Yesterday (October 11th) was National Coming Out Day. I’ve been open about my sexuality for over seven years now, ever since publishing my first book.
It was kind of a big deal, to understate it.
I’d had at least a dozen conversations with a dozen different people while writing that book – particularly the small matter of coming out in the book. I was reminded, again and again, how I could never take it back once I hit that big red “publish” button.
T’was the biggest gasp of my life when I did push it. Like Luke Skywalker firing away those torpedoes into the Death Star. A simultaneous rush of relief with subsequent wave upon wave of:
Oh. OH. Did I really just do that??
If you were to ask me if I regret coming out in 2013, I’d answer a thousand times no.
But for every thousand times no, I might also answer with one or two yesses.
I don’t miss the perpetual shadows of the closet. The secrecy. The shame. The constant playing along – lying about girls I find “hot” or why I’m not dating one.
But I do kinda miss the privacy. Like, whose business is it who I am or am not attracted to?
I miss the privacy, and I also miss the safety from sunburns in this vast outside, this dangerous new world beyond the closet. Burns of misunderstanding, even judgment – from fellow believers primarily.
Surprisingly, I’ve received hardly any flak from LGBT+ folks who don’t profess any sort of faith in Jesus. On the contrary, I’ve received some of my strongest encouragement from these men and women.
It’s the other Christians who sometimes have stern words for me. Even this whole notion of “coming out” is anti-Christian to many.
Forget that I’m even following a traditional sexual ethic amidst my sexuality, an “unpopular” decision in this culture, to put it mildly; some just can’t get over this particular language, and I imagine many will remain in conflict with me over it until they die.
Which is really unfortunate, because I’m an awesome person worth knowing.
I’m mostly used to the misunderstandings or judgments after all these years; it’s still disheartening when it happens, but it’s no longer surprising.
Ultimately, I’ve become cool with any label — gay, SSA, Side B, queer — so long as Christ is made known. I could care less if a fellow Christian thinks I’m using the wrong words as I strive to be “all things to all people” (1 Corinthians 9:22).
To put it bluntly, my story isn’t for those people who wish to burn me. It’s for the lonely, the ashamed, the Jesus-seekers.
Every once in a while, yeah, I do get exhausted, looking back to those dark days of the closet with a strange sort of twinkle in my soul.
Do I need to explain myself again? Is it even worth the energy? Is it better to ignore or even block somebody online because they
I feel the tension of being some sort of “public figure” with some sort of responsibility to represent this community well, to explain myself – us – well. But also to have my own space, my own life.
My own little closet in this big ole universe.
Even though I’m as “out” as one can be, I realized years ago that I do need to keep some things in the closet. Things for myself, for God, and perhaps for select individuals, too.
Just because I’ve openly admitted my attraction to other men doesn’t mean I need to lay out every little detail. Even as an author, a blogger, a podcaster, and a guy on Twitter.
As an introvert I do miss the peace and privacy some times. But I also recognize that authenticity breeds authenticity.
I can’t tell you the number of people – men and women – who have reached out after reading Struggle Central to tell me, “Me too.”
Or the blog posts I’ve written to tell me, “Me too.”
Or the podcasts: “Me too.”
By coming out and telling my story, it’s given other people freedom to tell theirs, too. Sometimes I’m the first person someone else has ever told; how sacred and precious a role to play in another’s story.
I couldn’t ever take back my coming out for the steps others have taken in the aftermath.
Telling one other person your story is such a pivotal starting point.
It’s how my story started with my parents, after all; it’s how every guy now blogging on our site started theirs, too.
For any regrets or longings for simpler, albeit darker times, I wouldn’t ever take back that decision. I truly wouldn’t, even on the one or two days out of a thousand that I really kinda want to.
Authenticity breeds authenticity with other people, and it breeds deeper authenticity within yourself, too.
Since coming out, I’ve come face-to-face with my darkness in ways far beyond my lust toward other men. I’ve seen my selfishness. My envy. My addictive patterns. My assumed worthlessness.
I’ve seen my sin stretch for chasms, gaining both a greater awareness of my depravity and the depths to which Christ saves me. What a perspective I’ve gained from all these steps beyond that closet.
So, disagree all you want about whether or not I’m actually “gay” or “out of the closet” or whatever vocabulary have you.
I’m a healthier, more whole person since I made that decision to come out and tell my story nearly a decade ago.
To anyone still in the closet, I hope you do take that step of courage to tell just one person when you’re ready. Even me – my email is always open. I’d be so honored.
The wide-scale coming out that I’ve pursued isn’t necessarily for everybody. There are certainly many degrees of coming out.
Coming out to any degree is a game-changer. It’s been the single greatest source of freedom in my life, and I want that same freedom for everyone.
Man or woman. Young or old. Single or married.
Inside the Church and out.
Have you come out yet, either publicly or selectively? What inspired you to come out, or what holds you back?
That was excellent. Thanks Tom. I came out at church on Nov 29, 2015. I had some days of regret. I even wrote about it, but overall, it was a good decision. I have not, for the most part, regretted it. I wish I had done it sooner. On a side note, I really like the blue cups. I’m sipping some matcha green tea out of one right now. Y’all Struggle Well!
Glad to hear it was ultimately a good decision. And thanks for the compliment on my blue mug! For anyone reading who may be confused, this isn’t a YOB product but one that I’m selling on my personal store page! Come struggle well with us: https://thomasmarkz.store
I didn’t know you had a personal store page! I just looked at it, and would love to read your books! I trust you are okay brother.
Yeah, I just launched it this month. Long overdue! Excited to get my stuff out there more. Been a rough year on all fronts, but hanging in there. Hope you are, too, Dave!
Beautiful blog Tom! In my case I am only out to my parents and my one straight friend. Pretty much everyone else who knows is either in YOB or in the general Side B world. I’ve considered the whole being out publicly thing but I feel if I ever did it would need to be a while. Still, thank you for your bravery and leadership, Tom!
I hope you find more trusted folks to come out to in the years to come, Eugene. It’s been awesome seeing your growth in this area since you found YOB!
This was such an excellent post Tom! I definitely agree. Coming out (first to myself and then to some others in my life) was such a freeing experience because I could finally stop exclusively focusing on The Gay and start focusing on the rest of the things in my life. Giving over my sexuality to the Lord really lifted a weight off of me.
I used to define myself soley on my sexuality, but after coming out, it’s faded into the background and has become just another part of who I am (for better or for worse). I feel freedom to be more myself and to be confident in my passions without worrying “will people think I’m gay if I say I like this thing? (Art, cooking, skinny jeans, etc)”. And because I’m more confident and comfortable in my own skin, I’m better able to minister to the people in my life, be they SSA or OSA.
I like you anthropomorphized The Gay. I seriously did the same thing, thinking homosexuality was the Ultimate Sin and that I had nothing else to focus on. But I’ve said it again and again over the years…my sexuality is probably fifth or sixth on the list of things I “struggle with” on the daily. Praise God for this awareness and growth. Same for you!
So good to hear this, Alexei. I am in a stage that I feel my sexuality consuming my ability to dedicate myself to other areas of my life so it gives me hope to hear that coming out helped you overcome that.
Thanks Tom! I love your writing!
I guess technically I spent 62 years in the closet until I told my wife last year. I also told my son, my counselor, our recovery group, my best friend Dan, And you guys.
My wife doesn’t want me to go public because I am in leadership at our church. We are not exactly sure how they would handle that information.
Telling my best friend Dan was a big mistake. Deer in the headlights. I’ll think twice about sharing that news with another straight man.
Am I glad that God required me to confess? Absolutely! The cloud is gone, I am free, and I’m getting healed.
Thanks for sharing some of your coming out stories, Michael. You certainly live and you learn as you discern who all to share this piece of yourself with. I don’t necessarily regret any of the conversations I’ve shared with folks over the years, but I also know I could’ve approached many of those conversations differently if I knew then what I know now. Practice makes (sorta) perfect, though!
This is great! I certainly resonate with this. Coming out brings freedom and healing, and allows much of our lives to step into the light- both the good and the bad. In that light we find God, and so while its uncomfortable, its absolutely worth it. Authenticity begets authenticity.
Bring on the uncomfortable light!
Awesome post Tom. I know I don’t comment as much as I used to, but it has been a pleasure through the years to watch/listen/ read the journey you have been on. While for a long time I really did desire to do a big coming out, I’ve settled into where I am at the moment. and while, in the future I do have plans to be more public with my story, that privacy you speak of is one of the things holding me back still. I want to treasure it as long as I can
Awesome as always to have your perspective, Ashley. Treasure this part of your journey! And thanks for the affirmations over mine.
I resonate strongly with the sentiment of being a more whole person since coming out and how it’s led to facing the dark places within you. That’s true for me as well. It is so interesting to me, though, that you have had push back from fellow believers and not from the LGBTQ+ community. I’ve experienced the opposite: almost every Christian who has come across my story has been supportive and encouraging and grateful, and the flak I’ve gotten is largely from LGBTQ+ individuals or the LGBTQ+ community at large. I’ve been told that I’m not being “true” to myself, that my choices are inherently wrong or harmful or misguided, and that my existence as a person of faith adhering to what some call a “traditional sexual ethic” is dangerous for LGBTQ+ youth. There have been plenty of LGBTQ+ folks who respect my faith and life choices even though they don’t agree with me, but there have also been plenty who have attacked me or even tried to persuade me off the path of discipleship. I wonder what it would be like to have the kind of encouragement you described from them. But, like you said, my story isn’t for the people who “wish to burn me” – it’s for those who are struggling, for those who are seeking God. Being able to be an instrument in His hands to bless the lives of His other children has been a sacred and beautiful privilege. Like you, I’ve been that first person someone comes out to, and “sacred and precious” feels like an apt description of that moment. I’m grateful for the trust that God has placed in me with these people, and I do my best to point others to Him. I felt inspired by Him to come out when I did just over 5 years ago now, and doing so has been a blessing in my life. All of the positive has far outweighed the negative.
Guess it just depends what circles we find ourselves in! I’m sorry for the resistance you’ve faced from the LGBT+ community. But glad you’ve had a strong support system from fellow believers! I definitely have a strong support as well; it’s mainly believers I don’t know online who give me some hate. But I’ve learned not to let those opinions faze me too much. Glad your positives have outweighed the negatives! I agree.
Thank you for the great article, Tom. I struggle with the idea of coming out because of two reasons:
– I get afraid of it becoming my identity to people (Yes, Gabriel, the gay guy from church). I have told my parents and friends that I have had a “thing” with a guy. But I generally phrase it as something of the past. I guess this is my way to try to avoid being looked at differently.
– I am quite unsure of where exactly in the sexuality spectrum I fit. It’s hard to come out and attach a label to it when you don’t know what the label should be. As someone has both dated guys and girls I often think that I might be bisexual, but again, I am quite unsure.
I do hope to figure some of this out or even share my process with people. I guess I could come out as someone figuring out their sexuality. Thank you again for the thought provoking, supporting pieces you publish here.
Thanks for sharing your perspective, Gabriel. I totally get what you mean about identity. Last thing I want is to be the spokesperson for all gay people in the Church. How I want to be known for so much more than my sexuality. I’ll always be grateful for YOB and this outlet to share about sexuality, but I’ve been very intentional with my other blog and other projects to highlight other aspects of my identity beyond sexuality. I think it’s helped a little, at least internally if not externally too.
And even though I’ve never dated anyone, I know a bunch of guys here have dated both men and women, so you certainly aren’t alone in figuring out where you are on that sexuality spectrum. Glad to have you here, brother!
Thanks a million brother for your heartfelt post. I haven’t been able to comment much lately after having someone come visit my mom and me and then they were tested positive for the Covid virus. We had to be tested ourselves and then wait for the results, which came back negative, PTL. The thing that made it tough was that a lovely lady here in town had the same situation as us, she had a relative come and visit her who had the virus, and she got it and died.
Anyways, brother, I have told only two people I know about my orientation. I have had gay relatives, but I haven’t said a word. Their stories are not at all good, hence my silence to people on this issue. I wish I had a support system so I knew others had my back and would pray for and encourage me…but I don’t. YOB is a place I can feel at home…and I thank the Lord for your ministry to so many!
Glad you and your mom tested negative! This virus is so crazy. Can’t believe the reach it’s had.
I’m glad you found YOB, Dave, and that our site can help you feel a little more at home. Much love, brother.
“I’m an awesome person worth knowing”… I loved it, Tom… I’m sure you are… I hope I’ll find you and our YOB, in personally… Someday…
Would love to meet you one day as well! Always a joy to connect with our readers.
That is another great post, Tom. You are absolutely correct; authenticity does breed authenticity. Your example and your work here demonstrate that so clearly. You have helped me become more authentic, and I am grateful. And I so appreciate your focus on and passion for the lonely and the ashamed. One of my heroes was the very same way; and the religious folks who were all caught up in labels and inconsequential rules gave him a bad time too.
Humbled by you words, MI. Thank you. So glad you’re here to share some of your own story with us, brother.
Thanks Thomas! I’ll try to share more.
I really enjoyed reading this, Tom. I came out to my parents in high school and given the rough relationship I have with my dad it was surprisingly a positive experience. Since then I slowly came out to my youth pastor, a friend from high school, my best friend in college, my core group of college buds, and more and more men in my life (all of whom are straight). They’ve all been really positive experiences. The most fruitful experience was coming out to about 20 or so guys in my college ministry my senior year as a way to encourage others to be vulnerable with their sin struggles. It was the most terrifying experience that revealed how loving our brothers can be. Since that moment I have come out to guys that I feel close to who I seek help from regarding sexual integrity. There was one guy, though, who once asked me point blank and I was so shocked but also used to sharing my story that I answered honestly. Outside of that situation I’ve been very selective with who I come out to.
I do have an attraction to women and I’m worried that coming out publicly would immediately close any opportunities for dating and marriage. I know there are a men in this community and others who are in mixed-orientation marriages and have approached coming out in different ways. I guess I’m still figuring out how to navigate that. I would love for this to be my ministry, but I also don’t want to flag myself with a scarlet letter.
Thanks for sharing, Jay. I totally feel you on that “scarlet letter” dynamic. I don’t regret my public coming out, but I do wonder how that affects all my present relationships. If ever I were to date a woman, how would that affect her? Questions for Future Me to figure out if and when certain things happen. But in any case I’m glad you have come out to various people throughout your life. Great to hear!
Thank you, Tom! You are such a great writer, and I always walk away feeling peaceful, validated, and closer to Christ after having read your posts. God bless you for doing His work!
Really appreciate that, Kass! Thank you. That truly blesses me.
Know that whatever you feel about your decision, you have been a blessing to so many! (I don’t like using that Christenese word, but I can’t think of anything better).
I have told 13 people about this…part of my life (apart form anonymous times, like on this website where (I still think?) people don’t know my real identity). I know this number as I have a carefully guarded list where I’ve listed (by initial) every person I’ve told. Only 2 have not been personal friends, and of those 2, I perhaps would not tell one of them if I had my time again (albeit that it felt appropriate in the moment given what the other person was going through and nothing bad has come out of it).
All the circumstances of my telling were different (I’ve shared some of them here before). In telling the Christian friends (and they comprise almost all of the 11 other people) I was prepared for my information to be met with silence, disgust, the end of the friendship and friendship circles, the information spreading, no longer being able to go to my church, and as I felt it, especially for the first few people I told, the literal end of my world.
Yet I have been met with nothing but kindness, compassion, closer friendships, and even some really deep, ongoing discussions. In those immediate moments of the aftermath, they modeled Jesus to me in a profound and truly special way. None of them have stopped being my friend and for that, I will forever be grateful.