Two years ago, I sat at a trendy coffee shop in Austin, TX meeting with the manager of the It Gets Better Tour: a traveling anti-bullying stage show spun off from the popular LGBTQ video website. The manager had reached out to me a few days earlier and explained that at every stop on their tour, they liked to highlight an It Gets Better video made by a local queer person. For their Austin show, they wanted to use mine. The plan was that they would show my video halfway through the performance, and then invite me up on stage for a live interview.
The invitation caught me by surprise—and my feelings about it were complicated. On the one hand, the opportunity to be in the spotlight as a queer activist played to my ego. On the other hand, I had made my video a full year earlier, on a whim after the Austin Pride parade. In the year since I’d made it, my understanding of my own identity and queerness in general had evolved in significant ways. As I had learned more about intersectionality, I had grown troubled by organizations like It Gets Better which—while well-intentioned—seemed to privilege the experiences of white, cisgender, monosexual queer men at the expense of naming the real struggles of other queer people.
I wondered at the value of highlighting only the positive without cultivating real space for anger and grief and fear. And most personally significant, I had shifted from identifying as gay to identifying as bisexual.
And so I sat in that shop, swirling my spoon through my coffee and avoiding the penetrating gaze that sought me out from across the table as I tried to find words to explain it all. I felt like a fraud who had been caught. Finally I coughed nervously and said, “If I’m going to do this, there are some things you should know…”
In the end I did the show. With my 5 minutes of stage time, I did my best to explain myself and all that felt important to name. It was a mess, but it was also an important experience. It forced me to confront and embrace a truth that I had been hiding in the shadow of ever since I’d first come out: we are never done becoming. This might seem obvious.
There are all sorts of famous quotes about how life is a journey. And yet, when it comes to queer identities, we hardly seem willing to embrace the idea of growth, evolution, and change.
When I was first coming out, I felt an immense amount of pressure to be an expert on queerness and my own identity. It seemed essential that I fully understand what it meant to be gay or queer in the world so that I could effectively convince others that it was okay. When I recognized that I was bisexual rather than gay, I was afraid to tell anyone because it meant admitting that I was still figuring things out. As I learned more and more about the diverse realities of being queer, I became reluctant to speak at all, for fear that I would inevitably say something wrong that would be taken as fact or expertise just by virtue of my being queer.
I know that most of my other queer friends have struggled with this same pressure to live into a static and fully realized identity. For many of us this has been even further amplified because we are part of a small minority of queer Christian leaders. There is huge pressure for us to speak with authority about who we are and why it is good and holy and beloved by God. For colleagues, friends, and even people that I date, I am often the only bisexual Christian pastor that they really know and so I become their learning experience. Most of my fellow queer Christians play a similar role in regard to their own context and identities.
The tricky thing is that even while we are, by default, teachers—we are also learning ourselves.
Even as others look to us to understand what it means to be queer—especially queer and Christian—we are wondering, “What does it mean for me to be queer? What does it mean to be queer and Christian?”
Experience has taught me that there isn’t one simple answer—for all queer people—or even for one individual queer person. Our queerness is a part of our identity as a beloved creation of God—it is a part of our spiritual identity. As Christians we believe that our spiritual identities are ever-unfolding and ever-evolving as we grow in our understanding of how God is at work in us and in the world. Therefore, our queer identities are also always evolving. This isn’t some inconvenient truth that renders us incapable of naming and claiming our experiences and identities, it is a gift that allows us to know that God is revealed in our sexual and gender identities in infinite ways that we can newly discover all the time.
In the four years that I have been out to myself as queer, I have grown in my understanding of both my sexual and gender identities. I have explored different language and expression as I have sought to articulate these key elements of my humanness to both myself and the world. I have been lucky to be surrounded by queer friends embarking on similar journeys of understanding. I know that our journeys will continue as long as we live. And at each step along the way, as I learn and grow and continue to become the beautiful queer creature that I am, I know I will discover again and again the powerful and holy truths that my queerness first revealed to me: that God’s love is limitless. That the reflections of that love are limitless. And that those limitless reflections of divine love are intricately woven into the very fabric of our beings.
Latest posts by Rev. Layton Williams (see all)
- My coming out helped me realize my white privilege - November 25, 2015
- The burden and blessing of being a bisexual minister - September 23, 2015
- Queerly becoming: Celebrating our evolving identities - April 17, 2015