It’s not often that I use this particular format to talk about issues so personal to me, but this was one of those moments when it seemed like the right thing to do.Like most people, I started life very young; but it wasn’t long before I outgrew that. As I did, things changed, but subtly since I was with them as they did. Age got away from me, and now, quite surprisingly, I find myself too old to die young. Oh well! That’s how life is supposed to go, is it not: Death; entropy; decay?
Looking back though, I see something rather profound. It’s a curse, a blight upon my personage that now I call a gift. What benefaction could be so versatile as to masquerade as a curse, only then to expose itself as a gift?
Believe it or not, it was (and still is) my sexuality. In particular, the unique way it transformed as I grew into it. My story’s pretty typical, one that you’ve heard many times before. In fact, I can see your eyes drift off while you fantasize about how much better the last episode of Breaking Bad would be if only they let you help write it.
This isn’t about that.
I was born in a hospital in Whitefish Montana and, not at all ready to leave the comfort of home. I fought it for hours according to my mom. I was born into your typical Conservative family: bigoted, ignorant, and armed. But that’s their right given to them by Jeezuz when he handed down the Constitution.
When I was six, my mom divorced my dad, then got “born again” and started hanging around with a “Jesus-People” community. When I was nine, she met the man who was to become my stepdad, who was Seventh Day Adventist, and we converted. At the age of ten, my stepdad picked up steaks and moved us dead-center Wyoming as a Bible salesman for the SDA church.
Throughout these formative years, most of the people I came into contact through my mom and stepdad were very much like my family… bigoted, paranoid, and so narrow they could look through a keyhole with both eyes. For all intents and purposes, I was on a trajectory to become just like them.
Growing up, I took to The God thing. When my mom joined the Jesus Movement, I became a proud Jesus Freak. When she joined the Seventh Day Adventist Church, I read all of Ellen G. White’s books, along with the Bible stories. God was my thing, and I wanted to be a prophet. I was ready to embrace it all: the bigotry, the anger, the narrowness, the fear mongering—all in the name of God.
However, as I grew, something else grew with me, some alien organism that kept me from being like everyone around me; something that made me “different,” and it was that “different” that forced me to be different than they were, whether I wanted to or not.
There was always a part of me that could not embrace the bigotry of my family, because I would have to turn it against myself. There was a part of me that could not embrace the narrowness and hatefulness of God, because that would mean I would have to let God hate me too.
From the moment I started to become conscious of myself, I had to make unconscious choices to break away from the attitudes of those around me. By feeling their vitriol, I grew keenly aware of what hatred looked like on the other side: how it felt, the way it could hurt (physically and emotionally). In Wyoming I had beer bottles thrown at my head; I was whisked away from parties because of threats. I had a high school friend tell me that I was never welcome in his home again… and this was after four years of partying, getting stoned, sharing the toilet to throw up in. Pastors kicked me out of churches, friends were told by their parents not to associate with me… and all this was happening while I was pretending to be straight.
I would then go on to spend fifteen years in various forms of reparative therapy: Exodus International, Living Waters, and Metanoia. None of it took. I yelled at God, I cursed God, I begged God… and finally, I gave up on God.
It wouldn’t be until only recently as I would look back on all this that I can see what happened. My “struggle” with homosexuality, just like the butterfly’s struggle to free itself of its cocoon, gave me the opportunity to choose love, by experiencing hate. It gave me the opportunity to choose compassion, by experiencing bigotry. It gave me the opportunity to see God’s true potential, by experiencing his pettiness.
That alien presence living inside of me wasn’t alien at all. It was me, desperate to experience myself. And it learned how to do that, in large part, by being forced to look at head-on, and then abandon, what was ugly in my surroundings.
To be clear, I know a lot of narrow—bitter—bigoted—bitchy—queens… this isn’t about them.
I can look into people’s eyes and see so much more then color, gender, height, weight. I can see my enemy and realize that there’s more to them; that they have a story, complete with drama. I can learn to embrace others because I know what it’s like to be an outcast. I can be a safe place because I know what fear and vulnerability feel like. I can forgive because I know what it feels like to be human.
Would this still be true of me if I wasn’t blessed with this obscenity? I don’t know. Things evolved as they evolved, into what they are. But this gift has helped mold me into a man that, on most days, I like… and that I don’t mind spending a significant amount of time with; a man that, despite his foibles, makes me want to be a better man.
And if there is a God, this is the man I plan to take to him… to say, “God, this is me. This is what I've become. And I wouldn’t change that for anybody… not even you.”