Somehow, it’s taken me until now to recognise I felt and still feel shame about my sexuality. I already cried a bit, so now I can laugh about it. It’s been simultaneously crushing and liberating.
Crushing because of how many parts of my life it would seem to have affected. It was a winding road to get there, but reading this article was where it really started to hit home:
‘Gay men, in particular, decorate our lives in a constant attempt to cover our shame. Gay men are at the top of every field in an effort to accomplish enough, climb high enough, or earn enough to make ourselves lovable. The shame behind our body issues leaves many gay men spending too many hours in the gym trying to build a body to make ourselves lovable. It leaves us having to have the most amazing condo or flat, the most over-the-top cocktail party, the most youthful appearance, and the most fashionable wardrobe. There’s a reason they say a gay man’s 40 is a straight man’s 27. We’re driven by our shame and just want to become lovable.
‘Even when we throw off the confines of traditional morality and declare that there’s nothing wrong with our sexuality – a secular culture’s solution to gay shame – the reality is that the shame is still strongly present. If it were not so powerfully driving us, we wouldn’t still be trying to make ourselves lovable.’
The more I read up on it, the more it makes sense. The devastating impact on your self-esteem and self-worth. The constant fear of being outed, the coping mechanisms you develop like monitoring your mannerisms, attempting to pass as heterosexual, being guarded with people and keeping them at arm’s length.
I can see now how it’s all been a way of building up the defences around this shameful core. Of trying so hard to make myself lovable so that when people finally get to the truth they won’t reject me.
Because it’s complicated. It’s not as straightforward as ‘I’m gay and here’s my boyfriend’ (which in itself is far from straightforward for many people). It’s ‘I’m gay but I’m a Christian and my beliefs about marriage mean I’m single and I’m celibate.’ Deep within me are two big things people might reject me for.
I think one reason I haven’t admitted all this to myself until now is because I didn’t feel entitled to it. I’m not at the sharp end of all the homophobia in society; I’m choosing not to make my sexuality the big thing about me and my life, and I’m inside the institution (the Church) that’s caused and continues to cause a lot of the hurt.
It’s really exhausting to think I might spend the rest of my life explaining myself.
But at the same time, there is still some pain there. It’s really exhausting to think I might spend the rest of my life explaining myself. It was exhausting and terrifying doing it once, and every subsequent time. It’s exhausting being on edge in social situations where people don’t know all this about me yet. And it’s exhausting being caught in the crossfire of some Christians who say you can’t be ‘homosexual’ and Christian, and other Christians who would say my views and choices are repressed and homophobic. I’m sure it’s exhausting and upsetting for all of us in different ways.
It’s also kind of sad to read through that list of ways we decorate our lives and realise how much of it is true of me. To think that sometimes I dream of doing great things just to distract from this and give me something else to talk about. To think how I recently felt so insecure about my body and like less of a man because men’s formal shirts don’t fit me. To think that maybe part of the reason I love certain photos of me is because I feel like I look like a straight, masculine man who has nothing to hide or explain.
I suppose I naively thought all my problems would go away because I’d ended up coming out so publicly. I knew I’d felt fear, and a lot of guilt for all I’ve done wrong, but surely I hadn’t been feeling shame.
Although it’s crushing to realise I have actually felt and still do feel shame about my sexuality, here’s why it’s also liberating to have named it.
Because it makes sense of so much! That’ll sound a lot like the reason why it’s crushing, but it’s true. I knew my past behaviour had been a coping mechanism, and I’d started to try to change that, but I wasn’t entirely sure what it was a coping mechanism for. Now I might have at least part of the answer, and can do something with that information.
It’s also come surprisingly quickly and naturally to me to think, ‘Well, you don’t need to be ashamed’.
Not of my faith: ‘I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes…’ (Romans 1:16).
Not of who I am in Christ: ‘Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters’ (Hebrews 2:11).
One day it will all be wiped away, but even now we needn’t be crushed by shame.
And I don’t need to fear being ‘found out’ or what people will think of me: ‘The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid?’ (Psalm 27:1).
So, yes, it’s complicated and messy and sometimes difficult. I wish none of us had to feel any shame, but it’s part of being human in a fallen world. One day it will all be wiped away, but even now we needn’t be crushed by shame – there is real freedom in acknowledging it, bringing it to Jesus, and allowing the truth of the gospel to shape the way we view ourselves instead.