As we planned for EQUIP’s 2018 event “Why Come Out?”, I was reminded that I’d never come out. Most of my friends and family know. If you didn’t know, you’ve probably guessed as much—most straight people don’t care this much about making the Church a better place for gay people. I don’t think everyone has to share their story publicly, but it makes sense for me. Check out my story below, and watch the recording of “Why Come Out?” here.
In 6th grade, I realized I was gay*, and I swore I would never let anyone know who I really was.
I was ASHAMED
I grew up hearing that being gay was bad, dirty, and disgusting. When a gay person came on TV or was seen in public, people commented how gross gay marriage was and how godless gay people were. If the topic ever came up in church, it was a simple statement that God was against homosexuality. It's no surprise that I thought I was bad, dirty, and disgusting. I believed I must have done something wrong to deserve this.
So I tried to make a deal with God. I promised Him that I would read my Bible every day for six months if He would make me straight. I held up my end of the bargain, but God didn’t. I promised I would obey my parents without fail. No change. I stopped playing video games. Still gay. Time and time again I begged God to heal me if being gay wasn’t how I was supposed to be, and time and time again change didn't seem to be His will.
I remember watching the show Next on MTV the first time a gay man was the contestant. I savored every bittersweet image, because while part of me reached out to the screen saying “He is like me,” the other said “You are disgusting.” I remember reading any book for school where two guys had a close friendship—A Separate Peace, The Chocolate Wars, The Chosen—wanting for them to be gay and to lose myself in the story. And my shame persisted.
I was AFRAID
In middle school I played leading roles in both of our theater productions, but in high school I quickly realized that the same people in the theater club where also in our Gay-Straight Alliance. I could not risk anyone suspecting that I was gay. No more theater for Pieter.
Gay marriage was a particularly contentious topic during the 2008 election, so naturally, our government class played out the same divisive conversations found on CNN. Unintentionally fulfilling stereotypes, I was one of the most ardent opponents of gay marriage—thinking that perhaps that would throw people off my trail. I remember a female classmate turning around in her chair to berate me for being a bigot. Then she said with omniscience, “I bet you’re secretly gay and one day you’re going to come out. You’re just so homophobic because you don’t want anyone to know who you are.” I was terrified.
I am most ashamed of these moments where my fear of being outed and disgust of my homosexuality turned to homophobia that hurt others. I’m haunted by a scene from high school cross country. Derek was the only openly gay guy in our school and he was on the team. As we waited at the starting line for a race to begin, everyone paired up for partner stretching. But one by one as Derek asked the other guys to help him stretch, he was turned away with “No. Gross! I don’t want to touch you and I don’t want you touching me!” Then he got to me and I (sheepishly) refused. I dished out the same pain I had spent tears and prayers to soothe.
But I wanted to be KNOWN
One night during sophomore year of high school, I lay on my bed listening to Come to Jesus by Chris Rice on repeat. I didn’t know if I could trust anyone, but I couldn’t handle being alone and ashamed anymore. I finally mustered the courage, walked downstairs, and told my parents. They didn’t know how to help me any more than I did, but it was still a great relief: I wasn't all alone with my secret anymore.
Sometimes telling my story led to great pain, and other times it was a pathway for deep beauty. Toward the end of high school I shared my story with my youth pastor. One night during a youth conference weekend, our youth pastor gave a devotion about shame and encouraged each of us to talk to an adult leader about our deepest secret. But when I shared my deepest secret, he was silent. After a string of meaningless Christian cliches, he sent me away.
Throughout college, I devoted myself to a campus ministry. I followed every instruction of my mentor, led bible studies, represented the organization to the university, and planned recruitment efforts. I was given every reason to believe I could join the campus ministry staff after college if I desired. And then without warning, I was told not to apply to go on staff with that campus ministry or at any university. The only explanation given: we don’t know what to do with you and your attractions.
Thankfully, most responded to my story with love and compassion. During my sophomore year of college after a gay brother was kicked out of our Christian fraternity, I took the scary step of sharing my story with the entire fraternity. I needed straight brothers to know how to better love people like me, and I needed gay brothers to know that they weren’t alone. My fear of being shunned turned to joyful surprise as brother after brother lined up to give me a hug and opened their phone to schedule a meal to get to know me better. These men embodied Christ for me better than a church ever has.
To be CLEAR
I have always had orthodox Christian beliefs about how God invites me to steward my sexuality—that God calls all people to celibacy or Christian marriage with someone of the opposite sex. But there have been plenty of bumps along the way. There have been plenty of times when, out of my loneliness and isolation, I reached out for something—anything—to make me feel again or stop feeling. And while I’ve taken responsibility for my actions, I’ve come to see that the source of that problem lies more outside than within. The Church isn’t a place where single people can find deep love in friendship. The Church isn’t a place where celibate people can find family. My vocation of celibacy isn’t valued. The rich theology of celibacy is Scripture isn’t taught. There aren’t clear pathways for my thriving. Straight Christians don’t know how to love gay people well. The Church doesn’t prepare our parents or pastors to minister to us. No one knows how to care for me.
This isn’t the way it’s supposed to be. Gay kids shouldn’t have to worry whether their friends or family will still love them when they come out. We shouldn’t have to come out to see who will really love us. I shouldn’t have to write this post.
Now I’m GRATEFUL (well, most days)
I am grateful for the LGBT+ people before me that endured more suffering than I will ever know so that I can come out without fearing I will be kicked to death, gunned down in the name of Jesus, decapitated, slammed into the wall by my parents, bludgeoned to death with a bottle, beaten with baseball bats, pummeled with a lead pipe, punched to death, attacked by a bus driver, shot and burned, trailed and murdered, or massacred in a mass shooting.
I’ve had many great straight friends over the years who have loved me well. Thanks Christian, Kyle, Stephen, and Chase, just to name a few (sorry for outing y'all as heteros).
Most of all, I am grateful for the purpose and meaning God has given me through my sexuality. Because I am gay, I've become thoroughly convinced that God loves LGBT+ people and wants so fiercely for the Church to actually offer those best things He hopes we would take hold of. I’m daily grateful that I get to be a part of teaching the Church how to make that a reality. I can’t imagine how I would have come to know God’s love for me, all people, and in particular those on the margins, if I weren’t gay.
I hope you’re as lucky as me to have something in your life that forces you to see God’s love for those who are different.
*What do I mean when I use the word gay? Phenomenologically, it is merely the most common word to describe my experience of being attracted to other men. Culturally, I identify as gay as a way of identifying with other gay Christians stewarding their sexualities according to an orthodox Christian sexual ethic. I feel particularly connected to this family within the body of Christ who have endured the same challenges as me and understand me in a way others won’t. It is through my love for these people and ministry to them that my faith deepens.