accepted

I currently work at a secular place, which for better or worse is unusual for me. Since I was in 7th grade, I’ve been inundated in Christian environments. I went to a Christian junior high. I went to a Christian high school. I went to a Christian college. Last summer, I worked in a non-Christian place, but our job was so intense that there wasn’t much socializing.

So this has been a change of environment for me. And there has been a drastic difference with how my coworkers interact with homosexuality than with how students on Wheaton’s campus interacted with it. I’ve had to adjust and be flexible with how I talk about my homosexuality and homosexuality in general without compromising my beliefs. I know that some of our readers are used to these differences, but for those who have been exposed to mainly conservative Christian environments (like me), I figured it would be helpful for me to expound on my experiences.

Those who are gay are very casual about it. I work with four gay male coworkers. I’m not used to people being so open that they’re gay. I mentioned to a coworker, whom I suspected was gay but didn’t have any confirmation yet, that I planned on moving to a different suburb. His response was, “Oh, my boyfriend lives there.”

I was taken so aback by how casually he said this. It was sort of like, “of course I have a boyfriend, duh.”

Because of my surprise, I responded with “wait, your WHAT lives there?!”

Another gay coworker happened to overhear the entire conversation and burst out laughing when he heard me say this. I was almost embarrassed by how surprised I reacted, and I had to explain myself in case they were wondering if I had a “problem” with it. It probably helped that they suspected I was gay too, so they didn’t suspect that I had any offensive undertones to my reaction.

I’ve only actually admitted that I am gay to a few coworkers, and it’s interesting that when I have, I am very hesitant about it. I tend to say it in a hush tone and make sure that only the person whom I’m speaking with can hear me. Because I feel safe as a gay person at work, I have concluded that this hesitancy to out myself is likely residue from my experience at Wheaton and other Christian environments in general. At Wheaton, I was always careful with whom I told and attempted to do so inconspicuously because I never wanted any potential unsafe person to overhear.

Those who are not gay at my workplace are very relaxed about there being gay people. It isn’t a big deal to them. And the few people whom I’ve told have told me that they already knew before I told them. This isn’t because someone else told them; it’s simply because they can sense it from the way that I interact with women and men (or also perhaps from some of my mannerisms). People here understand that gay people exist, and they notice it. My experience in Christian circles has been for most people to assume that no one is gay, and thus, most people don’t go out of their way to be sensitive to this.

It’s refreshing for people here to just accept me this way and not be surprised by it. I haven’t felt the slightest judgment whatsoever. In fact, I mentioned to one of the guys that it’s not something that I really bring up to people unless it’s pertinent to the conversation, and he said, “yeah, I completely understand; I mean, I don’t tell people that I’m straight when I meet them, so why should you feel pressured to tell people that you’re gay.” This statement made me feel like an equal with him — like he attempted to understand my perspective.

My experience here has made me feel more accepted and comfortable than I ever have in Christian places. I’m talking about at an organizational level. I don’t go to work feeling guarded about my sexuality. When I’m in Christian environments, I feel guarded. Like I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I have been blessed with Christian friends who don’t make me feel guarded and who provide intimate fellowship that I can’t find among non-Christians. But despite of this, I still feel guarded within Christian groups.

This experience helps me understand why LGBT people would not turn to the Church for their community but rather secular environments. The acceptance in this secular environment, at least related to my sexuality, is overwhelming. (I’m not saying a secular environment is more accepting as a whole because there are definitely other areas where there is less acceptance but with sexuality differences, there is definitely more acceptance). I know there are people who will never turn to the Church as long as the Church does not condone same-sex marriages, but since I don’t even espouse to same-sex marriages and still feel more accepted (in regards to my homosexuality) in a secular environment, this tells me that there is a problem with the Church.

I guess the question for the Church is how do we make people feel valued and accepted but yet also be faithful to Truth? I know we have many things that we can learn from non-Christians, and I will be vigilant in the upcoming weeks to observe what specific behaviors from my coworkers make me feel comfortable with them.

I also ask for your prayers because I haven’t actually attempted to explain to anyone yet that I am chaste and don’t plan on ever acting on my gay attractions. They all assume that I will have a boyfriend (or could have a boyfriend). I will attempt to explain this to some of them when the timing feels right, and I feel like it will lead to productive fruit. I also know that it will be a very strange conversation and will seriously confuse the heck out of some of them. It also has the potential to offend some of my gay coworkers, but hopefully I can build enough trust with them before I share this so they aren’t automatically on the defensive.

I’d love it if some of you commented on your experiences with how secular versus Christian environments have interacted differently with homosexuality.

-Tony

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12 thoughts on “accepted

  1. Um, big context switch. I went to a liberal public high school and a good fifth of my group of friends turned out to be gay (a few being my absolute best friends in the world). Not to mention playing on women’s football team (50/50 gay/straight right there, public showers = not a big deal). Gay quickly became normal during high school.

    I feel that most Christians from public high schools (depending on the location) are used to this sort of thing. At Wheaton, I was very aware of the “culture of silence.” I mean, it took me until my senior year to actually find gays on campus. With people at Wheaton, I found myself getting into the same arguments, again, again, and again, with every new person that hadn’t had much exposure to the subject. It was tiresome.

    There were even stupid things on a personal level where I was self-conscious about the way I dressed (as a tomboy, I grew up wearing guy’s jeans and the likes) in a way that I had never been during elementary through high school.

    That being said, I still loved Wheaton, though I’m sure you understand how that is.

  2. I’ve had the same experience. In fact, I worked in a very secular office during my last two years at Wheaton and now work in secular offices in LA and Washington DC – two very gay citites. Going back and forth from campus to the “outside world” was pretty disorienting (no pun intended). What startled, and continues to startle, me is how HUGE of a deal being gay is in the church yet how much of a non-issue it is in the secular world. It’s as if nobody at work even remotely cares that I’m gay, yet I perceive that every person sitting in the pews would think it’s the biggest deal in the world.

    I agree with you that a) it’s no wonder gays don’t seek out the church, and b) making the church a welcoming place without betraying conservative values is extremely difficult. I don’t at all have an answer for it, but I hope one can be found.

    One last thought that I imagine you can relate to is the difficulty fitting in with any particular group. My conservative friends think I’m way too liberal, and my liberal friends think I’m absurdly conservative. In the end, neither group really embraces me, and to be honest, I don’t embrace them. When I walk out of the office and into church, I go from one extreme to another. I wish moderation existed in either context.

    • “One last thought that I imagine you can relate to is the difficulty fitting in with any particular group. My conservative friends think I’m way too liberal, and my liberal friends think I’m absurdly conservative. In the end, neither group really embraces me, and to be honest, I don’t embrace them. When I walk out of the office and into church, I go from one extreme to another. I wish moderation existed in either context.”

      I know exactly how that is. Though I wouldn’t say that my friends on either side don’t embrace me, or vice versa. It always felt like extremes, though, going from my HS friends to my Wheaton friends.

  3. Reading this post, I was reminded about my own experiences when I started college. I grew up in a microscopic Southern town. While social life was structured around the local churches — indeed, in some ways we were all divided into clans of Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians and Pentecostals — I would say that the attitudes towards sexuality were based more around tradition than Christianity. Older gays and lesbians in the community tended to live in “glass closets.” They were choir directors, teachers and shopkeepers. One gay couple owned the flower shop, and another openly gay man taught at my high school. Both were subjects of private ridicule, though, so I would say that they were tolerated by the community more than they were accepted. It’s one reason why I didn’t come out at all in high school, even though I had a relatively liberal family and hung out with the more “alternative” kids, anyway.

    When I went to college, I was finally free to come out to people. I went to a large public university that, while in the South, had a really liberal campus environment, so I came out in the first few weeks to no one’s great surprise. Even though I had an entire blog about how I was struggling to be chaste, I was so relieved and happy to openly identify myself as a gay man.

    There was an interesting tension, though, and in some ways I still haven’t resolved it. To more liberal friends I was just another gay kid, and they presumed that I would have no moral qualms about getting a boyfriend or having sex. When relationships and sex came up in conversation, I simply told them that I wasn’t ready for those things yet. It wasn’t necessarily a lie, but it did deflect any attention from the fact that I thought such actions were morally wrong. They also knew that I was a Christian, yet I let people assume that I was a liberal, gay-affirming Christian instead of a traditional evangelical. However, my friends from my church and my campus ministry knew me as a Christian who struggled against same-sex attractions.

    It was an odd thing to deal with, because I didn’t necessarily like to view myself as a “struggler.” I was gay, and even happily so, but I wanted to pursue celibacy in accordance with my faith. I liked the acceptance and the freedom to identify as I chose among my liberal friends, but I did not share their views on sexuality, and I knew that many of them were hostile towards Christianity, and especially traditional Christian morality. So I ended up not really telling either circle the whole truth about myself, and my school was large enough that both spheres were able to remain rather separate.

    Even though I have gotten older, I still have many of the same problems. I’ve been finishing up a master’s degree at a small, elite and very liberal Northeast university. Whatever hostility I sensed towards Christianity as an undergraduate is doubled here, and there really isn’t an active evangelical presence on campus like there was down South. While I have found a Christian community up here that is able to accept me as gay and chaste — as opposed to ex-gay or a same-sex attracted “struggler” — I still am very reticent to share my faith with people who have shown themselves to be hostile towards conservative Christianity. It’s something I feel constantly convicted about, and I hope to become braver about it in the future. You will definitely be in my prayers, Tony.

    P.S. I’m the commenter who used to go by “Jay.” I realized that having my full name as my moniker wasn’t very wise, so I’ll be going by this from now on instead.

  4. I totally get the feeling. I’ve spent all of my 23 years working in secular environments, albeit deep in the bible belt. Since I started coming clean with myself, after I got over the shame of my feelings, I’ve felt largely isolated, both in the church and in public. It wasn’t until I started working at my current job (a hippy health foods store) that I’ve felt free to be open, both with my personality and my sexuality. And it’s a remarkable thing. Although I’m honest about my desire for chastity, in general, no one really cares. I’m free to act as flamboyantly as I am, and life goes on as if I was never really cursed with SSA.

    If only the church could take the cue, treating SSA as only one more struggle amongst many.

  5. Wow, Tony. I am soo happy for you. I love that you’re getting to breathe a little easier at work. Truly a gift from God! And I’m super excited to hear about how you are able to share your faith in this environment. I don’t envy your calling! But my husband and I are praying for you. I think that the Church’s next big challenge is embracing and discovering the wonders of this gift/curse?/struggle/whatever that you’re dealing with. You build my faith, brother!

    I do have a question for all you folks who have more wisdom on this topic than I do… as a straight family, my hubby and I want to introduce my children (as they are approaching puberty) to the concept of “gay” without oversexualizing the whole thing. How do you explain to children (who still really aren’t sure what daddy and I are doing in the bedroom, but they know it makes us happy, makes babies, and that we’d never do it with anyone else) what “Gay” means? We don’t watch much TV on purpose, so thankfully, I get to introduce these kinds of concepts to them. So they don’t know the hyperconservative (yuck) OR the hyperliberal view (also yuck). It simply has never come up in church.

    So the question is…for those Christian gay folks who might read this: How would YOU personally like to be characterized, in a private mommy-and-daddy—to—children conversation, if you were a family friend, and my 8- and 10-year-old children asked me what you had meant when you referred to yourself as “gay”? I’m not sure where to start. So many of the concepts are mature ones.

      • Forthcoming! Normally we tried not to comment on each other’s posts, but this happened toward then end when Tony was getting busier so I guess it just fell through. So sorry! I’ll try to get back to you soon, though I anticipate the answer will have a lot of “I don’t knows.” If you have any ideas, please share them!

        Jordan

    • Ok, here we go! As I said, I don’t want to pretend that I have this figured out, but here are some thoughts:

      Your kids can handle it. Lots of children there age have relatives, friends, or parents who are gay and they seem to do pretty well for themselves. They’re also probably already aware gay people, you know, exist, and so it might be best to just give them a space to ask questions they likely already have, communicating to them that this isn’t taboo and that you’re always willing to talk. The attitude you take while discussion homosexuality will go a long way toward shaping your kids’ attitudes.

      Keep the conversation about “people,” rather than “agendas” or blanket statements. Don’t be afraid to talk to you kids about the nuance and complexity of the issues – it might make it a little harder to understand at first but we really don’t need more people who think there are only easy answers. And I’m not sure where you stand on the theology of the whole thing, but be sure to be gracious when talking about people who disagree with you. For instance, if you hold to a conservative stance, tell your kids that people who disagree *do not do so* because they want to destroy marriage and the church and America… they just want the right to marry who they love, just like everyone else. Though it may complicate the ease of holding to black-and-white positions, you do your kids the favor of speaking truth in grace.

      And lastly, as your kids are school-age, tie it in to their lives. Tell them that if they ever see someone getting picked on or bullied because someone thinks they’re gay (or for whatever reason, really), that they need to stand up for that person and befriend them. And, gosh, maybe even be sure to tell your kids that if they end up realizing they’re attracted to the same sex that they can absolutely talk to you, that it’s nothing to be ashamed of, and that you love them.

      Sorry again that this is so belated, I hope it’s even remotely helpful. Please let me know if you have any other questions – I’m happy to keep learning together!

      Jordan

  6. Once again, I’m replying fashionably late, but I did have a lot of thoughts on this topic. (It turns out that it’s probably long enough to be a post. Oops.) My experience has been somewhat different from yours. As I’ve mentioned in other posts, I went to Taylor. At that time, I was super careful sharing about my sexuality. If talking to a dorm mate, I’d make sure the door was closed and would talk softly. There was definitely a pervasive assumption that there weren’t any gay people there, and a lot of ignorance. I was pretty OK sharing with only a handful of friends, though – I felt accepted enough in that group and didn’t see that much reason to share more publicly.

    The summer after I left, though, I sort of had a 1-2 punch. The first was your former mentor’s article “Gay at Wheaton,” which College Jay pointed me to via his blog. That showed quite powerfully that the silence and ignorance was really bad, even though I managed to do pretty well in spite of it. (I would guess a lot of why it was easier for me was the fact that I’m bi rather than gay.) He made a good case that LGBT/SSA Christians needed to be speaking up more, and I was pretty convinced. Although initially, it was really more like, “All these people need to be speaking up more – as long as it’s not me.” It didn’t take me long to realize that was silly. The other thing that happened was that a woman who used to blog publicly about Christianity and homosexuality moved to the same general part of North Carolina where I started graduate school. She had a way with questions like, “What would happen if all of us with same-sex attraction came out in our churches?” and “Why is it that only affirming people come out?” in addition to setting a good example herself about how to be open about LGBT sexuality as a Christian. God used these people to lead me towards becoming much more open about my sexuality within Christian communities.

    Opening up was definitely a process, but there were a few key moments. I was part of the leadership of a graduate ministry, and we brought my friend in to speak on the subject of homosexuality. While introducing the speaker, I brought up my own sexuality. At my church I helped give a Sunday School lesson on homosexuality, and I gave an account of my own story. Then I went crazy and did a social network post for National Coming Out Day that was visible to everyone I knew from Taylor, the graduate ministry, and my church. At that point I was effectively “out” in these communities. I have found that to be freeing, and it has allowed me to feel much less guarded than I used to. I haven’t gotten any bad reactions, although I’m usually the only person to broach the topic of homosexuality in these settings. I do sometimes get the sense people are uncomfortable with the topic, but they don’t seem all that uncomfortable around me, and I haven’t felt rejected.

    People don’t usually have any idea about my sexuality beforehand. The only time I’ve gotten an “I knew it” sort of reaction was when I talked to a gay guy that lived on my brother’s floor at another Christian university. I think what tipped him off was that I had seen one of his friends refer to him as gay and not only hadn’t freaked out, but was taking the initiative to have a conversation with him without speaking down to him. He did tell me I was the first conservative Christian he felt like actually cared about him, which made me sad. But people are generally somewhat surprised when I come out to them, which I think results from me not having any stereotypically gay mannerisms.

    In secular communities, I’m not so open about my sexuality. I guess I would find it weird to talk about it without talking about my theological convictions. The only people in my department that know about my sexuality are those involved in the graduate ministry. In summer 2011 I was an intern at one of the world’s most gay-friendly tech companies, one that has consistently gotten a perfect score on the HRC Equality Index for years and is an outspoken proponent of gay marriage. I actually felt self-conscious about _not_ marching in the local gay pride parade with most of the other interns. (I did have a scheduling conflict, so it wasn’t just a matter of disagreeing with what they were promoting.) The single most common t-shirt I saw anyone wearing at the office was probably the LGBT group’s t-shirt. (Then again, maybe it just seemed that way because I noticed it more. But it was certainly common.) Most of the people I knew were not themselves gay, but they were very affirming. They tended not to be nearly so affirming of the Christian faith, though, with a lot of people ardently promoting atheism. I was far more closeted about my faith than I should have been, and I felt more guarded there than I tend to in Christian groups these days. I probably should open up more in these kinds of settings, but at the moment that’s more of a struggle for me than opening up with Christians about my sexuality.

    I’m sure my experience would be drastically different if my convictions weren’t side B, and the fact that my sexuality is more bi than gay certainly has an influence as well.

    Sorry to write such a long comment – hopefully it was interesting and relevant.

    • I should also point out that even though I say I’m less guarded in Christian communities, it’s still often hard to broach the subject of sexuality in a lot of settings. My nerves often still act up even when I know it’s safe. (That even happened a bit when I was in a book club discussing _Washed and Waiting_, having already been noted in an e-mail to the group as a guy who is attracted to guys. But that one wasn’t really too bad.) Some of that probably is a hold-out from being in so many conservative Christian settings, although sexuality is a pretty personal thing to bring up in any setting.

      It is a whole lot easier than it used to be, though. If you told me five years ago what I’d be doing today in terms of talking about my sexuality, I probably would have just not believed you.

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