"This above all; to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any [one]." [Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 3 by William Shakespeare]This advice from Polonius to his child on going out into the world was the quotation that nudged me to be true to myself as God had made me and to reveal all that I was and have to offer.
Coming out is a unique decision and process for everyone who is within a hidden minority, whether it is their sexual orientation or their unobservable physical condition. It was also the most liberating experience of my life; I took off the mask and felt relieved that I could be me without silence, pretense, and compromised integrity. Before I started the process of coming out to the world around me, I had daily (hourly?) expended a portion of my mental energy concealing my true feelings and thoughts for fear that they might betray (portray) who I really was as a homosexually-oriented person. After I affirmed the orientation God had given me from childhood, I was free to use that energy for being fully alive, complete and honest. The mask is gone and what you see and hear, I me as truly as I can be at this point in my journey of dis- covering the bright spirit that God created as me.
Recently, I came across an article that spoke to my faith and the coming out process. I am so impressed by its message that I am bold enough to reproduce it here. Bloom where you are. Flourish.
"...it is not difference which immobilizes us, but silence."
The quotation is from a very important essay by African American lesbian poet, Audre Lorde, entitled, "The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action", from her collection Sister Outsider (Crossing Press, 1984.) With apologies to those of you who are familiar with her work and to Lorde herself, I am taking this opportunity to take apart her essay in order to share significant sections of it with you.
While I understand that coming out is a risky process and firmly believe that each person must come out in their own time and way, in times like these, I also believe that theses are prophetic words containing gospel truth; life-saving words which we need to hear. There is much to be said for the AIDS activist slogan that "Silence Equals Death."
In response to her experience with cancer, Lorde recognized that "I was going to die, if not sooner then later, whether or not I had ever spoken myself." What I think she is talking about here is the importance of speaking oneself into being, of giving shape and meaning and fulfillment to one's life. She goes on to say that "[i]n becoming forcibly and essentially aware of my mortality, and of what I wished and wanted for my life, however short it might be, ...what I most regretted were my silences."
In exploring her regret of her silences, she came to see how her silences were founded on her fears and began to question those fears and the power she had given them over her life. Though she understood the price which suffering demands of one, she also came to realize that death not only brings an end to fear and suffering but also to living. "Of what had I ever been afraid? To question or to speak as I believed could have meant pain, or death. But we all hurt in so many different ways, all the time, and pain will either change or end. Death, on the other hand, is the final silence. And that might be coming quickly, now, without regard for whether I had ever spoken what needed to be said, or had only betrayed myself into small silences, while I planned someday to speak, or waited for someone else's words. And I began to recognize a source of power within myself that comes from the knowledge that while it is most desirable not to be afraid, learning to put fear into a perspective gave me great strength."
Lorde's words offer profound insight for people of all sorts who are facing fear and struggling with oppression, whether overt or covert. Too often, caught up in the victim's role, we keep silent, and we pay an awful price. We believe that if we keep very still, hiding in our closets, our oppressors will not see us or know us, our fears may somehow dissipate, and we will be spared any suffering. The seeming safety of our silences and comfort of our closets offer a false sense of protection, for no matter how carefully we hide, we will pay a price. And, eventually, we will die. What a shame to die never having spoken oneself into being! What a tragedy to give our oppressors the last word! What a loss to the possibilities of communion and community that some people will never be known in the richness of their whole being!
There is power and there is liberation in speaking oneself into being, as there is also fear and pain and suffering. Each of us is God's child, created uniquely, in God's own image. If we live our lives in fear, hiding our lights under baskets and cringing in closets, we do disservice to our Creator, our communities and the created order, as well as to ourselves. Lorde argues that "[m]y silences had not protected me. Your silences will not protect you." Our silences cut us off from the very supportive relationships and communities which offer healing, life, and strength. "If I had only known, I could have..." is too often uttered in the face of tragic loss when it is too late to help. Understanding that we will all die sooner or later can liberate us from our silences and from our oppression.
While our silences and hiding are born of fear, Lorde assures us that transformation comes from standing up, speaking out, risking action. Poignantly and powerfully, she admits, "...of course I am afraid, because the transformation of silence into language and action is an act of self- revelation, and that always seems fraught with danger... In the cause of silence, each of us draws the face of her own fear -- fear of contempt, of challenge, of annihilation. But most of all, I think, we fear the visibility without which we cannot truly live." This is reminiscent of Jesus' teaching that those who seek to save their lives will, in fact, lose them. The risk of visibility is that we make ourselves vulnerable to criticism and attack, but visibility also offers the dangerous opportunity to live our lives fully and faithfully, asserting and celebrating our createdness including our sexuality, as a gift from God.
We have choices. We can hide silently in our closets, which means facing a sort of living death, or we can risk other forms of death by speaking out and claiming our lives fully; we can give ourselves over quietly to forces which may destroy us, regardless of what we do, or we may attempt to overcome those forces and transform our lives and worlds into something resembling the realm of God. "[T]hat visibility which makes us most vulnerable is that which is also the source of our greatest strength. Because the machine will try to grind you to dust anyway, whether or not you speak. We can sit in our corners mute forever while our sisters and brothers and ourselves are wasted, while our children are distorted and destroyed, while our earth is poisoned; we can sit in our safe corners mute as bottles, and we will be no less afraid." And in the end we will be no less dead, though we will have lost our opportunity to live fully.
Lorde argues that we need not be bound in slavery to our fears and we can try to make a difference. "We can learn to work and speak when we are afraid in the same way we have learned to work and speak when we are tired. for we have been socialized to respect fear more than our own needs for language and definition, and while we wait in silence for that luxury of fearlessness, the weight of that silence can choke us."
To find and to use one's own precious voice, to speak in love the truth of one's life, to live as if justice might actually be done on earth, is to move in faithfulness beyond fear to trust that perfect Love which casts out fear. We may only see and know that Love in part, but our high calling is to live such Love in our daily lives, to speak such Love into being and into our being, to sing God's song in strange lands because, in our knowledge that our voices and lives are gifts from god, we cannot keep from singing. Breaking our silences by uttering the great "Yes" to life is to be all that God has made us to be -- nothing less, nothing more.
"...it is not difference which immobilizes us, but silence. And there are so many silences to be broken."God grant us courage. Amen.
from the Voice of the Turtle (Spring 1995, page 2)
The Newsletter of American Baptists Concerned for Sexual Minorities
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