There are cocoons
of silence, soft merciful darkness enveloping you
until you are ready to emerge as something
And there are tombs
of silence. Darkness gone awry,
a heaviness that presses down your lungs,
so that your shouts of “I’m alive!” die
before they can escape your lips.
My shoulders ache with the ghosts of silences too long carried.
Mom, Dad, you always promised
to love me no matter what —
but so did my wife’s parents
and they nearly threw her out
when they found out.
I wanted to believe you really would love me “no matter what”
but how could I dare to hope it
when you never said a word
about gay or trans people,
and always changed the channel when two women
holding hands came on the screen?
Your silence weighed on me
almost as heavy as explicit condemnation would have.
Parents, guardians out there, please
tell your children when they are
young and only just learning what love is
that you will love them even if it turns out
the wrong gender was stamped on their birth certificate
and no matter who they cut their wedding cake with.
I came out to my parents eventually.
Piece by piece
I tore through the silence
we had built up together and they
have been wonderful. Slowly
they wrapped up the name
they gave me at my birth and put it away, replaced by
a name of my own choosing, a name that really is me.
The pronouns took longer
but now when I go home
arm in arm with my wife
I have no fear of being misgendered
by those closest in my life.
And what of myself, the residue of silence
that still coats my inner gut?
Sometimes I forget that I am safe now
to speak up for other queer folk,
that I can say, “no, that joke was not funny
it was transphobic” or
“so why exactly would you ‘never date a bisexual’?”
My mouth stays shut. And silence wins. Nothing changes.
Other times I’m just too tired
to correct someone who’s called me ma’am yet again
to repeat like a broken record, please use they/them!
and then silence wins.
I dodge falling stalactites as my identity caves in around me.
The seductive arms of silence
reach out to all of us
and we all fall into them sometimes, too tired to resist
or too scared of saying the wrong thing to even try.
But the key is to ask yourself: what will you do
to ensure that the old wounds etched by silence
don’t bleed out indefinitely? what will you do
not to cover over the scars or pretend like they never happened
but to keep new scars from jagging into existence?
I know how your heart speeds up
when you try to speak up
on your own behalf or another’s —
my heart does too.
I know the lump that forms in your throat
and when you speak anyway,
maybe people will be mad. Maybe you’ll have to fight.
Maybe you’ll even lose.
But speak anyway. And if you have to fight,
then fight not with swords but with words, not with violence
but with love and truth.
If we speak,
the scars of silences once carried
will map themselves into a vision
of a future where no one
needs to bury themselves to stay alive.
As for me and my house,
we will dig and dig and dig and free
the ones whom we have buried
with the sin of all the times that we have failed.
We will not disturb those who have chosen
to wrap themselves in cocoons of silence
for their own protection,
but we will speak on their behalf;
while they form themselves in safety
we will speak, so that when they emerge
the world will greet them not
with more tombs to shove them in
not with confused stares or snide comments
but with open arms
and a seat at the feast—
not with isolating silence
but with beautiful, life-reviving Song.
This piece was written by Avery Arden and belongs to them. Please do not publish it anywhere, or use it in a service, without permission from the author. Reach out to Avery at firstname.lastname@example.org for that permission, or just to chat!
I first wrote this reflection for a National Coming Out Day service at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in October 2016. The service included reflections from several individuals, each one responding to a different passage from Esther; the passage to which I responded was Esther 8:9-14.
I shared this reflection again, revised, for another Coming Out Day service for my friend Ainsley’s online Queer Church (you can watch the service on Facebook live here).
The first version of this piece included my description of how my parents were still working on getting my pronouns right; it was a joy to revise it saying that they now have that down pat! I also got to change “girlfriend” to “wife,” as we got married in 2019.
The concept of “coming out” brings up complex emotions in me. Western culture turns being “out” and “closeted” into a binary; assumes that all of us resonate with those terms; and centers cishet persons in discussion of those terms. Some incomplete thoughts:
- It is only in a world where all are assumed cis and straight till proven otherwise that we need to “come out” at all…
- the idea of “coming out” originally involved coming out into Gay Society, rather than to the cishet world…
- the pressure to be out / only negative associations for the closet can be downright harmful to some of the LGBTQA+ community’s most vulnerable members…
- Many BIPOC and/or people in non-Western(ized) cultures don’t feel that the “closeted” and “coming out” fit their experiences anyway…
My hope is that this reflection honors the many experiences and feelings around the idea of “coming out,” even while focusing on my own personal experiences.