Forever walking out of the closet

By Knut Natskår Svihus
Former leader of Bergen Kristelige Studentforbund

Have you ever thought about how it is to always come out of the closet each time you make a new friend, business partner, or colleague? As the slogan pictures it: it does get better, and simpler, each time you do it. At the same time, you have to do it; you have to share a private detail of your personal life with new people. I show the signs, it isn’t especially difficult to see what I am, but I still have to tell people and very often defend my position.

Oh, you were thinking about me being gay? Well I am gay, but I was thinking more about the fact that I am both a Christian and gay. Each day I start by putting a necklace with a silver cross around my neck. God is with me and strengthens me every day, but my belief also makes an interesting conversation both at my workplace, at my university, and in the line when waiting for my turn to buy a beer at my regular bar. So many people ask me why I can believe in something so unbelievable. People ask me why I can believe in something that causes distress and agony for so many of my “own” people.

When I go to a church service on Sunday, I get asked if my female friend is my wife, when she in fact is more interested in their wives than in me. The guys are commenting how beautiful the girls in the room are, and that they would like to date them all. I nod and cough something confirming while I try to find a different topic to talk about. Quite often, I manage to reveal my true identity by a mistake and the silence usually spreads as fast as the common cold. “So you are gay, and a Christian?” Yes I am. “You like men more than you like women?” Yes I do. “But you said you are a Christian, isn’t that a contradiction?” No, it isn’t at all.

In the public debate, it is interesting for the media to publish the voices of the most polarized sides. The polarized sides of a debate generates a larger amount of revenue through advertising. We hear about those who will abolish all forms of religious belief so religious conservative voices will be silenced. We also hear those who want queer people to re- pent and be saved from the fire of hell. We hear very little about the vast majority in the middle. Those who want all of us to live a life in respect and love, and who agree to dis- agree. The public debate shapes how we act and react to each other in our everyday life.

When I find myself in a new Christian community I bring with me the thoughts of the most extreme voices. The voices that tells me that my life is a sin and that my love to another man is an abomination.

I immediately go into a defensive position. I do not express my faith in the way I should because I am afraid to be shut down, even though I know that I will probably never experience such a reaction. I am afraid to show my whole personality just so that I do not need to come out of the closet one more time.

Even though the Norwegian parliament only just divided the relations between the state and the church, Norway is a secular country. Religious belief is thought to be a private or personal aspect of your life. Sexuality on the other hand is also something personal, but it is much more shown through romantic expressions between two persons. In that way it is also much more accepted in many ways than religious belief. When I end up in discussions or conversations with other individuals identifying as LGBTQI-persons, the thing they most often react to is that I’m a Christian. They especially react when I say that I am the leader of a student Christian organization (Bergen Kristelige Studentforbund). I usually don’t want to assume other people’s opinions, but I feel when I’m in those situations that their first thought is that I must be stupid and ignorant person. I do understand them; what has Christianity done for them lately? It has given them agony and it has been used to legitimize oppression of them. I must be a lesser person than them to have chosen such a path for my life.

Recently I was fortunate to have the opportunity to join the seminar “Let’s talk about sexuality” by WSCF Europe and EYCE. I went to Budapest with no expectations and a large amount of prejudiced thoughts. I thought we were going to be a very divided group with the “equality heroes” from Scandinavia and the conservative rest. I thought we were going to be the spitting image of the polarized debate in the media.

In fact, I experienced one of the most powerful weeks in my life. A diverse mix of people from all over the world. We had discussions and conversations that lasted for hours powered only by curiosity. It also made me ashamed. How had I become the stereotype of what I am scared of myself?

During the week in Budapest, I learned what is wrong with the situations I have described earlier in this text. I learned that we meet each other with fear. Fear for something that will ruin our understanding of our world. Fear for something that will challenge the way we judge what is good and bad.

Fear is based on insecurity. We battle insecurity by obtaining more knowledge and to gain more knowledge we need to be curious.

Curiosity is the essence of what I learned more about in Budapest. I learned that there are so much more about all of the people we meet every day than meets the eye.

I learned that when I meet other LGBTQI-people or when I go to church I should use my curiosity glasses. I should try to experience those I meet as whole human beings with more than just the superficial way of appearance. We are much more than what we show to each other. When I am meeting my queer brothers and sisters and when I meet a brother or sister of faith I should lower my guard and embrace who I am as a person. I should also embrace their diversity and try to learn more about how their lives are and how their way of life could be inspiring to me.

By leading as good example, we could make a difference among our friends and others that we meet. Embrace the curiosity and put away your fears and prejudices. It could make my continuous walk out of the closet more enjoyable. As Albert Einstein once said: “I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.” Like Einstein, we could also discover amazing aspects of life just by being open minded and interested in the life we live.

This story was originally published in Mozaik, Ecumenical Journal issue 36, 2017, published by World Student Christian Federation European Region.