Today’s blog is a real treat, it’s a guest blog from my friend, Amber Cantorna. Amber is the daughter of a Focus on the Family executive and also a gay women. She has shared her story of coming out and the painful loss of her family in the memoir Refocusing My Family. I read the book after I met Amber, and was amazed to hear the tragic yet hopeful story of my new friend. The book was incredible. I couldn’t put it down. Even though my story is very different from hers, I found myself nodding along. Hers is a clear, open, compassionate, and honest voice that is very important in the LGBT+ Christian community, and far beyond. I’m so happy to share her post with you today. You’re going to love it.
Today marks six years since I came out of the closet. In some ways it feels so much longer. So much has happened in the span of those six years–I’ve fallen in love, gotten married to my wife, published a book, and started a non-profit for LGBTQ people of faith. Could it really be only six years ago that I was more scared than I’d ever been in my entire life as I prepared to tell my family morning?
And yet, it seems like yesterday. I can still see so clearly the stoic look that was on their faces when my parents and younger brother arrived to my house, barely making eye contact as they came in the door. It was as if they knew something was up.
I can still sense the tension in the room that grew with every word I spoke about my journey of reconciling my faith and my sexuality.
I can still hear the deafening silence that hung in the air once the words “I am gay” finally left my mouth. It was the most vulnerable I’d ever felt in my life.
And I can still feel the pain that struck my heart with a knife when my dad looked at me with anger in his eyes and said, “I have nothing to say to you right now,” and walked out the door.
That screen door slamming behind them as my mom and brother followed suit was the sound of rejection. It broke my heart into pieces and I collapsed onto the floor. I so desperately longed for love–for an attempt at understanding. But there was none. Our relationship had never felt so drained of compassion or void of connection in my life.
My family was the family that was always there for one another. Hardly a day went by without talking to my mom on the phone. Living within close proximity made it easy to stop by for a cup of tea or family dinner. My dad started working at Focus on the Family when I was three years old, so our home was steeped in family values, godly parenting, and meaningful tradition for as far back as I can remember. Homeschooled K-12, my mom was a stay-at-home mom and housewife, as my dad went off to do the meaningful work of strengthening families.
I never dreamed that my dad’s position at Focus would tear me
away from those I loved the most–but that’s what happened. The news of my sexual orientation tore apart the very fabric that wove us together and none of us were ever the same.
In the following weeks my parents compared me to murderers, pedophiles, and bestiality. They said I was selfish for doing this to the family and only considering what made me happy. They said they’d rather I turned my back on God completely, than pretend everything between me and God was okay.
And then they asked for the keys to their house back. And my world fell apart even more.
In the months following, we tried to find some common ground, but it never worked. I tried to maintain as consistent as I could to prove that I was still the same daughter they’d always known. I wanted their approval and I desperately needed to know that I still belonged. But as time went on, they pushed me further and further to the fringes–sometimes with their words, and other times with passive aggressive behavior. In time, I knew that I was no longer welcome as part of the family.
In the years that followed, I fell in love, got engaged, and married the love of my life. My wife and I will celebrate four years of marriage this June. We bought our first house, I published Refocusing My Family, and I founded a non-profit called Beyond to help other LGBTQ people of faith navigate their coming out process.
My dad still works at Focus on the Family to this day. And what I discovered was that their love, when tested, came with strings attached. In the end, their need to uphold their reputation and their desire to maintain appearances won out over their love for their own daughter. We haven’t spoken in almost four years. Completely cut off from both immediate and extended family, being authentic came at an extremely high cost.
And yet…it just keeps getting better.
Looking back over the last six years, I now know that coming out was absolutely the best decision I could have ever made. Being true to myself saved my life; it strengthened my faith, it gave me an authentic community where I could thrive, and it launched me into the ministry that I somehow always knew God had waiting for me.
In those days leading up to the most terrifying day of my life, I could only dream of the things I have now. Even though I had to let go of almost everything I’d ever known to gain it, I discovered a level of true and authentic joy I never knew existed. I’ve become more light, more free, and more happy than I ever was during my years of wrestling in the dark.
These past six years have been the best years of my life.
Yes, they have been laced with great sorrow and deep pain–experiences and hurtful words that I will never be able to forget. But the freedom of being who God has made you to be in its fullest form has made me feel more alive than I ever knew was possible.
In years past, my Coming Out Anniversary has been a day of solemn remembrance of what’s been lost and the price I paid for being true to myself. But this year, it is a day I celebrate because six years later (with some time and space in the rear view mirror), I see how valuable the journey has been.
If you are wrestling in the midst of that coming out process and still wondering if all this is ever going to be worth it one day, let me tell you my friends: it just keeps getting better.
You can read more about Amber’s journey in her memoir, Refocusing My Family, available on Amazon and wherever books are sold. If you are in the process of navigating your own coming out process, you can find resources at Amber’s website and keep an eye out for Amber’s second book coming Spring 2019 which will provide helpful tools to guide you along this journey.
Amber Cantorna is an author, blogger, and sought-after speaker on topics of LGBTQ and faith. As the founder and president of Beyond, she strives to help others reconcile their faith with their sexuality and successfully navigate their own coming out process. You can subscribe to Amber’s blog by visiting her website or follow her on social media @AmberNCantorna.