*This piece contains Captain Marvel spoilers.*
In a recent meeting with my spiritual director, she suggested that I buy an enamel pin of a middle finger. I could keep it in my pocket as a kind of talisman. It would be a reminder: I am in charge of myself, and no one can take that power away from me.
But with the exception of one uncharacteristic moment in traffic, I have never flipped someone off, so I decided against purchasing the off-color charm. In its place, I ordered a pin I can proudly display on my jacket. It is a polite but earnest expression of “take no shit” that I can make part of my public identity, a slogan from Captain Marvel: “Higher, further, faster.”
I saw Captain Marvel in theaters just a few weeks before publicly coming out, and Carol Danvers’ story gave me courage as I prepared to tell my own. The first scene of the movie is Carol waking up from a nightmare, haunted, not by the facts of her past, but by the fact that she can’t remember it at all. She has no idea who she is: her character, her identity, and her memories have all been stolen from her. Her leaders take advantage of this moorlessness and leave her contstantly trying to prove herself and solidify her belonging.
For me, as for many LGBTQ+ Christians, this story is a familiar one. To survive the closet for 23 years, I had to lie to myself and forget who I was. Carol’s identity was stolen from her, but I spent my entire adolescence trying to kill mine. Even without being consciously aware of my queerness, I knew my world didn’t have space for the person I truly was. So I did everything I could to put a damper on my intensity, my emotions, and anything that would betray my idiosyncratic identity.
When I became a Christian, the Church was my chance at finally fitting in — my fellow Christians didn’t seem to care that I was a bit eccentric, they just cared that I read my Bible every day and scrupulously upheld every rule of “Christian morality.” Those were, after all, the weapons of “spiritual warfare.” So I did everything I could to separate my sexuality — an essential part of my humanity — from my sense of self and conscious awareness. I didn’t really belong anywhere else, least of all to myself, so I tried to prove that I was “spiritual enough” to finally belong somewhere.
In one of the first scenes of the movie, Carol spars with her commander, Yon-Rogg, as he berates her for being emotional and tells her that she is only as good as her ability to fight without superpowers. Just like Carol, I used to think that I was only as good as my ability to shut down my feelings and become who everyone else wanted me to be. Then everything changed.
Carol learns who she is through her best friend, Maria: “You were the most powerful person I knew, way before you could shoot fire from your fists.” My story also involves learning my identity in a moment, but it took months of facing my fears and coming out to people for me to learn my power.
When I came out, I gave up relationships and ministry roles. But I did it because as long as I was hiding this huge part of myself, there wouldn’t be a single space where my whole self could belong. Like a bat can flatten itself to the thickness of a quarter, I could contort myself to fit in anywhere, but a space that only has room for a flattened caricature of yourself leaves no room to breathe, let alone live. It was time for me to live.
When Carol finally discovers her identity, it gives her the power to break free from Kree control: the device on her neck, which she’d been told was the source of her powers, was actually a device to limit their strength. Carol removes it, saying, “I’ve been fighting with one arm tied behind my back. But what happens when I’m finally set free?”
While there’s no such thing as a gay Christian superpower, my greatest strength comes when I stand as my full self, empowered by the Holy Spirit. Coming out did not give me this strength: it merely showed me what was already there. Everything I need has been inside of me all along.
The first time Maria and Fury saw Carol in her full power, they were shocked, and told her, “You’re glowing.” This is my story too. I have heard that same phrase from friends, family, and old acquaintances over and over since coming out. As one friend put it, “I can see how happy it makes you to finally be who you truly are.”
My enemies are not aliens with blue blood, or even people. My enemies are fear, heterosexism, toxic theology, and the trauma that has led me to stifle my voice. I was once under their control, manipulated into silence and docility, but I have resolved to fight back.
My favorite scene in the movie comes when Yon-Rogg tries to manipulate Carol into engaging him in hand-to-hand combat rather than using her powers. Carol is not fooled. She strikes Yon-Rogg with a photon blast, stands over him, and says, “I have nothing to prove to you.”
The truth is that there is nothing I need to prove to anyone. Throughout the coming-out process, I felt this need to prove my faithfulness and theological soundness: if I could tell my story in just the right way, I would be safe and loved, and I would still belong in the spaces that believed my sexual orientation was wrong. But I do not deserve to have my safety held captive by my ability to prove that I am worthy of love. My safety should be — and is — unconditional. I will no longer stay in any place that does not honor my safety. I have found my voice, and I will not silence it again.
The truth is that coming out is only a small piece of finding my voice. Coming out represented an end to my self-silencing, but now I am free to ask the questions that I have long feared, face the realities to which I could never bear to open my eyes, and invite others to see the person I am rather than the image I project. I can explore my spirituality unhindered by the expectations of what it is supposed to look like. I can sift through my dreams, and find which ones are mine and which ones were planted by others. I can re-tell my story with clear eyes, unafraid to point out the darkness, because I have hope that my story is not over yet.
During the month of April, I engaged in a creative project — I wrote and posted a poem every day of the month to celebrate National Poetry Month. It was a scary thing to do, because I was essentially posting diary entries, veiled and sonorous though they may be, on my Instagram for all the world to see. Before I started the coming-out process, I would never have had the courage to engage in such a vulnerable project of self-disclosure. But now that I’ve found the power to speak boldly, I will not hide in fear or allow any part of me to be manipulated back into a closet.
A word to those, LGBTQ+ and otherwise, who are still struggling to find their voices
To the silenced soul, to the dear one paralyzed by self-doubt, take heart. You are braver than you think. The power to tell your story is already within you; you don’t need anyone’s permission but your own. There are times when you have to stay silent to keep yourself safe, and that’s okay, but know that you won’t have to stay quiet forever. Speak out when you’re ready. You are a hero, hiding in a utility closet, as the villains pass by. Silence is not your home, just a convenient hiding place from which you can move on as soon as the coast is clear. In the meantime, sit and be present with yourself. Find the strength in your body and the power in your breath. Let the stillness reveal your true self, and in time, courage will come. Soon, you will be ready. And soon, you will speak.
This post was originally published on July 6, 2019.