I’ve been sitting with a bit of baggage the past few months, and I’ve only just found the words to unpack it. Most of my life, but especially the past 4 years, I’ve been in an almost endless process of coming out. In middle school, I was rejected and fled to the closet for safety until college. As I came to see a world that was more welcoming of my sexual orientation and gender identity, I peeked out to see who was in the room before opening the door in seminary. Something about being in Boston and in a Christian community that welcomed other LGBTQIA+ individuals set the stage for me to own my own identity. However, I soon faced the task of returning home and pursuing ordination in Alabama.
Throughout the ordination process, I met with various folks, shared with them that I identify as pansexual and genderqueer, and discerned what all this meant for the call I first experienced at age 14 to ordained ministry in The UMC. Eventually, I settled on a pseudo-reconciliation of these two parts of my identity as I came out to the Board of Ordained Ministry and named a commitment to remain “non-practicing” while still working to transform our oppressive order toward a holier embodiment of God’s all-encompassing, inclusive, liberative love. However, to borrow language from W.E.B. Du Bois, there is a certain “double consciousness” about these competing parts of my identity. While Du Bois used this term to discuss the experience of African-Americans in a Euro-centric United States, the term also helped me better understand my own dilemma.
On one hand, I embody everything that is privilege as a white, male-presenting, straight-passing individual, and have experienced that privilege for the majority of my life. As I pursued my call to ministry, I was met at every turn with overwhelming support. The United Methodist Church has loved me, nurtured me, made me into much of the pastor and person I am today.
On the other hand, I am attracted to a range of folks regardless of gender and do not myself identify with traditional gender roles or identity. As such, if I were to fall in love with and seek any semblance of a partnership beyond friendship with someone of the same sex assigned at birth, I would face the risk of losing my ordination credentials. I would be stripped of that part of my identity and this means of responding to my call.
These two aspects of who I am are in opposition to one another in this moment, and the commitment to remain “non-practicing” seemed to be the best way of reconciling those things.
Some have suggested looking to other denominations or United Methodist annual conferences. Yet, this is my home and my mission field. This is where I’ve been called to serve: not just in The United Methodist Church or in Alabama but both.
But I am not at peace with this commitment, not because it is hard, but because it is unfair, and there is a certain “speaking out of both sides of my mouth” that accompanies it. I cannot say 100% that I will not meet the man of my dreams and fall in love. I cannot limit God in this way. Yet, until that day comes, I will continue to be “non-practicing.”
As I’ve explained this to others in the past, they’ve struggled to understand and have shaken their heads saying, “That’s some muddied water.” And, they’re correct. It is muddied. My sexual orientation and gender identity feel like a huge gray spot where others express or desire black and white certainty.
Thankfully, that’s not how I or most in the LGBTQIA+ community operate. We are muddying the waters all around us, coloring outside the lines, and breaking the mold. Pick whatever cliché works for you. At the end of the day, we are just plain different from what others have prescribed for us to be, and that is worth celebrating.
Yet, as I watch others post on Facebook, whether it be a proclamation on National Day of Coming Out or simple loving photos with their partners, I feel that twinge of jealousy rising through my gut and into my throat. I want what they have. I want to be free of the fear that binds me to being “sort of out.” I desire to be at a place where I can own my identities in action without having to explain them with words. However, I just can’t take my eye off the guillotine in the square threatening the life of my call to ministry.
So, I have avoided making any proclamations on social media, though, the careful reader would catch slips or suggestions from time to time. Instead, I’ve waited, and waited, and waited.
But, I’ve finally had enough. I’m finally done holding back, and I am done explaining myself.
I am going to live my best life and spread the Gospel as God has empowered me to do so.
I have proclaimed my story in meeting spaces and from the pulpit. I will not dishonor those who have done me harm by means of public shame, but I am done allowing the trauma of those harms to determine my actions.
God’s love invites to all to the table in love. Let us gather our baggage and come to the table, laying down our fear and anxiety. Let us carry instead the mantle of Christ’s liberative, life-giving, loving grace. Amen.