A blog post by Sarah Bane
Coming out… I cannot claim to know the courage and poise it must take to come out to someone. But, as someone to whom more than one person has come out, I have started to notice a common thread to each story: middle school. For each loved one who has come out to me, a common realization that “I am not ‘normal’” occurs in middle school, becoming a pivotal touchstone in their coming out narrative.
Middle school -- that tender, vulnerable age when the world isn’t as concrete as it was just a few years ago in elementary school, but instead looks quite abstract and full of confusing situations and relationships. During a time when peers define normalcy, middle-schoolers are bombarded by cultural stimuli telling them how they ought to be identifying themselves.
When you know you don’t fit into the mold you are “supposed” to fit into, it is all but necessary to keep abnormal thoughts to yourself so as not to completely ostracize yourself from peers or disappoint caregivers. Sadly, this secrecy tends to lead to a future of carrying around guilt, shame, pain, and fear until -- if ever -- a person feels it is time to share a most intimate part of their self with others, in hopes of being loved more fully.
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about my own story. In the spirit of being completely honest, if there were three years of my life that I wouldn’t want to do over again, it would be sixth, seventh, and eighth grade…middle school. I remember getting teased endlessly because my next-door neighbor/resident best friend apparently was popular and I was not, which created problems.
Things were growing too fast in some areas and not fast enough in others. I had all sorts of questions that I was far too embarrassed to ask, hoping that maybe if I was a keen enough observer, I would just “find out” along the way what I was supposed to know about all of my questions. Frankly, there are still questions that, as a twenty-eight-year-old woman, I am not sure I have the answers to -- questions that have lingered since my middle school days.
All of this got me wondering: maybe we should be taking a cue from our gay brothers and sisters. Perhaps the coming out narrative is really a narrative for all of us. A narrative in which we can take Matthew 11:28-30 to heart: “’Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’”
In the ongoing effort of defining our self-identities and walking alongside the young adults we work with as they do the same, the church has a special opportunity to be a place where all ages can express their unique stories and wrestle with the ambiguities of life. Instead of establishing a particular view of right versus wrong or having an answer to each and every social question, the church can instead stimulate caring conversations in safe, intentional ways that tease out an individual’s guilt, shame, pain, and fear.
The church can do this by honoring where each person is at, all while maintaining a space which aims to include instead of exclude. Imagine what adulthood could look like if middle school was a time of exploring burgeoning identities instead of being a time of secrecy and frustration. Imagine even further what the church could look like if it invited us all to own up to our deepest and most intimate secrets.
So, I ask you: what is it that has left you carrying around guilt, shame, pain, and fear? Is it time to come out?
I’m Sarah, and it’s good to know you! A little bit about me: I love singing, being outside, and thinking about how the first third of life integrates into the whole life of the church. I recently graduated from Luther Seminary and will join Shepherd of the Valley’s (Apple Valley, Minn.) Youth Ministry team at the end of July.