My Zumba instructor is at least 75 lbs. overweight. I wondered when she came in to replace the petite blond, with impossible abs and a tight rear, if people would leave the class. Surprisingly, the class got bigger. As my new instructor danced with joy, her jiggly bits happily bouncing to the music, I started thinking about the power and freedom of authenticity. What does it mean to be your true self in front of the whole world?
You see, none of us could ever hope to look like my first teacher, but all of us could look at the second and say, “Well, if she can do this workout, so can I!” It was freeing not to be held up to an impossible standard, even if the standard was only in my mind.
I’ve just had a similar “coming out” experience. For the last two years I was asked by my Christian employer to keep my advocacy for the LBGTQ community under wraps. My advocacy didn’t fit in to the parameters of my employer’s theology. Because I loved and wanted to keep my job, I submitted to this request.
The problem is that when you agree to muzzle yourself about something important to you — to live in the closet — it has negative effects on your life.
First, you feel like a hypocrite. If I believe that equal rights is a justice issue, and I don’t speak out about it, then I’m promoting an unjust system. But, I justified my silence with the hope that I might be able to be a voice of reason from within my organization, so I stayed. Still, I felt bad about it every day.
Second, you spend a lot of time walking on eggshells. Walking on eggshells is exhausting. Wondering if pressing “like” on a Facebook post will get you fired is not a good way to live. I have a friend who was going through the exact same thing with me, and when we talked, we’d often end our conversations with, “At least I’m not fired today!” Until I was.
Third, you live with a muzzle around your mouth, constantly monitoring what you say to make it palatable to your bosses and others. Being muzzled is not fun. My dental hygienist say’s I’ve been clenching my teeth. “It’s the muzzle,” I say.
Forth, you become paranoid. Knowing that my Facebook posts were being monitored, that conversations were being reported, made me anxious. It felt like I was in the Red Scare, that I was about to be accused of being a communist at any minute. I just love gay people for Christ’s sake! Literally, for Christ’s sake. Aren’t there bigger things we should be putting our energy into? Sex trafficking, racial injustice, world hunger…
Fifth, I lived in fear of the backlash. Would friends and relatives not like me if I came out of my self-imposed closet? Thankfully, for the most part this turned out not to be true. Sure, there were the exceptions; like being unfriended me on Facebook by someone dear. But, the support from friends and supporters was overwhelming! Even those who disagreed still assured me of their love. And the beautiful stories that started coming our way, almost daily, from gay friends, and parents of gays and those still living in closets, were worth it! What a privilege it is to be a safe person to talk to! There are so many who have no one in the Christian community they can trust with their hugely painful story.
So, what does it feel like when the closet door swings open and the fat girl comes out to dance? Ahhhh freedom, sweet freedom. I feel at peace, lighter, happier even as I mourn the loss of all that I knew before. I feel the hope of living an authentic life. The thing is, I’m extremely aware that my hardships over the last two years are only a tiny taste of what my gay friends live with EVERY SINGLE DAY! As my wonderful husband is fond of saying, “The closet is no place to live.”
So, this is me folks, I’m not the perky blond you might think I am. I’m the fat, dancing Zumba instructor with all of my jiggly bits out for the world to see. I love gay people and I want to help them heal from the pain the church has caused them and provide a safe place for them to be with Jesus. I’m sorry if you’re disappointed in me, but I’m not sorry enough to stay in the closet any longer.
I’m too busy inviting people to dance with me! Would you like to dance?
Photo Credit: Ragen Chastain: 5’4, 284 pounds. Photo by Richard Sabel