Out of the closet for Jesus?

jesus-knocking

I recently read a post by Mudblood Catholic about Christianity and coming out of the closet that pretty much hit on everything I’ve been thinking lately on the issue, and it inspired me to write a parallel post for trans Christians.

I’ve come out to nearly all my close friends now, and in some select groups of people I’m out completely. The question of coming out has become more of an issue for me lately for a number of very interrelated reasons:

(a) Word seems to be spreading that I’m trans.

(b) I’m willing to be visible to certain groups I’m involved in – does that mean I’m willing to be visible to even larger groups?

(c) I seem to be the most visible trans person on campus. If I’m going to find the other trans people and build community, I need to be just visible enough for them to find me.

(d) I want to make a difference on campus but I don’t want my identity to be politicized. Right now people define trans people based on what they know about me, rather than defining me based on what they know (or think they know) about trans people.

These pushing factors have made me think more about how so many older Christians automatically try to shut down any ‘coming out’ language or thinking. If you’re queer, well, (a) no you’re not, (b) STOP IT, (c) don’t label yourself, (d) don’t come out of the closet, whatever you do, and (e) suck it up. This to me sums up pretty much everything wrong with the general Christian response to LGBT people. Maybe the remedy to the problem is the realization that there really isn’t a “gay agenda” (or “queer” or “trans”). I was actually going to write a whole post about this, but since Mudblood Catholic already stole my thunder (and probably expressed it better than I could have), I might as well just quote him:

First of all, the gay agenda isn’t really a thing — or, it is only a thing in the same sense that the Christian agenda is a thing, or women’s agenda, or the black agenda. Any subcategory of “everyone,” whether religious or sexual or racial or whatever, is defined by a certain degree of shared experience; but it doesn’t follow that everybody in that subcategory has the same views and desires. People are incorrigibly plural. That should point us to the fact that “Why would somebody come out unless they were supporting X?” is the wrong kind of question. Why would a person come out, period? 

Exactly! Part of the problem is the bizarre assumption that ‘coming out’ is the same as signing a pledge sheet to a life of orgies on the beach, parading down Main Street buck naked and painted in rainbow hues, and daily rituals of taking a blowtorch to an effigy of the nuclear family. Sure, by a generous definition of ‘agenda’ there’s a transgender agenda the same way there’s a Republican agenda and middle class agenda. Really though, at the end of the day there’s just a whole lot of people, individuals, human beings. These people aren’t mindless pawns of some Freemason plot to overthrown traditional America; they’re brothers, sisters, parents, children, people with stories.

So given that the people who come out aren’t members of some queer army-against-society, that the people coming out are human beings who feel a personal need to expose themselves to potential hatred and rejection – given all this, why would a queer person come out? Specifically, why would a Christian person choose to come out? What’s the point if they aren’t trying to replace the red white and blue with a pride flag (or a trans flag as the case may be)? I think many of the reasons people come out, Christian or not, are validated by the Christian worldview. The motivations to be out of the closet are, for the most part, awesome reasons to do anything.

Because coming out is honest.

Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices. Colossians 3:9

I think one of the biggest reasons to come out is because it ends a lifestyle of dishonesty, half-truths, compromises, bitten tongues, and awkward silences. It’s hard enough to avoid this string of fibs as a closeted gay person, but as trans it becomes all-consuming. I’ll list just a few of the lies that get squashed:

(1) No more lying about gender identity. I don’t have to pretend that I feel like a dude or identify with other males.

(2) No more lying about preferences. I don’t have to pretend I like male-typical activities, hobbies, dieting, etc, unless I actually do.

(3) No more lying about the future. I don’t have to pretend that my life goals are to be a breadwinner, marry a beautiful wife, father children, and teach my son how to play baseball.

(4) No more lying about  my problems. I don’t have to pretend I’m anxious because of stress from school. I can address gender dysphoria for what it is.

(5) No more lying to myself. I don’t have to run from my own reality. 

Now is it necessary to divulge everything to absolutely everyone? Of course not! But my very unprofessional opinion is it’s extremely unhealthy to hide the most important parts of ourselves from the world. At some point life becomes a lying fakery, and our God is the God of the living truth.

At the very least, the lifelong method acting required of a trans person is just plain exhausting, and we only have so much energy.

Because coming out is communal.

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help. Again, if two lie together, they keep warm; but how can one keep warm alone? And though one might prevail against another, two will withstand one. – Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

As much as some Christians hiss at the thought of queer people banding together in any sort of community, the social element of coming out is absolutely essential. I hate to get on the minority soapbox, but no one who is a straight white cisgender Christian can possibly understand the feelings of alienation that queer people suffer. Even the American Catholic Bishops understand this (to some very limited extent) when they say regarding gay people:

It can be helpful for persons who find themselves with homosexual attractions to gather together in mutual understanding and support. This can be particularly the case because persons with a homosexual inclination may feel “different,” which can lead to isolation and alienation, which are risk factors for an unhealthy life, including unchaste behaviors. – USCCB, Ministry to Persons of Homosexual Inclination

I cannot express how horrifying it is to live a life in which you think you are the only person of your kind; in which you are cut off from anyone who might possibly share your lived experience. For many people coming out allows them to connect with others who have suffered and survived similarly.When I was in the closet, I wavered between two equally confounding assumptions about the world: (1) that everyone was the same as me, and that my best guy friends had crossdressed consistently from an early age and wanted to be girls, and (2) that I was a mutant, the only of my kind, a lonely freak of nature. Both of these assumptions are obviously ridiculous, but such was the power of isolation in my lonely closet.

It’s only after coming out that I found real support for my real anxieties.  Not only does coming out allow you to find kindred spirits, but it also allows for truer communion with the rest of society. Many of my close friendships have become richer and more honest because of coming out, both because I’m willing to share something so personal, and because my friends now know the true me with more clarity. I’ve made more friends the last nine months than almost any other time in my life.

Because coming out is freeing.

And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. – John 8:32

I’ll resist making an analogy having anything to do with princesses and towers.

Being in the closet was – at least for me – like being a prisoner of war, secret agent, and bomb squad all at once. Every step was calculated, every expression was guarded, every action was performed. Every day was a day of limited resources; it was like I had to cook tourtière but was only allowed pancake batter and hamburger helper as my ingredients. Coming out to myself was truly like shining light into a deep dark dungeon. I was blinded at first, but as my eyes adjusted I began to look around and see for the first time. I looked down at my hands and saw the shackles that had been chaining me down my entire life were broken. Knowledge is power, self-knowledge especially so.

Coming out to others has been similarly freeing. I’ve never really liked the term ‘coming out of the closet’ for no particular reason, but sometimes I’ll admit there’s something really poetic about the image. Sometimes being hidden really feels like being grounded to a pitch-black sealed-off room. A lonely prison. It’s not good for man to be alone, and I can say from personal experience it’s wonderful to finally walk among other people rather than watching them from behind prison bars. As long as being in the closet is imprisoning, I think it’s very beneficial to break free.

Because coming out is healing.

… but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. – Ephesians 5:13-14

Secrecy has a way of corrupting things. When something is hidden away from the world and pushed down into a deep hole, there’s always the chance – perhaps the likelihood – that it will waste away. If you shove your soul down into a damp dark place, chances are it will begin to mold. From my own experience I know that repressing my identity and self-awareness caused loads of internal problems. I was prone to addictions to cope with the gender dysphoria. I constantly gnawed at myself with extreme self-loathing. Worst of all, I became narcissistic and selfish. Perhaps by no fault of my own, I turned in on myself and brooded. This kind of extreme introspection can lead to what some psychological literature calls autogynephilia – when a transgirl turns to sexual fantasies of being a woman in order to feel complete and loved. When transgender feelings are repressed, they sometimes turn into compulsive behavior: compulsive self-destruction, compulsive masturbation, compulsive crossdressing, you  name it.

Literally the moment I came out, nearly all such internal problems dissipated. All compulsive behavior ended full stop. My depression shifted from private self-loathing to actual struggles with the real discrimination of society. Excessive fantasizing stopped. I started noticing more of the world around me. I’m increasingly less trapped in my own head. All this came from the simple fact of starting to be honest about myself. I praise and thank God for bringing me to the breaking point where I had to admit what was going on. If I’d never been there, I’d not be here; I’d still be a brooding masochist. Thank you, Jesus, for bringing me into the light.

Because coming out is evangelistic.

“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” – Matthew 5:14-16

I’ve never understood why, in our Christian culture of ‘testimonies,’ there’s no room for queer people to have a little honesty. High school retreats are full of kids getting up to the podium and talking all about their troubles and how Christ has given them strength. The problem with many of these testimonies is they often succumb to a “I done been saved once an’ fer all” kind of mentality. They talk about the struggles of life as if they’re in the past for good. These talks often go like: “I used to be a bad, unhappy person, but now life is peachy keen because I met Jesus and he gave me a religious experience.” (For why this is bad theology, read The Book of Job).

With a faith culture like this, the only queer people welcome to the pulpit are ‘ex-gay’ poster children for lame support groups like Courage and One by One. Since the ex-gay and ex-trans phenomenon seems – as far as I can tell – to largely be a fiction of people who don’t want to take the issue seriously, this attitude leaves the massive majority of us in the dust. This horrible shut-down culture leaves queer people feeling utterly alone.

Being trans is especially difficult since most Christians don’t know anything about it and assume it’s the same as being gay. All the rhetoric about queer issues in Christianity talks about ‘the gays’ as being an evil outside the Church. This makes queer people feel like they can’t speak, or worse: that they can’t be Christian. It also leaves lesbian, bisexual, genderqueer, and transgender individuals feeling invisible because Christianity only talks about gay guys, and only in the most negative way possible.

Coming out gives queer Christians the chance to witness to the real power of Christ in our lives, not the fake ‘ex-gay’ sort of forced testimony. Rather than repeat in a tired monotone how we used to be messed up and now we’re putting on a brave face, we can talk about the real victories. We can talk about God’s love for us, about the spiritual lessons our unique life experiences have taught us. We can talk about how we continue to grow, how we continue to struggle to be joyful witnesses of the Gospel, how we are broken people to whom God gives the daily grace to survive. In short, we can actually preach the Good News, not the Socially Acceptable News.

Because coming out is inspiring.

… but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. – 2 Corinthians 12:9

To sum up all the other reasons to come out, I think the greatest one is to be before others. Even if the world thinks that our queerness or transiness is our shame and downfall, as Christians we know it’s our joy. Christ’s cross was the weapon with which he conquered death. His persecution by the people he loved was the very thing that fulfilled the prophecies of the Old Testament and proved he was Messiah. When he rose from the dead, he showed off the holes in his hands and feet because his very wounds were his victory trophies.
As Christians we are called to hold things in the light, not only to expose wounds and heal them, but also to give glory for what God has done and who God has made us to be.
Coming out allows us to stand before our fellow brothers and sisters and be real to them. It can inspire others to be more fully alive, to be honest, to face themselves as God made them. 
Not that we should ever have the gumption to think that our personal lives are uniquely inspiring or noteworthy. My point is simply that when we take our God-given light from under the basket, God can begin to use it for good in the world. He can begin to witness through us, lead through us, heal through us. But this can only happen if and when we’re willing to bring things to light. We need to have faith that God thinks we are worth saving, worth using, and worth loving, queerness and all. 
I would never suggest to someone that they come out. Coming out is incredibly personal and there are a thousand reasons against it for every one good reason in favor. However, I’ll fight tooth and nail with anyone who thinks ‘out’ Christians should be shoved back in the closet. Judge a tree by its fruits. I know the good fruit of my own coming out, so I think I have a pretty good inkling about the quality of this tree.

14 thoughts on “Out of the closet for Jesus?

  1. Honestly right now I don’t know what to say. Your post was so awesome that I am at a lost for words. But I will try my best here 😛 Your post seem to express what it really means at least to me what it means about coming out. Its not about supporting some agenda or like you said signing some pledge sheet. Its about being true to myself, to show that honesty to the world, to no longer feel alone, to be accepted for who I am and not be judged harshly for that. In the end, I think we (when I say we I mean everyone not just transgender) all have the same agenda to be ourselves in whatever form that takes and be accepted by the rest of humanity.

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  3. Wow, what a website. If there’s one thing I appreciate from written stuff on the internet, it’s good writing and chewable topics. I will be subscribing to your blog simply because of this.

    But if I do comment, I generally comment from the side of Catholic orthodoxy. While it’s pastoral teaching may be lacking, it’s spiritual teaching, perfectly deposited by Christ himself, guarded from faith an error by the Church remains truthful. Catholic sexuality is only justified between a man and a woman, not in and of itself, but in the Sacrament of Marriage, the most important part of the sexual relationship. You will see that when God blesses a marriage between a man and a woman, who in turn give themselves selflessly to one another and the prospect of children, it perfectly complies with Christ’s two commandments: 1) Love your God, 2) Love your neighbour as you love yourself. Anything less and it naturally leads to error.

    Historically then, sexual matters have been in conflict with the Church as early as the 16th century. The pastoral concern I have, then, is why Church leaders have been silent on divorce, remarriage, and premarital sex. Truth be told, if you cannot uphold perfect Catholic sexuality as described above, people will turn away, and you will lose. And the Church has been losing.

    That is a brief primer as to where I would be coming from when I comment on your blog, should it mostly centre around sexuality in a Catholic perspective. Again, I do find your writing very eloquent, but there are issues I have with the things I’ve brought up. While I don’t have the time to bring up all of them, I’ll use the one example that is probably of the utmost importance, even outside of the context of sexuality. It’s this right here:

    “In short, we can actually preach the Good News, not the Socially Acceptable News.”

    To preach the Good News is simply to confess, act, and live the way Christ instructed. The Good News refers to the totality of Christ’s mission: that we are fallen (as was depicted in the previous 56 books of the Old Testament), but there is hope we will be saved (as depicted in the 27 books of the New Testament), but only if we choose to carry our crosses and follow Him.

    In the paragraph in which this sentence occurs, this does not seem to be what the use of the term the “Good News” suggests. In fact, to contrast it with the term “Socially Acceptable News” suggests a more political usage, away from its theological importance. I hope I’m not being too blunt, but this is equivocation. Plato labelled this as “sophistry”. It obscures truth and leads people (including the speaker) to error. As Christians, our sole purpose is to strive for the Truth, and we know that Truth resides in God. Therefore, as our Christian forefathers suggested, our parlance should be concise and unambiguous, so as to clarify our thoughts in truth, and not lead ourselves and others to sin. It’s a legacy that has had us thrown to lions and established universities, a legacy that opens us to ridicule by men, but itself has exalted men; a simple legacy that has made us unique in all of history.

    But anyway I had to point out that particular sentence only because it’s one of most importance. The Good News is God coming down as Man and giving us hope by showing us how to live. Jesus, as a human being, showed us that it was possible to get to Heaven. We should never then obscure this Good News 🙂

    Regards,
    Aaron, a new subscriber!

    • Thank you for the compliments!

      First of all, I’m also hopefully coming from the perspective of Catholic orthodoxy, although it’s hard to know for sure since the Church doesn’t have an official teaching on transgenderism yet (which I talk about here):
      https://catholictrans.wordpress.com/2013/12/07/what-does-the-catholic-church-actually-say-about-transgenderism/

      Also, transgender issues are dealing with GENDER IDENTITY as opposed to SEXUALITY or SEXUAL BEHAVIOR. I talk about the difference here: https://catholictrans.wordpress.com/2013/11/15/debunking-myth-4-transgender-people-are-gay/

      I didn’t mean to put the Good News in a political context. If anything, I’m contrasting a faith-based message with the overly-politicized ex-queer crap that a lot of Christians subscribe to that is based on an agenda and not on any pastoral evidence. For a trans person like myself to bear witness to the actual Good News, I believe I have to be honest about who I am, what bearing my cross actually entails, and how God actually interacts with my trans identity, as opposed to a ‘safe’ testimony in which I pretend that following Jesus just wipes away the struggle of life.

      • Anna, have you figured out why, when we Come Out, anti-trans place seemingly-disproportionate emphasis on who we (want to) have sex/union/marriage with, when the topic of the conversation was supposed to be WHO WE ARE?

        I guess a certain human curiosity isn’t unreasonable, but for them to turn a whole Trans discussion into an LGB/Straight discussion just seems weird. (Not unlike those certain few “radical/lesbian feminists” turning it into a discussion of who THEY want to have sex with. AS IF!)

        I was just curious to pick your brain after reading your OP….

        [And BTW, I don’t recall if I’ve said this anywhere else already, but I really appreciate this blog — It’s nice to read about these issues ‘in Catholic,’ like a language or dialect, since I’m convinced that Catholics (or those, like me, from a Catholic background) talk differently in general from non-Catholics … and I haven’t interacted much with Catholics since leaving the RCC the first time a generation ago. It’s like when a Catholic housemate of mine got a copy of her diocesan newspaper, and there was a full-color photo of a bunch of parochial-school kids in it, and I felt a kind of ‘genetic pull’, like they were in a genealogical or biographical sense “my people” — Irish/Polish/Italian/Bavarian — whom I was away from by following my theology instead!]

        —Leanne

        • “Anna, have you figured out why, when we Come Out, anti-trans place seemingly-disproportionate emphasis on who we (want to) have sex/union/marriage with”

          I’m trying to figure that out myself, and I don’t really have a theological answer (i.e. one in the “Catholic dialect”), but I do have partial reasons in other kinds of language.

          For one thing, I think people don’t even want to enter the discussion of WHO WE ARE because it’s too difficult. “Sexual deviance” is such an easy ad hoc answer to throw at people without having to listen to their actual life experience. That’s the sociological reason I guess: human laziness and selfishness.

          And then there’s the feminist in me, which wants to say that the preoccupation with sex comes from Patriarchy’s historical use of sexuality to dominate women and queer folk. In a sort of symbolic and super oblique way, I feel like the Patriarchal forces-that-be silence our human voices/stories by sexualizing us, just as women throughout history have had their side of history silence, often through sexual domination. But that’s not really an answer or reason so much as a really abstract connection.

          Honestly, I have no idea why Christians in particular are so obsessed with sex. It’s been this way since the Church Fathers, even St. Paul, and I have no clue why. No clue.

        • Hi Anna! Sorry I only just now saw the button to subscribe to this post’s Comments… so I hope you had a profitable Lent, and are having a blessed Easter Week (if a week early 😉 ) !

          I think your kneejerk-deviance idea has (relative) familiarity in its favor — not that majorities have much real clue about lives different from their own, but Cis Straights think they know about Gays, from hearing about Gays most of their lives… mostly “Don’t be(come) one [sic]!” So it’s easier for them to paint us with a broad Gay brush than to care that we have brushes all our own as Trans — and not just makeup brushes either! From this perspective any kind of gender nonconformity can be easily recast — ignorantly — as homosexuality. Even their immortal question for us Trans, “Can’t you ‘just’ be gay?” Tho some of us can respond, “Sure… just not the way you’re thinking about it!” [I wonder if this is also behind their felt need — even in laws, canons, “documents,” etc. — to conflate homosexuality with same-sex pedophilia… bestiality… rape… paraphilias… yada yada yada. Or, differently, Transness, with dysmorphia.] Tho not infrequently Cis LGB people join with the Cis Straight majority when it comes to Trans people, too….

          And actually I think your feminist angle is related to the kneejerk idea. After all, patriarchy creates the circumstances under which kneejerk pseudo-‘deviant-sexualization’ and objectification are useful, whether to oppress first-order, or to impress the oppressors and join in their oppression. And at its too-common worst, patriarchy’s oppression of QOILTBAG people uniformly includes, well, treating us all like it mistreats Cis Straight women: rape and other sexual assault and violation, sexual mutilation, forced feminization (see the martyrdom of Sts. Sergius and Bacchus), murder, example-making, forced suicide, forced medicalization/therapization/experimentation, prostitution, gossip/innuendo, slander/libel, violence/bullying, exclusion/marginalization, enforced dependence/deprivation, stereotyping/exaggeration, adverse legislation by church and state, etc etc etc.

          Good stuff, tho, from you! Not to patronize (matronize?), but you clearly have a gift for advanced work in theology and/or philosophy if you should be inclined in that direction (with or without formal ministry, ordained, professed, active, contemplative, or otherwise)… even something interdisciplinary like LGBT or Queer Studies; I hear they’re even starting to have Trans Studies(!). Tho Women’s/Gender Studies might make one more employable for the foreseeable future, especially in Catholic settings — it worked for Mary Daly @ BC even after she apostatized! Catch that Third (Fourth?) Wave and ride it… in a good way! 🙂

          Happy Easter!
          Leanne

  4. Really touched by this post, Anna Magdalena! I’m a new Catholic ally trying to feel my way through these issues. It’s a joy to read your perspective. Thanks for sharing your beautiful outlook. ❤

  5. Pingback: Queen Esther’s ‘Coming Out 101’ (with dubious Disney accompaniment) | The Catholic Transgender

  6. You refer to Courage as “lame.” Assuming that you agree with Catholic teaching on chastity, on what do you base that dismissive assessment?

    • I’ve actually thought of revising that snub because it was admittedly short sighted. I have friends who are part of Courage and so I’ve since seen it as more than a reparative therapy clinic. The bottom line is that making LGBT people not LGBT doesn’t work. CHASTITY on the other hand – as in an actual calling from God to deliver your body to Him as a temple of the Holy Spirit – is an incredible calling, and any oragnization that promotes true chastity is awesome. So the truth is I should remove the reference because I don’t know enough, but what I can say is Courage is lame insofar as it wants to pray the gay away (and maybe it’s never done this), and is awesome insofar as it wants to help LGBT Catholics answer God’s call for their lives.

  7. Thank you for your reply, and I’m glad to know that you have friendships with persons involved with Courage. Within my own experience of Courage, I have not encountered a mindset that would strike me as what you describe as “pray the gay away.” Related to what you said regarding chastity, though, the apostolate of course affirms Catholic teaching on marriage and that any sexual activity outside of that context is not in accord with what God wants for us. For those who experience same-sex attraction (but not gender dysphoria), and who are endeavoring to be faithful to Christ and his Church, I’m sure you’re well-aware of the discussion over labels, which I think is an important and legitimate discussion to be had. As we navigate the waters of identity, sexuality, and what it means to love and be loved, may God give us the grace to discover more of Him and how He sees us. Peace be with you.

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