"It's not a problem for me! I hope you retire here...we have some of them in our family,too!"
Aside from the "retire" comment this conversation could easily have occurred decades ago, during life between the ages of fourteen and twenty-nine; those years when every new relationship eventually led to some type of disclosure regarding my transgender identity. It was inevitably touch-and-go about when to share this part of my lifestory with new friends, but I never doubted it would be part of our conversation at some point.
This all changed when I entered seminary and then local church ministry. Although I attended a seminary well-known for both its academics and its emphasis on social justice, once enrolled I found it less welcoming than I anticipated. Following graduation, I was not long into my first appointment when a conversation over lunch with a new colleague raised my apprehension. When he compared being a member of the lgbt community with his own struggle with 'addiction' to smoking marijuana, and how we can and should all be "cured" through faith just as he was at an evangelical prayer meeting, I understood the precariousness of my position. I learned that in order to serve in the United Methodist Church, which I felt called to do, I needed to dive back into the closet. This is where I and my spouse continue to live, though doors are beginning to open. Now, almost forty years after my first "coming out" I find myself doing it all over again. Forty years in the wilderness are drawing to a close. This was marked by that comment above, "It's not a problem for me. I hope you retire here. We have some of them in our family, too!"
Years ago I helped develop a new program at a local church. We soon discovered that as an oversight I had no office or workspace. I moved from one shared space to another for the year, even ending up in a large closet in the nursery for a few weeks! During this time my wife gave me a lapel button she found that read, "Out of the closet and into the streets"! It was great fun to wear and even to enjoy the ironic humor. Today the pin seems more prophetic message than hidden humor.
And so after twenty-seven years in this clergy closet, just last week I sat with my wife and two most cherished members of my congregation. We shared prayer and stories never spoken in previous congregations. It was then this beautiful, smiling, eighty-four year old said to me: "It's not a problem for me! I hope you retire here. We have some of them in our family, too!" Wow! Twenty-nine years after I first came out, here I am coming out again; out of the closet and into the streets! It feels good to be breathing the fresh air of their acceptance. I will not return to the closet again.