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  • Writer's picturecliff carbone

My Story, My Shame.

*On Monday, July 8, 2019, I "came out" publicly to my family, friends, and community via FaceBook. Here is that post.

Monday, July 8, 2019

If you take a quick glance at the three pictures below (kindergarten, senior year, and current) it probably would be easy for you to assume I’m a happy person who has lived a happy life. The twinkle in my eye and goofy smile give it away easily.

What is not easily seen, or perhaps, impossible to see, is the fact that underneath that twinkle and smile was a little boy, a teenager, and a man - all three fighting a hard battle - the battle of shame.

I am a son, brother, friend, teacher, American, Christian…...and I am gay.

To clarify even further…..

I was born gay.

For at least as long as I can remember, (even before Kindergarten) I have known that I was gay and have carried the baggage of shame that accompanies it. With each passing year the shame and confusion became heavier and heavier, harder and harder to carry through life. Up until a week ago I had assumed that the shame was simply because I was, indeed, gay. But it has recently dawned on me that at some point in my life, the manifestation of shame had evolved not just from being gay, but moreover, that I was hiding it. This is now the real shame - that for 39 years I have had to offer my family, friends, church family and everybody else in my life only a part of me - and not the whole me. That is where the shame now lies and it increasingly hurts. Being gay was not a choice. Hiding it from my friends and family was.

As if being “different” wasn’t difficult enough, the hateful noise from society and from many in the church compounded the shame. In my life I have observed, either directly or indirectly, some of the most hateful and vile rhetoric against homosexuals - including from the mouths of many pronounced CHRISTtians whose words were anything but Christ-like. Biblical convictions that were expressed not through a filter of Love but bullied out through a filter of hate. I’ve always wondered if those same people would scream those words at a little boy crying quietly in his bed because he knew he was different and couldn’t wrap his head around it. Or a teenager, crying on his bedroom floor pleading with his Creator to take this away from him and scared to death of what his future would hold. Or a grown man, lonely and isolated from years of building up walls between he and the ones he loves and love him - including the One who created him. In the end the loneliness and suffocating walls have become too much to bare. And so now it is time to begin the hard work to break down these walls.

I reached out to some of my closest friends and family a few days ago with the news before I made this public. Though they were all supportive and pledged their continued love it was hard for some of them to process. My sister, Amanda, who I would consider my best friend (sorry other siblings) called me hurt and crying. She was crying NOT because of the content of my confession, but was hurt that I had not shared it with her sooner. Though this might almost seem selfish, I understood completely. Relationships go both ways. When you are in any relationship and not offering your whole self the lie can be hard to forgive.

So why am I sharing this on Facebook?

I always knew that one day I would need to “come out” (as they say) and I also knew that God would make it very clear to me when it was time to do so. He has recently made it very clear.

Admittedly I can see how posting this on social media seems like a silly and maybe even an immature thing to do. Perhaps even self-centered. “Nobody cares Cliff.” Out of love my dad also advised me not to...understandably.

So why? a) Because I wanted to tell my story in my own words and not put that opportunity in the mouth of somebody else. b) Quite frankly I didn’t want to have to share my story hundreds of times with individuals one-on-one.

It might seem silly but there was a time that I was practically addicted to watching The Office. Though there is plenty to enjoy in watching that show - there were many, many, many times that feelings of jealousy and sadness stirred within me. How easy would my life be if I just sat in an office all day with just a handful of coworkers surrounding me, get my work done, and go home to just a small group of friends who know the whole me and love me for it.

For those who know me that is not my life. For 16 years of teaching I have had hundreds of students in-and-out of my classroom along with their families. I have built many relationships in the small and growing community where I currently teach as well as serve and worship along with many of these at the church where I attend. And though I know that I am well loved by most of them it is not at all lost on me that I teach in a conservative town in Texas, USA. I know that coming out might, and most probably will, be an issue least with some.

Considering my students.

Of all the difficulties of coming out by far the hardest aspect has been when considering my students. It is, perhaps, the biggest reason why it has taken me so long to come out. Fear. Fear that many of my students will no longer view me as somebody worthy of teaching them. Fear that it would be a big distraction and that when students see me they would see me as “the gay teacher” and not “a great teacher…..who just happens to be gay.” Or better-yet, just “a great teacher.”

As it is - I do not “friend” current students on my personal Facebook account. I have, however, “friended” many former students as well as former parents and current parents who are perhaps reading and maybe even struggling with these words right now. And of course, though I will not directly be sharing my story with my current students, the chances of the contents of this post finding its way to them is very much a possibility and I welcome that.

What I would want my students to know is a) I am not defined by my orientation. It is simply a piece of the puzzle that makes I am still Mr. Carbone. The good…..and the bad. ;-) b) By nature I am a very private person and though I can say now that I am proud to be who I am this is not something that I will allow to become a distraction in my classroom. If my sexual orientation is being discussed it won’t be by me. c) From day one of rehearsals it will be business as usual. That business will be to continue to make and craft beautiful music and to have fun and be a family along the way. No more. No less. d) Be who you are meant to be. Be proud! Remember that if somebody has an issue with that it says NOTHING about you but EVERYTHING about them. e) Be loving and everyone. You never know what lies behind the goofy smile and twinkling eyes. :-)

Considering my faith.

Well? In some aspects it’s very quite simple. And, of course, in some it is quite complicated. I am a Christian. I do believe I am saved by nothing but grace and believe my words and actions should reflect that and the love and teachings of Christ. And though I am far from perfect I do strive to live my life as if in an open conversation with God - a conversation that has been harder and harder to engage in with each passing year as I grew angrier and the walls grew taller.

So can you be both a Christian and gay?

Books upon books and hours upon hours could, and have, been spent trying to find the answer to this question. In the end, and if I were to answer that question based on my own personal studies of the scripture, then the quickest and easiest answer I can give to that question is “Yes. You can be both gay and a Christian. No more and no less than any other sinner.” This is what I firmly believe Scripture teaches.

“If you have a problem with who I am, your problem is not with me, your quarrel sir, is with my Creator.” - Pete Buttigieg

When I heard Mayor Pete, a democratic presidential nominee declare these words concerning being openly gay, it gave me a moment of clarity. It became clear to me that as I have wrestled with God on this issue all of my life, so has the church. They just didn’t realize it.

But as difficult as my journey has been I realize how blessed I am that I am able to include 3 pictures below. Many who are dealing with the shame of homosexuality do not make it to their Senior picture and many do not make it to their late 30’s. If sharing my story helps just one young man or woman escape the temptation to commit suicide that’s plenty worth it to me. If sharing my story helps some of you possibly shift your lens to see things with a little more compassion that will have been plenty worth it as well.

As for now I welcome words of love and encouragement. What is not welcome are words of persuasion attempting to “set me straight.”

I know many in my life will continue to support me and love me whether they agree with me or not. I equally know many who read this will be inclined to feel that they have no other option but to reject me and turn me away - especially many in the church. And if this is the case, so be it. Please remember though - when you reject and turn away the man in the picture below, you do the same to the teenager and the little boy. For all 3 of us have struggled and labored on this same journey.

This is my story. But with the click of the button below - I can joyfully say it is no longer my shame.

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