In the wake of that, Campus Crusade's University of Maryland chapter had a counter-demonstration, saying that everyone, including Christians, sin and have sinned, and including public confessions; one girl who was involved with the Pride Alliance said that she was really grateful to see us there saying these things. A journalism student covered the counter-protest, and interviewed a handful of us, including me; I mentioned that I was a non-practicing homosexual, and he, intrigued, asked for a longer interview later on. I assented, and, a few days later, was a little shocked to find a picture of my own face taking up half the front page of the school paper. The article was far from perfect; it makes me laugh now, partly from the very melancholy picture of me it presents, and partly from a few minor inaccuracies; but, in retrospect, I think that was the most public and decisive coming out I ever had. So I guess that's ... something. Not sure what, but definitely very, very something.
That was two years before I entered the Catholic Church. I knew, before I swam the Tiber, that I was in for difficulties of various kinds -- not least the exacting ethic of chastity that the Church believes. But one unexpected thing, which I didn't even begin to pick up on until I had been a Catholic for two or three years, was a great dislike on the part of Catholics for gay people coming out of the closet.
I have always been at a loss to understand this. I've read a lot of the reasons set forth by various Catholic authors, and I think I understand where they're coming from; as that gayness should not be a person's chief identity (and -- let's face it, fellow queers -- a lot of people in the LGBTQ world are pretty immature about gayness as an identity, or a substitute for an identity), or that jumping from any same-sex feelings to a categorical "Well I must be gay then" is foolish, or simply that people's privacy should be respected if they don't want to come out (something else that a lot of folks in the gay world aren't always tactful or tasteful about). The objection that the word gay signifies a moral and political stance in addition to a general disposition of sexual attractions -- i.e., that gay means someone who believes gay sex is morally equivalent to straight sex -- was true, say, thirty years ago and more; but language has shifted and that is no longer the case. Frankly, none of the reasons I've encountered for not coming out, even the reasonable reasons,* seems adequate, aside from a simple desire for privacy. And honestly, if privacy is a person's reason, no further reasons should be necessary.
What has always struck me about a lot of Catholic rhetoric on the subject, though, is how totally it fails to understand the actual lived experience of a gay person. (I say "a lot" because there are exceptions.) The weird abundance of scare quotes in such rhetoric kind of suggests this lack of understanding, but the real evidence of it comes in explanations, from those opposed, of why a person would come out. For example:
"The act of 'coming out' is not the simple moment of openness which the 'gay community' advertises it to be. It is a dangerous trap which puts both persons in the conversation and their relationship at risk ... All the writers coach the person coming out to hear only two possible responses: Total rejection or total endorsement. The mindset is passionately black and white, highly charged, and very difficult to respond to. ... The 'coming out' step is more than a step into full membership in the homosexual movement. A second purpose ... is to seek 'converts' among 'straight' friends and family members to the cause of 'pro-gay' values. The price of refusing those values is often the break-up of the friendship or the family relationship -- a steep price indeed, which has sometimes been termed by those who have been offered those two dark options: 'emotional blackmail.'"**
Yes, because The Gays want their families and friends to reject them, and have never been mistreated or threatened by those they love, ever. Nobody has ever been kicked out of the house by their own parents as a teenager for telling the truth about who they're dating, or berated and beaten when they admitted to same-sex feelings and asked for help; and The Gays are simple-minded creatures who cannot understand the complex moral and emotional factors that influence people's reactions.
Sarcasm aside, the only thing to be said about the passage that I have quoted, is that it is not true. There are people, including authors of books on coming out, who grossly oversimplify the issue and perhaps even contribute to familial conflicts; and there are others who don't. Unlike the person who wrote the passage above, apparently, I've read some of the latter. And I've spent enough time with other gay people, not to mention my own family, to know that, yes, the fallout from coming out is complicated, and has to be handled with tact and patience on both sides, especially when there are conflicting beliefs between the parties.
Now, far be it from me to say that there are no people whose coming out of the closet was downright Machiavellian. All sorts of people behave in all sorts of ways, and that kind of manipulation can't be said never to have happened. And it must be admitted that a lot of us, especially activists, have not been considerate of our families' feelings in the way we've come out; it's understandable, given that just being gay is an emotionally fraught experience, but the difficulties of parents, siblings, and friends have often been disregarded, sometimes unconsciously and sometimes on the grounds that other people's feelings don't matter when the cause of gay rights is at stake. But the notion that such emotional abuse is the chief or sole motive behind the desire to come out is absurd, and, even from the wholly orthodox Catholic view that I espouse, can be demonstrated to be categorically false by a simple perusal of what Joseph Prever of the Steve Gershom blog has called a gay Christian renaissance: Melinda Selmys, Joshua Gonnerman, Ron Belgau, Eve Tushnet, Aaron Taylor, Josh Weed, Wesley Hill, Jeremy Erickson, Julie Rodgers, Brent Bailey, Daniel Mattson (though he approaches the subject quite differently), and Joseph Prever himself, to name just twelve. (The periodical First Things and the blog Spiritual Friendship house a great mass of essays by the above figures.)
Well, why would somebody come out, unless they were supporting the gay agenda?
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?
I cannot speak for everyone. But I get the impression that some of my reasons are pretty common ones. For myself, the following were major causes:
1. Survival. Not everyone reacts to their sexuality this way, but for me, the weight of being the only one who knew about me was crushing. It was like carrying a huge stone on my head, all the time. Telling other people helped me to actualize my theoretical belief that my being gay was not the end of the world. If I hadn't, knowing me, my shame and fear would probably have devoured me: suicide would not have been out of the question. Coming out, far from locking me into a lifestyle, helped me to concretely affirm that there was more to me than my sexuality, because I got to experience first-hand people not reducing me to that once they knew about it. And that helped me learn a little bit of courage and trust. (I experienced a lot of other things first hand, too, but everything has downsides.)
2. Honesty. If there is one thing that I have believed (believed, not practiced) thoroughly for about as long as I can remember, it is that truthfulness is obligatory, about everything, all the time. It does not follow that we have to tell everybody everything or that we have no right to be private, or polite, about some things. But it does mean that one must not tell lies. And it is surprisingly hard to make it through one's life without people assuming that you're straight, for the simple and valid reason that most people are. It is also rather unpleasant, if you're not, to try to carry on conversations and indeed whole relationships, when someone is making a multitude of assumptions about your experiences that simply aren't true.
3. Weariness. Even if a person doesn't feel that they are being dishonest or evasive when others assume they're straight, reworking your instinctive responses to a host of things is necessary if you wish to avoid outing yourself. I'm not just talking about correcting for lisp (when applicable), but about discussing crushes you've had, explaining your difficulties with chastity, telling friends that you aren't interested in dating this cute girl they know, and the like. Even if you're 100% comfortable with both yourself and traditional Christian sexual mores, the mere busywork of keeping it private can be truly exasperating.
4. Witness. The Church says, rightly, that she needs practicing Christians who show in their own lives why her teaching is good, true, and beautiful, not only in spite of but even because of its highly challenging nature. Is anybody in a better position to be a witness to that than a gay Christian, in our time and place? Isn't telling gay Christians that they should stay in the closet, or re-closet themselves somehow, a little counterintuitive? Or, conversely, viewed from the perspective of those outside the Church, doesn't it call into question the Church's professions of love and acceptance, when she doesn't even want the matter discussed by those to whom it most urgently pertains?
5. Concern. I was terribly alone as an adolescent. I would have been anyway -- I was a fairly atypical boy as far as interests, both in terms of liking things many boys don't and not caring about the things most boys enjoy; and my depression certainly didn't help. But one of the worst things was feeling that there was no one who was safe for me to talk to. The silence, and the animosity toward the whole gay subculture, was so oppressive that it made me feel that my orientation was not only bad, but so filthy as to be unspeakable. I decline to regard this as having the least imprint of Christian charity upon it. And I don't think it's a helpful mindset to get teenagers with same-sex feelings in, either; they, of all people, need to feel that the Church is a safe place. I don't want anyone to have to feel as scared and helpless as I did. The Church should truly be a sanctuary.
6. Humor. Awful, awful humor. I'm a fan of South Park, Aqua Teen Hunger Force, and so forth. I really like making terribly tasteless and offensive jokes. And if people don't know I'm gay, I can't safely make gay jokes.***
*There are of course people whose reasons are simply and categorically homophobic -- i.e., based on an irrational fear of and/or dislike for homosexuals. I don't consider these reasons worth answering.
**The full article can be found here, and may explain why, despite its status as thus far the only Vatican-approved ministry to homosexuals, I am not specially eager to touch Courage with a ten-foot pole.
***No, seriously, this was one of my reasons. But, you know, not in a gay way.
Okay, that one was terrible, but you get the point, though.