(Note: This is the fourth in a series of blog posts originating in work done for a video class titled, “You Are A Writer – Getting Past the Fear and Moving Forward.” Created by Lauren Sapala, the course is aimed at sensitive intuitive writers suffering from toxic procrastination and crippling perfectionism.
This series is the result of some intense inner work completed during the first two sessions and is shared here in hopes of aiding others going through similar circumstances. You can learn more about the course here. )
Trigger warning: this series contains descriptions of alcohol abuse, physical and emotional abuse, and sexual contact between adults and minors
Adolescence through College – Act 2
Last post, I talked about my experience with parental enmeshment. This time around, I’m going to talk about something else that affected me in similar ways – my involvement with fundamentalism and my budding gayness during this same time period.
Things start a little earlier this time – the summer between 7th and 8th grade. I had been experimenting sexually with a male cousin and soon realized that I was actually attracted to boys instead of girls. At the time, I didn’t know what to call my feelings or what people thought about them. I just knew I had seen 2 guys together in some of my father’s porn flyers and assumed everything was hunky-dory.
Eighth grade began and soon I was spending all Algebra class fantasizing about my male classmates and remembering the experiences with my cousin. Everything was fine until I heard the terms of derision used by some of those same classmates to put down others that didn’t fit in. FAG. FAGGOT. QUEER.
At first, I didn’t know what they meant. Eventually, I got off my butt and looked things up in the library. I stopped dead in my tracks. I was the FAG. I was the FAGGOT. I was the QUEER. And according to my friends who I looked up to, this wasn’t a good thing.
I began to lay low, making sure I didn’t get caught looking at any males with stars in my eyes. I withdrew, always becoming watchful of any expression of my feelings. I certainly didn’t want to get called these names.
About this time, Billy Graham began broadcasting a series of evangelistic crusades on the local television channel. (Boy, have times changed – these were shown prime time and all regular shows were pre-empted for them.) As I sat there doing homework one night with the tv on, one of these crusades came on and I let it play in the background.
Now this was in the early 70’s. The Stonewall Riots and the start of Gay Pride had just occurred in 1969 so Billy was making a big deal about the gays. And as I sat there listening, I made the connection in my mind – I’m gay. Gay is bad. God hates gays. God heals gays. I need God.
Before I know it, I’m crying, praying the sinner’s prayer, telling Jesus to come into my heart and change me. Billy said that’s all there was to it. I wasn’t going to be gay anymore because Jesus had changed me.
Except He hadn’t. I still struggled, big time. So, I figured I just had to try harder. After all, Billy said God would take the gay away so it must be my fault.
I started reading the Bible continuously. About this time the Living Bible came out with it’s olive green The Way version and I ate it up. Here was something I could now understand. I took it to school and carried it around to read during study hall. Still, it wasn’t enough – I kept having these attractions to boys.
There was one boy that really caught my eye. We had been friends for a few years already and I found myself now sexually attracted to him. However, I had to find a way around these feelings. The solution? I bought him a Bible like mine, wrote him a long letter telling him I used to be gay before Jesus changed me and that I hoped he became a Christian too because I didn’t want him to end up in hell. There – I now was an evangelist. God had to be impressed.
Neither God nor the boy seemed to be impressed however. In fact, some of my friends laughed at my actions. Just the typical weird kid. And still I struggled.
All the porn laying around didn’t help. It was so easy to dig up some and give in to my lust. Hell, even a picture of a dildo would turn me into a quivering mess. The porn didn’t even have to be gay – I learned quickly to make the female invisible. Afterwards, the guilt came. I figured God was just testing me and I failed once more.
The same year I met L, I met another kid who just moved to town who I’ll call G. He and I ended up working a summer job together for the “popular” Physical Science teacher. G was different than most other guys I knew. He was from the “city” and he had something of an effeminate air about him. I wasn’t sure what to make of him. We initially didn’t get along, but over the course of our time together we became friends.
The next school year began. G was in a lot of my classes which was both good and bad. Good because I got to be around someone I could call a friend. Bad because I saw how most of the other kids treated him. And if they treated him that way, I knew they would treat me the same way. I had to take desperate measures.
The Search Begins
If God/Jesus was the answer (Billy said so), then I needed to talk to the local God people. I started with my own church – the United Methodist. I made an appointment with the pastor, went in, and unburdened my soul. I was a nasty gay boy – how can I change?
Unfortunately, I didn’t get far. He sort of chuckled and told me I needed to start attending Youth Group on Sunday nights. Pffft. No help there.
I then started looking elsewhere. And I also began to read evangelical literature voraciously. A Christian bookstore opened up in our town and I quickly became a regular. When I was given an allowance, I would spend it on Christian books – all dealing with ways to overcome sin and temptation.
I became a fanatic. I painted blacklight pictures to hang on my wall with Christian images and slogans. I bought blacklight posters with Christian themes. (These were the days when Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell had songs on the radio and the Jesus Freaks were the big news in Time and Newsweek.) Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. That’s all I wanted.
(Also, remember that I was just starting to date L during this time – I figured if I had a girlfriend, it would show God I really didn’t want to like boys.)
Eventually, my mom stepped in . That year while I was at band camp, she took down all of the Jesus stuff from my walls and replaced it with regular hippie shit from Spencer gifts. I came home to find half naked women disguised as butterflies in neon colors on my walls. What was she thinking? I needed my Jesus stuff to ward off the enemy and my inevitable downfall. And not only had she taken down my posters, she took all of my books too. I had nothing to fall back on.
I made a cross out of two sticks and hid it between my mattress and the box springs. One day, I was sent into town to get some linoleum for our tiny kitchen. I found some on sale, then snuck off to the Christian bookstore where I bought a New Testament with the change I had left over. I didn’t worry about having to give the change back – I just said I lost the receipt. Anyway, mom knew roughly how much it would cost so it wasn’t missed. I was now being persecuted for my faith – it didn’t matter if I had to lie occasionally. The New Testament went under the mattress along with the cross.
In the dead of night I would read my Bible and pray with the cross in my hand. God, help me – can’t You see I don’t want to feel this way?
I continued to struggle. My folks thought I needed to get out more among other guys so they got me hooked up with the local DeMolay chapter. (DeMolay is a young men’s organization related to the Masonic Lodge.) Ha! Their plan backfired. DeMolay is a loosely faith-based organization. Before Iong, I was elected chaplain of our chapter. (I even had a special white cape as opposed to the standard black ones. I was special.) And the great thing about it? Once a month, the group would go to a different church in town.
My horizons just expanded.
So Many Cures
After attending a new church, I now had an in with the pastor. It was easy to set up appointments for counseling with each of them, all centered around the coveted cure for my gayness. I heard everything under the sun and I was open enough to try anything. Again, I was told not to trust myself and my feelings – they were bad and would only cause me pain. I needed to trust these experts – the “others” to whom I needed to bend my will.
I memorized Bible verses. I went forward at every altar call I heard. I fasted, Prayed continuously. At Pentecostal and charismatic churches, I sought the gift of tongues. Even when I finally received my heavenly language, it was nothing like I was promised. Whereas others fell down in ecstasy spouting forth the language of angels, I sat there unemotionally mumbling a few strange sounds. Sure, I was saying things I didn’t understand, but it was all wrong. Plus, the gay was still there.
I eventually hooked up with a former teacher who was now a pastor at another local United Methodist church. This guy, though, seemed different. He was charismatic too. So, of course, I wrote him a letter, explaining my problem, and asking for his cure. His answer surprised me. He said he used to be gay also. It was through an expanded charismatic experience that he was able to overcome his temptations. Sign me up – pronto.
He started this small Bible study in the evenings and I along with several other high school and college students would gather with him for several hours each week. There would be a period of singing, then “prophesying” (tongue speaking) with interpretation by someone else, then an hour or so of teaching. I will say, he was the most thorough teacher I’ve ever met. I actually learned a lot. Plus it was exciting – God was actually talking through us and then someone else would be used to interpret what was said. I would sit there, expectantly waiting for things to happen, while at the same time scared shitless that I would be the one that the interpretation had been given to. What if I screwed up?
Even with all this, I still liked guys. What made it worse was when I was attracted to one of my fellow Christians. That just seemed to be double trouble.
A Christian music distributing company opened up in town and I got a job working there. It was started by a different charismatic group and we would start the day praying, laying hands on each other, and more tongue speaking. One day I mentioned what I was going through to one of my co-workers and next thing I know we’re having an exorcism to cast out this gay demon from me. Still, I kept being attracted to guys.
Through all this, I kept blaming myself. I was so entrained to doubt myself, to not trust my own experience that I listened to every sick cure all out there. One pastor spent our time together talking about a gay friend of his who ate so much semen that it ate through the walls of his stomach. Did I doubt it? Hell no – he was a man of God. He must know what he was talking about. It just made me search for a cure that much harder. There was no way in hell that was going to happen to me.
While all this was going on, something interesting was also happening.
You remember my friend G? I became this guy’s protector. When others would make fun of him, I was there ready to stand up for him. I sponsored him in DeMolay. To get in, we did this secret ballot thing and he was the only person to get black-balled in ages. (And yes, we actually used white and black balls to vote.) I stood up in front of everyone the next meeting and told them how disappointed I was in the group. If G didn’t fit in this group, then I didn’t want to be part of it either. There was debate, although no one came right out and said why he was black-balled. We all knew, though. Still, based on my speech, another vote was taken and G was accepted this time.
Once I went to a weeklong journalism camp down at Ball State in Muncie one summer with some friends. There, we met this poor kid who everyone was making fun of because of his effeminate nature. (His door sign had been changed from his name to the words, “Dairy Queen.”) Again, I became his savior, standing up for him. I made sure to include him in our group and told off both friend and stranger whenever I heard him being put down.
It was like I was standing up for everyone else that was going through what I was feeling, while all the time condemning myself for the same things. If only I just applied the same thoughts to myself, things would have turned out differently. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.
All of this was going on while I was dealing with my parent’s relationship with L. And I just kept assuming my failures were my fault. Billy Graham (and everyone else) said God would take the gay away and it was still there. God doesn’t screw up so it must be my fault.
It was my fault that L got involved with my parents. It was my fault that I couldn’t be the boyfriend she needed – I had driven her into my parents’ hands because I wasn’t sexually attracted to her. If I could just screw her once, she’d be satisfied with me and would leave my parents alone. On and on it went. More tears, more prayers, more begging and pleading. And the heavens stayed silent.
I got it in my head I just needed to prove my sincerity to God even harder. I decided I had heard “the call” to ministry and signed up for Bible College. The first semester went fine – I made the Dean’s List even with L breaking things off and leaving my family in shambles. Classes were hard but the school told me everything I needed to know: what to wear, when to wear it, when I could associate with the opposite sex, what to believe, you name it. I just had to be a sponge and soak it up. If I did, I would survive. If not, I was a heretic or a cult member like the Catholics.
Even though things went fine at school, my doubts increased. I had remained connected with G and discovered that he had came out as gay. Since nothing was working for me, I began to have doubts about everything faith related. I contacted the local Metropolitan Community Church (a gay denomination popular at that time) and secretly met the pastors one day while skipping classes at the Bible College. Through conversations, I decided I was going to come out. I would leave the Bible College, attend IPFW studying journalism, and be a happy homosexual.
One night the family drove down to view a play that G was starring in at Butler University. On the way home, I told my mother my plan. Her reaction floored me, especially after everything I had just gone through with her.
She told me if I came out, I had to move out of the house. She would not have anyone gay living there. And if I stayed, I had to go into therapy to change. I couldn’t believe it, especially after watching her involvement in a lesbian relationship that lasted for years.
I had already transferred schools so I was stuck going to IPFW. I, however, took up her admonition about counseling and she set me up with a therapist she had been seeing. However, the therapist wasn’t so sure I should change. After going a few times, she suggested being open to the possibility of accepting myself and sent me on my way. Fuck! Now what?
I spent the rest of that semester exploring the gay life on an intellectual basis – I read a lot of books, took in a lot of other people’s experiences, and when needed, went to the local adult bookstore to buy copies of Blueboy and the Advocate. Not once, though, had I actually had sex yet with another guy.
Things shifted again, though. I met this guy that worked with mom and she encouraged us to become friends – I just needed some male friends to butch me up some and this guy was a jock. Unfortunately I fell for him and confessed my feelings one night while watching Three’s Company. Needless to say, that didn’t go over too well. I got this huge lecture that basically came down to him wondering what it was that attracted all the fags to him. (Looking back, I now see that he was just insecure about his own sexuality – if other guys found him attractive, did that mean he was gay too?)
He soon graduated and moved away and I slunk back into the closet.
Back to Good Ol’ FWBC.
By this time, D was living with us and we were dating. I decided I needed to get right with God and re-enrolled at the Bible college. This lasted almost another two years. During that time, I joined a gospel singing group, was a Sunday school teacher, a worship leader for a small praise gathering, and a Bible study leader, teaching others what I learned in school. At the same time, I still struggled with my gay feelings. Even though I had thrown out all of my gay porn, I learned that if I roughly drew my own pictures (I’m definitely no artist), I could still get turned on and get off when needed – which immediately made me feel even guiltier. I was a mess.
I became depressed. During the second half of my Spring semester of my Junior year, I went to the Dean of Men and told him I was having gay desires. No, I hadn’t acted on anything yet. But I wanted to.
Next thing I knew, I was sitting before the school psychiatrist, listening to him tell me I had to quit school until these desires were gone. And he could do it – it would just take 3 years, twice a week, at $75 a pop. This was a huge amount of money back then. (I just looked up a conversion for 1978 dollars to current ones and found it translates to about $300 an hour.) There was no way in hell I could afford that. Still, I had to leave school because I was tainted. God couldn’t use me like this. I was thrown out halfway through, no refunds, no nothing. I didn’t know what to do.
I went back to work for the Christian music distributing company, praying, speaking in tongues, etc. However, my depression deepened and began to affect my work.
One night, I’m sitting at home with my family and there’s a knock at the door. When I answer, I’m met with my boss, his pastor who I knew from before, and a couple strangers. The pastor told my family to go into the bedroom and not to come out no matter what they heard. The group was going to cast this demon out of me if it took all night.
Again, I just accepted it – they knew what they were doing; they knew what God wanted and how things worked. I sent everyone into their rooms and we began the exorcism.
All I can say is that it didn’t go well. I couldn’t speak in tongues like they thought I should. I was holding back. It was all my fault. I didn’t want this demon out. Yada yada yada. Eventually, after a couple hours, they left, blaming me for their lack of success.
I quit work the next day and decided to go back to school, this time to Ball State to study journalism.
Being the good Christian boy that I still was, I contacted one of the local United Methodist churches in Muncie about places to stay off campus. By coincidence, they had just decided to open the unused parsonage to students for a small rental fee. Since I was first to apply, I got a single room. Two other guys moved into the double.
Of course, old patterns die hard and I immediately set about making an appointment with the pastor whose office was also in the parsonage. I began the usual spiel – I’m gay, I don’t want to be, what’s your cure? He looked at me and spoke words I never heard from a minister before: I didn’t need to change. God loved me as I was and I could be gay and a Christian at the same time.
I was floored. I of course left confused. But he had given me a lot to think about.
I began to do some research and found that others were saying the same things. Biblical passages that supposedly spoke against homosexuality weren’t so clear cut. I began to create notecard upon notecard filled with notes and ideas.
Because the Bible college wasn’t accredited like Ball State, I had to take some Religious Studies classes to ensure their difficulty levels were the same. I ended up transferring to Religious Studies because it was so different from anything else I experienced. I learned about all faiths and was taught to question everything and come up with my own beliefs. In an Ethics class, I had the opportunity to write an extra-credit paper on any topic I chose. I decided to write about homosexuality in the church.
When I started, I still wasn’t sure how the paper was going to end up. But by the time I finished, I had written this 50+ page document that ended up being my Declaration of Independence. When I got it back, the professor had written that it was the most scholarly yet readable paper he had ever received from a student. He also agreed to serve as my Honor’s Thesis Advisor and we worked at fine tuning it some so it could become my Honor’s Thesis.
I wish I could say everything was fine after that. It still was a long trek. By accepting my gayness, everything I had built my life on suddenly fell away. I didn’t know what to believe. My depression grew over dealing with L and D and my experiences with the church and school and on and on. I ended up leaving school to take some time off and work things out. I quit my third quarter of my Senior year with only a handful of credits needed to graduate. I never went back. Instead, I moved back in with my family to the enmeshment that I was comfortable with.
I stayed connected to the church for a long time. I volunteered with the Brethren Volunteer Service but was told at my assignment I couldn’t speak of my experiences of being gay even though they dealt with numerous LGBT groups. I became a lay pastor at the local gay church in Fort Wayne until infighting destroyed it. And I ended up at one of the most progressive denominations there is and experienced internal strife over being gay because the church secretary had some personal issues with it.
Through it all, one thing stood out – the very same feelings I had with my parents were present. I needed to squelch myself – stuff my feelings, my needs and experiences – in order to be worthy. Everybody else became more important than me. Boundaries meant I was holding back, being unfaithful. Only by giving everything over to God could I be changed. And that never happened.
I now classify myself as an agnostic at best. If there’s a God and an afterlife, it doesn’t really matter to me. What does matter is what goes on around me – how I act toward others, the planet and myself. Tomorrow will take care of itself. All I can do is deal with today. No longer do I equate mysticism with esoteric practices such as prayer and meditation. Mysticism is seeing the connection with everything around us and realizing we (humans, animals, and even plants) are all in this together. And I think that’s the way things were always meant to be.
Related Parts of This Series
Photo by Peter Forster on Unsplash