The Cost of “Coming Out”
by Terry Murphy
Why does it seem so few people come forward for healing from homosexuality? Why do some simply declare it cannot be done and resist even trying? Because “coming out” carries a price a price many homosexuals aren’t willing to pay.
If we understand the cost of coming out of homosexuality, we can better encourage those who have not yet entered the race, be more patient with those who fall back, and cheer on those who press all the way through to the finish line.
First, homosexuality doesn’t just appear out of nowhere. Nor is it like a disease with one specific causal agent. Homosexuality flows out of the heart’s repeated defensive responses to the threat of pain or danger. The heart’s choice in deciding how to react to injury determines how the person will eventually relate to both himself/herself and to others.
Events threatening and painful enough to lead to homosexuality can range from taunting and snubbing from playmates to hostile, abusive actions of family members or authority figures. These events may be real or simply misinterpretations of a young heart. (A child whose parent regularly travels for a living, for instance, may react as though he/she was being perpetually abandoned or rejected.) A person may turn to rebellion, emotional manipulation, over-compliance, or other devices to keep his/her world under some control. Traumatic events (real or perceived, isolated or chronic) drive many to find a way to hide from, appease, or punish the pain-giver, while the person reaches out to obtain from others what was missing or unfulfilled in this relationship.
Dysfunction at home
For example, a boy perceives himself as rejected or hurt by a significant male in his life (let’s say his father). He forms a judgment against Father, charging him as guilty. If this boy can’t let go of his judgment and forgive (though the father may not “deserve” forgiveness), anger and bitterness develop. This anger, bitterness, unforgiveness, and/or judgment against Father can eventually include males in general. At the same time he tries to reject Father, the boy begins expending more and more of his energy trying to develop an “acceptable” masculine identity with other male figures.
Suppose Mother abuses her daughter. Daughter openly rebels. She chooses to reject the feminine role because she rejects Mother’s representation of it. Disillusioned with her own mother, she tries to find a mother’s love and acceptance with some other woman. Mother may have sinned in abusing her daughter, but now Daughter sins in her judgment and rebellion. She will reap a harvest from it, which may include getting herself trapped in the lesbian lifestyle.
These adverse experiences usually occur early in life, developing inappropriate habitual reactions to potential pain. By adolescence or adulthood, the person may no longer remember ever having made a decision to judge, choose, or rebel. The reflex to do so is, by now, ingrained and routine.
An individual’s perception of Mother, Father, authority, love, masculine, or feminine can be totally distorted because of a false standard set by an abusive authority figure or significant “other.” However these roles were originally confused, fresh, authentic definitions must be established in the person’s mind if real change is to happen and if he/she is to avoid falling into the same behavior traps. Restructuring these concepts is a process not simply a decision and rarely has a short cut.
Dealing with sin
The only accurate, unbiased definition of right and wrong is in what is called the “perfect law of liberty” in James 1:22-26. The reason so many of us have trouble reading the Bible is that in it we see ourselves (this is why James calls it a mirror). What we see is not always pleasant, but if we want true fulfillment in and satisfaction with life, we must not only keep looking into that mirror, but also respond to what we see according to God’s instructions.
The Bible is clear on homosexuality. Leviticus 20:13 states that “if a man lies with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them.” Leviticus 18:22-25 and Romans 1:26, 27 reaffirm the sin and the dangers of homosexuality. Admitting sin, however, is only one step in the process of dealing with it. We must also confess it to God and forsake it.
Romans 6:23 tells us that “the wages of sin is death.” God is against homosexuality, not just because it “bothers” Him, but because like all other sin, homosexuality destroys people. Because so much underlies it, stopping homosexuality is more than stopping one sin, one behavior. It is facing up to sin after sin, obtaining healing after healing, forgiving person after person. It is a progressive journey of learning right and healthy responses, unlearning wrong and unhealthy reflexes, and developing a whole new concept of life
Change has a cost
People fall into sin because it brings them easy, familiar comfort in a way that feels safe. Change will not happen until someone yearns for change more than for the comfort of the old pattern. Obtaining lasting and healthy comfort involves completely losing the surrogate comfort one was using before. Enduring transformation involves burning bridges to this old comfort, and that leaves lots of room for defeat.
People seeking freedom from homosexuality have a special need for a support system to undergird them. The price of change for them involves completely giving up and letting go of what they thought they were, not just what they were doing. The bridges they must burn almost always involve deeply rooted relationships. Change will cost them all the “love” they thought they knew for the promise of a better love they’ve, as yet, not been able to receive. They will need to have someone standing by, on the new side of the river, as they light the fuses to destroy the bridges to the past. They will need not only like-seekers with whom to relate, but also “straight” friends to stand by and make them feel part of a world that has always seemed foreign to them.
The grace of God
Accepting God’s view of homosexuality as wrong and yearning hard for change are not enough to work escape, however. If knowledging sin and danger were enough, no one would be smoking anymore, unhealthy diets would change overnight, and anyone who heard that homosexuality was wrong or unhealthy would simply drop the habit.
Paul, a biblical writer, understood that neither knowledge of right and wrong nor willpower were enough to save him. He pondered:
I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. . . . For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do this I keep on doing. . . . So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:15-25).
Having discovered his/her sin, the homosexual can become stuck. One cannot change oneself. He/she must submit to the truth that abiding change will only happen if God himself helps; and for this, God has a promise. If a person will continue to face the truth, accept the need for mercy, and turn to obedience, God will see to it that he/she succeeds: “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6). Jesus, thankfully, is not only the author but also the finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).
A lonely struggle
Despite the promise of forgiveness, healing, and help in the Bible, the journey out of homosexuality can still be lonely. As soon as someone announces a desire to change or find healing, he/she will no longer fit in with the homosexual community. At the same time, it may be a long interval before the person feels a natural part of the heterosexual community. He/she faces the prospect of becoming a person “without a country,” of sorts, unless he/she has understanding and supportive fellowship throughout the change. The prospect of impending loneliness and the fear of rejection the very things that probably drove him/her into homosexuality to begin with can keep a person stuck between two worlds, happy in neither.
A support group filled with others who have “been there” can make a critical difference in success. When one person’s spirit is weak, others can encourage him/her not to give up. Where one is ignorant of the pitfalls, others who have been down this road before can give warnings. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 says: “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”
“Coming out” of the closet may bring some a temporary relief of escaping secrecy. But it does not heal what has been broken, it does not bring satisfaction to a soul hungry for real love and acceptance, it does not make the person any more comfortable with his/her own gender identity. In the end, “coming out” of the closet takes people out of hiding, but keeps them trapped in their pain, anger, frustration, and sin.
“Coming out” of homosexuality, because it involves such a process of forgiveness and forgiving, mercy and healing, brings relief, satisfaction, and finally gender contentment to those who press all the way through to the finish line. The price is high; the risks are great. But change is possible. The number of support groups and resources available are greater and easier to find than ever before. The number of people entering and finishing the race to leave homosexuality behind increases daily. Their lives and, moreover, their voices testify that the immeasurable value of the healing and freedom they have obtained far outweighs the price they paid to change.
Scripture quotations are from the New International Version.