You probably haven’t missed it, yesterday my Facebook and Twitter feeds yesterday were full of comments and reflections on the news that Philip Schofield had come out as a gay man at the age of 57. Today the news has made the headlines of many newspapers from The Sun to the Guardian, the fact that he is 57 seems to have really caught people’s attention! There is of course some discussion, because we all like to have an opinion on the lives of others, and I have to confess that , that is exactly what I am doing now!
First let me say I think he was very brave, and he has every right to make his sexuality known, he spoke openly and with real love about the support that he has and is receiving from his wife and children and from friends, he will continue to need that of course. To reveal something so intimate about yourself is to make yourself truly vulnerable, and can be a scary place to be, and yet it is also ultimately empowering because it enables you to own your story, and of course our stories are always unfolding.
This time last year I began to take the journey that Philip has taken, starting with a few trusted friends I too came out, tentatively at first, testing the waters if you like , and then with the support, love and care of friends I told my children, who have been amazing, and even unsurprised. Since then I have shared with colleagues, wider family and friends with the obvious mixed reception I had expected, but I have every right to tell my story. Comments have been made of course, and questions asked by some who wonder how it is that I was married for over 30 years and have 5 children from that marriage all while struggling with my own sexuality.
Well this is my story, of course I have always known who I am, but in the late 70’s and early 80’s rural Essex was not a place to come out, friends who did suffered quite badly, and I was somewhat confused and mixed up in more ways than one, my sexuality was only a part of that. It did cause pain and heartache, and I did opt for some rather unhealthy coping mechanisms, some of which I am still struggling with, but with the help love and care of friends I am getting there.
Some of my story is tied up with a faith journey, and one in which being queer was not an option, and yes I choose to identify as queer, and no I don’t see it as an insult even if it once was. Conversations with my children are interesting these days, because they rightly reflect that my early faith journey, I was an adult convert, counted many things as unacceptable, and being LGBTQI+ was definitely one of them. So I hid from myself and others denying a huge part of my identity, and have suffered for it. Over the last 20 years my faith changed and matured and a whole swathe of narrow thinking has been stripped away from my life as I encountered the Jesus who calls us into fullness of life and continually pushed the boundaries and barriers of my narrow religion.
These days I know the God who loves me just as I am, and that is a message I preach and teach and hopefully live and share with others who need to know that they are deeply and fully loved. Life is so complex, not just in the area of sexuality, but in all ways of being fully human, we are prone to making the “strange other” a scapegoat in order to make ourselves safe, true spiritual maturity calls us to celebrate of differences and drop our defences, to be vulnerably human with all of our faults and flaws, and not naming deep aspects of our true selves such as our sexuality as flaws!
One of the comments on the many facebook threads about Philip Schofield suggested that he had come out because someone was going to dish the dirt on him, I want to say out loud and now THERE IS NO DIRT TO DISH! THERE IS NO DIRT TO DISH, just like you and me he is fearfully and wonderfully made, the image of God is within us all whether we know it or not, and yes sometimes it is masked by our broken humanity, but our true sexuality is not our broken humanity. I was more broken when I was hiding from myself and others and some of that brokenness is still being healed as I now navigate the world being out and proud.
Being out still feels very vulnerable, when as a Methodist Minister I help churches to conduct the God in Love Unites Us conversations I can feel very vulnerable, even naked ( obviously I am not), but I know that others feel the same, when pronouncements are made on what God’s perfect plan is, and the lives that some of us live are not acknowledged as fitting. In one room recently glances were exchanged between 3 of us who are divorced from our children’s partners, about the need for family stability to be paramount. Dare I say that if I had been true to myself earlier some of the wounds I inflicted upon my family may not have occured! We need to be gentle with one another, all of us, none of us have everything right, and we cannot know the fullness of one anothers stories.
So to Philip Schofield I want to say thank you, thank you for being vulnerable and brave, thank you for coming out, I wonder how many others will find the courage to do so because of what you have done. I don’t know, and don’t need to know how your journey of self discovery began, but I do know that it is okay to come out at 57, and that there is a life in all its fullness to be lived in a new way. As the church continues its conversations we need stories like yours, stories of love and support, of courage and openness, and of the simple revealing of beautiful humanity in all of its diversity.
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