I think I’m gay.
I have to stop and count the number of times teenagers have said or typed these words for the first time when talking to me. Usually, their next statements involve some sort of plea not to tell anyone else and an explanation that they aren’t coming out to their families anytime soon but just needed to tell someone. It’s an urgent feeling, an immediate need. I understand it well.
They see my big queer life unfold on Facebook and seek me out, knowing I’m safe to talk to. Often, I’m the only queer person they’ve ever known.
When I was 16, I reached out to someone I loved and told her I thought I was gay in an email. Soon after, I walked into the Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center and came out in public for the first time. Coming out to family wasn’t a big deal to me because I didn’t really have much in the way of family. I told one cousin, and pretty soon, all the family members I was still in contact with back then knew. It came as no surprise when that went badly. But I was still glad they knew, even when some of them stopped talking to me because of it. It gave me a sense of freedom, and I knew that those people didn’t belong in my life if they didn’t want to be present and offer up real, unconditional love, regardless of the gender of my current and future partners.
But my life wasn’t typical. I raised myself. I was 16 and already driving, working and paying bills. And I really didn’t care what the people I share DNA with thought. Those last two are big deals in our community because so many youth get kicked out of their homes at young ages (too young to drive or work) because of their sexuality, or they are ostracized and hated by people they still expect to love them. I don’t have much experience with choosing the right time (safety-wise) to come out.
So earlier this week, I was a little lost when, for the first time, I think I’m gay was followed by Should I come out? What do you think? And I didn’t know what to say. I went with my first instinct. Because I know this kid’s uber conservative family and because he’s very young (too young to drive or work), I told him it would always be up to him, but I suggested he wait.
My concerns are for his physical and mental safety. I doubt they would kick him out, but I’m not entirely sure they wouldn’t send him to a conversion camp. Truthfully, I don’t know how they’d react, and I want him to have the ability to take care of himself if his coming out leads to one of these scenarios.
I told him that sometimes people just don’t get it. Sometimes they come around, and sometimes they never get it. I told him that, no matter what, he is beautiful and perfect the way God made him, and that I love him.
But I told him to wait. And I don’t know what he took away from that, but it occurred to me later that, to him, it could’ve felt like I was telling him he didn’t deserve that freedom I once felt because he’s too young. And that’s not true.
I want him to live his truth. I want him to live the most authentic life possible. I want him to love Jesus and feel how much Jesus loves him – straight or gay, because it doesn’t matter to the One who knit him together in a woman’s womb.
I want this beautiful boy to come out.
But I still worry. I fear for his precious heart, that he won’t be accepted, that he will begin to know the pain of rejection when there is nothing about him that should be rejected.
I’ve added his name to the long list of teenagers who share those words with me: I think I’m gay.
Every night I pray for them, for their hearts, for their spirits, for their families. I pray for our world, and I pray that one day a teenager will say those words to me and my emotional reaction will be excitement over this newly discovered piece of his or her personal journey, rather than fear for what’s to come. I pray that none of them become statistics. I pray that they all know how much God loves them, that they never listen to anyone who tells them any different, that they always remember they have a safe place to share their truth with me when the world feels unsafe.
And I hope.
But I still worry and wonder.
Why must living an honest, authentic life be such a risk?
Why can our world not yet band together in love and choose that over hate?
If I ask, will my friends begin to pray for these kids too?
Will they let the youth around them know that they are safe harbors?
Consider this me asking.
Please pray for all of these beautiful children who identify as LGBTQ. Let the young people in your life know that you are a safe place for them in an often unsafe world. And just love them. Be the person who offers them so much love that it overflows and spills everywhere. They need us.