It has been about 2 months since I did my TED talk. I shared our story in hopes that my experience might help folks who (like me) find themselves struggling to accept a loved one who has just revealed their secret.
A friend asked me if I thought my talk would have been helpful to me when Kat came out. Yes, I do! At that time, I felt confined to a dualistic choice between remaining true to my faith and accepting my daughter for who she was. I knew instinctively that this was a false dichotomy, but all the voices in my life spoke as one with no room for questioning. If I had had just one trustworthy voice in my life providing an alternative choice it would have helped my journey greatly.
I want to be the voice now that I needed then. My hope is that people who are struggling to accept their LGBTQ loved one will see my TED talk in private. In private they can hear my story without pressure.
Someone said, “People don’t like to change in front of other people.” It’s true. We don’t like to change clothes in front of other people and we don’t like to change our minds in front of other people. We want be seen as decisive and strong. Changing our minds where others can see is just too vulnerable. It was certainly true for me. Vulnerable is not strong enough of a word for what I felt. I felt like a failure as a father because I couldn’t keep my own child on the “straight and narrow”.
How do you go from hiding in shame to speaking out with confidence? Not in one step I can tell you.
The stance of my community was clear with no room for interpretation on this issue. We believed gay people were choosing to live a sinful lifestyle. If I had been brave enough to openly question my community, I would have been immediately shut down. There was no place for a message of acceptance. But in the beginning, when I needed a safe place to question, my shame kept me hiding in the dark. In essence, if not by design, my feeling of failure kept me in my place, with my mouth shut. (Perhaps this is a good example of living in the closet?)
My journey of questioning began in secret. As I said in my talk, “I was no longer satisfied to repeat what I had been taught. I needed to know what I believed and why! Kat was my reason.” That journey didn’t happen in front of other people. The hard work of asking questions, studying and ruminating was private… and it took years!
The first time I remember actually speaking up was in a Bible study group. Someone asked the question, “Can a person be gay and saved?”
At this time, I was just beginning to question things myself, but I answered clearly and firmly, “Yes!”
The other person was not expecting that response and asked how I could be so sure.
I said there was no place in scripture that mentioned anything about a person’s sexual orientation as a qualification for salvation. If we were actually using the Bible as our guide then we have no right to add requirements to the list. Even though at that time I was not accepting of LGBTQ people (that feels so weird to say now), I was adamant that we answer such questions with integrity. Either we believed the Bible had answers for that kind of question or we didn’t.
At the end of the TEDx Charlotte event, all the speakers gathered on the stage for Q&A. Someone asked me how my experience affected my own spiritual journey. It was a fantastic question (and a tough one to answer). Although I have made a complete 180 degree change on my thoughts regarding the LGBTQ community, I don’t think I was “wrong then” and “right now” spiritually speaking. The things I believe now are very different than they were 20 years ago. Knowledge and experience helps us grow and change if we allow it. Self awareness of our own change adds a healthy dose of humility. I do not have all the answers. Humility has been an unexpectedly wonderful gift.
My hope, my wish, my prayer is that many who are struggling to accept a loved one will hear Kat’s and my story in an unpressured environment and that our story will inspire and influence them while adding a sense of urgency. We do not know how long we have with our loved ones. We simply must find a way to love while we live.
One last selfish wish is that I get to hear some of those stories of our story’s influence. The day of the TEDxCharlotte event, at least 15 or 20 people approached me and told me their stories. It would be so encouraging for me to continue to hear how our story actually influenced others and contributed to healing relationships.
In case you haven’t seen it yet…
Until next time…