The air left my lungs, formed into distinct sounds by my tongue and lips, and registered in my friend’s brain as language. Those words could never go back; they could never be forgotten. This was my only close friendship at the time and I risked dashing it to pieces with the truth.

 

But God was gracious to me. Many of my brothers and sisters in the LGBTQ community have been deeply wounded when they risked this level of vulnerability and transparency. It damaged their perception of God and they walked away with heavy baggage.

 

Many Christians are quick to fill the tension with words of biblical counsel and admonition. They feel a need to speak scriptural truth and make their positions known (like it’s some kind of surprise to us gay folks). In these moments, intimate relationships are often severed. We wanted you to listen, to let us process our feelings and convictions with you, to let us know we’re safe to ask questions and think aloud in your presence. If you rob us of that opportunity, we may never let you in again.

 

But my best friend didn’t rush to speak or vehemently reject me. His response was short and simple. “I don’t know what to say, Seth.” But that was alright because he continued to be my friend. He’s journeyed with me, despite sharp disagreements that have arisen over the years. He’s been an example of Christ in flesh for me. And that coming out experience strengthened me to continue taking more risks. It was a defining moment that likely saved my faith and quite possibly my life.

 

It was a moment of shackles loosening and new abundant life forming.

 

A slow death of negative self-talk and self-hatred; a slow building of confidence in Christ at work in my life.

 

A process of emotional walls tumbling down.

 

~          ~          ~

 

Today is National Coming Out Day, a holiday celebrated by the LGBTQ+ community to encourage the “closeted” to open up about their lives and experience freedom in the attempt to live life honestly and with integrity. I think it’s a beautiful concept for the church to embrace in a Christian subculture of smiling, perfect facades, especially here in the Bible Belt. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for being white washed tombs; nice to look at it on the outside but full of rotting corpses and bones on the inside. I believe Christian sexual minorities are in a unique place to call others to a better way of living, a way we as the church may have forgotten. We’re inviting the church to join us in the light, in the freedom of the gospel, in the knowledge that the cross covers all our sins and rejects no one. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28, ESV). We find rest when we stop investing our energy in perpetuating lies—to others, to God, and especially to ourselves. God can work mightily when we open every door of our heart to the truth. That’s where sanctification happens. That’s where shalom begins.

 

But some Christians will still ask, “Why come out? Why is it so important?”

 

Chris Damian wrote at Spiritual Friendship,

 

Some people argue that sexuality is something that shouldn’t be discussed publicly, especially for gay people. This point comes up especially in Christian circles, where critics remark that gay people shouldn’t be so ‘out and proud’ but rather discreet, while at the same time making sweeping remarks about my experiences that are anything but discreet. They would insist on talking about my sexuality, while also insisting that I cannot talk about it myself.

 

This really speaks to the heart of the issue. Gay people are more than a controversial issue; we’re people who breathe, think, and feel. We’re made in the Image of God. We have dignity as fellow human beings. Homosexuality is in many ways the defining issue of our time, and it’s unfair for the church to leave out its own members who experience same-sex attraction and have stories that should be weighed in the discussion. The other extreme is when churches choose to ignore the issue altogether. They bury their heads in the sand like ostriches or stick fingers in their ears and scream “I CAN’T HEAR YOU!” But the honest truth is that LGBTQ people aren’t a demonic, militant group somewhere out there in New York City or San Francisco—we’re in your churches, we’re in your families. We’re people you know and love. Maybe we’re just waiting to see if you reveal a little grace in your heart. Maybe we’re looking to see if there’s safety in your eyes.

 

Brent Bailey wrote for The Marin Foundation,

 

I want the people in my community of faith to know I’m gay, then, because I want them to know me. I want to welcome them into the reality of my experience of the world to enable them to walk with me, to support me, to challenge me, to confront me, and more than anything, to love me, but these all remain idealistic principles until an environment of fearless vulnerability makes them tangible realities. It’s much more difficult to do justice to the profundity of God’s work in my life if I’m only letting others see a portion of my life. At the same time, of course, I want to know them in the same way, and I shouldn’t always be so surprised when my openness inspires similar openness from others, as it often does. In that context, gay pride is not about asserting my sexuality; it’s about our shared humanity, our mutual giving and receiving love, our need to know and be known. In other words, it involves sharing how I’m different in order to remind us how much we all share in common, beginning with our shared reception of God’s overwhelming love.

 

Last year for National Coming Out Day, Julie Rodgers wrote:

 

When I first began sharing more vulnerably with those who knew me (because that’s essentially what coming out is), it was often received as a declaration that I was an entirely different person than the one they thought they knew so well. But I wasn’t a different person and I hadn’t been living a lie; they just hadn’t previously been invited into some of these deeper areas of my life because I hadn’t felt safe enough to invite them. I was still the same person: still the Jesus-loving-gypsy who grew up homeschooling and reading Great Books on rooftops for thrills. I hadn’t departed from the faith, declared a new identity, shined light on dark secrets—I had simply invited those I loved into a vulnerable part of my life. Especially in those early days, it was an expression of courage personally, and trust in those I loved, because I was finally confident enough in the Lord, my community, and my own sense of self to risk being known and believing I’d still be loved.

 

These resonating themes of vulnerability, transparency, honesty, openness, and intimacy speak forcibly to the church. I can only humbly ask that you will listen with compassion and curiosity; there is much to learn for us all. We need you, and I’m bold to say you need us. Together we are the body of Christ.

 

~          ~          ~

 

A lot can change in a year.

 

Last year I thought it would be pretty sweet to start a blog on National Coming Out Day. But my parents weren’t comfortable with the idea of me writing publicly. They worried I would get hurt and they didn’t know if they agreed with how I expressed myself as gay. I had moved ahead in processing my sexuality over the years, and they still needed time to sort it out. A language barrier separated us. I believe in respecting my parents, so I tucked the dream away. Life continued aimlessly until I just couldn’t take it any longer. A new year approached and I didn’t want to surrender another year to fear and procrastination.

 

So I wrote.

 

I shared it with people mostly outside my parent’s sphere of influence. I kept my name a secret and that worked for the most part. But I just didn’t like the feeling of writing anonymously. I’m not ashamed of my words or what God is doing in my life. My voice is just as legitimate as the opinions of Straight Christians. I’m certainly not one of the best Gay Christian thinkers or writers, but that doesn’t disqualify me from speaking either. For every sexual minority who courageously speaks up, many more are encouraged and reminded they aren’t alone and there’s a community waiting for them if they will fight for it. As we speak up, the church learns more about us; it learns about our unique needs and struggles. The church can more effectively minister to all its members when it realizes cookie cutter solutions don’t apply to all of us, and in fact do great harm in alienating minorities from the Body.

 

This summer I shared my blog with my Mom and later my Dad. I invited them to see that ministry to LGBTQs is my life passion. Opportunities began opening up through the blog; opportunities that required identifying myself. I didn’t want to wait until graduate school anymore to open up. And my parents listened; they understood me, and perhaps after all the writing I’ve done this year I could better articulate the jumble of thoughts and feelings inside my head.

 

And they said ok.

 

So from now on, I’m writing openly. There will be risk of emotional and physical harm; I’ll probably run into plenty of trolls and gate keepers; I’ll likely experience a whole new level of insecurity. With God’s grace and the support of awesome friends and family, I know I’ll get through it. I believe an open, unfettered life is the only life worth living.

 

So hello World. My name is Seth Crocker. I’m a Christian, an Alabamian, a lover of people and stories, and an openly gay man. I’m a sinner saved by God’s mercy and I look forward to a time that N. T. Wright calls “life after life after death.”

 

I intend to give all the love that’s within me and participate in God’s redemptive story.

 

Seth Crocker