growing up

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.

my story: part one

This post is going to be started by promising, once again, that I will definitely get to answering any of the questions that people have sent me, because I really want to. However, I think that before I do that, it would be beneficial to everyone reading if I told my story of how I came to this place, because it definitely has not been easy. I want to make that abundantly clear. But I also think that it will add another layer of understanding of where I’m coming from and why I decided to start writing about this. My story starts pretty uneventfully, in my opinion. I’m from and have grown up in Minnesota in a Christian family my entire life. I didn’t have a bad relationship with my parents or my siblings. We went to church and youth group almost every week, and I distinctly remember going to VBS as well several summers. I also went to a small Christian school all the way through elementary and middle school and for half of high school before I left. It was all very typical. Nothing was really out of the ordinary, and I didn’t really think that anything was either.

So, of course (as well as being the oldest of my siblings), I was determined to be the good Christian kid. I readily took in everything that the church and my ultra conservative school said as fact, never questioning any of it. My stances were always automatically determined by whatever my school and church taught: on relationships, on divorce, on drinking, on gay marriage, on everything, and I thought that you couldn’t possibly believe anything different and still be a Christian. Oh, middle school and early high school self…

Naturally there were things that were taught at my school, specifically, that I didn’t agree with, but they were just the typical middle school/high school gripes. Yes, I thought it was stupid that you couldn’t wear anything that didn’t cover your knees. Yeah, I thought it was dumb that you couldn’t have hair dyed an “unnatural” color at school. Yeah, I thought it was ridiculous that only “side hugs” were allowed at school. But I always told myself that ”when it mattered,” of course I would side with what my school and church taught. They had to know best, didn’t they?

In fact, I’m embarrassed to say that I can perfectly recall a time that I used the very kind of language regarding LGBT people that I cringe at today. I probably 13 or 14 years old at the time, and I was at a Dairy Queen near my school with a few of my friends. Being the good, conservative Christian kids that we were, our conversation took a random theological/political turn and we started talking about LGBT people. At some point in that conversation, the words “well, the Bible clearly says that homosexuality is wrong,” came out of my mouth. How naive 13 or 14 year old self was, and little did he know that several years later I would have completely different opinions.

How could I have possibly expected that I would end up being one of those people wrestling with what it means to be both gay and a Christian in just a year or two? After all, in the small Christian school bubble, heteronormativity was king. There was always the drama going around of whether or not a certain boy liked a certain girl or vice versa, and I don’t really think it ever even crossed our minds that any of us might be attracted to the same gender (but then again, to my knowledge, I’m the only gay person that ever went to that school).

And in retrospect, I realize that I didn’t even have a full grasp on what the difference between a romantic relationship and what a real friendship looked like (post on this to come). Or at the very least, I didn’t know what the difference between those two things felt like. Disclaimer right here: the vast majority, like 90%, of my friends are and always have been girls. I can’t really explain to you why, though the gay best friend stereotype comes to mind, but I’ve just always been able to get along better with girls that with other guys. That just added another level of confusion to my middle school/high school life. I always knew that I was a little bit different, because I wasn’t into the same kinds of things that the other guys were, but at the same time, I didn’t really know exactly why that was. While the guys in our group of friends would talk about which girls they thought were hot, I tended to play off the fact that I didn’t really understand what exactly they were seeing, because in reality those were the things that I was noticing about other guys, though I didn’t realize that was an anomaly yet. I didn’t realize that the way that they were talking about girls was the way I felt when I was stealing glances at the other guys with their shirts off when we were all changing for basketball or soccer. But I thought that was all normal. The thought that I might be gay never occurred to me.

During my freshman year of high school, I did what I think a lot of closeted gay Christians in conservative circles did: I dated a girl. It lasted for four months, and it took me another year or so after we broke up to realize why it didn’t work and how it wasn’t really either of our faults.

This girl and I were (and still are) pretty good friends. We were in the same smaller circle of friends and had known each other for about three years before we were officially a thing (my school’s word of choice for when people were in a relationship, oh Christian high school). It seemed textbook for a good Christian high school relationship. Apparently, several of our friends had been pulling for it to happen for a while, and our parents were fully on board with the whole thing. It was all so ideal.

But then the unthinkable happened (seriously). After a month or two, I started to get squeamish with the long hugs and hand holding (SO, Christian high school). I mean, I’ve always been a little more prudish than a lot of people I know, but at the same time this wasn’t supposed to be making me uncomfortable. I was supposed to be enjoying it, or at the very least not minding it. But no, so I started pulling back and basically just let the relationship fizzle out, not the best way to end things by any means (go super mature 15-year-old self!). It was sort of rough right at the very end, and I definitely regret the way it ended, but I couldn’t even give myself a good reason for why I wanted to end it at the time. We ended up making up a few months later, and we still talk and are on good terms today, but again, the thought that I might be gay never occurred to me. I thought that it didn’t work out just because I’d rather have been friends with this girl, not that, in reality, I wasn’t really attracted to her at all.

It wasn’t until almost a year later that the truth smacked me in the face. Like a true stereotypical closeted gay Christian, I literally had to be told that I was gay, in a matter of speaking, otherwise I never would have put two and two together. After all, I had seen the super flamboyant gay guys on TV and subconsciously ruled that out as an option, because I wasn’t like that. Little did 15-year-old self know that there was a lot more to being gay than simply whatever stereotypes the media chooses to portray.

But anyway, I realized that I was gay (or rather, same-sex attracted, the term my church used, post about why I don’t like that label here) in church while one of my friends was giving his testimony in front of the youth group about how he had been battling with same-sex attraction. Almost everything about his story reflected things that I had felt or experienced in my time at my tiny Christian school. All of the things that I thought were normal and all of the things that made me different from the other guys in a way I couldn’t explain were being repeated back to me in his story. It was both shocking and comforting at the same time, shocking because at the time I couldn’t even think of using the word ‘gay’ to describe myself and comforting because so much of my life finally made sense to me.

The only thing now was how I was supposed to deal with that revelation? Wasn’t I a Christian? How was I supposed to reconcile those things? Had I been sinning all those years without realizing it? The struggle to find answers had only just begun.