I remember a moment in my mid-twenties with utmost clarity: I stood just inside the door of my sunny first apartment and knew, suddenly, that the way I’d always understood myself—heterosexual, because that was what my family and community and culture presumed of me—was false. The horror of realizing I was bisexual made me lose my balance. I felt this awful shattering, as though the glass box I’d been living in had smashed open and now lay in shards at my feet. Were I to move in any direction, I’d be cut.
Today I’m struck by how real that glass seems. I came out, wrote the story of coming out, and shared that story very publicly from pulpits, at conferences, and in print, and still that moment lives in me like an open wound, perhaps because I now know how thoroughly I can be deceived. I lived twenty-five years without recognizing this central dimension of myself.
Of course in hindsight I can point to the hundreds of ways I did know—my strange adolescent obsession with Andrew Wyeth’s Helga paintings; my solitary biking through the Welsh mountains in an instinct-driven attempt to distance myself from others’ influence; my paradoxical, inexplicable attractions… I pieced that puzzle together afterward. A secret, silent part of me (my body, my intuition, my spirit?) knew; it nudged me with unhappiness and longing until, finally, I became aware.
Back then I called it “coming out.” Today I think of it more as a coming into consciousness. What broke in me was an illusion. The person standing alone in that sunny apartment, weeping uncontrollably, finally knew who she was, and while stepping out with that truth was painful, it was the most honest (and powerful) move I’ve ever made.
I’m remembering this because I now see it as one in a lifetime of steps away from deception into self-awareness. If I had to come out to myself about my sexual identity, how many other dimensions of who I am are hidden from me? How can I come not just to know them but to live them with integrity?
Hard as it was, my coming out experience gave me a template for what I now believe is our central work as a human beings: To become fully, truly ourselves. This is the spiritual path. The Gospel of Thomas, an early text that itself was closeted from institutional Christianity’s awareness, quotes Jesus as saying, “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you don’t bring forth what is within you, what you don’t bring forth will destroy you.” In a broken world where need is overwhelming, there’s only one thing we need to do. It’s simple but not easy. We need to narrow the gap between what we profess in words and actions and who we are. No other work is as effective at healing our planet. We each have creative potential, truth, energy, and vision pressing within us like an unborn star, and our purpose is to let them stream through us as light. –Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew