Ohmyword. It’s been such a long time since I published the first part of this post series that I almost forgot about it. That wouldn’t be good. School and life just really got ahead of me for a bit (which tends to happen rather frequently). But I’m back with the second part of my story out of…(let’s be honest, I don’t know how long this series is going to be haha). So, check out the link up top there if you need a refresher on part one of my story or if you haven’t read it yet, since I’m going to be picking up right where I left off 🙂
So my story picks up with me sitting in youth group, listening to this testimony and trying to come to terms with the fact that I’m gay…in a church youth basement, sounds pretty picturesque, doesn’t it? Yeah, no, it really wasn’t at all. I didn’t know what to think, or what I was supposed to think. So I didn’t. I didn’t think about it, at least for the next couple hours.
Sunday school or youth group ended, I’m not sure which, and I just played it all off. Everything was fine. Yes, I needed to figure out this stuff, but everything was fine. I didn’t have to do anything right at that second. I would just go home and process for a little bit. And I definitely wouldn’t tell anyone. This whole same-sex attraction thing (which is what they called it at church and the term that I preferred for a while) was going to be resolved (whatever the heck I thought that meant).
But I guess that I was pretty naive to think that I could just push it down and not think about it for the rest of the day, because that obviously didn’t happen. I left church with my family, and it was the only thing that I could think about. It would get pushed out of my mind for a few minutes at a time when I was particularly distracted by something else, but it was always there. It wouldn’t go away, no matter how hard I tried. And it bothered me. I still didn’t know what I thought about the whole thing, and I definitely couldn’t bring myself to tell myself that I was gay. No. Even saying same-sex attraction to myself was a stretch.
When I finally got home a couple hours later, it was eating away at me from the inside. I had told myself that this thing was going to die a quick death, that no one would ever find out and that I could just go on living my life like a normal person (hello, heteronormativity). After all, I had dated a girl. No, it hadn’t worked out, but that didn’t mean that it would never work out, right? But at the same time, I also didn’t feel like an anomaly. I didn’t really feel any different, because I wasn’t any different than a few hours ago. I just had a term to put with my experiences. So was this normal? Or was this something I needed to deal with? I didn’t know. Either way, after a couple hours, I couldn’t take it anymore. I had to tell someone. If I didn’t, I was convinced that whatever it was inside me would literally eat a hole right out of my body and escape.
So while my family was doing whatever they happened to be preoccupied with that day, I locked myself in the bathroom (the lock on my bedroom door wasn’t super reliable at the time) and took out my phone. The guy that had shared his testimony at church was actually one of my pretty good friends, and I figured that he would probably be one of the least judgmental places to start, because I definitely wasn’t going to start with my family or any of my friends from my super tiny, conservative Christian school. That would not be a good idea (and in retrospect, it was the right decision. I had a lot of things to work through before I told any of my other friends and my parents).
So, locked in the bathroom and feeling like my stomach was going to explode, I typed out my message and hit send. (In reality, it was more like I typed out my message, reread it a thousand billion times, hesitated, hesitated some more, and then finally hit send, but that part is irrelevant.) He actually responded pretty quickly, but each of the minutes in between felt like an eternity. The growing pit in my stomach made me feel like I had just confessed to a horrendous crime and was awaiting my prison sentence. It was agonizing to say the least, because just like that, I had told the first person. This was just around the middle of sophomore year of high school.
The new few months that followed are where my process really began. I was naive enough to think that I would just be able to quickly deal with it and move on with my life. Little did I know that telling my friend would be the start of a long three year long process of figuring out how I was supposed to live and what I really believed about being gay and being a Christian, aside from what my school said, aside from what my parents said, and aside from what my church said. Over the next couple years, I would need to figure out what I believed myself. But again, I was at the beginning of my process, so obviously my first opinions were very much swayed by what my friend believed and what my church taught.
At first, I told myself that I was going to fight it (whatever that’s supposed to mean), and I threw in a lot of other Christian sounding metaphors and expressions on how I was going to “handle it.” Soon, it wouldn’t be a problem at all. After all, my friend’s testimony had ended on a sort of obscure note that implied he had won in his “battle against same-sex attraction.” Now, I don’t put that in quotes in a mocking sort of way. I’m still really good friends with this person, and we’ve talked about how those attractions never really went away and how saying that you’ve “conquered” your same-sex attractions is deceiving because it implies that they’re gone and done with, akin to the deception that every ex-gay ministry put on. The fact of the matter is, yes, God absolutely can change people’s orientation, but 99.9% of the time when we ask, His answer is no. So, I put that in quotes because that’s no longer the way that I see it, though that’s not necessarily relevant just yet.
Sometime during the next few months, I decided (and I have no idea how I came to this conclusion) that it would be a good idea to try and talk to one of my youth pastors about it, especially since this youth pastor had a good relationship with the friend that had originally shared his testimony at church. I was assuming that my telling him would be well received. And I mean, it didn’t go badly; in fact it was exactly the sort of response I had anticipated, considering the place that I was in. It was my own reaction that surprised me. He listened very politely, not interrupting except to ask an occasional clarifying question. His expressions and everything about the way that he responded while I was telling him made me feel like he was really getting it and that he was really sympathetic to what I was going through, but when I finally finished telling him what little there was of my story and let him say what was on his mind, I found myself feeling really uncomfortable.
After having listened to everything I had to say, he (and maybe I imagined this next part) clapped his hands together and immediately started asking what my game plan was and what steps I was taking.
Even though I had subconsciously bought into the idea that this was something that I was going to deal with right away and be done with, hearing someone else talk to me about it like it was a problem to solve really hit me. It gave me the same sort of feeling that I remembered having in middle school when the other guys would make fun of it for something that was peculiar to the way that I talked or something that I said. And I didn’t like it. It caused a couple walls to go up as I sort of stuttered my way through saying that I wasn’t really “doing anything about it” yet.
Immediately, everything inside of me that had been hopeful and optimistic about telling my youth pastor evaporated. The way that he continued to talk to me about being gay, or my same-sex attraction at the time, made me feel like I had a disease or something that I needed to be cured of. I felt defective and broken, and not in the cutesy, philosophical way that Christians talk about spiritual brokenness. I felt like there was something wrong with me, something that needed to be cut out, like bruised part of an apple or strawberry that you don’t want to eat because it’s all mushy and discolored. I started feeling like I’ve come to learn most gay people in the church feel: I started feeling like a project, someone who needs to be fixed, someone who isn’t quite a full person, someone who is inferior, someone whose faith is less legitimate, all because I was gay.
And that was when I started feeling even more of a disconnect. Even after my first and only talk with that youth pastor, I kept hearing people at my church talk about same-sex attraction using words like “struggle” and “battle” and “fight,” but that wasn’t how I felt at all. I didn’t feel like I was fighting against anything. I mean, I wasn’t involved in any of those things that were portrayed in a stereotypically exaggerated “gay lifestyle,” so I didn’t understand what anyone was trying to fix in me. I was just living, still 15 years old, still going to youth group, still going to a small Christian school. I didn’t feel like there was anything wrong with me, but at the same time, the way that people talked about same-sex attraction made me feel like I should feel like something was wrong with me. They made it sound like I should be miserable, constantly “struggling” and “battling” it, but I wasn’t miserable. I didn’t hate myself. I honestly didn’t see anything wrong with the way that I was, but I started trying to pray the gay away anyway (hi, rhyming points), just because that’s what my church and school implied that I should be doing whenever they talked about it. It didn’t necessarily feel right, but they kept implying that if I just followed God enough and prayed enough that I would stop “struggling” with it, something that sounds strangely reminiscent of the ex-gay movement in retrospect.
Anyway, that first year of “battling it” was the toughest, mostly because I was relegating myself to “battling it” in my opinion. My church didn’t outright believe that simply being gay was wrong in and of itself, but that wasn’t really communicated well. They played up the part about how we were supposed to be “fighting it” and “taking up our crosses daily,” among other things. So I would catch myself noticing guys and immediately start to pray for the attraction to pass, or if I didn’t, I would indulge myself a little and then feel bad afterward for having found someone attractive, as if that were something that I could control.
By the end of that school year, the end of sophomore year, I decided that I had to tell someone else. I was just so conflicted. I didn’t feel like there was anything inherently wrong with me. I didn’t hate myself for being same-sex attracted (still my term of choice at the time, highly influenced by my church). I didn’t hate God for making me that way. I didn’t really think it was a problem at all. But at the same time, my church kept making me feel like I needed to feel some sort of revulsion to it, lest I become comfortable in my sin and God “gave me over” to it, whatever that was supposed to mean. I didn’t know what to think. I didn’t really know what to feel. After all, I was still just a naive 15 year old who knew nothing about LGBT issues or same-sex attraction, absolutely nothing. All I knew was what my church told me, and it told me that I had to fight it. But fight what? The attractions themselves? How was I supposed to fight something that I couldn’t even control? And why? I wasn’t lusting. I wasn’t doing anything. So why were they still trying to fix something that didn’t need fixing? I didn’t know.