I’ve talked before about why I think coming out
of the closet is a good thing, but lately I’ve been
reflecting on the coming out process itself as a
choice of radical honesty.
And as it turns out, the best inspiration for
radical honesty comes right from Scripture (The
Book of Esther to be precise).
Queen Esther is a cool woman by most accounts,
but did you know she’s a perfect analogy for being queer!? Here’s why:
1. She is locked in a system of rigid gender roles.
The setup of Esther’s story is that King Xerxes keeps his women (yes, plural) on a short leash. One of those wives, Queen Vashti, isn’t too keen on being at the King’s beck and call like a doorman. So one day when the King summons her and she drags her feet a bit, he has her executed. Yes, executed.
Get this: he then sends out a letter to all his districts telling everyone in Persia that wives had better obey their husbands or else. Yikes!
2. She gains social favor by acting out a role.
Since no man is king without a wife around to fetch his slippers and look pretty, Xerxes feels the need to go wife shopping, and this time he decides to hold auditions. All eligible bachelorettes are judged on soulful criteria like how well their skin responds to intensive oil therapy. As in, Esther literally spends six months being doused in oil in order to pass the King’s beauty test.
Esther is eventually chosen as Queen, and is it because of her winning personality? No. In fact, unlike the other girls, she is ‘smart’ enough to say nothing other than what the King’s eunuch tells her will please the King. She becomes a soulless geisha, and of course the King falls head over heels for her. Little does he know that this perfect model of socially conditioned behavior, specially chosen to replace his late feminist wife, is in fact a closeted Jew. And let’s be real: Jewish women are firecrackers. No Helen of Troys in this bunch! Instead we have fiery Deborahs and sword-wielding Judiths.
3. Fear of persecution sends her into the closet.
Jews weren’t all that popular in captivity-era Babylon, so Esther decides to keep her head low at first. Not that she’s a huge fan of acting and dressing like a queen, but she has more to fear than losing her high station. There are also those lingering worst-case scenarios: persecution, retribution, even death. So Esther hides behind her closet door, and who can really blame her? She has a lot to fear!
4. Her inner life remains unchanged.
Despite her constant fear of being discovered as a Jew, she still somehow manages to keep her Jewish identity intact. She never eats unclean meat or drinks the temple wine, and she keeps God at her center. In short, all the fear and social pressure in the world can’t put out that inborn spark of honesty that still burns before God.
5. Her people are scapegoated.
Haman is the King’s right-hand man. Haman is jealous. Haman is power hungry. Haman is insecure about the size of his scepter (take that as you will).
Esther has a cousin named Mordecai. Mordecai is also a Jew. Mordecai is a person of integrity. Haman wants Mordecai to bow to him. Mordecai says no, since there is only One God, and His Name is decidedly not Patriarchy.
Haman gets angry – as he is wont to do. Haman convinces the king to have all the Jewish people killed. Who knows – maybe he got appointed on an anti-Jew platform. Anyway, it went something like this.
In short, the minority group that Esther belongs to is blamed for all the world’s problems from Ebola to the decline of the nuclear family, and the King, who is getting all his data from Haman, thinks it’s a good idea.
6. The time comes when Esther must come out.
The situation for Esther’s people is more dire than ever. Her own flesh and blood are being mindlessly persecuted by the same machine she has now become a gear of. She is faced with a choice: to come out as Jewish and face possible persecution and death in order to help her people, or remain silent and watch her people die, knowing that it’s only a matter of time before she’s outed by someone else. The penalty for going before the King uninvited is death. Remember Queen Vashti? Strong-willed queens don’t go far in Persia.
7. She trusts in God.
In making the step to come out, Esther trusts in God first. She earnestly prays to God for her people’s salvation and for the strength to do her small part. Clearly God answers her prayers.
8. She finds allies.
Part of what I like about Esther is she knows her own limitations. She doesn’t exactly come out sword swinging. In fact, she barely makes it into the King’s throne room and has to have two handmaidens practically carry her before the King. Some may see this as weakness, but there is strength in knowing one’s own limits and looking for help. Esther got through her coming out process with the help of a few trusted allies.
9. She doesn’t get it right the first time.
Esther is not exceptional, which makes her even more the hero. When she first goes before the King, she literally faints before his throne. After all, she’s a thumbs-up away from execution. Even after that it still takes her a few tries. She invites the King and Haman to a mystery dinner, but chickens out at the last second. The big mystery? That she wants them to come over for dinner tomorrow night for another mystery dinner. When they come over again, she chickens out once again and says yes, she has something very very important to tell them, and it’s that she’s making dinner for them the next night as well. After all, it’s a lot less scary to make your man a sandwich than it is to tell him he’s wrong about politics.
10. It takes enormous courage, but she comes out.
At long last, Esther works up the nerve for her big reveal. She sits her hubbie down, keeps Haman on the other couch with a cheese knife close at hand (she’s prepared for the worst), and says those dreaded words: “I’m Jewish.”
“WHAT!? But you’re not at all a money-laundering hook-nosed child-eating ape like the rest of them! When did you choose to be Jewish? The gods hate Jews. Are you sure? It’s probably a stage. Have we scared you away from paganism by setting a bad example?”
Who knows what questions the King and Haman put to her that night, but the crux of the story is that Esther had the courage to face a difficult world with honesty.
11. With God’s help, she changes the world.
What happens? The world changes because of her. And the thing with Esther is that just about nothing is under her control. The only thing she has a say over is whether she will be honest with the King about who she is. That’s it. She doesn’t win by being a great activist or starting a coup. She just comes out as herself, and God is able to work with that. He takes a simple act of courage, and He begins the reshaping of the world.