New Low

I’m not sure why anyone reads my blog. Maybe it’s like watching a train wreck as it occurs – it’s just so hard to look away. I had thought things were going so well recently. In the weeks since I posted This is my story, new levels of communication have opened up between my wife and me, and some new friends have helped me to shake some of the destructive patterns of thought and emotion that I’ve learned over the years. Thanks to these friends, I’ve noticed signs of past progress that I hadn’t seen before; and I’ve also experienced new breakthroughs in my journey to fully embracing who I am. You know, I still can’t quite fathom how it has taken me so long to accept the utterly obvious fact that “I am gay.” I know people my age who came out in high school or shortly after. They grew up in the same world and culture that I did, and yet somehow they were able to make peace with who they were decades ago; and here I am… still slogging along.

So the last couple of weeks have been punctuated by the highs of embracing new friends, finding new depths of communication with my wife, and experiencing new milestones of self-acceptance. But those new highs were precarious, and one painful conversation was all it took to topple the scaffolding beneath me and send me plunging. It was just before bedtime last night, and my wife and I were revisiting things that had come up in prior conversations over the past week. I should say from the outset that my wife didn’t do or say anything wrong; the conversation wasn’t painful because she had been malicious or cruel. But in the course of our talk I suddenly realized how utterly I have failed to communicate to her what I am feeling and experiencing. Despite the fundamentally queer dynamic of a mixed-orientation marriage, for better or worse, she has been with me and for me more than anyone else, and more than I could have expected or imagined. So to suddenly discover how much of my experience she hasn’t yet grasped left me feeling lonelier than ever.

We were discussing wants and needs – a perfectly reasonable and even critically necessary topic for conversation. What do we each need to survive and to thrive? What are the things that we want over and above that. I have shied away from using the term need to describe how I feel about having an intimate relationship with a guy at some point in the future, reserving that word for things like air and water and food. We clearly NEED those things; without them, we will undoubtedly die in the very near future. So I haven’t felt like that. Like if I don’t sleep with a guy in the next week or month or even year that I would literally DIE. So I’ve always stuck with the words want and desire to describe what I’m feeling. But in the course of our conversation it suddenly struck me that she was thinking of wants as being things like “I want to go to Europe in the spring! I want to learn Chinese! I want to buy a new car with a 5 speed manual transmission! I want to complete a triathlon!” All of these things are wonderful and would bring me great pleasure. I want them. But I may or may not do them; and I could still live a perfectly contented and healthy life nonetheless. So if things like that are the point of reference for understanding my desire to pursue relationships with men, then it would seem impossible to grasp why I would jeopardize our family and our marriage just for that.

So I struggled to find a better analog. Air, water, food – let’s call these fundamental needs. They are clearly in a class of their own – necessary for even the most basic continuation of existence. And then we have vacations and hobbies and social relationships – call those wants. I want them, I enjoy them, and they make life better and more fulfilling. But I won’t die without them. So it feels like there’s got to be some intermediate category – things less urgent than the fundamental needs, but nevertheless substantially more important than the wants. Healthcare? Nutrition? Meaning in life? I think it could be argued that these are higher priority than wants, even if they may not rise to the level of needs. But for me, even these fall far below my desire to pursue relationships consistent with my identity as a gay man. If I never saw a doctor again in my life, I could still get lucky and might have a long and healthy life. But every fiber in my being tells me that if I forego emotional and relational and physical intimacy with guys, for the rest of my life, that I will be bitter and miserable and lonely.

I’m not sure that there’s anything comparable that a straight person could relate to. Nothing that adequately conveys the feeling of being a 50 year old man who has, for my entire life, turned away from the intimacy I’ve so deeply desired, all because of stupid and damaging beliefs I embraced, at an age when I couldn’t have known the consequences. And then, to experience the glorious healing of throwing off those oppressive beliefs, and for the first time seeing myself as an OK person – not despite being gay, but because of the totality of who I am – a part of which is gay. Screw that – I’m not ‘OK’ – I’m pretty damn awesome! And then, having experienced this liberation from a lifetime of self-recrimination and regret, to be asked to, nevertheless, continue to forego that intimacy that I’ve desired. It feels like death.

I suppose that most of my blog posts aren’t written for the readers. They’re just a way for me to clarify my own thoughts and to express my emotional turmoil. I’m really not looking for answers – I feel like my wife and I need to write our own narrative; find our own path forward. But god, how I long for someone to just understand what this feels like!

This is my story

I’ve been writing this blog now for almost three years, and it’s been nearly four since my coming out 2.0. Just yesterday I returned from the GCN Conference 2017, so I’ve been reflecting on my journey so far, re-reading old posts, and taking stock of where I am today. After reading the coming-out story of a new friend, I was inspired to start fresh and write my story from scratch.

Gay, Christian, and Out 1.0

I grew up the youngest of six children in a Christian household with loving parents and a large extended family. I can picture little five-year old Greg sitting with my dad as he shared with me the message that Jesus loved me. How wonderful! With simple child-like trust, I felt the flood of God’s love as I asked Jesus to come into my heart. I was nothing if not sincere as a child. Throughout my childhood, I always strove to be good, wanting to please my parents and God.

In retrospect, I’ve known I was gay since childhood – well before I ever experienced any feelings I would identify as sexual. But I never would have used the term ‘gay’ to describe myself. In my family, my church, my social surroundings, there just wasn’t any connection between what I was feeling and the word “gay” – a word that described really bad people who hated God and did disgusting things.

But nevertheless, from about fourth grade onward, I had the growing sense that there was something different about me, and as puberty approached it became clear what it was. I was attracted to guys, and not girls. I remember in fifth grade finding a Playboy magazine (in a church parking lot, of all places…), and wondering what the other boys were feeling and why they were so interested in the pictures. And then about a year later stumbling across a Playgirl… aha! I started to understand.

But as I said, all that I knew about gay people was that were bad and disgusting and definitely didn’t love God, so I couldn’t be that. So how could make sense of what I was feeling throughout my teen years? My church provided me with a framework to understand it: Satan must be tempting me with these homosexual feelings, and so clearly I had to resist with all my might.

I graduated from high school and went off to college, where I got involved with InterVarsity – an interdenominational Christian campus ministry. I suppose college is a common time for faith transitions, and for me that meant a renewed fervor, a deeper personal commitment, and a growing faith in God. I got involved in leadership, and for my remaining college years, IV was the home of my faith development.

It was in this context that I “came out” for the first time.  Of course I could never have uttered the words “I’m gay” at that time (hence the scare quotes), and the extent of my boldness was to highlight passages dealing with “homosexual temptation” in a book on Christian sexual ethics, and then giving it to my staff worker. It doesn’t feel quite right to call it “coming out,” so I’ve taken to calling it Out 1.0. But nevertheless, it led to further conversation with my staff worker, and then subsequently to my coming out (still “1.0”) to several others – my closest friends, my parents, my sister, and eventually, my future wife. All were loving and supportive in their responses. But of course all of them also reaffirmed my own internalized belief that the only good response was to fight against these temptations.

Naive, Hopeful, and in Love

When my wife and I first met, we were both deeply committed to our faith, confident that God could do anything, and hopelessly naive. As I mentioned above, I was out (1.0) to her before we even started dating, and both of us were convinced that same-sex attraction was a temptation to be resisted at all costs. So we entered into our relationship cautiously, but optimistic that God would use our sincere love for one another as a part of my future “healing.” We dated, married, and started our family together.

Disillusioned and back in the Closet

Throughout all the years of our marriage, and especially in those early years, most things were pretty good. We had four beautiful, healthy children, a nice home, good jobs, and the love and support of our families. In most areas I was happy with how my life was unfolding. But my attraction to men never diminished, and my attraction to women never increased. As the years went by and it became clear that God wasn’t “healing” me, I began to lose hope. I internalized an unarticulated but persistent feeling that there must be something monstrously wrong with me. I still had every confidence that God could do anything, so if He wasn’t doing this thing for me, it must either be because He didn’t love me enough, or else I was SO inherently wicked that I stood in the way of my own healing. Too broken to be fixed. I experienced repeated bouts of depression over many years, and became withdrawn from friends and family. On the outside I tried my hardest to put on a happy facade, wanting to forestall any probing questions about why I might be feeling sad. But on the inside I felt alone, unloved, and unlovable.

Still Gay, Desperate, and Out 2.0

I spent too many years hiding and merely surviving. Moving from  Gay 1.0 (recognizing that I was attracted to guys ) to Gay 2.0 (accepting that I am gay) took over thirty years. Moving from Out 1.0 (“I struggle with homosexual temptation”) to Out 2.0 (“I. AM. GAY.”) took a couple more after that.  Maybe I’m just a slow learner… But I eventually got there. It’s been a little over five years since I first uttered those three small but powerful words to myself. I am gay. I am gay. I am gay! 

But dammit! what lousy timing to finally arrive at Gay 2.0! My wife and I were approaching our 20th anniversary, we had four kids, and I was working for a non-affirming religious organization. And so it took me another year before I was finally ready to come out to my wife. We sat on the floor of our living room in front of the fireplace, and tears flowed freely as twenty years of pain and loneliness came pouring out. The depth of her love for me was revealed that day in that her tears were genuinely for me. She was profoundly sad that I had felt such condemnation and unworthiness for so many years, and especially that I had suffered alone. She told me she loved me just as I am. And I was undone.

While coming out to my wife marked the end of my suffering alone, it also marked the beginning of a period of pain and questioning for her. Has he ever really loved me? What do I mean to him? Has our entire marriage been a sham? How could I not have known? Why would God do this to us? 

Slow Progress

Change has not come quickly in the four years since I came out to my wife, but it has come in fits and starts. We started out by reading everything we could find on mixed-orientation marriages, learning a whole new domain of vocabulary. We’ve discovered a surprisingly large community of couples in similar situations, and among them a wide range or paths forward. We’ve been in counseling, both together and individually, and I started this blog as another place to process my thoughts and feelings. I’ve come out to a dozen or so other people, including close friends and family, and most significantly to our four children (read about When I Told my Kids I’m Gay). I’ve also attended two conferences for LGBTQ people and allies, focusing on faith issues and advocacy in the church. Even without the content of the conferences, the experience of being surrounded by so many LGBTQ people – amazing, beautiful, kind, and compassionate LGBTQ people – has been transformative.

Even as I write this, I can remember on an intellectual level how my sexuality at one time inspired such fear and self-loathing. But by and large, the emotional power has been broken. I can feel sad for that person (the younger Greg), but the thoughts and attitudes that caused him so much pain are being continually exorcised. Most days, most of the time, I can look in the mirror and say “I’m Greg. I’m gay. And I’m really glad that I am!

The limits of understanding

UnderstandingIt’s been  a while since I last posted. Before this unscheduled hiatus, it seemed like I was on a roll. So many thoughts rushing through my head, so much to process… the urgency felt a bit like giving birth: when the time arrives, there’s no holding back, you know it’s going to be painful, yet there’s some hope of getting through to the other side. So I feel like I went through the pains of labor, but where the hell is my baby?

I guess there are limits to the utility of “understanding.” I think sometimes I operate as if understanding will solve all of my problems. “If I can just find the right way to look at things; if I can adopt the right perspective – then everything will be OK.” But every time I approach some new perspective, hopeful that a new level of understanding will bring me some relief, instead I find that the mirage evaporates, and I’m alone again in the desert. (Geez, faux-poetic much?)

Don’t get me wrong – it’s all been very productive. Amazing progress, I’d say: I genuinely accept myself as a gay man. (Hmmm… well, at least I’ve come a long way in that direction). I have deeper insight into how I’ve been affected by the evangelical culture I grew up in. I have greater empathy for people all over the LGBTQ spectrum. I’m more willing to speak out on behalf of LGBTQ people. So sure, great progress. All very good. But…

  • I’m still lonely. I don’t feel like there’s any community I really belong to. I don’t quite fit in with my new-found gay friends, who find it strange that I remain in a mixed-orientation marriage. I’ve never quite fit into the dominant heteronormative culture, and especially not into the evangelical subculture I’ve now abandoned.
  • I’m still stuck. I love my wife and she loves me, but we haven’t been able to find a path for the future that we can both embrace. She places a high value on mongamy and faithfulness. I totally get that, and I think I feel the same way. But now that I finally accept myself as a gay man, the thought of remaining celibate for the rest of my life is depressing.
  • I still have authentic sexual needs. For most of my life I’ve denied it, because I refused to accept the legitimacy of those feelings. But as I said, I really have come to accept that I am gay. No more artificial walls to separate me from that basic truth. Maybe masturbation and fantasy can geninuely express my sexuality, but they can’t really fulfill the need for sexual intimacy.
  • I still have authentic emotional and relational needs. I need friendship and intimacy. I don’t doubt that my wife and my family love me. But I can’t get past the thought that they love me despite the fact that I’m gay. She doesn’t love me because I’m gay – everything would be so much easier if I weren’t. It feels somehow pathetic to be loved despite who I am. I desperately want to experience being loved because of who I am.
  • I’m still afraid. Afraid that all this understanding has come along too late to do me any good. Afraid that even if I had the freedom to look, that I’d never find a guy who would really love me for who I am. Afraid that I’m too old or too broken to be worth it.

Sorry everyone – just venting here, I suppose. I usually try to make these posts something that might benefit someone else, but for today, this is all I’ve got.

What gave me away?

It was almost a year ago that I first saw a video of Panti Bliss giving an impassioned talk at the Abbey Theatre in Ireland. I’ve been very fortunate in that I’ve never had to deal with the level of abuse that she describes, but it makes me incredibly sad to think of the many LGBTQ people who do face such overt hatred.

Have you ever been standing at a pedestrian crossing when a car drives by and in it are a bunch of lads, and they lean out the window and they shout “Fag!” and throw a milk carton at you?

Now it doesn’t really hurt. It’s just a wet carton and anyway they’re right – I am a fag. But it feels oppressive.

When it really does hurt, is afterwards. Afterwards I wonder and worry and obsess over what was it about me, what was it they saw in me? What was it that gave me away? And I hate myself for wondering that. It feels oppressive and the next time I’m at a pedestrian crossing I check myself to see what is it about me that “gives the gay away” and I check myself to make sure I’m not doing it this time.

That part I can relate to, as I imagine many LGBTQ people can. I’m not talking about the abusive behavior, which somehow I’ve largely escaped. But rather the self-doubt that turns to self-hatred. The persistent fear that I will be “found out.”

Have any of you ever come home in the evening and turned on the television and there is a panel of people – nice people, respectable people, smart people, the kind of people who make good neighbourly neighbours and write for newspapers. And they are having a reasoned debate about you. About what kind of a person you are, about whether you are capable of being a good parent, about whether you want to destroy marriage, about whether you are safe around children, about whether God herself thinks you are an abomination, about whether in fact you are “intrinsically disordered”. And even the nice TV presenter lady who you feel like you know thinks it’s perfectly ok that they are all having this reasonable debate about who you are and what rights you “deserve”.

And that feels oppressive.

I let this happens to myself far too often. I keep revisiting the same online forums where I read this kind of debate, this hostility, this hatred. I tell myself I do it because I don’t want to be the kind of person who shuts out anyone who disagrees. But maybe I’m just a masochist.

Have you ever been on a crowded train with your gay friend and a small part of you is cringing because he is being SO gay and you find yourself trying to compensate by butching up or nudging the conversation onto “straighter” territory? This is you who have spent 35 years trying to be the best gay possible and yet still a small part of you is embarrassed by his gayness.

And I hate myself for that. And that feels oppressive.

If you haven’t seen Panti’s talk, it’s worth a watch.

Thanks mom and dad

ThanksBecause of the nature of this blog, I’ve frequently written about disappointments in life – things I wish had been different. BUT there are also so many things I am thankful for, so I wanted to dedicate a post to my parents for all the good they brought into my life.

First of all, my parents gave me a home. No matter what I faced at in the world at large, no matter what inner turmoil I felt, I knew that I always had a safe place to come home to. In recent days, I’ve seen plenty of sad stories of dreadful parent responses when their kids come out. I didn’t come out to my parents until after I had already left home, but even if I had, I’m confident that it would not have made me unwelcome. They would have been sad, and worried, but not angry or nasty.

My parents taught me kindness. They were kind to me and to one another. Even though they were not wealthy, my dad took special joy in surprising my mom with special gifts and vacations. My mom loved to cook our favorite dishes. They always welcomed my friends into the home and were genuinely happy to do nice things for people.

They taught me responsibility. I remember my dad taking me to the bank when I got my first job and opening up my own checking account, and then showing me how to balance the register. When I got my first car, he helped me with oil changes, tune-ups, brake work,   and other routine maintenance. They both worked hard, sometimes at multiple jobs, to provide for our family. At home they worked with us – we all worked in the garden; we all did yard work; we all did chores in the house.

My parents paid attention to me and took an interest in my life. They asked about the things I was doing in school or church or work; they came to my plays and musical performances and cheered me on. When I needed a ride, they drove me to and from my events. If I talked to them about something, they listened, and would later ask about the things I shared. They gave me the freedom to make my own choices and my own mistakes.

In short, they loved me, and they made sure I knew it. Thanks mom and dad – I miss you both!

Coming out as Ex-Side-B

StillGayI recently started writing a post titled “when sadness is only a step away,” about how sometimes it feels like the smallest thing can plunge me into a downward spiral. Even came up with a nifty little graphic for it. But then I realized it wasn’t just sadness that was so looming, but also anger, anxiety, and resentment. Many of us have emotional sore spots where our emotions are near the surface – quick to be inflamed by the slightest provocation – an opinion, a phrase, or sometimes even just a word.

Upon reflection, I realized that one of my sore spots is what is called Side-B among the gay Christian subculture. For those who may not be familiar, a brief primer on Side-A and Side-B. First of all, both sides agree that there is no contradiction in the term “gay Christian.” There is no sin, and should be no judgment in having a gay orientation. A small concession, yet way ahead of many fundamentalist Christians who condemn those who even identify as gay, regardless of their actions. But the two sides differ in an important way:

Side A adherents believe that God blesses same-sex marriages. They believe that the Bible passages that have in the past been used to condemn gay relationships have in fact been misinterpreted. These passages either do not refer to gay people at all, or they apply only in a lost cultural context that no longer exists. Read more about Side A or about why the Bible does NOT condemn same-sex relations.

Side B adherents believe that, while there is nothing wrong with a gay orientation, the Bible teaches that gay sex is wrong, and therefore God calls all gay Christians to abstain from sex with people of the same sex. Read more about Side B.

So why am I so sensitive to Side-B thinking? Why does it elicit such a powerful response of hurt, anger, shame, and anxiety? Well first, I’ll note that I’m not alone in this. Stephen at Sacred Tension wrote about it poignantly back in 2013 in When Side B is the New Ex-Gay (which was recently reblogged by Susan Cottrell at Patheos). I love Stephen’s gentle and vulnerable yet clear-spoken style:

Sometimes, your heart starts to break, and you don’t know why. You catch yourself emotionally limping through life, or angry and explosive at the drop of a dime, or feeling like a small, wounded child, and not understanding why.

Such has been the case recently. I’ve been struggling with very deep feelings of anger, hurt, and betrayal – feelings that have made writing, rest, and engaging with other people in productive, peaceful ways very difficult. When I finally noticed these powerful feelings, I sat with them, trying to understand their origin. In a moment of clarity, I suddenly said to myself, I know these feelings. I’ve felt them before. 

It’s taken the past few month of processing and writing about my recent fallout with Side B (the conviction that while a gay orientation is not in and of itself sinful, expressions of that orientation in sex or gay marriage are sinful) to unearth a subterranean monster of overwhelming hurt, guilt, and rage. As is often the case, such huge emotions can influence our behaviors and thought patterns, but it can take time for us to see them clearly.

I realized that the story I’ve been living recently is a story I’ve already walked, many years ago.

Stephen goes on to describe how he was once part of the cruel and misguided “ex-gay” movement. How he once bought into the lies that assured him that he could be “cured” of being gay. But as you might guess, over time he came to realize that it was a house of cards. Though I never went the ex-gay route, I can relate to so much of the emotion that Stephen expresses.

I was Side-B before there was a Side-B. Since I was a young teen, and up until far too recently, I believed exactly the same as many in the Side-B camp. “There’s no sin in being gay in orientation, as long as you don’t ‘choose that lifestyle’ ” <ugh – excuse me while I go clean the vomit out of my mouth>. I sincerely believed that God loved me, and not just intellectually. I felt his love for me. I experienced it each day. And because I believed, as side-B adherents do, that the Bible unequivocally prohibits same-sex relations, I “chose” to forgo romantic relationships with men. Instead I “shared my struggle” with my closest friends, prayed earnestly, and resisted temptation.  I read everything I could find about homosexuality and the Christian. I sought the counsel of pastors and religious leaders. I dated women, and eventually met and fell in love the one who would become my wife. The whole story is throughout this blog, but especially at Greg Comes Out and Not Chipper, and Gay Man, Straight Wife. A regular Side-B poster-boy! I abstained from gay relationships, and God rewarded me with a wonderful and supportive wife who knew of my “struggles.”

For me, the problem with Side-B is that it underestimated and even trivialized the very human, physiological and psychological need for sex. It treated being gay at an intellectual level, while doing nothing for underlying human need. As if finding and embracing the right understanding would then somehow do away with the need. But of course it didn’t. Stephen captures it well:

Like several years before, though, I slowly became disillusioned. I watched many people lead anguished lives of compartmentalization or promiscuity, never attaining a joy that makes vocation sustainable. Many of the leaders were able to find genuine love with celibate partners, but I realized celibate partnership, while potentially very good, would hardly be workable for many people under similar circumstances. Nine times out of ten, I watched Side B people jump ship before their lives went dark.

In the same way that the promise of orientation change fell apart in my hands, the promise of sustainable and life-affirming celibacy for everyone who pursued it fell apart, too. I never believed it would be easy, but discipline is self defeating if it ends up killing you. I was left feeling crushed, helpless, betrayed and lied to all over again.

So there it is. My emotional sore spot for Side-B thinking is there because of my own experience. So when I hear young Christians embrace Side-B thinking, it makes me sad, and angry, and sincerely concerned that they don’t know what they are getting into. Now the Side-B thinker might say “That was only your experience; not universal truth. My situation is different. I’m entering into this with open eyes.” But don’t you see, your knowledge isn’t going to save you? I had all of the knowledge available to me; the support of my friends and religious leaders; and ultimately the love and support of my wife, who knew and understood things in the same way that I did. But knowledge isn’t enough. Knowing about food won’t take away your need to eat. Knowing about air can’t take the place of breathing. Knowing about intimacy won’t satisfy your need for relationships. And knowing about sex won’t meet your need for sex.

If you’re considering Side-B

Whether you plan to remain single and celibate, or marry an opposite-sex partner with their full knowledge, consider this. You may have addressed your need for spirituality; your need for openness; your need for emotional intimacy; for logical coherence. But how will you address the underlying basic physiological and psychological need for sex?

You say “I will remain celibate, just like many other people throughout time and even today remain celibate.” A practical question then: how do you plan to deal with the visceral urge for sexual expression?

  • resist and push down: very difficult, perhaps impossible, and likely with severe psychological repercussions.
  • masturbate with porn: if it’s your only sexual expression, it is extremely isolating and ultimately unsatisfying
  • masturbate without porn: still isolating, and what the hell are you going to think about? Corn flakes?

If you choose to marry an opposite-sex partner, you have additional things to consider. Are you planning to have a chaste celibate sexless marriage, focusing on all of the aspects of a wonderful relationship that you can have, even if it doesn’t include sex? Then you BOTH have to answer the question above: how will you each address your sexual needs? Or perhaps you’re planning for your marriage to include sex. This certainly seems like it could work if you are bisexual. (Or maybe not. I’ve heard from other bloggers like BellaElena that it remains a huge issue for them as well.) Even if you’re the gayest of gay, perhaps it can still be made to work. I don’t want to go all TMI here, but my wife and I enjoyed a good if not great sexual relationship for many years. Sex can meet all kinds of real needs – affection, physical intimacy, touch, expression of love. But if you are gay, even if it meets all of these needs, even if it is completely pleasurable, it  still will ultimately fail to meet your basic human need for sexual expression. So we’re back to the same question: how will you meet that need within your marriage?

These are honest questions! If anyone has answers, please share. I’m sure my readers who find themselves already in mixed-orientation marriages would love to hear. And I want to continue to believe that it can work. But if you are not already in that situation, why choose a path so fraught with danger and the risk of pain?

Fool me once…

Fool me

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

I don’t know what made me think of this old expression, except maybe the sense of futility I feel at having bought the same lies over and over again for so many years:

  • “You’re not good enough
  • “God is disappointed in you
  • “Your faith is too weak
  • “You are choosing to be evil
  • “God doesn’t really love you
  • “You don’t deserve to be loved
  • “There’s no hope for your future

And all because of one little thing: I’m attracted to guys instead of women. The absurdity of this is astounding.

If you are gay, and you’ve ever been made to feel the things above, please recognize them as LIES! ALL LIES!

When did you know?

When did you knowThe signs were there all along, if only I had known where to look. Or better, if only I had been willing to look. And I’m not talking about Obviously Gay Traits. Who knows – there may have been OGTs telling everyone else I was gay, but I kind of doubt it. With four older brothers, I ended up with a pretty standard boyhood experience. playing in the creek with neighborhood kids, GI Joe, little league baseball, video arcades (OK, I’m dating myself a bit there…). But when I think back to what I felt, what I thought, and what I did throughout my childhood, I’d have to say that being gay is pretty consistent with everything I remember.

I’ve seen lots of other LGBTQ people address this question, and it seems to be pretty common to know early. Like very early. And then there are also the cases of “…and then I turned 40, and it suddenly hit me…” So like I said, I knew, or could have known, very early. Before puberty, before there was anything recognizably sexual about what I was feeling. More about the way I felt toward boys in general. And then later with the dawning of adolescence, my first experiences were pretty clear cut. I remember one time in sixth grade, I had to use the rest room in a convenience store. There I found several magazines, including both a Playboy and a men’s fitness / muscle magazine. The Playboy really held no attraction for me, but the muscle magazine… (!)

And in writing about the childhood indicators, let’s be clear that I’m really only looking for signs, not causes. The discredited ex-gay movement seemed to be obsessed with finding causes. “What made him gay?” Overbearing mother. Absent father. Sexual abuse. Early experimentation with peers. Exposure to pornography. Size envy. I admit that for a long time I looked desperately for the “cause of my affliction.” If I could find it, maybe I could fix it. Well, it turns out that there’s nothing to be found, and nothing to be fixed!

One time I was describing to my therapist an incident from my childhood. At a communal campground bath house I saw a muscular naked guy in the shower, and I was mesmerized. My reaction wasn’t exactly sexual – I think I was too young for that. But close, perhaps on the cusp of my sexual awakening. Over the years I revisited this event, wondering if maybe that is what caused me to be attracted to guys. (Never mind that seeing naked women in Playboy at around the same age didn’t cause me to be attracted to women!) So when I described the episode to my therapist, his only question was this: “Do you feel like your reaction at the time was consistent with who you are?” That one question brought me waves of relief. This one experience didn’t make me gay. Neither did a dozen others that I can recall from various points in childhood. But they sure as hell are consistent with me being gay!

I wonder whether this urge to figure out what we knew and when we knew it is particular to LGBTQ people. In a recent post in Psychology Today, W. Blue writes about an experience in her first university class on women’s studies:

“After a walkthrough of the semester’s course syllabus, our teacher stepped away from the blackboard, toward my desk. Standing in front of it, he surveyed the room… Then he addressed the class, instructing us each to take out a piece of paper and a pen and write down the moment when we all realized we were gay. Well, or straight. Or bisexual. Or queer. Or whatever sexuality we identified with.”

Love this! I’ve seen this question before “When did you know you were straight?” but only as a snarky come-back to some straight person’s unwelcome probing. But it’s great as an actual question. Blue suggests that gay people face that question often, either posed by others, or in their own minds, while straight people never give it a thought. Seems plausible to me. Straight readers, help us out here. Is this a question you’ve ever asked yourself? or been asked by others? Is it one you could answer in a sensible way?

Maybe we’re just uncomfortable thinking of children identifying as gay. I would say “uncomfortable thinking of children as gay or straight,” except that I think there’s an underlying assumption that kids – even young kids – are straight by default, and being gay is something they can only figure out later in life. When five year old Mikey says “I’m gonna marry a girl just like mommy,” we say “aw shucks, isn’t that cute.” But if Mikey said “I’m gonna marry a boy just like daddy,” many Christians would probably respond with uncomfortable silence, reassuring themselves that Mikey is too young to know what he’s saying. Amelia at Huffington Post describes a situation exactly like this. Her son has been identifying as gay since he was seven years old, and at age ten he found himself the only boy in the after school Zumba club. A common reaction when people found this out was what Amelia describes as “that nudge-nudge, wink-wink, he’s-got-his-pick-of-girls reaction.” It bothered her that everyone was assuming her son was straight.

“No,” I’d say, “he’s not interested in girls like that. He’s gay. He says girls are for friends.”

Then the response came, and almost always the same response: “Really? How can he know that? He’s so young.”

These people failed to see the contradiction in their words. They’d just implied that my son had picked his after-school club so that he could get some fourth-grade-style action from the girls, but then they said he’s too young to know he likes boys. They assumed that he would be after girls, which means they assumed that he already knew he was straight, yet the idea that he might already know he is gay came as such a shock.

So there you have it. When did I know? The signs were there as long as I can remember. Even as young as five years old, my memories of self are consistent with the gay man I’ve grown to be. Alas it took me quite a long time to actually read the signs, but they were there all along nonetheless.

I did it!

iamgayI did it! I said the words “I am gay” to a friend.

If I count correctly, this is only the fifth person I’ve said those words to. First was my wife, 22 months ago. Then our counselor, a month or so later (his response was hilarious!). Then to my therapist, a year after that. And then to my writer friend, who has a heart of gold. So not counting the two professionals, this is only the third person I’ve come out to!

Well, sort of. During my college years and several years after, I “confessed my struggle with homosexual temptation” to quite a few of my closest friends. The staff worker for the Christian group on campus. My best friend at the time. A girl I had dated. The vice president of the Christian campus group. A missionary organization I was applying to. My future wife. A guy who also turned out to be in the closet (and who used it against me… that was the only one that ended badly). My parents. Another best friend and his wife. With one exception, all were kind in their responses. But all shared the opinion that I also held at the time – that it would be wrong to “live the gay lifestyle.” (Ugh, I’m rapidly using up my allotment of scare quotes!)

Then for twenty years, nothing. I was married, and I never talked to anyone about it. Until 22 months ago, when I had my “second coming out” to my wife. First time, twenty years ago, it was “I struggle with homosexual temptation.” This time it was simply “I am gay.”

So last week, I did it again! A life-long friend. And it couldn’t have gone better. He listened. Was sorry to hear of the hurt in my marriage. But said it really didn’t matter to him. That he wasn’t totally surprised (my OGTs, I suppose). And that he loved me.

To top it all off, as we were hugging goodbye, he asked “so, are you OK?” and I answered “better than the average day,” which he misheard as “better than the average gay.” I laughed the whole way home.

Time for something new

Chapter TwoWe recently celebrated our anniversary. Yes, celebrated is certainly the right word, despite the fundamental contradiction of a gay man being married to a straight wife. We’ve had many happy years, many happy times. Shared heartaches and triumphs. We love our kids; we really do enjoy one another’s company; we share so much in terms of worldview and values.

But nevertheless, my heart is dark inside of me. As time goes past, fear and shame grow stronger; pain and resentment deeper. Fear of the inevitable day when my secret will be made known to people I love. Shame for my actions – unfaithful, weak, pathetic. Pain that stems from the message that I heard and embraced again and again throughout my life: that deep in my heart I was evil, broken, bad. Resentment toward those who sold me the lie that, if I was honest and sincere, that god would “fix” me. That if I found the perfect girl, if I was honest with her from the start, and if we entered into marriage with pure intentions and faith in god, that everything would work out. Well guess what? Despite finding the best girl in the word, despite my most genuine attempt at honesty, despite our sincerest faith, it isn’t working out. It’s not OK. We both live with chronic emotional pain, a  wound that won’t heal.

The truth is, even though my resentment pretends to be directed at others – my family, my church, my culture – maybe the proper target of my resentment is me. I’ve read plenty stories of gay people who grew up in the church, in families that were not accepting of gay people, and yet at an early age they found the strength to reject the messages they were hearing. So why couldn’t I have done so? Why didn’t I?

Maybe it’s time to stop blaming everyone else for choices I have made. Time to start making new choices. I  mean, I can’t change what I thought and felt and did in the past, but what I do now and in the future – that is not yet set in stone. And I would like to think I’ve made progress. Many years ago, whenever I heard the dominant cultural narrative about what it was to be gay, I pretty much accepted it without question. I willingly embraced the judgment. Over time I found the strength to question and reject those same demeaning attitudes and beliefs, if only internally. I questioned and rejected them, yet almost always remained silent, not wanting to draw attention to myself. I didn’t want people to figure out my “secret.”

As I look to the future, I’m not satisfied with that. It’s progress, yes; and I’m grateful for it. But it’s time for more; time for something new. It’s time to speak up. Time to counter the anti-gay attitudes and beliefs still too prevalent in my everyday experience. Time to get over my stupid fear that people will figure out that I’m gay, and stop letting it determine what I do and what I say. It’s time for a new chapter.