This Friday, October 11, is National Coming Out Day. The idea of “coming out” has an interesting history that has shifted over time. The more prevalent understanding for today is built around the idea of “coming out of the closet” where the closet represents a hidden, secretive place from which one emerges when the time is right.
But there is an older understanding of “coming out” that is not connected with the idea of a closet as a shameful, secretive place of existence.
Before there was the closet, coming out meant that a person was being presented to a community of peers. In a manner similar to the tradition of debutante balls, gay people would “come out” to other gay people as a way of being welcomed into the community. With this understanding, you were not necessarily keeping your identity a secret before you decided to come out, because the focus was on the movement toward community.
Similar to this older understanding, many people I know have been shifting the language toward an understanding of this process not as “coming out” but of “inviting in.” Rather than seeing our identities as places of shame and scandal, this shift helps recognize that by sharing the deepest parts of our identities with others, we are inviting them more closely into our lives, into all of the sacred, messy, goodness that is at the center of who we are.
Inviting people in is a move toward intimacy.
The theme for the second week of our worship series on healthy sexuality is “Created for Intimacy,” so I find myself thinking about the ways we all navigate the process of coming out and inviting in, whether we identify as LGBTQ+ or not.
We were created to be in community, but we each get to decide how close we allow others to get to us. Moving toward intimacy requires vulnerability; the more intimate our relationships become, the more vulnerable we are. This is why sexuality is so powerful and why the Church must have these conversations in ways that recognize this power.
As we approach National Coming Out Day and as we continue to have these conversations throughout this worship series, I hope we can all reflect on the people who we have invited in to deep intimacy with us and how those relationships are bearing fruit in our lives and the world around us.