Why do queer persons come out?
‘Coming out of the closet’; a colloquialism typically used to describe the event(s) constituting a person’s self-disclosure to themselves, to others, and to their worlds, concerning their sexual and/or gender identity. The idiom uses the metaphor of a closet to represent the hiddenness of a secret (or at least, shrouded) identity, a place where things are placed out of sight.
The irony, however, is that this place can be readily accessed at any time. It is opened and closed at will. Also, the contents serve different purposes for different people. For some, it stores the clothes that we select to wear on a daily basis; for others it stores the surplus of linens for anticipated guests. For some, it hides holiday presents from curious children; for others it hides boxes of memories to be forgotten, to be veiled away.
Within the closet, one’s company is both the comforting securities of its contents as well as haunting torment of their self-exclusion from the world. The comfort of the closet is a misnomer in that its security only exacerbates the anguish of the secret. It can debilitate and destroy its inhabitants through its coddling repudiation of the self. Eddies of distress devolve into maelstroms of dyphoria; the closet is torn apart from within. Clothes and linens eaten by moths, presents soiled and ruined, memories coalesce within the pounding darkness.
And yet, within in the climax of the tempest and the quiet of the storm, an invitation is made aware: the invitation to remove oneself from their closet and to emerge into the world as their whole self. The contents of the closet are made bare, with all of its terror and desolation made manifest; but them who emerge are not destroyed. They have persevered, and they shine because of it.
What brought this person to this moment? What necessitates the person to come out? Is coming out a necessary process? What is it about the act and process that would deem it to be necessary in the first place? These are not questions about whether or not the coming-out process is necessary in this ‘day and age’ because of greater acceptance of queer persons (let’s be honest, the magnitude of acceptance is good, but not great). Nor are these questions about the value of the coming-out process, as if we are undertaking a quantitative study of whether it actually ‘gets better’. Rather, these are questions about why it happens at all, and what it is about queer persons that makes a coming-out process what it is.
‘Who are these queer persons who come out’ and ‘what brings them to a place of coming-out’—when combined—are questions about the being of queer persons (an potentially ironic statement for those keeping score at home). However, the coming-out process illustrates a unique integration of the being and ethic of a person. Through an act of deep personal significance, authentic participation is realized through self-affirmation. It is also an integration of self and world that triumphs among acts of humanity. To come out is a holy act. To come out is a courageous act.
I will explore the dynamics of courage within the phenomenon of the coming-out process experienced by queer persons, particularly within Christian contexts. I seek to accomplish this by correlating the work of Paul Tillich, specifically his concept of the courage to be , with the experience of queer persons, culminating with the development of a Tillich-inspired queer theology.
My argument is that the coming-out process—as experienced by queer Christians—develops a queer faith that is reminiscent of and potentially directly inspired by the work of Paul Tillich. This is so because the deconstructive work queer Christians must undertake in order to come out within their faith requires the passage through doubt of the heteronormativity of their pre-coming-out faith and emerges within a faith that blends the motif of ambiguity experienced in queer identities as well as in Tillich’s radical theology.
Through this process, the faith of queer Christians (queer as in an all-encompassing inclusive term for LGBT folk) actually becomes queer Christianity (queer as in inspired by the insights of queer theory). In another sense, the faith that queer Christians come out into is not and cannot and will not be the same faith as prior to the coming out experience. The endeavor queer Christians undertake in coming out of the closet and into queer faith is dangerous, but such experience of dread in spite of hope only illustrates the ultimate nature of this act as a holy and courageous act. Studying it will bring insight to the experience of queer Christians, as well as provide all with an inspiring look into the promises life has for those who embrace the courage to come out.
Stay tuned for further discussion.