On Coming Out and Adopting Trauma

On Coming Out and Adopting Trauma
Helen Rose
January 7, 2019

An audio version of this post can be found here.

Back in September, I finally found my way out of the closet. I’ve intentionally kept this close to the vest as I come to terms with it, learn what it looks like for me, and adjust to my new definitions and expectations for myself. I typically make a significant effort to be transparent, and in this instance, it has been a gift to process things in privacy.

I’ve been a part of the LGBTQ/TGQNB (I literally learned that there is a new acronym last week) community as an ally since I learned it was a thing in seventh grade. I have been using the word “gay” to describe myself frequently, but today, suddenly, driving under the new pedestrian bridge on Western Avenue, it struck me that now, this cause I’ve always been a part of is suddenly very personal. There are literally people out there who think I shouldn’t have the right to get married or even exist as I do.

I’m just sitting here, driving my kid home from daycare, praying that I get to meet someone that I want to marry and who wants to marry me one day – and now, because that figure at the end of the aisle in my head is female, there are people who think that is wrong? What have I gotten myself into?

The answer, of course, is that living true to oneself is always worth the challenges that come with it. I’m still navigating this part of myself and figuring out how it fits into my sense of who I am. It is a process.

Sometimes, in the process of living and loving true to our highest selves, we adopt challenges.

Sometimes, when trauma is a part of something that matters to us, our sense of empathy makes the trauma of those we love our own.

Sometimes, they become our own in unexpected ways.

Ten years ago, I was a sophomore in high school sitting at the edge of the community pool when my mother got an alert on her phone.

There had been a shooting.

These days, I barely would have looked up, but ten years ago, that was still a shocking thing.

The shooting had happened at Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church, which is about 20 minutes away from where we lived.

I had no idea at the time what Unitarian Universalism was. I had no idea that I would later come to know and be a part of the UU community in Knoxville. I had no idea that I would finally admit the truth about my sexual orientation for the first time in a UU minister’s office, or that I would later decide to become a UU minister myself.

I had no idea that ten years later, I would attend a vigil to mark the anniversary of the shooting, and I would be moved to tears for the injustice of the world and the pain this community I love had endured.

These statements are not intended to claim anything that is not rightfully mine. They are not to lump myself in with those members of the beloved community who directly experienced the events of summer 2008, because I know my vicarious sadness is barely a fraction of what they have felt.

The point I am trying to make is that there is no way for me to remove myself from the pain that still lives in the community, because I adopted it when I adopted the community, and it adopted me. The fact that I did not cross the threshold of a UU church until two years after the shooting is not extremely relevant – the fact that the spot in my heart for Unitarian Universalism holds both joys and sorrows is. If this burden must be carried by anyone at all, I am glad to take on my share, because it means being a part of that interdependent web of life, which I believe to be constructed with love and sustained by empathy.

There seems to be an incredible lack of empathy in the world right now. Often, people living in poverty are blamed for their socioeconomic status, people of color are criminalized for existing, survivors of assault are accused of “asking for it,” parents separated from their children at the border are demonized for seeking refuge from poverty, oppression, and crime. I wonder if instead of assigning labels and blame in these situations, what would happen if we approached them with empathy and compassion?

What would it take for me to walk thousands of miles to a country where I am being told I am not wanted for the chance of a better life?

What would it feel like to have the police called on me, effectively threatening my life, for having a barbecue or sitting in a café while black?

How would it feel if I worked 40 hours a week and still could not afford to pay rent and eat?

What if these [insert label here] are human – exactly like me, with human needs and emotions like mine?

The truth is that humanity is more important than laws, borders, creeds, or biases. We are all connected and what harms one of us harms all of us. Just because my child has not been ripped from me at the border, murdered in cold blood, or called a slur does not mean that a child has not been. Their pain matters just as much as my child’s. Your pain matters just as much as mine. No one human being is better than, more important than, or superior to another. Full stop.

The trauma of the world belongs to all of us, just like the sunlight and the Earth herself. Caring for ourselves includes caring for our fellow travelers. Together is the only way forward.

Idealistic? Sure. Necessary? Absolutely.

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”
-Helen Keller

9 responses to “On Coming Out and Adopting Trauma”

  1. […] next year. I decided on a career I’m passionate about. I finally came to terms with being gay and came out. I eat my vegetables. What the fuck do you mean I have healing to do? I’m healed. I’m good. I […]


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  6. […] public advocacy campaign, was launched in 2009. The campaign was developed in response to the 2008 shooting at Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church, our sister church across town. The shooting was […]


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  9. […] that owned the space bribed the children into Bible Study with candy and toys. I danced around my truth when the children asked why I don’t have a boyfriend or […]


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