Auntie SparkNotes: I Want to Come Out, but Don't Want to Be Outed
Dear Auntie SparkNotes,
I'm an Asian closeted Christian bi girl who is a freshman at a fairly conservative Christian high school. If you want some examples of how far my school leans right, our superintendent gave a speech during one of our weekly assemblies two years ago about how if you're queer, he "still loves you" but you'll have to "find a new school." In a word, yikes.
To add to that Gordian Knot, a lot of my fellow freshmen keep joking that I'm a lesbian and I can't quite correct them without outing myself. I've mostly been yelling "I'm not gay" to no avail. As if that wasn't enough, a sophomore found the one blog post on my Tumblr that remotely referenced myself as queer, which I didn't think anyone would actually find. I do my best to keep my online and irl lives separate, mostly because of the things in this letter.
I've also gone to church since I was a toddler, and I've been at the majority-Chinese church I currently attend since at least kindergarten. (If you haven't encountered Chinese culture or conservative Christian culture before, I can tell you they aren't very LGBTQ-friendly and I've heard a lot of homophobia from my parents and others.) So of course when I first realized that I like boys and girls about six to eight months ago, I had some God-related angst for a while. But I've been working on it and I think I'm semi-safely out of the "God hates me" zone that a lot of queer Christians face.
Now that that's out of the way, here's my real problem.
I've come out to two internet friends and the one lesbian I know at my school. They've been pretty accepting and have provided safe spaces for me as best as they can, but I really want to come out to someone at my church. Some youth groupers are going on a mission trip to Mexico this June, and I think it's as good an opportunity as any. I know at least a couple people on the team who wouldn't judge me and/or call me a "disgusting sinner" or whatever.
I just really don't know when, where, or how to start that kind of conversation. The only other person I'm out to irl, the lesbian I mentioned earlier, was unfortunately outed behind her back in middle school. I don't think she'd know what to do.
Do you think it's safe to come out to someone at my church right now, Auntie? If so, how do I bring it up? I'm a terrible liar and tired of covering, but if it spreads to the rest of my youth group, I know it's going to get fairly ugly. I can't even imagine if the news spread to my parents in any way, given their general attitude towards the LGBTQ+ community. And if you have some magical way to ensure the lesbian jokes at school stop because I'm getting a bit scared of being forcibly outed, that'd be great. I don't think that exists, but it can't hurt to try, right?
Sure can't! And actually, Sparkler, there is a way to endure the lesbian jokes without being outed, although it's one of those things that's easier said than done. Namely, you've gotta learn not to let them bother you.
Yeah, I know. Like I said, easier said than done. Because they do bother you, of course. But that's the problem: for a certain variety of teenage miscreant — the ones gifted by Satan himself with a sixth sense for hitting other people right in their insecurities— your obvious discomfort with the subject of your sexuality makes it their go-to topic when they want to give you a hard time. And the louder you shout, "I'm not gay!", the more rewarding it is to keep poking at you about it. ("It's working! We're driving her bonkers!" they chortle, as they high-five with their good pal the Devil somewhere down in the bowels of Hell.)
The good news is, this is one of those scenarios in which the appearance of not-giving-a-damn works almost as well as the real thing — and faking that kind of confidence is often a precursor to getting the real thing to show up. So, with that in mind, here's what you'll do: the next time one of these cretins jokes that you're gay, stop with the vociferous denials (which just comes off as evidence that you are, in fact, what they say you are), and start rolling your eyes and saying, "Whatever, this is too boring." Or turn it around on them by asking why they're so fixated on lesbians, and pointing out how dumb and homophobic they sound. Or lean in conspiratorially and whisper, "Well, yeah, ever since your mom sent me those pictures…" followed by a suggestive eyebrow waggle and a saucy wink.
In short, do whatever you can to make it clear that gay or not, you are totally unconcerned about what these idiots think of you. (And keep in mind, too, that your sexual orientation is a secret to everyone but you and the very tiny, very trustworthy circle of folks you've told about it— which presumably doesn't include the people making fun of you. So while they may suspect that you're not straight, and they may give you a hard time about it, they cannot actually out you without your permission. For better or for worse, that closet you're in only opens from the inside.)
That's part one. Part two, of course, is the question of whether or not you should come out to the people at your church. And on that front, the answer is… I don't know. These are your friends, your family, your fellow churchgoers; you know better than me whether you can trust them to be discreet about this, and whether the relief of having your secret out is worth the risk of it getting away from you. Would I, personally, recommend that you come out on this particular mission trip, where you'll be far from home, without guaranteed support, in the care of church leaders who may be hostile to your identity, and unable to leave if things get scary or ugly? Um, no. Based on my extremely limited knowledge of the situation, that strikes me as a bad plan. But you are your own master; you know better than me if there's an argument in favor of doing that, or if there's someone you could definitely turn to for help if you need it. And for that reason, you also know better than me how to have that conversation when the time comes… although off the top of my head, "What do you think of [insert gay celebrity here]?" is a pretty foolproof way to crack the closet door open and see if it's safe to come out.
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