“What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”
It’s a question posed recently by the host of one of my favorite podcasts, while pondering the choices we make during life’s most challenging moments.
I remember thinking with a tinge of fear (ironic, no?) that I probably already knew the answer to the question. After all, by the time I was hearing this question asked of me I had spent years of personal growth, study, and therapy striving toward greater authenticity in daily living and vocation. My life experiences had all been leading me to a place of courageous vulnerability. And the truth is, I was already beginning to ask myself another important question: what if… I lived… openly?
Recently, my life’s journey brought me to an unexpected fork in the road, having to make a choice between telling my story widely, or having parts of my story told by others.
I didn’t set out to be a bisexual advocate / pastor. At least, not consciously. Yet by God’s many Graces, here I am — (re)claiming my voice.
I suspect it’s probably best if we rewind a bit first.
I know it’s cliché, but what so many LGBTQ people have said over the years can be said of my own experience too: I knew at a young age that I was different from other boys.
Yet like many other bi folks of my generation, my childhood was also mired in no small amount of confusion. Being raised in a small town in the mid-1990s, I had awareness of the existence of a straight/gay binary, but had never before encountered the term ‘bisexual.’ I didn’t know such a label existed, let alone that it might come to describe my own experience of the world. I simply assumed my interest in boys had nothing to do with attraction, but rather a desire to be more like them. I thought it was a way of learning how to live in my own skin. And besides, I knew for certain that I couldn’t be gay — my attraction to girls offered me ready assurance of that!
Far too many LGBTQ people share heartbreaking stories of being raised in churches proclaiming a theology of exclusion. Thankfully this was not my story, at least… not directly. Sure, I still internalized the messaging when I heard it from evangelical friends and their parents. But my own religious upbringing was one focused far more on love and grace than on sin and personal salvation.
My faith community and budding interest in theology, paired with the ever-present, never-spoken “what if?” voices in the back of my mind, brought me to an early life of advocacy. By my senior year of high school, I was spending my free time studying common PC(USA) interpretations of the "clobber passages" so I’d be better equipped for the theological debates spurred by my friends’ evangelical parents. With the benefit of hindsight, I now realize that this work doubled as a subconscious effort to prove to myself that I was worthy of God's love. Later, in college, I led a mainline ecumenical campus ministry in advocating for the rights and protections of everyone on campus, particularly the LGBTQ community. Because I attended a state university, that effort eventually made it all the way to the governor’s office. (How I managed to overlook God calling me to ministry in those days is, frankly, beyond me!)
True self-awareness, however, only arrived in 2015. In fact, I first came out to myself on the steps of the United States Supreme Court, surrounded by joyous folks celebrating the just-announced marriage equality decision (you can see me trying to sort it all out in real time by reading this blog post from 2015). Like dissonant chords that eventually find beautiful resolution, this was the moment where it all came together for me. Suddenly, all the confusing (and by then, virtually forgotten) parts of my story found remarkable clarity.
By this point, I had long since fallen in love with a kind, beautiful, compassionate woman. We had already married (which I still list as the greatest decision of my life!). We had eagerly begun our new life together. I had graduated from seminary and was serving full-time as a pastor. I was finding success and admiration in my professional vocational life. I had found an incredible group of friends.
Clearly, I had to grapple with how much my bi identity actually mattered. Why would claiming such a label even be that important for me? After all, my newfound self-awareness didn’t change my interest in the pastoral vocation, and I felt no particular call toward being defined as “the bi pastor.” It didn’t change my commitment to the marriage covenant, and I sure as hell had no desire to venture outside my marriage. To be bi? Well, it seemed like it was just one of many labels that describes me. What would it matter if I actually used that particular label for myself?
I would quickly come to realize it mattered more than I could put words to.
Actually, it mattered because I couldn’t put words to it. I discovered I had lost my words completely. After years of being a proud advocate and “ally” of the LGBTQ community, I was disheartened to find that in recognizing myself as a member of the community, I had unintentionally lost my ability to speak prophetically. I no longer knew how to refer to myself or bring my full self to the table. An essential component of my theological voice had grown silent — a voice that had been arising within me even in my teenage years — and it was painful to admit that it was because a part of my very identity was missing from public view.
Though nothing had changed for me in the practice of my life, my mental and emotional health began to suffer greatly. I lost confidence in myself and in my abilities. Years of therapy, self-study, and eventually, a truly life-changing wellness retreat sponsored by the PC(USA) all helped me to articulate that my crisis of self-worth stemmed from navigating this confusing time while also holding authenticity as among my highest values. As such, I was naturally wondering how I could be fully present in the world around me. How could I be fully me? How could I have the audacity to look another person in the eyes to remind them of their belovedness, if an integral part of my own God-given identity remained hidden in the shadows? I felt like a fraud.
Therapy helped me realize that I’d rather be known, loved, and valued for who I really am, than to be liked and admired for whatever incomplete versions of me I’d had to manufacture to find momentary safety and acceptance. I was also able to reframe what had once felt like “fraud” as simply “doing what I needed to survive.” (Have I mentioned that I think virtually everyone can benefit from maintaining a trusted therapeutic relationship?)
The time has come for me — by God’s many Graces — to (re)claim my voice, for in doing so, I can also reclaim my belovedness.
Spouse. Father. Pastor. Bisexual. Advocate. News Junkie. Theatre Lover. Enneagram Enthusiast. Amateur Foodie. Wannabe Barista. Child of God.
So why choose to come out now?
Well, honestly… two reasons.
Even more important, though, was the insight I've had over the past few months as I’ve prayerfully discerned my path forward. I’ve often found myself wishing I could have had role models in my life to help me navigate this journey… trusted voices, celebrities, friends, church leaders, and anyone else I could’ve looked to for inspiration, hope, and support in reconciling and making sense of my identity as an LGBTQ person of faith. Think how much easier this could've been! But then, I thought of all the folks who may be wishing for the same thing right now, and for whom my journey, my ministry, and my life may someday be the source of lifegiving hope.
The wisest of pastors often remark that, at the end of the day, most every sermon they ever preach can be boiled down to one common message. I suspect that’s true. And if it is, I’m certain I know what my phrase would be. It’s what I hope people hear me say in every sermon, in every prayer, during every baptism, at every communion table, during every wedding and funeral, and at every hospital bedside too. Remember that you are a child of God, made by God, loved by God. Nothing in all of creation can separate you from God’s love. For you are God’s beloved, and in you God is well pleased.
By God’s Grace… I’m finally starting to claim the promise of those words for myself, too.
Where can I learn more about Bi+ identities?
Fortunately, after years of being essentially ignored by the broader LGBTQ community, more attention is finally being given to the lives of Bi+ folks. (Did you know that Bi+ folks make up the majority of the LGBTQ+ community? It's true! I'm in good company.)
Here are a few resources I know and trust. I commend them to you for further study!
Why bother coming out at all? Wouldn't it be easier if you didn't?
My post above shares the thoughts, feelings, and discernment that led me to this moment. I’m grateful that I’m already healthier and more whole simply by reclaiming my belovedness and living boldly as the person God knit me together to be — in every aspect of my God-given identity!
Yes. The unfortunate truth is that my professional and personal life would be far easier if I didn't come out at all... at least if we were to measure by society’s traditional understanding of ‘success.’ As I considered what my identity meant for me, I had to confront the reality of the perceived privilege I inherently hold as a straight-passing cisgender male in a straight-presenting marriage. I know so many friends and colleagues who have faced strained family relationships, or have experienced the terrible reality of doors closing due to their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Prior to embarking on this coming-out journey, no such doors ever closed for me.
How do I know that the privilege I held and sometimes took for granted is real? For one, as I began to come out to more and more people, it wasn't hard to notice diminishing job opportunities for me in the life of the church. Even self-proclaimed progressive churches who fancy themselves inclusive of LGBTQ folks sometimes found the possibility of a bi+ pastor to be a step too far for them. Inappropriate and unfounded rumors quietly spread that I was unfaithful to my spouse. What's more, when I edited my PIF (my denomination’s official vocational search paperwork) to explicitly note my sexual orientation, the number of contacts from search committees dramatically decreased. Being out feels a lot like freedom. But it’s certainly not a walk in the park.
By the way – I use the term ‘perceived’ privilege above, because while it is undeniable that a bi+ individual in a heteronormative relationship carries considerable privilege compared to others in the LGBTQ community, I’ve learned it’s a privilege that often doubles as an extraordinary burden. Because the intricacies of my God-given identity are in many ways invisible, so is the hurt and pain I’ve faced as a result of it. For just one of many examples of how this plays out in my life: when my family attends a Pride festival together, I am automatically assumed by others both in and out of the LGBTQ community to either be (1) a straight ally; or (2) secretly gay. Yet, neither of those assumptions describe my place in the community, or my understanding of myself. Simply put: living in the closet meant an essential part of my identity was completely invisible, and I suffered for it.
What about you and Megan? How's your marriage?
Megan and I are joyfully married and the best of friends. After I looked in the proverbial mirror and came out to myself in 2015, she was the very first person I came out to, just a few months later. Megan is my biggest supporter and the love we share is the greatest gift of my life.
If this post made questions pop up in your mind about the health and status of our relationship, perhaps you are operating on an assumption that my sexual orientation causes us to have difficult days. The truth is, it does. But only because of the inaccurate stereotypes and blatant discrimination we have had to face. Imagine, for example, what it feels like to be publicly accused of infidelity when nothing could be further from the truth. (It's a terrible feeling).
It's important to remember that one's sexuality has nothing at all to do with one's capacity for maintaining a monogamous relationship. The myth of bisexual promiscuity is just that… a myth. To be bi is simply to hold the potential for finding folks of the same and other genders as physically/emotionally attractive.
Dear reader: do you have the capacity to enter into a committed relationship with no urge whatsoever to look beyond that relationship for love and affection? Guess what? Me too.
Want to offer your support?
First, and most importantly, know how much I value your love, prayers, and compassion! Seriously. If you've read this far down the post, know that that’s all my family needs or desires.
But, that said, I do want to offer a quick plug for two incredible organizations the Remaley family supports financially.
First is the Trevor Project. LGBTQ youth experience extraordinarily high rates of bullying, homelessness, mental illness, and substance abuse. Did you know that one accepting adult in a teen’s life lowers suicidal ideation by 40%? The Trevor Project offers 24/7 crisis counseling, advocates for protections and well-being for LGBTQ young people, and maintains a great reference/research database (including my favorite Bi+ guide, linked above!) To donate, click here.
Second is the Covenant Network of Presbyterians, and its executive director Rev. Brian Ellison. Over the past few years and especially in the past several months, Brian has walked alongside me on the journey of reconciling my identity and vocational call — including in times of crisis. Let me be perfectly clear: I would not be where I am today without his support, and the ministries of this organization. To donate, click here.
I imagine there are plenty of more awe-inspiring and inspirational stories out there than my own -- thanks be to God for the ways the Spirit moves through us all! -- but if this blog post has inspired you in any way to consider making a financial donation… I humbly suggest you share the love with one of these life-changing organizations.
I'm a husband, father, news junkie, theatre lover, enneagram enthusiast, bi advocate, amateur foodie, wannabe barista, and an ordained pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA).
All works by Rev. TJ Remaley on this website are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License
This blog is maintained personally by me and does not necessarily represent the views of any congregation I have served. Every effort is made to give proper attribution for quotations, images, and other media used on this page.