This week, Danny M. Lavery and Slate podcast producer Daniel Schroeder discuss a Prudie letter: Almost Out Now.
Daniel Schroeder: hi!
I am really excited to join you for this question, particularly because my dad is a UMC minister
Danny M. Lavery: oh wow! how serendipitous
so I imagine you’re fairly familiar with the specifics of the latest UMC decision, then
Daniel Schroeder: oh for sure, our family has been following it closely because my dad was supposed to be a delegate to General Conference, and my sister and I are both openly gay.
my parents are VERY Methodist.
Danny M. Lavery: I’m trying to extrapolate based on my knowledge of Lutherans and Presbyterians
or do you mean just, very committed to the Methodist church?
I thought you meant something like, “Methodists famously [always attend general conferences]” or something at first
Daniel Schroeder: lol, just very committed to the Methodist church. My parents aren’t getting matching cross and flame tattoos, but he has been involved in a lot of larger church policy stuff, but wow we’ve gotten into the church politics weeds and that is not what this question is about! I just wanted to give you some context for my background
Danny M. Lavery: No, it’s wonderful! I mean, if you know of any gay Methodist groups you think this LW might benefit from, please feel free to mention them
did you get a sense whether the letter writer is already out to his kids?
Daniel Schroeder: he said his daughter came out “at the same time” so I kind of assumed he told her and she was like “well, actually, Dad…”
Danny M. Lavery: I think that should come first, if he hasn’t already – it didn’t feel quite clear if the bit about his daughter coming out included reciprocation, or just reassurance
Right, I could read “the same time” to read either as “when I came out to my wife [and kids]” or “when the UMC ruling came down”
Daniel Schroeder: ahh yeah, that is a bit of necessary clarity missing. I just assumed because that’s how I ended up coming out.
somebody else doing it first
Danny M. Lavery: drafting on the back of someone else’s coming-out is a time-honored and wonderful tradition
since we can’t ask for clarification, I’ll just say that you should tell your kids before you worry about telling your parents; if you’ve already come out to your kids, ignore me
are you at all inclined to advise him to continue to pretend to be straight until his parents die? Do you think he’s actually interested in doing that, or did the “continue to pretend” framing make it seem like he didn’t really want to consider that as an option?
Daniel Schroeder: I think he’s interested in considering it as an option only because he’s so scared of losing his parents over this before they die
not because it would actually make him happy.
Danny M. Lavery: I also think that he’s taking steps that would make remaining closeted to them more difficult, if not impossible
(I also agree that it sounds like the most painful option, but I think it’s worth pointing out that I don’t think it would work, either. If you’re coming out to your friends and revisiting the state of your marriage, it’s going to get harder and harder to keep this from them, not only on your own, but trying to make sure no one else says anything offhand)
Daniel Schroeder: You’re right. He wants to keep his parents compartmentalized while throwing open the doors on the rest of his life and expecting them not to notice.
I’m curious what reasons he’s given his parents for leaving the ministry
Danny M. Lavery: I wonder if he’s also kept that from them for the time being
I mean, again, they’re going to find that out
I think part of what he’s done – which I really get – is take steps that make staying closeted to his parents basically impossible
because he wanted to be in a situation where he wouldn’t have to “decide” about them, exactly, so much as force his own hand
Daniel Schroeder: And if he “decides” then their rejection of him becomes his fault
or he can blame himself that way
Danny M. Lavery: I really do get the fear and the pain this man has been carrying with him his whole life
but I think the key is in the fact that even with a supportive wife who knew he was gay
he still felt like he was living a lie every day
so that suggests that staying closeted for another possible 25 years is just going to grind him down
Daniel Schroeder: and he’s just replacing old lies with new ones
Danny M. Lavery: and I don’t want to try to give him false reassurance, especially because I think that all too often the whole “sometimes people can surprise you!” line that gets trotted out to let homophobes off the hook actually comes from the homophobes themselves
who say things like “of course we still love you! i can’t believe you thought we’d judge you,” and then proceed to act wildly uncomfortably and judgmentally
Daniel Schroeder: yep, their mouth says “we love you” while their eyes say f***
Danny M. Lavery: I think they will probably not surprise him, that they are roughly as homophobic as they have been his whole life, and that coming out will be painful
but he’s been rehearsing this rejection over and over for so long
which is not to say “it can’t be as painful in reality as it’s been in your head”
it may very well be every bit as painful
but at least it will have happened, and you don’t have to re-imagine it day after day
there’s some sort of limit
Daniel Schroeder: yeah, the pain could be its own relief
I can certainly identify with this, having spent many years in the closet even after my supportive parents found gay porn on the family computer
the fear is so big it feels inescapable, but even the reality of loss is better than the uncertainty of possibility.
Danny M. Lavery: I also just think this letter-writer has really given being closeted the full college try
He didn’t half-try it, he gave it the best shot he possibly could
Daniel Schroeder: yeah, this closet is sturdy as hell
Danny M. Lavery: and after twenty years, I think he’s been taking steps that demonstrate he’s ready to start getting ready
I hope he has gay friends he can talk to about this, I don’t know if the close friends he’s spoken to already are all straight
he may have avoided friendships with out gay people while he was closeted and if so, I hope he can start to try to establish some
there are a lot of people who did lose their families when they came out, lots of them permanently, and lots of them when they really didn’t want to – you will not be alone in this
Daniel Schroeder: If he hasn’t I would urge him to find a church that accepts gay people or a gay bible study or something. One big loss gay people experience in the church after coming out is the loss of community
Danny M. Lavery: I get that desire for connection, love and approval doesn’t just go away when you acknowledge your upbringing was a painful and homophobic one; I get that knowing you would not want your children to suffer in the same way that your parents have caused you to suffer doesn’t mean you can just turn off your feelings of love for them. But I don’t think you’re getting the love and acceptance you crave even now. I don’t think it’s working – if it did, if you really felt a meaningful sense of being known and loved while staying closeted, you wouldn’t feel this tension.
Daniel Schroeder: if you ever really even got the love and acceptance you needed to begin with
Danny M. Lavery: And, for whatever it’s worth, as someone who very much did lose their entire family, under very painful circumstances, in ways that really highlighted how my transness/queerness set me apart and made me a “problem” – it really was every bit as bad as I thought it was going to be, and it’s also enabled me to live a freer, more peaceful, more honest, more useful, delightful life
in ways I could not ever have imagined when I kept thinking I was going to be able to successfully win them over and get them to approve of me
so I also want to just say, you don’t know what good things lie on the other side of that pain yet
oh gosh we’ve gone way over time
I’m so sorry to have eaten up so much of your afternoon!
do you have any closing thoughts before I let you go?
Daniel Schroeder: I think you said it all. I’m just so happy he’s embracing being gay, and excited for whatever version of relieved happiness he finds through this pain.
(thanks so much for having me, this was a lot of fun!)
Danny M. Lavery: thank you!!