Out, Liberated and Proud… Darnell Fennell

Darnell FennellAs we reflect on coming out stories, it reminds me of how problematic this event was for me. Figuratively, it is one coming out of a place of hiding that has been traditionally called the closet. There are people who have a date that they will never forget, and that is the day they came out to friends and family. I remember a time when I came to terms with my queer sexuality, and from that moment I have taken the model suggested by my good friend and brother Darnell L. Moore. Moore a writer and scholar suggests that we rethink the disclosure paradigms from coming out to inviting in. So here is my story of inviting in my immediate family.

Fall 2006, I was 18 and entering my first year of college.  As a young preacher of 3 years I had chosen an extremely conservative Southern Baptist School in Texas to receive my Bachelor of Science Degree in Biblical Studies. In the education environment that I had chosen, homosexuality was discussed under a very negative light. I found myself around campus, and in classroom discussions silently wearing a mask among my professors and colleagues, hiding my identity. Words would sound out of their mouths, into my ears, then into my heart and soul causing me to struggle even more with my sexuality and the long distance relationship with my first boyfriend.

The continuous negative dialogue put me in a declared mental battle. I struggled with feeling obligated to choose between ministry and my queer identity. I wrestled with the idea that if I wanted to be in ministry I would not be qualified because I was actively involved in what was perceived as wrong by others, but desirable to me. To add to my pain, there was no one in my conservative environment who I could confide in for help or consolation. During this period in my life I had many sleepless nights and even contemplated suicide to end the mental battle and voices that I felt were controlling me and telling me that who I am was wrong.

My growing up experience was within a household that would probably be described as religious especially when it came to matters of sexuality. In this house we did not talk about sex let alone about queer sexuality.  I cannot remember ever having a conversation about the birds and the bees.  Morphing into a teenager with hormones that were explosively queer, I did what I knew best, I operated in silence and shame as I went along to get along. My greatest fear was if my secret was found out, I would get a whooping and put to shame.  Despite my fears I determined that I had to go to the person who I was most comfortable with, my mother.

I remember calling her one evening after the sun had set and inviting her into my space, a space where no one in my family had ever been allowed to enter. I cautiously began to share my story with her.  I explained to her how at that time in my life I was struggling with my sexuality and the call to ministry.  She asked, “Have you prayed about this?” Yes, I had prayed about it a thousand times over.  While I had her in my space I let her know that this was not a new discovery.  This was something that I had been attempting to fix or be cured of since I was a little boy.  Before hanging up the phone my mom warned me that she was obligated to share this new information with my father.

The following weekend my family, which included my mother, father and older brother came to visit.  That visit was a most difficult one to say the least.  Their motive was out of love, but their agenda was to fix me.

Over the past 6 years we have all concluded that I cannot be fixed.  I think!  They are each in their own place of embracing the fullness of who I am as a queer man called by God to preach a gospel that is radically inclusive.  Yet, they support me in my journey to attend school in pursuit of a Masters of Divinity at Pacific School of Religion in order to equip myself to one day pastor an inclusive congregation declaring that God loves us all as we are.

Inviting my family into this space was second best only to my personal arrival in the space of seeing my queer self as not sinful but authentically me.  I am Out and Proud!

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