The theme of the second week of Advent is Peace. Peace can be an elusive feeling for those of us who are LGBTQ+ Christians and are in the midst of processing our sexuality and gender identity. It is often a long journey toward peace with ourselves, peace with God, peace with church, and peace with our friends and family. This Advent, we long for the peace that passes all understanding to guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:7).
For this week’s post, we’ve decided to borrow a reflection about this journey toward peace. It was written by one of our community members, Caleb Senneker. We met Caleb at last year’s Gay Christian Network conference, and in one short year, he’s become a central, beloved member of our Generous Space community. Check out more of Caleb’s writing over at his blog.
A Year’s Journey from the Closet
by Caleb Senneker
The single biggest event in my life was over in an instant. The culmination of years of internal struggle. A decade’s worth of secret keeping was over as soon as I hit “update.”
After a glass or two of wine, liquid courage, I posted a Facebook update, “Sometimes I think boys are hawt.” Followed by a message further describing what I meant by that. And just like that, my secret was out. “I’m gay,” was no longer something I whispered in the dark, but something I had shouted from the rooftop, or more accurately, from my sixth floor apartment to the whole internet.
I spent the months leading up to that point telling certain friends, family members, and coworkers, but there came a point where I couldn’t keep it in any longer.
That was one year ago. I’ve now been out of the closet for a full year. It seems everything has changed and yet nothing has changed.
I learned how to flirt (not very successfully, I still freak out and lose my cool whenever a really attractive man is in my vicinity, but it’s a start). I had my first boyfriend, we shared my first kiss (turns out I rather enjoy kissing). I had my first breakup (I like these much less than kisses).
I had a couple of first dates. These are atrocious yet intoxicating. Going out for hours on end with someone you find mildly attractive, the coy glances, the nervous chatter of two people trying to decide if they like the other, or if the other likes them. The very first steps of a person attempting to share their life with someone else. It’s beautiful, tragic, and awkward as hell. But finally, it was me trying to open up to someone I could see myself with, an effort to find love and not just me being freaked out that I was going to need to have yet another talk with yet another girl who wanted something more than friendship. I finally understood why people would want a first date (Hint: two people attracted to each other is exciting stuff).
Oddly enough, the biggest impacts of my coming out haven’t been to my dating life—I’m still single—but rather, to my friendships, my religiosity, and mental health. For so long, I lived life at peace with all those around me, while internally I faced the turmoil of having a damning attraction to men; I hated myself and hated how I felt. What is the benefit of living peaceably with those around you when you can’t even live with yourself? This encourages friendships built on a false premise: that I am someone I can never be. My coming out had the unique quality of turning all my friendships on their head. There were some I expected to be supportive, but they shut down our friendship after they sat me down to have a “talk” about how I need repentance and to truly consider what Scripture says. Others I assumed would chew me out, but instead they reaffirmed their love for me and apologized for not being a safe space to question and work out who I was. Such radical, unconditional love blew my mind, and conditional friendships predicated on my being straight (or at least a “non-practicing” homosexual) ate at my soul and self-worth.
In a few short months, every relationship in my life had been rocked. And in those few months I had suicidal thoughts for the first time. I had lived my life for others and what they thought of me (or rather, what I thought they thought of me and demanded of me). Finally I could no longer keep my internal conflict bottled up and I let it spill out and embrace my friends. I remember the constant dinging of my phone as emails, texts, Facebook messages, and comments came pouring in. Each one demanding I validate their opinion of homosexuality. Each ping reflected someone else demanding that their opinion be heard and interacted with. Each ping was another friendship that was potentially on the line. Each ping had me second-guessing myself, “Should I just say ‘haha’ and go back in the closet? Is any of this worth it? And if this many people are up in arms about my sexual orientation, am I worth anything as a non-straight human?” I turned off my phone and wondered off into the Toronto night. Each bus that barrelled by had me wondering if I should step off the sidewalk and take the express route to the afterlife.
Those were dark days. I had to get past the perceived thoughts of others and learn how to live for God and for myself. I meditated on the words of Jesus, “Love your neighbour as yourself.” I realized his words were predicated on the idea that I love myself. A radical concept, because I hated myself: hated how my mind functioned, hated how I was wired to love intimately. Frankly, no neighbour of mine deserved to be loved like that. So why should I treat myself in such a way? It’s only with a healthy understanding of self-love, that one can love selflessly. It seems almost counterproductive, but oh so necessary. A sick doctor cannot heal and neither can an unloved human.
I must admit, there has been no greater feeling than finally being at peace with myself. To live my life openly and to no longer hide who I was created to be. The road ahead is far from clear, let alone easy, after all I’m still a work in progress, but at least I can step forward in confidence and a peace that passes all understanding. A peace rooted in the idea that the Lord of the Universe knows me, knows my name, knows my queerness, and loves me deeply.