Preface from the Blogger: this is a long post, but there was no way to say what I needed to say in any shorter form. I won't write anything over the weekend, so that if you're interested you can have time to read this at your leisure. The Last Debate will return next week.
Consider the work of God: for who can make straight what He has made crooked?
On the day I realized I was gay, I threw up.
I was not an effeminate child, but I was different. I was chubby, I preferred books to sports, and I was extremely introverted. I didn’t relate well to other kids, and I only had one friend, faithful little Paul, who didn’t seem to mind the way I mercilessly bossed him around.
I was always teased. “Gayrod” was the usual epithet. I had to ask my mother what it meant. The kids at school liked to play a little game they called “smear the queer,” in which they would suddenly rush and tackle some unsuspecting unpopular kid. It was often me. In the polite suburbs of Portland, young kids just didn’t use dirty language. If you wanted to insult someone or something, you said he/she/it was “gay.” That was the derogatory adjective of choice. That was the worst thing you could say about someone.
Once I was dragged backwards through a pile of dogshit on the playground.
Puberty did me a huge favor: I entered seventh grade at 4’11” and 131 pounds. I left it at 5’6” and 116 pounds, and spent the summer before eighth grade two hours away from home at a camp in Eugene, Oregon, where there wasn’t a single other student from my school. I had a clean slate, and miraculously I fell in with the popular crowd.
They taught me all the stuff I had missed out on: it was like a cram session in popularity. I learned about popular music (I’d always listened to classical), I used hairspray and deodorant for the first time, and they sent me back to my mother at the end of the summer with a list of acceptable clothing labels: Bugle Boy, Generra, Guess, Swatch. I returned to school in the fall tall, skinny, with trendy long hair and a brand new wardrobe. Suddenly I was popular at home, too, sitting at the good table at lunch, going to the good parties on weekends.
My friends and I at camp had been inseparable. We did everything together. We often stayed up late talking in one person’s room and would all fall asleep together. We ate every meal together. And, we usually ended up showering in the locker room at the same time.
Sexually, I was a very innocent teenager. Though my parents had explained the birds and the bees to me (actually, they gave me a book and left it at that), I didn’t really understand much of the banter my friends tossed around. I thought a “blowjob” literally meant a girl blew air on your private parts, and that didn’t really sound all that exciting to me. (It never occurred to me that men could do it to each other.) I thought “buttfucking” was two people literally rubbing their butts together in a humping motion; I didn’t really see the appeal in that, either. (When it was explained to me, I nearly fainted from shock.)
That’s when my problems started. I would wake up in the middle of the night after having a dream – you know, one of those dreams that teenage boys get? – and realize I’d been dreaming about my friends. And it happened with my new friends in the popular crowd at school, too, who were beginning to experiment sexually. My best friend asked me if I’d ever masturbated, which I hadn’t. He explained to me how to do it, and recommended I use Vaseline. When I got home, I intended to think about girls, but ended up being more aroused by the thought of Matt smearing himself with jelly and the memories of my naked friends back at camp.
I felt guilty about all this, of course. I was very religious, attending services and Sunday school at a nearby evangelical Lutheran church every week – I was also a member of the handbell choir. Still, a few months went by before the concrete realization about my situation hit me with the force of a thunderbolt: I didn’t care about girls. Sexually, I was only interested in boys. Period. End of story. It was a sudden, awful flash of enlightenment: I ran to the bathroom and vomited repeatedly.
I sure as hell didn’t tell anyone. At school I was careful to comment about which girls I liked and I made a point of calling guys we didn’t like “fags.” (This is why all gay men suspect all rabid homophobes of being gay: we all tried that strategy.) Then I would race home after school and take out the Vaseline and massage my anxiety away with memories of stolen glimpses in the locker room. Afterward I would pray. I apologized regularly to God; I was sorry, I knew it was wrong, I begged for forgiveness, and promised to change. I asked for His help probably a thousand times a day. I did not want to be gay.
Three years later, the Lord answered my prayer.
Meantime, I had stopped going to church. I never gave up my faith, and while there was no specific incident, gradually I came to the realization that I was not welcome at my church: I felt like a fraud, a liar, an evil sinner in the midst of all these righteous people. I could not take the guilt anymore. Still, I prayed every day for help and guidance with my problem.
The stress meant I was having trouble sleeping, and a therapist I was seeing suggested that I take a walk at night. So every night I would disappear for an hour or so before bed, and walk around my quiet suburban neighborhood in the dark and talk to God. It was always the same: help me, God. Please, I’m sorry, God. Please. I want to be a good Christian. I don’t want to go to hell. I don’t want this, but I don’t feel I can help it.
The harder I tried, the harder I prayed, the more intense my same-sex attractions grew. Equally intense were my frequent fantasies about suicide. My dad had a couple of rifles in the closet. I knew where the bullets were. I used to go into the kitchen and take out the long, sharp knives and stare at them. And finally, I swallowed a bottle of extra-strength Tylenol.
I was living with my father at the time. My father the southern Baptist. My father who, upon seeing that I was reading The Scarlet Letter for school, commented, “They should make all homosexuals wear a big pink Q.” After I took the pills I panicked and called my mother, who came and picked me up in the middle of the night and took me to the hospital, leaving my bewildered father to wonder what was going on. When he showed up at the emergency room, frantic, his eyes brimming with tears, I refused to see him.
It was a year before I spoke to him again.
During that time, something happened I did not expect. I fell in love.
It was not requited; having endured a childhood similar to mine, my friend was not ready to admit that the bullies who used to beat him up after school had been right all along: he was a homo. Nothing physical ever happened between us, and that was the most important part of this life-saving lesson. I learned that homosexuality is not about sex. It’s about love. My feelings for him were so intense, so strong and, I swear, pure. Sixteen years later, I’m still waiting to feel that again. But the knowledge that it was even possible saved me.
I knew I did not choose to be gay. I felt and continue to feel it’s not something I have control over, any more than I could change the color of my eyes or grow to be eight feet tall by praying hard enough. I was born this way; why, I do not know.
I do know this: on Ash Wednesday, the prayer that opens the traditional Anglican rites begins, “Almighty and everlasting God, who hatest nothing that thou hast made.” God does not hate fags.
Some people ask why we need “Gay Pride” since, after all, they like to point out, there’s no corresponding “Hetero Pride” celebration. Others, like a frequent contributor to the comments section on this blog, suggest that “Gay Pride” is merely “Anal Sex Pride.”
Ignoring for the moment that that doesn’t explain lesbian participation; ignoring for the moment that not all gay men have anal sex; ignoring for the moment that there are celibate gay people; ignoring for the moment that a LOT of heterosexuals practice and enjoy anal sex, I’ll tell you why we need “Gay Pride.”
I didn’t write this story for sympathy. My story is not remotely unusual. In fact, I’m one of the lucky ones. I had it easy. I mean that. For each gay person like me who didn’t have the guts to finish their suicide, there is one who did. I got smeared with dogshit, got called names, and was beaten up in the locker room in junior high; Matthew Shephard was beaten, tied to a fence and left to die.
We celebrate Gay Pride because we made it. We passed through the gantlet of torment that the heterosexual majority makes of our childhoods. Maybe a little bruised, maybe a little scarred, but alive. We escaped from the web of lies spun for us, lies that tell us there is something fundamentally wrong with us, that we are to blame for our own intrinsic qualities. We’re even sometimes blamed for hurricanes and failed heterosexual marriages. We’re taught that we are evil in the sight of God, that our only chance for redemption is a life spent rejecting the thing we want most, the thing that everyone else has: intimate companionship.
We celebrate Gay Pride because when millions of people around the world stand up and show they are not afraid of who they are, that they are happy, that they are healthy, that they are in love – and increasingly, when heterosexuals join us in these marches in solidarity – we make the world a safer place for ourselves and, hopefully, we spare gay kids the hell that we have endured for countless generations.