In my early 30s, the thought of coming out fully—of stepping out of the shadows—was on my mind.
It was my chance to clear the record, silence the gossip, and relieve the pressure of hiding. Plus it would keep me from having to lie, duck, and dodge the super-annoying dating question. I'd felt the freedom of being out to my closest friends and family, and I wanted that on a bigger scale.
Many years ago, I remember thinking that the phrase, "Be true to yourself," was so silly—like humanistic, self-help mumbo jumbo.
But as I got older, it made more sense.
That phrase sounds goofy to people who've never had to hide some part of who they are. But it resonates with people who've had to mask something. Managing an elaborate cover-up every day is exhausting. And living by a cumbersome dossier of expectations from parents, friends, or the culture is exhausting too. You can't be true to yourself when you're trying to be true to everyone else. I learned this through experience.
From a young age, we are taught to tell the truth. But no one teaches us to tell OUR truth.
It's just not valued.
Growing up in the evangelical Christian world, the topic of truth is a big one.
"Absolute truth," the belief that Truth is fixed, immovable, and unchangeable, was talked about a lot. In my Christian high school, we were taught how to defend our faith to skeptics and liberals. And we were taught to boldly preach the Truth of the Gospel like Paul on the Acropolis in Athens.
I actually think these are great and noble things. I think we need more people convicted that there is a thing called Truth, and it's worth standing up for.
But I was never taught how to speak my (t)ruth/s. Never once did someone say...
Students, today we want to talk about shame. We want to talk about weakness and mistakes and failures. I want to talk about the undesirable and ugly things. Let's talk about those truths and what it means to own them, to discuss them, to let the light in on them. Maybe we can change those things or improve them. Maybe God has an opinion on them. Or maybe we just need to learn to live with them. But let's start by just being honest about them.
Nope. That's just not something you heard back then.
Even at 30, I was scared to death of this part of my story—so dark, so taboo.
But still I longed for the day where I could shout it from Everest.
One day...maybe, I thought...
But the more I thought about it, the more it bothered me. I've always been a big believer in self-reflection, so I began to analyze that fear.
I'd had mentors in the past who'd emphasized the value of asking WHY. But not just one WHY—a trail of WHYs—that led you to the very bottom of your fear. It's a really helpful way of investigating negative emotions by getting past all the smoke-screens we put up.
Here's an example of a why-trail, using a hypothetical crying child in a restaurant...
AHHHHH!!! I'M LOSING MY MIND! My kid won't stop crying.
Why does that bother you?
Because it's annoying!
Why is it annoying?
Because it's bothering other people!
So what. Babies cry all the time in public. Babies have been crying in public for thousands of years and not one person in the history of humanity has been injured or killed by a crying baby. Why do you care what these strangers think anyway?
Because I don't want to be "that mom."
Why are you worried about being "that mom?"
Because they'll think I can't control my kids.
Why do you fear appearing to have lost control of your kids?
Because it's embarrassing.
Why is it embarrassing?
Because they'll think I'm a failure as a mom.
Why do you fear being a failing mom?
Because if I fail as a mom, then I fail as a person. And then I'm a failure.
And there it is. There's the end of the why-trail.
The problem is not in the very common phenomenon of a crying baby. The problem is in the deeply-rooted fear of being a failure. And once you know that's the source of the fear, you can begin to deal with it.
So when I asked myself, "Brett, why do you fear coming out so much?" I was embarrassed at where the why-trail ended.
When I got to that final answer, I slid it back under the rug, quickly. I didn't want it to be true. I didn't want to think I was so shallow.
So, why then, exactly did I fear coming out as gay?
Because I didn't want to be a minority.
Ouch. That's painful to admit now, but it's the truth.
In the simplest terms, a minority is anything less than 50%. It's the inverse of a majority.
Sociologically, a majority is often what's referred to as a "dominant culture." In a society, the dominant culture is the one that holds the power, the one that calls the shots for everyone else.
And, truth be told, I'd lived my whole life at the intersections of several dominant cultures.
(And being religious, tall, confident, and well-spoken didn't hurt either.)
I wasn't living in A dominant culture...I was living in virtually ALL of them.
I was slowly becoming aware of the real reason for my resistance to coming out—a hopeless addiction to a cozy life in the dominant culture.
Most can't see it, but being in the majority is fun. It feels good to be in step with all that cultural power. Being in the dominant culture was my key into lots of locked doors, and the idea of letting go of that scared the hell out of me.
I didn't want to be different. I had no experience with that. That was for other people.
Our culture has an ideal male archetype—wealthy, fit, attractive, smart, funny, cultured, accomplished—and with enough work, I knew I could achieve it.
And I also knew what was NOT part of that archetype:
You've never seen a big action movie with a kick-ass, gay protagonist.
You've never seen a gay superhero (well...except these two).
They don't exist because gay is not part of the American ideal of heroic masculinity.
Raising my hand voluntarily and choosing to be forever different was a big obstacle to me coming out. I wanted no part of it, and to admit that I was gay was the ultimate admission of different-ness, of minority-ness. I was holding on very tightly and didn't want to let go.
Where I grew up in north Alabama, we have lots of wildlife—whitetail deer, bobcats, coyotes, turkeys, wild pigs, poisonous snakes, and even the occasional migrating bear.
We also have squirrels—lots of squirrels. They are very common and quite unremarkable. They're so common, you rarely even notice them, scurrying around and gathering nuts.
Rabbits, on the other hand, are more unusual to see in the wild. It was always special seeing a rabbit, a novelty.
They're more rare. They can't climb, so I assume that makes them more edible to predators which forces them into hiding.
When I was a kid, there was one house near our neighborhood that, for whatever reason, always had bunnies in the front yard. Every time we drove by, I'd look hard out the window of my mom's minivan, straining to see if I could spot some rabbits.
Even now, it's still special to see a wild rabbit. A few weeks ago, I spotted one in a friend's backyard at dusk and nearly broke a sweat chasing it with my iPhone.
The funny thing is, rabbits and squirrels aren't really that different. They're both small, furry herbivores that live in wooded areas.
Squirrels = majority.
Rabbits = minority.
Truth be told, I'd always felt like a squirrel, like I could blend in and be like the dominant culture.
It sounds strange, but it feels good to go through life unnoticed, to go through life without feeling like there's a spotlight on you.
It feels good knowing everyone is NOT looking at you.
No one wants to be a novelty. No one wants to be the kid in the locker room that everyone is pointing and laughing at.
This is one of the subtle benefits of life in the dominant culture. I'd always just been one of the guys. I did all the things squirrels do, and I made everyone think I was a squirrel. But I felt like a rabbit.
And I didn't want that.
I didn't want to be different. I didn't want to be gawked at by some kid in a mini-van. I didn't want to deal with whispered rumors of, "Do you think he's a rabbit?". I just wanted to be "normal"...whatever the hell that meant.
Looking back, I see this for what it was: Nasty nasty pride.
And the irony here is that the Bible mentions homosexuality about six times while mentioning pride over 100 times. I'm no Biblical scholar, but that seems like a lot of warning flags. While that counselor had pointed out the fear living inside of me, I now was aware of its sibling, Pride, that was in there too.
And so I began to think about that, to pray about it.
I wrestled with the question of why the gay thing was so apocalyptic to me. Why was I scared to come out of the shadows? Why was I so scared of being labeled as gay? And did that make me homophobic?
For the first time I began to wonder if this—all of this—was about more than sexuality.
I began to wonder that maybe I'd been focused on the wrong thing all along.
I began to wonder if this was more about the junk I'd been ignoring, than the one glaring thing that had consumed me for so long.
And maybe—just maybe—if I could find some peace there, I could find peace everywhere... 👊
B.B.P.S. - During the original writing of BBP, I put down this BBP rumor.
All photos by Sterling Graves. Copyright Blue Babies Pink & Sterling Graves.
B.T. Harman is the creator of Blue Babies Pink, a Southern Coming Out Story in 44 Episodes.
B.T. is a consultant, writer, and speaker living in Atlanta's historic Cabbagetown neighborhood. He was previously a vice president for Booster, an Atlanta fundraising company, where he helped the organization raise $150 million for elementary schools.
B.T. is passionate about storytelling, leadership, good design, Seth Godin, SEC football, Chick-fil-A, Taylor Swift, archaeology, European Travel and CS Lewis.
To learn more about B.T., visit his personal site at btharman.com.