coming out

the sacrifices we make, the losses we endure

the sacrifices we make, the losses we endure

Spring and fall are arguably the seasons when I feel the most in tune with my creative and spiritual energy, and this spring, I've been thinking quite a bit about the cycle of seasons and all the metaphorical wisdom there.

Around March and April is when spring typically starts to roll around in the Northern Hemisphere, and spring always brings to mind several different interrelated ideas. Renewal. Revival. Rebirth. Regrowth. Resurrection. And if you notice, all those words have that prefix re- attached to the front (sorry, everyone, this is where my inner linguist comes out), which tells you that it's a return to something, a going back to a previous state. But the underlying connotation there is that there was a departure from that previous state first, and in all those words, the implication is that there was some form of destruction or deterioration or death.  And as with the seasons, I think this same cycle tends to play out in the lives of queer people as we come into our own. I think many of us tend to wade through a season of sacrifice and loss prior to finding renewal and regrowth. 

when christian superstars come out

Perhaps you’ve heard and perhaps you haven’t yet, but Trey Pearson of Everyday Sunday just came out as gay about a day or two ago. This follows similar coming out stories by the likes of Vicky Beeching and Jennifer Knapp who have gone on to lose much of their music careers, with Beeching instead moving on to religious commentary and other projects in the UK, including a book that she’s currently working on. But at any rate, just like those other coming out stories, this one has already generated its own fair share of controversy and reactions from the general Christian populace, both positive and negative, as larger outlets such as Yahoo and Religion News Service have picked up the story. Unsurprisingly, there have been quite a few opinionated responses coming from a handful of Christians, with many lamenting the fact that he has chosen to come out after having married a woman and having children among other things, and this is specifically what I want to address in this post. With more and more people finally acknowledging the basic fact that being gay or lesbian or bisexual is not a choice any more than being straight is a choice, what I’ve seen is that many Christians have instead chosen to go the route of lambasting Pearson for his decision to come out now after having been married to his wife for over 7 years and having had children with her, and I think that perhaps I understand a little bit of where that’s coming from, as misdirected as it might be.

Here’s the thing: I agree that there’s no way for most people to even grasp what kind of difficulties he and his family must be going through right now, and that is something lamentable, just like the fact that his general situation tragically isn’t too uncommon in Christian circles, but I disagree that his decision was the wrong one. I’ve read quite a few stories similar to his over the years, of LGBTQ Christians who have married someone of the opposite gender because the church refused to accept them as they were and essentially gave them no other options if they wanted to be a part of the larger Christian community. The church told them to find a way to be straight, or at least pretend to be straight for a while, or face what basically amounts to excommunication. I even personally know of at least one friend who has experienced this series of events in their own family, whether it was in their immediate family or extended, and it seems to be just as messy as many people on the internet are assuming that it’s going to be for Pearson, because I think that’s true. Whenever this happens, it’s always quite the sticky situation to sort through, and the unfortunate thing is that these kinds of situations can always be prevented, though perhaps not necessarily in the way that you might think.

It’s true that he chose to marry a woman with hopes that perhaps he might actually be able to fulfill his fantasy of becoming straight and fitting into Christian church culture, but I would argue that it’s also true that the entire set of circumstances that led him to that decision were put in place by the church and that we can learn from that.

Think about this. The church is obsessed with marriage, particularly straight marriage. It seems to be one of the unwritten rules of being a good Christian that you will get married someday and that it will be a straight marriage. This is the subliminal message that gets preached in probably every single church in the United States, that if you aren’t married, or perhaps don’t want to be married, that there’s something wrong with you, that you haven’t pleased God enough, that God just hasn’t sent the right person to you yet, or some other kind of old Christian cliché like that. It’s an addiction and an idol, and it’s one that I think maybe the church isn’t aware of yet or doesn’t want to address because it would be too uncomfortable, since marriage is such a good thing, which is what they keep telling everyone.

But this is a problem. This obsession with marriage creates harmful and toxic dynamics and assumptions that blind us from being able to recognize any other kind of close relationships or even singleness for that matter, which I think is something that the church likes to say is good, but also something that the church hasn’t modeled for us. If you think about it, a good number of key Biblical figures were never married that we know of like Elijah, John the Baptist, Paul, and Jesus Himself. And that’s part of the reason why I’m still at a loss as to why the church doesn’t know how to talk about singleness or why the church has such an odd inclination toward marriage when it’s definitely not the most important or central thing that’s talked about in Bible, even though that’s what any outside observer of American Christianity might tell you.

All of that being said, while people keep decrying Pearson for his decision to come out because of the impact that it will have on his marriage, I have to say that while he definitely did make the decision to get married to a woman and to come out, I also strongly believe that perhaps the church environment that he grew up in and that many of us have grown up in has set us up for failure, especially, ESPECIALLY if you happen to identify as LGBTQ. Again, think about it. At the time what else was he supposed to do? It's circa 2007 or 2008 and everything he’s ever heard about being gay is negative, and maybe not even negative but downright toxic and poisonous to his spiritual life and spiritual health. You hear over and over that being gay is an abomination and that God hates you, especially during that time period, or really any of the last few decades and beyond. Reparative and conversion therapy are in vogue and you hear that you can become straight if you just pray enough, if you just believe hard enough, if you just repent hard enough. So, naturally, you think that maybe if you marry a woman that might just do the trick, that it might make you straight, and maybe you even believe it (again, this is just some speculation coming from my own experiences and experiences of others who have gone the same thing since his full story hasn’t been published yet), but after a few years you come to the crushing conclusion that it didn’t work, that you’re not straight. And so what are you supposed to do?

To all of the critics, does that sound like a real, free choice now? I don’t think so. I think it sounds like spiritual bullying and a demand for conformity dressed up with lots of spiritual fanfare.

Beyond that, it might seem that a lot of the same critics are truly concerned about his wife and his children and his marriage, but are they? I’m not sure. I’m not going to be the judge of others’ intentions, but I think that something they’re missing is that perhaps staying in that marriage wouldn’t really be fair to his wife either. If you think about it, she deserves someone who’s going to be able to love her the same way that she loves him, and with the most respect for Pearson possible, that’s not going to be him, because I think that it’s just a fact that his current marriage relationship with her is never going to be the same as a marriage relationship with a straight man who loves her. Now, I’m not a parent, so I can’t speak for the situation with the children, and I truly hope that all goes for the best – God’s grace to them – but I think that if they’re going to separate, I do think that’s the most fair thing not only for him, but also for his wife, because with all the grace that he has attributed to her throughout all of this, I think that without even knowing her, she deserves someone who can love her the same way that she’s going to love him, and I think that’s something that people are missing when they talk about him throwing away his marriage or tearing his family apart. It’s true that his family situation is going to be quite different moving forward from here, but for lack of a better word, it was broken to begin with in my opinion, again, with no ill intent towards him or his wife. I just don't think that mixed orientation marriages can realistically work, and perhaps I’m wrong, but that’s what I also see as being the case here.

In light of all of these reflections, I fully support Trey in his coming out and pray for peace and strength as he begins navigating this new journey, especially with regards to how his family dynamic will likely be changing. It’s not going to be easy or smooth; that’s almost a guarantee, but I do think that he’s demonstrating quite a bit of bravery in coming out now, especially considering all of the different factors at play in his specific coming out story. People might disagree with that, but what he’s done and what he’s doing takes an incredible amount of guts and courage to do, particularly in 2016 when it seems like LGBTQ people, but almost even more so LGBTQ Christians, are a favorite target of the mainstream evangelical church and Christian community, a large segment of people who might never experience the fear, anxiety, and mental stress that come with trying to live a lie and put up a façade day in and day out, all the while praying that you’re doing the right thing and perhaps constantly fearing God’s wrath or what will happen to you if you do accept your own identity, depending on what kind of church tradition you were brought up in.

Something that I’ve thankful for is that Pearson’s story didn’t end in suicide or some other darker alternative that is all too common for LGBTQ people in Christian circles, or perhaps was more common, since that appears to be changing at least a little bit as the years pass. And contrary to what many fundamentalists or critics might be saying, I think that the recent string of high profile Christians coming out is not a sign of moral decay or backsliding within Christianity, but rather, I think that it’s an indicator that God is not confined to the little boxes that we might put Him in or the stereotypes that we might draw around Him. I think that it’s a positive step towards a more inclusive church for both affirming Christians and also maybe for non-affirming Christians who still know how to show grace and respect the convictions of others, which I also believe is an incredibly crucial piece that the church will continue to struggle with in the coming weeks, months, and years.

So, congratulations to Trey Pearson on coming out and being able to accept who you are and perhaps feeling a little freer and maybe even a little closer to Jesus as a result. It’s a scary and nerve wracking thing to do, especially in the spotlight, but I think that this will just help make coming out even more normal, so that people don’t have to feel afraid of it. I hope that moving forward people will see the negative reactions and learn how to be more graceful and loving, and I also hope that people will see the positive responses and know that their faith and their identity are compatible, that they aren’t dirtier or more sinful just because of who they are, that they are still image bearers of the Father of Lights and that they are so incredibly loved.

coming out: on feeling normal again one year later

vsco-photo-1.jpg

It’s been just about a year since I’ve come out, and I think it’s only now that I’m starting to feel normal again, after two months of summer school in another state, four months living abroad in a different country and immersed in a different language, and a year out of church. Yeah, I’m only starting to feel normal again now. And what does “normal” really mean anyway, especially in this context? I guess you could say that I’m not really normal in any sense of the word. I’m a gay person of color who goes to a Christian university, is younger than everyone in his graduating class, and also happens to be the child of first generation immigrants. So, I suppose normal isn’t really the best descriptor of me to begin with. I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s taken a full year for me to start feeling like myself again, and feeling comfortable as myself again.

For a long while after coming out, I felt like I was trapped between two repelling magnetic poles. The church didn’t want me because I was an anomaly, unnatural, choosing sin, in need of healing, or whatever other spiritualized phrase they chose to describe me, and I certainly didn’t fit into the LGBT community because of my faith that many saw as being in direct opposition to identifying as LGBT. Even many of my closest friends weren’t immediately sure how to respond to me, which isn’t a bad thing. I know firsthand how complicated and difficult to navigate intersectional issues like this can be, but that didn’t keep it from being any less isolating or any less discouraging as I started out on that road. It felt like I didn’t quite fit into any of the spaces that I was accustomed to occupying, and I felt a little lost.

On top of that, I didn’t feel completely free to wrestle with the things that were spinning around me at the time. Even as I think about it now, I’m still not sure when I made some of the personal or theological decisions that I did, because it all sort of blends together in my mind. Still at a sort of fragile place, I wasn’t sure who I could talk to or externally process with, because I was still reeling from the shock of actually having come out to begin with. I didn’t know who or where my safe places were, and as a result, a lot of my processing got pushed down because I felt like I had to have everything figured out before I could talk to anyone about it.

How could I talk about a boy that I liked if I hadn’t even figured out if that was an okay thing yet? How could I talk about whether it was okay to like a boy if I was still shaky on whether it was even okay to be gay yet? I mean, how could I be sure that God really wouldn’t change me, even though that’s not a realistic option in 99.9% of cases?

Compounded with all of the things that I was trying to figure out in my own head, I also found myself on the defensive more than once. While well-intentioned I’m sure (for the most part anyway), it was hard not to take the questions that some raised as attacks in that nervous, beginning stage. For a while, I felt as if I had become an apologist, having to explain and reexplain everything that I believed, when I wasn’t even quite sure if I believed it that strongly yet. What about this verse? Or that passage? The questions went on and on, only contributing to the massive sensation of feeling stuck in a dark valley between two mountains where nothing was completely safe and worry was a constant companion.

I worried about what people thought of me all the time. After all, there I was, the rebel Christian, trying to say that being gay and being a Christian were compatible. And I worried about that too. What if I was wrong? What if how I interpreted the Bible and how I thought about all of these things was wrong? What if the mainstream church and Christian culture were right? Would I go to hell for it in the end? And being involved in visible leadership roles at a Christian university I wondered all the time if I would be stripped of those positions and asked to step down, lest I become a bad example for other students. When was I going to get called into some dean’s office to explain the entire situation? What would come of my decision to be open about this hot button topic?

Suddenly, I felt like I was always holding my breath, waiting for the ball to drop, or for the secret police to find me, or whatever other suspenseful plot device you can think of, and the driving force between all of that was simply my existence and my human experience. So, while I continued to write and express some overt views, other things started to shift around in the shadows. I quietly adopted a Side A perspective, sort of dated a guy for four months, and began supporting same-sex marriage all from the recesses of my mind where it was safe to do so. Yeah, a handful of people I trusted here and there were privy to these developments, but for the most part, they happened underground, where I wouldn’t have to defend my choices, my morals, or my faith to any random onlooker who wanted to raise a candle to my incomplete internal thought process.

Slowly but surely, I grew more and more comfortable with where I stood and I told more and more people about the paradigm shifts that I had experienced until I got to the point where I again lost track of who I had told and who I hadn’t. Concurrently to this nascent opening of myself again, I found myself abroad, living in a wonderfully historic Spanish city just an hour northwest of Madrid. There, the culture was looser, more liberal, and more accepting of everything in general, and I found that I could actually talk about things like this with my host mother. An artsy, theatrical (literally) woman, I remember her telling me (in Spanish, of course) that “the only thing that matters is whether they are a good person,” and that was so refreshing in such a subtle way that it took me off guard. There was no spiritualization of that statement, no theological argument backing it, no doctrine or dogmatic infusion, just that. It was a statement that said so much more to me at the time than she really could have understood or maybe ever will, but I believe that first conversation with her led to many more than would come to heal me in a way that I can only begin to fathom now, three and a half months back into the United States, where I’m once again forced to wrestle with the complex intersectionality of faith and sexuality. Those conversations with my Spanish actress mother placed me beneath a healing waterfall where all the spiritual and theological arguments and debates tied to my sense of self were gently washed away over the course of my four months in Spain, where I was implicitly told that regardless of what the church or other Christians told me, my feelings, my emotions, my desires, and every other sensation I experienced tied to this part of me were okay, were normal, were not in need of defense, and were nothing to be ashamed of. And for that part in my healing process, I will forever be grateful to the most wonderful host mother I ever could have had for my time abroad.

Stemming from that lowkey, but also intensive therapy period, I find myself where I am today, feeling normal again, at least by my own standards. All of a sudden I found myself denying the nonsensical notion that I had to choose one side of the binary and allowing myself to feel and be real again, rather than feeling like I was obligated to explain and justify myself to anyone who had a problem with me. I didn’t feel God pushing me into conversion therapy or celibacy, and I decided that was okay, because God isn’t binary. He doesn’t tell us to choose this path or that path and that’s all we get. Instead, He chooses to meet us where we are, wherever that may be.

And where I am is feeling normal again. What does that mean? I think to me, it means understanding that I can be comfortable as myself because I’m not going to be able to please everyone or satisfy everyone with a Biblical, theological argument and that’s okay. It means knowing that not everyone is going to agree with me on this, and that’s okay because I can’t control the way that other people are going to react to me and who I am. So why keep bending over backwards trying to appease everyone when I’m the only suffering from it?

To me, feeling normal is knowing and being confident that I’m right with God and letting that truth set me from all the other things that I was wrestling with when I began this journey. Because living in fear of possibly being wrong is not how God intended us to live our lives. Rather, I think that in the gray areas He wants us to press into Him, take hold of His hand and trust that He will guide us to the places where He wants us to be, regardless of whether those places line up with where the institution of the church or where other Christians think we should end up. Because in the end, walking with God isn’t about fearfully following a set of rules; it’s about embracing Him and saying that you’re going to tackle this mess of life together, loving as hard and as intentionally and as unconditionally as you can along the way.

So to me, feeling normal is also being assured that being gay and being a Christian are not two polar extremes, but rather they are two states of being that can coexist without causing inherent detriment to each other. And it’s being able to recognize and remember that all the emotions, feelings, tensions, and everything else that arises out of that intersection are valid and not in need of fixing or hiding, because all of those things are also normal. They show that we’re human and that we’re still alive.

Feeling normal is (in the vast majority of situations) not needing to think twice before saying something about a boy that I like, or dating, or anything else that might normally be an off limits or sensitive topic, because the way that those things get interpreted isn’t necessarily my responsibility to deal with and I should be able to talk about those things without worrying about whether or not I’ll offend them. It’s being able to act and talk like any other person without having any of it tied back to my sexuality or faith or their legitimacy or lack thereof. And it’s also feeling like I’m being treated like a normal person, which I do have the great fortune of, something that cannot be said in a lot of Christian circles unfortunately.

So, it’s been a year since I’ve come out, and I would be lying if I said I had known it would take this long to start feeling normal again. But I am, and I’m thankful for that. Though my journey has been rough, with many dark places along the way, I know that others’ paths have taken them along much more precarious turns, and I long for the day when that is no longer the case. Until then, I write to tell my story in hopes that it will end the cycle sooner, to inform, to educate, and to open eyes.

It’s been a year since I’ve come out; just the rest of my life to go.

2015: the year of change & balance

As a blogger, I feel like I have some sort of obligation to do some sort of New Year’s/New Year’s Eve post. I think there might actually be an unwritten rule about it somewhere. But in all seriousness, this year has been so completely insane that I thought I would write up a monthly recap of all the madness that’s happened in the past 12 months, because sometimes I forget about all of the huge things that were a part of 2015. So here we go.

January:

I reconciled with my best friend after several months of whatever the heck we were feuding about.

I took my first ever real writing class.

I experienced suicidal thoughts for the second time in my life.

I started coming to terms with what I really believed about being a gay Christian and what that meant for me.

I started my last year of Welcome Week at Bethel with spring welcomes.

February:

I continued to heal from the depression and spiritual attack I experienced in January.

I came out to my family.

March:

I shared this blog publicly for the first time, coming out to everyone who read it.

I saw two of my favorite artists live in concert.

I decided on a new life verse: Ephesians 3:20-21

April:

I experienced the start of my first relationship with another guy.

I had an article published in an online magazine for the first time.

May:

I wrote a second article that was published in an online magazine.

I was interviewed and later appeared in an article in the Clarion, Bethel’s student newspaper that went on to gain nationwide traction, shared by the likes of Justin Lee and Rachel Held Evans.

June:

I moved out to North Dakota for the summer and later discovered that I hated the 9 week linguistics program that I was in.

I started dealing with some demons that went all the way back to middle school as a result of the people who were in the program.

July:

I experienced my first breakup.

I learned that one of my friends passed away.

August:

I finished my linguistics program in North Dakota and headed home.

I had an emotional and mental breakdown with my family where the full magnitude of everything that happened in middle school, including my first bout of suicidal thoughts, finally all spilled out.

I reconciled that whole mess with my family.

I went back to Bethel to serve in my last Welcome Week ever and loved every moment of it.

The morning of the second to last day of Welcome Week, I packed in four hours and went to the airport to leave for my semester abroad in Spain.

I arrived in Spain and met my host family.

September:

I got lost my first night in Segovia.

I watched wide-eyed as the first month went by.

October:

I visited Ireland, the Czech Republic, and England.

I almost killed one of my annoying travelmates.

I realized I was hopelessly addicted to Spanish chocolate croissants.

I experienced my first Gnimocemoh (that’s homecoming backwards fyi).

I reconnected with a friend I hadn’t talked to in 4 months.

I missed a friend’s wedding.

November:

I DTR’ed with another guy and saw nothing come out of that.

I visited Hillsong Church Barcelona.

I finally understood Don Quijote.

I talked with one of my friends the night his dad passed away.

I was acknowledged as a regular at my favorite Spanish bakery.

I missed another friend’s wedding.

I reached the tell-stories-cook-together-and-go-to-theatre-shows-together level with my host mom.

I wrote the suicide letter that I never wrote and sent it.

December:

I started coming to grips with the fact that I was leaving Spain.

I started a massive 25 page paper (that still isn’t done).

I said goodbye to Spain.

I arrived home in the US.

I’m writing this blog post now.

 

Thinking about this list earlier today, I decided that this past year has been filled with probably two or three years’ (at a conservative estimate) worth of monumental moments, and I just think that’s absolutely mind blowing. I honestly don’t think that I would’ve expected all of those things to happen a year ago, and yet here I am, having experienced so many things this year that you’d think they wouldn’t all fit within one 365 day period.

2015 has been a lot of things. It’s been painful. It’s been wonderful. It’s been challenging, and it’s been growing. I’ve cried a lot this year. But I’ve also stood wonderstruck quite a few times as well. I’ve faced demons old and new. I’ve been to four different countries and probably been on just as many, if not more, flights than I have in my entire life before this year. And I’ve closed a lot of chapters of life that have been open for a really long time, as well as opening a few new ones.

God has once again proven Himself to be infinitely faithful throughout whatever we might struggle through in this life, from being in a place where I questioned whether life was worth living anymore a year ago, through healing from that, through having that thing in my chest broken and wading through many different kinds of loss, through providing friends and love in other places that I didn’t expect, through a semester in another country immersed in a different language, to bringing me home and instilling in me an anxiousness stemming from the excitement over the infinite possibilities that lie ahead in 2016 and in life in general. This year has been nothing less than an emotional, spiritual, mental, and personal rollercoaster of all the twists and turns you could ever imagine, but He is the one thing that has remained constant throughout all of it, planted steadfast as the one thing that I can rely on when everything in my world seems to be up in the air, spinning completely out of control.

So, I’m not really sure what the next year has in store. As I’ve said countless times already this year, everything after graduation in May is uncertain. 6 classes stand between me and college graduation, and I don’t really know what comes after that. I’m applying to grad school, but other than that, I’m trusting that God will continue to lay out His path for me as the time comes. Though I’d like to know a more detailed plan of what’s to come, I suppose I’ll have to be content with that for now. I had no idea what to expect a year ago today, and then a thousand crazy things happened over the course of this year that left me speechless as to the unpredictable ways in which the Lord chooses to work. So, I guess I’ll just use the same plan for this upcoming year. It seems to have worked out alright.

So, I guess I’ll end this sort of sappy roundup post this way, by resharing my new favorite couple of verses as of this year from Ephesians 3.

“Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Jesus Christ throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen.”

  • Ephesians 3:20-21

I might not know the scope of what’s going to hit me in 2016, but God does and He promises here that it’s going to be immeasurably more than all we could ever ask or imagine, and that just gets me excited to see all of the crazy, supposedly impossible things that God is going to do over the course of this next year. I’m just glad to be along for the ride.

To everyone reading, thanks so much for keeping up with everything that I’ve written and everything that I’ve experienced this past year. I wouldn’t have made it through without Jesus and without a lot of you guys.

my story: part two

read part one here: 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.

Oh.

What.

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.