A couple of months ago, I got to experience one of the classic elements of engagement: engagement photos. Frankly, both my fiancé and I weren't really sure why exactly we had to spend a bunch of money and two hours of our day to get one photo for our wedding invites, to which we will turn around and spend even more money for photos at our actual wedding. Nevertheless, we caved to peer pressure.
Our photo session started out quite normal (I suppose), as our photographer had us get close to take our first shots. However, just as I was ready to find comfort in the session I realized that the photographer probably is going to want us to...you know... kiss. Sure enough, as she set up her third picture, she presented the daunting request. My first confession: My partner and I had never really kissed each other in front of any straight people, so this felt insane. Thankfully, we managed to get comfortable doing so with her in view.
We moved to our next location and started another round of uncomfortable poses that, for some reason, look good in photos in retrospect. During this setting a man walking down the street stopped to watch our photo session from a distance. We didn't really know how to react, given other circumstances we'd been in. Sure, we could trust our cute photographer, but what about this gentleman? He simply stood back to watch our awkwardness, then complimented our dress socks as he walked away smiling. Whew.
About an hour later, our photographer decided that we should do some photos on the main street through the downtown of the city. Now understand, it's around 5:30pm—rush hour. I swallowed my fear and we walked towards the main row of restaurants. We got there, took a couple of photos holding hands, laughing, etc. and then she asked for it. We were standing on the corner of the road with 30 cars on one side and a restaurant patio full of guests on the other side and this lunatic wanted us to kiss each other!
My partner and I hesitated for a second, nervously laughing and staring at her in hopes that we had misunderstood her request, then... I just went in for it. Remember, these are engagement photos, not some cute dating photos, so this had to be more than just a nervous first-date-style peck. As we pulled away from the embrace, both of our faces 1000 degrees hotter, we looked to our left to see the entire restaurant staring at us, all with huge smiles on their faces. A waiter in the middle of bussing a table actually stopped what he was doing to join the guests. All. Smiles.
I'm not sure I can adequately convey my shock and awe at this sight. I've lived 25 years scared that people would find out that I was gay. Then, upon getting into a gay relationship, my fear seemed to turn from "What if people find out?" to "What do these people think when they see us?"
While my partner and I are typically affectionate with each other as any couple would be, we're often inclined to reduce our affection to nearly friendship status in situations when we're not sure that "Gay is okay." For example, what might have been a hand hold walking down the street, may be diluted to a simple pat on the back. A desired quick hug instead becomes a simple pat on the back. Come to think of it, most of it comes down to awkward pats on the back. This represents the sum of our visible relationship in the public, secular situations. I'm kind of surprised he's not just burping all the time when we're out and about.
And then, there's the image of our relationship inside church on a Sunday morning. Church becomes a whole different level of behavior modification. Here I frequently wonder what people think. It's as if I'm hoping people think we're just friends so that we don't have to deal with the possible rejection and/or awkward stares of two "sinners" in their congregation. I often see couples put their arms around each other on the backs of chairs during the message and I stare at them in envy, knowing that my partner and I don't feel comfortable enough and probably can't do this together.
In light of our shocking incident during the engagement photo session, my partner and I were talking about our physical relationship when it comes to being around Christians. At it's core, we feel that we're an offense to those in any non-affirming congregation, so we tend err on the side of caution in our interactions hoping that attendees merely think we're good friends, at best.
Very simply, I hate it. Less simply, I'm terrified to change it.
I recently heard someone say that the only way the Church can come to know gay Christians is for gay Christians to come out of hiding. Many Christians don't have personal relationships with gay people, let alone gay people who actively live in relationship with Jesus just like they do. This lack of relationship inhibits the Church's abilty to deliberate its theology. We can't practically play out our theologies if we don't understand the very specific landscapes we're living in.
Now, I won't attempt to make any judgment of LGBTQ people who don't publicize their sexuality, as I know how intensely challenging it is. Even my partner and I are "out," but we're still very much hiding in ways. That said, this idea of coming out is easy when we think of it as the Church creating a space for people to be able to admit their sexuality before a group of Christians. However, it seems like a very different thing to create a space for people to express their sexuality in front of other Christians.
I'm not sure my purpose in writing this post is instructive. Instead, I hope it's read more as a confession of my desire to come completely out of hiding from the Christian Church.
Here's a small glimmer of what that looks like: My partner and I have decided to get away from hiding. We've pledged to slowly begin to express our relationship in small, meaningful ways around other Christians. This looks more like baby steps than grand leaps when it comes to church. Practically, we've found comfort in the fact that we put a hand on each other during prayers. After all, we're almost married; hopefully we can physically connect when we're talking to God. Maybe that feels like a spot that my Christian peers can't affect—our prayer.