Observations of the Wealthy at the Hardware Store

business-finance-88410_640

Over the cashier’s desk, standing alone in the aisle, is a man in a smart suit. A deluxe suit. Likely bought with one of those slick, exclusive credit cards that expects and requires regular one-time 1K charges. Between aisle two and three, beneath the florescent lights, he is gripping a wrench, looking at it as if waiting for the answer to come to him about why he is holding it, why he is meandering the town hardware store in the middle of the afternoon.

 

Potomac, Maryland is one of the wealthiest places in the world. When I describe my drive to work to friends back home, I tell them to think of the house of Downton, except twelve of them, each situated in a perfectly emerald field of their own, some with blue ribbon horses bounding through them, most with two staircases curving up high to enormous doors, several sparkling cars parked in the drive. Just a block away from where my Aunt and Uncle live, construction crews are assembling a series of condos going for one million each, each one with its’ own private elevator.

 

The Bethesda magazine that sits on the rack boasts the cover of a blond woman in a red pants suit with the title, We are Wealthy, Healthy and Wise, so why aren’t we Happy? 

 

The man in the aisle turns the wrench over, again and again, and I imagine his story. I’ve seen other men like him. They come in filled with some pseudo confidence, asking for specific, rare brands or types of tools, fertilizer, plumbing parts. It only takes a few minutes, a few follow-up questions until the jig is up. They stand there in naked humiliation and head hung defeated and say they found it online or a friend told them about it and no, they don’t know how to use it.

 

I imagine them as children not being boyish in the societal sense of the word, fascinated by things other than fixing the toilet or building a birdhouse. Since their toys were not hammers and screws and drywall, they maybe felt not enough, but unable to alter it. And this hole sinks in them. They’ve tried filling it with financial success and trophy wives who birth them three children that chase each other through their gigantic houses and horses circling them and all The Help dusting, precious privileges that a very, very small few have the luxury of finding, and yet, all it takes is the wrench. Just a small mass-produced tool mocking their inadequacy beneath the florescent shelf show lights.

 

And maybe that’s the problem with money. It asserts itself as the end all cure to whatever you feel is broken inside you. Whatever wounds so deep, it promises it can patch, but in the end, they return to that which is hurting them. We, I guess, all do. Like, instead of appreciating who he is, what he’s become, what ways he can change the world around him, he comes back to this piece of metal that reminds him of the one thing money cannot buy. He hasn’t changed the way he’s seen himself, he’s simply changed the way he’s played the game, first filling it with stuff and then, upon failure, going back to give it one last ditch effort. A self-fulfilling prophecy over and over.

 

And I see why they’re so unhappy.

~

This is one of MANY, unrefined, thoughts I’ve had while working at the hardware store. May post more later. Just kind of needed to get this one OUT THERE because it keeps ping ponging around my mind. What makes a person really, really happy do you think? Rick Warren says its’ not about us, and I tend to agree with that, but I’m wondering if that means it’s NOT OKAY to be happy. What do you think?

When it might be time to move

landscape-20357_640

 

 And it’s one of those times when you’re going to have to actively choose to recast your outlook or else this whole thing might swallow you up.

 

You came out here because at 23, for some ridiculous reason, you believed you had to have life figured out. You saw your friends back home in their full-time careers, with benefits and a resume that was rapidly becoming more refined than yours. It appeared they had arrived at something that you were still searching for. In fact, when you left, you said to them, I am leaving to find what I’m looking for and I still don’t know what it is. 

 

You were scared after coming home last fall from Kosovo, a place that was suppose to be the start of everything. Instead, it revealed your passion for public policy was more about the idea of it, than the doing of it. So a couple months ago you went to DC to try to reawaken other passions. Politics and Non-Profits and the peace of sitting beside the rush of the Potomac rapids. Coffee on capital hill with well-connected friends and that endless chase for significance. You sit here now on the couch now, in the basement of your aunt and uncles house, a fraction less motivated than when you started.

 

And what is true, is that you feel like a failure, an abject failure and the imagery of you making your way back home is wincingly parallel to a pup trudging along with his tail tucked in his legs. This dream was too big to fail for you but now it’s on life support, on the verge of complete collapse.

 

This is how you feel and it will be how you feel as you continue to do your self-care. While your still working out your own junk.

 

In the meantime, as you walk forward making decisions about when and how, it might be important to note that it is in these hard places that we most often forget how much we’ve grown. What you’ve learned along the way.

 

For instance, interviews. Your first one here you were so nervous that instead of thinking of convincing answers to simple questions, you spent your time ironing, primping, making your hair do that faux-hawk thing. And when you arrived, you realized that none of that was flashy enough to fool them into thinking you were ready for this. And so you researched for the next one and the one after that and although you’ll never know how the decisions were made, you must’ve arrived close to second. The interviews went so well that the No’s left you feeling surprised, but more motivated.

 

Or how about the joy of working at the low-rung of the ladder? Remember how you stomped down the strip mall picking up applications from coffee shops and restaurants to retail stores and gas stations? You ended up nailing your interview at the hardware store and since you started, every day there has been this new comfort in the camaraderie with your fellow blue collar coworkers. A smirk exchanged here and there, because those moments are the only thing keeping you all sane, all of you sitting at the lowest seat in the Wealthiest county in all of Maryland, busy with soccer moms that look you up and down in disappointment, men of fine suits who don’t have time for your to fix the cash register, teenagers that are too cool with mommy and daddy’s money that they buy things because, eh, why the hell not? Despite the weirdness of some of the coworkers, you’ve grown attached to them. They keep you sane.

 

And in the end, you miss Minnesota. You crave the exchanges of Minnesota Nice even though it’s all a little passive aggressive. There is a part of you that dread the incoming block of ice that will drop and freeze everyone for several months, but another part that craves that first entrance into the warm house. That time of sitting by the fire reading your favorite book for the fifteenth time. The hot cocoa, the sledding, the resilient spirit of Christmas.

 

As much as you hate, hate, hate generalizations, there is something to be said about East Coast Culture. You know now that it is more or less a loss of translation. What they consider straightforward, efficient, productive, you take as blunt, cold, shimmering with too much snobbery. You went to the parties where you felt rebellious and regal for choosing a vodka tonic, but then you felt the full innocence cringe in you when others opted for knock out drugs.

 

And you miss the good gospel of friends and family. You miss community that knows you and loves you all the same. There’s a firm foundation, a rootedness that you didn’t know you needed until now. But you do. You need to hold little Wyatt and listen to him forming his own, unique laugh. You need to go golfing and fishing and out for drinks with your buddies. You need a bon fire, the smell of northern woods, a short vacation to the cabin where you’ll sit out by the lake and feel the change of seasons cold against your skin.

 

In your head, in your heart, you want this. But the hard part will be in the licking of your wounds and the feelings of failure. The hard part will be in swallowing your pride and remembering to take it with grace. Yet you know this now, and it’s better that you recognize it for what it is rather than having it sneak attack you like all those times before. You’re a bit more prepared to blunt these thoughts, address and resolves them, than you have ever been.

 

And maybe it’s good to recognize the reality of what you’re confronting. One entry level job you applied to at the YMCA had 25 other applicants in line before you. You read in the paper that a position you were qualified for and considering had four hundred others vying for it. The article went on to state that the competition was enormous here, millennials have been saturating this town over the past couple years, and it hit you that you weren’t the only one with this idea. You weren’t so sneaky after all.

 

Yet, there is a silver lining, perhaps one that you won’t appreciate until later: There is something so good about knowing what you don’t want to do and where you don’t want to be. There is importance in taking a romantic runaway idea into action and seeing whether or not it’s got the buoyancy to hang in there. It’s good to know this, even if it feels like loss of who you thought you were.

 

Go forward into today with all matter of intentionality. Head to the hardware store and chuckle at the absurdity of this town. Notice the goodness of those you’ve judged before. Breathe in this place, marvel at every corner you’ve missed. Take mental notes, photos, and other useful wisdom, because these will all serve you down the road you’re on. It’s going to be all right. Everything will be great.

Baptism, Evangelicalism and a little bit of Redemption

synchroblog-photohome_uk

 

The evangelical subculture deserves much of the bad rap it gets. For many of us, the different ones, it was mean and patronizing, damaging us in almost irreparable ways. For me, I ended up running out of it arms flailing and relieved and, to my surprise, found Jesus on the outside waiting for me, arms wide open. I found a faith was real and had texture and was mine, much different from the shiny vapid one I had been offered before and then promptly snatched away. Many thanks James Dobson.

 

Most of the time here I point out the wrong of that bleached-teeth smiling, fog-machine fuming, bless-your-heart-in-truth-in-loving-cliché filled culture, but today, for Addie Zierman’s synchroblog, I shall zero in on the chips of beauty. I shall talk about my baptism.  

 

Baptism was, is and ever shall be a hot topic murmured throughout Christian denominations. At my Baptist church, it was what set us apart.

 

We were appalled at how the Lutherans chose to baptize their babies; little humans who had no choice, who would, for all we knew, age into taciturn secularists. There was no commitment on their end, there was no deal made, it was way too easy and way too early. Thus, we carefully called it INFANT baptism, as to distinguish it from our own, as to ask now adult infant baptized people if they would want a redo with us.

 

Which we called BELIEVERS Baptism. We took a six-week course that, for the life of me, I cannot remember. But I do remember that we talked a lot about process. About speaking before the church prior to doing the dunk. We covered how some kids pick personal scripture to recite, and some told a story and I knew exactly what I wanted to say. But I also knew that the story I had to tell made my motivations suspect.

 

My grandma was dying of cancer and she was, so very much, the heartbeat of my dad’s side of the family. She was elegant and cozy, smart and funny, an excellent cook who passed over the finer, more cultured recipes in her book to make simply delicious, uncomplicated food that she knew everyone would love. She was a hero. We loved her so much.

 

I got baptized because I loved Jesus, yes, but also because I loved my grandma. Her voice was one of a select few that encouraged me toward this faith. She told me the Bible stories, introduced me to Jesus as Love, and sold me on this idea that God gave up everything to be with me. I owed the world to her for that. I didn’t want her to miss this moment.

 

I waded through the the cool pool of water toward my pastor on the other side. I stood at the microphone and told a story of my grandma. I told the truth of how she familiarized me with the faith, talked about her friendship with Jesus.

 

I wasn’t sure whether I was doing this for God or for Grandma and it only added to my worries. In my head, I had this idea of what my coming to the pool moment would be like. I envisioned my heart, mind and soul in perfect unison, fully committed,  not a trace of doubt about God. But I was torn and unsure and afraid I was wrecking the whole thing.

 

Looking back on it now, I see it was beautifully both, in many ways the same. It was just love, for God and for my Grandma, A way to afford us us a special moment for her to see how far those early stories took me. Her flawed, wonderful grandbaby offering himself to God and community. To love.

 ~

In baptism, we swim through the water and the pastor proclaims “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” We dunk in backwards and rise up soaking, smiling to the sound of a thousand clapping hands. It is symbolic of death and resurrection. The emergence to the surface and catching of breath, a symbol for who we are now.

 

But I keep thinking about those milliseconds under the water. The metaphor of it. The way I think we’re still gradually rising to that surface, becoming kinder people, more gracious to ourselves, reflecting bits of Christ. I think about the way we are, and will continue to be, beautiful flawed works in progress.

 

And so I am grateful that evangelicalism, the culture in which my church was couched, made baptism important for me. It made a mark that has remained beautiful in my story, shining through the dust of anger and hurt and more anger. It reminds me that despite the dark and mean parts, I am a part of something larger. A collective of stories trying to get out of ourselves. Slowly changing for the better.

 

~ ~ ~

Today I am synchroblogging with Addie Zierman and others to celebrate the release of her book (which you can and should buy HERE). Folks from all over are writing stories from evangelicalism and linking up over at her site. Click the picture above to read their stories!

to my people In Real Life

390514284_7b2e125467

Image credit

 

We might’ve gone to high school together. I was in your close group of friends, but then graduation and college came and, gradually, we drifted apart toward new places and different lives. You might not get this blog, my whole story, but that’s because you only ever saw the half of it. You remember me as sarcastic, as self-deprecating, the guy always going for a good laugh. But there was also another part of me living in the shadow of myself. This page, the one you’re reading, this is where I let that side breathe. An open place to be honest and alive and complete.

 

We might’ve been missions trip partners, digging shovels into the dirt of that wasted Honduran mountain. We helped those that couldn’t understand a single word we said, hugged them, built alongside them an irrigation system drawing in clean, beautiful water. You told your story and I told mine, before each other and the entire village and I bet every single one of us on that team held back a little, kept some cards close. Yet I also know we had never lived into a more honest and true gospel than we did that trip. A gospel of hands and feet, tears and laughs, international soccer and rushing streams of holy water. To this day, those are still some of the greatest days of my life.

 

We might’ve been in the same freshman year dorm, you might’ve been my Resident Director. The first night of Welcome Week orientation, you laid out the lists of rules through a skit with your fellow RAs and there was this thing you said. Even now, when I think about it, I still get all choked up. You were talking about kindness, about how cursing wasn’t okay and then you said, “Also, gay doesn’t mean stupid, okay? It doesn’t mean bad or dumb or ugly. If I hear it intentionally thrown around as an insult, we’ll be talking. I really, really hope I’ve made myself clear.” And for the very first time in an evangelical setting, I felt safe.

 

We might’ve studied together for Christianity in Western Culture, the class everyone loved to hate, and when we we reached our mental capacity to learn in those late night cram sessions, we flipped those flashcards in the air and ran up to Seminary Hill to sled stolen canoes into icy snowbanks. A couple times, we grabbed coffee in the campus cafe and you told me how you didn’t feel safe in the evangelical bubble of our college. Like it was Wonder Bread and you were made of a different morsel. I want you to know what a gift that was to me.

 

You might’ve been my youth leader, my counselor, my pastor or my teacher, and you might be wondering now whether there was something you did wrong. Whether you contributed to this shame corroding me from within. I want you to know that, yes, some of you absolutely did. But I also want you to know that I love you and I forgive you. I understand that you were working within a world where that kind of talk was understood as Hard Truth. The Truth in Love. And while we are certainly in control of our decisions, we are, also, much more importantly, standing before that indescribable grace, gusting in and around and through us.

 

You might be a friend, a relative, a coworker, a professor, or some person I sat next to on a plane once. You might barely know me. You might think you know me more than most. And I want you to know this side of me, but I also want you to know that I am, in fact, still me

 

I’ve been writing this blog anonymously for over a year and I didn’t expect it to be what it is. I expected it to be like free therapy. A documented account of my life, my best and worst moments, my deepest truths. I thought that if I recorded it publicly, but anonymously, it would safely make my story significant. I expected it to make my story matter.

 

I didn’t think this place would become an inseparable part of my faith journey. A part of my life now. And it all started after a small trickle of messages made their way into my inbox. These tragic stories of closeted teens afraid that once they let their parents in, they’d be kicked out. Many mothers messaged me expressing thanks for a place where they could feel safe, hopeful for kids that walked away long ago. I have heard from people of every persuasion, theology, gender identity, sexuality, and to my surprise, I became deeply connected to them. A part of a fragile community strung together by satellites and laptops. A community that felt as close as my breath.

 

And I balanced my life between here and there. But at a certain point, that wasn’t good enough. I couldn’t keep writing for young kids to be brave when I was still speaking from behind the veil. I couldn’t keep telling parents to stand up for their kids, hold them close and never them let go, while I myself remained nameless. It was an integrity issue for me to come out. And maybe a faith one too.

 

You might be reading this and thinking Gay and Christian are incompatible identities, you need to pick one. First of all, I’d point out, there is a hierarchy for me. I will always be God’s child first and foremost. He saved my life and I live for Him. Secondly, being gay has actually been the biggest catalyst to my faith since baptism or first communion or even that very first prayer. Accepting that I am accepted, warts and all, has allowed for Christ’s love to flow down the lowest places. It has brought me into divine intimacy in ways we never could be if I was rejecting myself. If I was rejecting myself, I was rejecting his love.

 

And you might be worried. You might be concerned because you genuinely love or like me, even now, but you’re afraid that your particular belief or theology will hurt me and effectively end our relationship, so maybe it’s best to stay at a distance. I want you to know, that is far from true.

 

Even most recently, I had one of the best conversations about this with one of my closest friends. I told him I was gay and he said, perhaps ten times over, that he loves me. Later into the conversation he asked for grace moving forward as he would need to learn more and he might not even change his theology. And some might say that he’s not affirming my humanity, but I’d tell you that his tear-streaked face attests to the contrary. His questions, his search,  his friendship, as well as those of other friends, have proven that love is possible in spite of such personal disagreement. Love is amazingly resilient.

 

There isn’t always an easy answer. There is no book that solves it for you. This is a long road and many, many good and Godly people arrive at different places, and who knows why. But while we stare through this glass darkly, hold that wild sea of scripture in our hands, I think we can all still love one another well.

 

And this might be no big deal to you at all. You might be shrugging your shoulders right now, thinking Oookay?? To you I say, Cool. Let’s move forward in whatever relationship we’re in as we always have.

 

To others, this might be the biggest deal. You might have a thousand thoughts, questions, feelings ping-ponging through your mind, and you are helpless in grabbing a single one. I want you to know that that is okay. Something friends and family have consistently drilled into my head is that while this was my lifetime secret, this was their first few days, weeks, months, and they needed time. I just might be the very first person you know that is gay. And you might need awhile, I get that.

 

Still, if you’d like, I invite you to email me or call me or text me. I would love to talk to you more, because you matter to me.

 

All I ask in return is that you be kind, good, and honoring of such sacred conversation. All I ask is that you be a friend.

 

With love to you, always,

 

Ben

These Hallowed Grounds: Our Story

IMG_2362

There she stands, clutching the lectern, scanning the fireside room filled with all kinds of people. She clears her throat and flattens out her notes. She takes in a deep breathe, beams out a smile.

 

It is our LGBTQ night at church and she is my mom and she’s about to tell her story. All of the tears and laughter, hugs and anger, long stretches of silence and great leaps of joy that have led her down this uncertain road. This search for what it means to be a daughter of Christ and a mother of a gay son.

 

My brother and dad are with me and if you look at us, you might think that this has been a breeze. Don’t let the winks and nods fool you, our laughs are a long time coming. Take a walk down our memories of the last two years to a late night in October and you’d see how deep we were. You’d hear me choking out my secret, her heart breaking in half, and several, painful minutes in which she cannot breathe.

 

~ ~ ~

She’s in the bathroom and it’s cold and it’s dark and she cannot breath.

I can hear her as I sit balled up in the corner of her bed.

 

In and out and in and out and in and out.

 

She returns to my side still wiping her mascara, as together as she can manage to be, and she holds me tight. Tells me she loves me, deeply and she does. But she doesn’t understand. She needs someone else to be here to help her understand. Can she call dad? Is it okay to call dad? The moment has swallowed her whole and spit her out and she cannot breathe. She cannot breathe.

 

And I stare into those panicked and heartbroken eyes and, try as I might, I can’t place them in the woman that is beaming out at us tonight.

 

~ ~ ~

As unbelievable as it sounds, I think I first knew I was gay the morning my pastor said it was evil.

 

It was at the peak of my childhood, when I was ten and just beginning to really believe, trying to make this faith personal. In Sunday School and Youth Group, I learned all about the tenderness of Jesus and the more I understood it, the weaker at the knees I became. He was mine and I was his and there was nothing that mattered more.

 

Except that Sunday morning when he started in on the passages. I was doodling on the back of an offering envelope and with hearing a word, an involuntary instinct kicked in. An awakening. A stirring. My eyes flicked at him then up to the screen as he boomed. He read aloud about these people and their wickedness and I didn’t understand any of it, but I felt it. I felt it impale my protective shell of worth. I felt the church shrinking in and a sudden weight on my heart and the worst part of it all was when it hit me that it wasn’t even my pastor talking, it was God.

 

For the next ten years, that wound would never close. It would fester and flare up until finally, it would cripple me.

 

It occurred to me at twenty-one, at the bottom of my sadness, in this soul-screaming state, that I had nothing left to lose. So I went home. I crawled into bed with my mom. Cried for several minutes. And then, bitterly slow, I said it- out loud. For the first time. I am gay.

 

Releasing those words into the air set us off on a journey. One that led us into shadowed settings. Turned us against each another. tied us tighter than we’ve ever been before. And, in the end, led us forward, into the brilliant light of that life-saving thing called grace.

 

~ ~ ~

To a skeptical Christian couple over dinner, I heard that my dad had said, “Look, I was once just like you. It was a choice and a lifestyle and bad, but these last two years… God’s opened my eyes to so many new things. And I was once like you.”

 

And he’s talking about how he didn’t believe it. How my confession was too shocking to pierce his concrete conservative worldview. He loved me and he loved Jesus and the only way he knew how he could move forward was to deny that I was gay at all. That this was, more or less, a phase.

 

And it took some fighting words to get through to him. It took tears, from the both of us, for him to finally see. It took a shoved book to his chest and a night spent alone in study for him to brave the first steps forward, led by faith and curiosity and his profound love for me.

 

Though it was frustrating at the time, the truth is, I was the one that had started us down this road. I planted the idea of phase. Before all this had happened, in the first days out, I told them I didn’t want this. I wanted to be cured, I said, and I could. There were these brochures I had found, testimonies of men and women submitting their sin before the Lord only to then be struck by miraculous change. Heterosexuality- it was possible through God!

 

~ ~ ~

I’m at my first meeting and it’s raining outside. The man’s house is very dark and this whole meet up is unethical, but I do it because I’m desperate. He is not a bad man, he is good, but he is also misguided. He is not a therapist, he makes that clear, yet he still walks me through therapeutic drills that are dehumanizing and traumatic and when I finally leave the house, it is still raining. I know that I will never go back. I can never go back.

 

~ ~ ~ 

The ex-gay encounter hit me spiritually, emotionally and physically. I felt like an abject failure. Fortunately, that’s when I found a therapist who gestured toward the real culprit. Toward the dark cloak draped heavy over my sexuality. Your shame, he called it. It was killing me.

 

The hardest part about removing shame is that it is done slowly. It is done in very little steps. For me, it was remembering to wash down my Zoloft with a little extra grace and believe I was getting better. It was intentionally irrigating the most sensitive wounds of my heart with the Truth that God is madly, humiliatingly in love with me. That he always has been. That he made me on purpose. He likes me. He does not like my shame.

 

For my parents, their progress forward was all about listening. Taking in testimonies and theology and at the end of the day, bending low to hear to what their hearts were saying. It was connecting with other Christian parents of gay children, saying all of it- out loud and realizing that though they came to them for answers, they found deep friendship. Companions. Fellow sojourners.

 

And at some impossible point, we got there. We made it. And it wasn’t so much a survival as it was a celebration. A sudden gratitude. Our family drew closer than we’ve ever been before.

~ ~ ~

268374_10150231416991035_8255500_n

 IMG_2251

After a long teary talk, she closes with, “On this journey it has occurred to me that the attacks of Christians on gays and lesbians is because of an inability, or unwillingness, to understand this in their hearts.”

 

Reflecting on all that we’ve been through, that sums it up for me. I refused to accept myself, I took dangerous steps to change. My parents couldn’t accept it either, not against the backdrop of our faith. And at first, the path forward felt steep and uncertain and endless… but I think that’s what it feels like when God clutches your heart. Tugs you along like a child, further and higher, until you get to the top, above the peak, until you see the way that he sees.

 

And if I look hard enough, I can still see that path. The faint impressions of the long, painful, beautiful story leading us up to this very moment. It looks like freedom. Feels like holiness.

 

Ben

~ ~ ~

Readers,

Thank you for your patience.

~ ~ ~

Also, a follow up to this post, to my people In Real Life.

These Hallowed Grounds: Kristen’s Story

Fotor0903230719

Kristen Soo is a relatively new friend, as always, through twitter. Ever since we started talking, I have genuinely enjoyed our dialogue, been greatly encouraged by her voice. When I put out the ask for this series, she was one of the first to step up, because this Matters to her. It matters deeply. And her story below only gives me more hope for the future. I am so appreciative of this incredible voice in the conversation!

~ ~ ~

I.

I am in Grade 10, a young teenager fumbling through my identity. My close circle of friends comes to include Aaron*, an aspiring musician and also my first gay friend ever.

What I Thought Then: Wow, Aaron is super-flamboyant! It’s kind of ridiculous. Why does he need to act like this ALL THE TIME? It’s annoying! But other than that, he’s pretty great.

What I Think Now: Aaron, you were so brave being out and proud in high school. You used the constant bullying and mockery as fuel for your music. I’m sorry for silently judging you when, underneath it all, you were struggling with your own identity as well.

 

II.

I am in my second year of my undergraduate degree. In my small, tight-knit program, two of my friends are James and Alex. Together, we puzzle over difficult assignments for hours and play euchre as a “study break” for more hours. I soon learn that James is an out-and-proud gay man, while Alex slipped quietly out of the closet later on in our friendship.

What I Thought Then: Weird, I thought all gay people were super-flamboyant…I guess that’s not the case. And other than being gay, these guys seem pretty normal. Who cares when we’re all killing ourselves together studying for finals?

What I Think Now: James, thank you for trusting me enough to complain to me about gay relationship drama. I guess it really wasn’t that different from straight relationship drama at all!

Alex, your quiet confidence in who you are helped challenge my beliefs about LGBT folks. Thank you for continuing to be my friend even when you knew I didn’t approve of your sexual orientation.

 

III.

In my third year of undergrad, the Christian group in which I am heavily involved does an outreach for international students. It is through that event that I meet and become friends with Carrie.

What I Thought Then: OK, Carrie is interested in Christianity, but she told me she’s gay! This isn’t possible! I need to show her the truth that is very clearly written in the Bible.

What I Think Now: Carrie, I honestly don’t know why you continued to be my friend after our long conversation about why I thought gay people couldn’t be Christians. I’m sorry I used the Bible to hurt you.

 

IV.

I am in the first year of my postgraduate degree, living on the other side of the country from where I grew up. Neil is a seminary student at my church and I am thrilled that we share the same favourite rock band. Eventually, he comes out as a gay man and leaves our church for an LGBTQ-affirming church.

What I Thought Then: Wait, what? But Neil’s a seminary student – he’s definitely a Christian! How on earth can he be gay too? Hmmm. Now I’m curious, but I don’t know if and when it’s appropriate to ask him about this, because it’s so personal.

What I Think Now: Neil, thank you for all the great conversations we had about theology, music, and church culture. You helped me see that it’s not impossible to be a gay Christian.

 

V.

During my postgraduate degree, I continue to be involved in the university’s choir. During that time, I meet Connor and Martin – both are huge sci-fi geeks who sing in the same choir section as me. I eventually learn that both Connor and Martin are transgender men. They are the first trans friends I have ever made.

What I Thought Then: So…they were born female, but their gender identity is actually male? That’s so weird! I cannot even imagine that‼ Actually, I also can’t imagine how incredibly tough that must have been growing up, and still be.

What I Think Now: Connor, thanks for opening my eyes to some of the struggles you faced as you figured out your gender identity. You’ll never know how important this was to me. Martin, you helped me see (among other things) the importance of using gender-inclusive language in our choir section, and for that I am grateful.

 

VI.

Near the end of my postgraduate degree, I’m hanging out with Kelly, a fellow choir nerd who is also an incredible artist. During the course of one of our conversations, she casually comes out to me as bisexual.

What I Thought Then: Oh, well, that’s good! I’m glad Kelly has come out and is comfortable with her sexuality. And I’m very cool with that.

What I Think Now: Kelly, you’re a fantastic girl and I’m so glad for our conversations about the queer community. I still don’t quite understand it all, but thanks for your patience and for confiding in me. It’s an honour.

 

*Names changed to protect the privacy of those mentioned.

~ ~ ~

Follow Kristen on twitter @readstooswift!

These Hallowed Grounds: Aibird’s Story Part 4 (final)

Fotor0903230719

 

This is the fourth and final installment of Aibird’s post that I’ve been running today. Again, I am just so appreciative to her for her honesty. I join with many others that I have spoken to in saying, this story is changing and effecting and reshaping my heart. I am so thankful for Aibird.

Read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 

~ ~ ~

Exodus international — one of their counselors — contacted me back and what they wrote left me in tears. I felt so dirty, so disgusting, so unworthy of Christ’s love after reading their email that I didn’t go to class that day. I just lay in my bunk and wished for death. Rita called me that night to see how it went, and for the first time in my life, I lied to her. I said it went well. I didn’t tell her how much it hurt me, how much it tore me apart. I told her I’d start checking for ex-gay retreats near me, and she was overjoyed at that. The words felt gross on my tongue, and I didn’t go to class the next day either. I stayed in my dorm room, held my Bible, and wept. When I finally forced myself to go to class, I did everything I could to not think about being gay or Exodus or what they said. But then, the traumatic event from the August of 2004 began to creep into my thoughts. If I was not facing one, then the other haunted me. Nightmares came, and I’d wake up in terror many a time. The dreams varied from ways of dying to reliving the event that summer. I couldn’t escape either.

 

The summer of 2005, I researched everything I could about the ex-gay ministry. I read books written by ex-gays, where they explained how they were cured and saved by Christ. I read other books, these recommended by my sister Ana who was a psychiatrist, that were sociological studies about ex-gay ministries, and these books scared me to death. The use of shaming, especially of parents, was heavily documented in the studies as being one of the main practices in the ministries. Also some detailed uses of full-body hugs of the opposite gender to try to spark interest as well as other practices, where those in the ex-gay retreats were isolated from the outside world and not allowed to contact anyone until the last two days of the retreat. These accounts shocked me to the core. The more I researched, the more I found conflicting stories. Ex-gays writing about how wonderful it had been to be cured, but never disclosing too many details of the practices themselves, outside of the prayer and Bible studies. Then there was the accounts of those harmed by it, how detailed those accounts were of the shaming practices and the painful accusations. And finally the scientific studies. It painted a picture that I had no idea how to handle. I finally broke down and asked Ana her thoughts. She replied, “Don’t go. They are not certified as legitimate therapy, and studies have shown that they are not working. The failure rates far exceeds the success rates.”

 

Her advice held much weight since she had the degree. Yet my mother thought it was an okay idea, two of my sisters thought I should at least try, and my Christian friends, especially Rita, pressured me hard to go. I didn’t know what to do, nor did I know who to talk to about the growing fear and shame of the August 2004 trauma. It was haunting me even more than being gay. I couldn’t deal with both much longer, and my cheerful facade was breaking apart. I felt like I was being stretched thin, spread out over a larger and larger area until my seams would snap apart, and I’d crumble into dust.

 

My third year at college, I finally replied to Exodus, but their second message was worse then their first. Rita called a week after to find out how it went and how I was doing. She started barraging me with questions, where she tried to figure out how I became gay. As if a single event in my childhood or recent years would explain it away. The questions grew more personal, more intense, until finally I broke down and told her what happened August 2004. She was shocked, but for the first time she responded positively to me. She said simply, “I love you, and I’m sorry that happened.” But then the moment broke apart and she told me that must be why I’m gay. I felt baffled. No, no it wasn’t. She tried to convince me that because that event happened I must be turned off to guys, and being a late bloomer, I never had a chance to truly come into my true straight self. I couldn’t believe it. She was literally trying to rewrite my life. I just began to cry and cry.

 

She convinced me to call my family and tell them what happened on August 2004, so I did. It was catastrophic. They pushed me into therapy, but at the same time, they labeled it a dream. My mother especially, but Dad followed suite as did two of my older sisters, tried to convince me I was just being assaulted by the devil. I just had to pass through this, to be like Christ in the desert and not give in. Their words were confusing and baffling. The therapist they found for me was a Catholic, and the therapist tried hard to convince me it was all a dream. What happened August 2004 was just a bad dream. It was probably the source of my confusion with my sexuality. I didn’t agree, but I just couldn’t talk to that therapist, and again silence wrapped itself around me. Silence, my safe blanket. I spent the Christmas break in a daze. Given medicine to try to “cure me,” while so many counselors and priests tried to discuss with me the summer trauma and me claiming to be gay. It was a nightmare.

 

After I finished my spring semester in 2006, I left the university. I tried a new therapist, and her tactic of having me relive the painful events of my life over and over again caused me to collapse. I ended up hospitalized and put into a partial hospitalization program, where my mother would drive me to it daily for a week. They drugged me up and told me over and over again that I could get over this, be cured, and just needed some medicine to realign myself. The therapist they had me see told me to go to church more often since that would help me in the long run, so I tried.  However, Rita’s church had become more and more vocal about the evil of homosexuality, and of the six times I went with her, four of those times they referenced how evil and sinful homosexuality was, and how we had to love the sinner but hate the sin. We had to lead them to Christ. I felt dead as I sat there, listening. I wasn’t welcome there. I stopped going. I still went to Mass, for the quieter atmosphere was a bit more peaceful, and the homilies were not focused on homosexuality. They were focused instead of serving the poor and serving one another. I went to reconciliation a lot that summer of 2006, where I confessed my sins to the priest, especially those about having gay thoughts. Their responses were said kindly, but it left me feeling ashamed and worse than before. They’d always give me some prayers to try, and so I prayed them fervently, begging God to take this cross from me because I could not bear it any longer.

 

Mom and I fought that summer over various gay issues, and she told me that she couldn’t stand gays that strutted around as if they deserved respect. Her words shocked me. I remember going up to my room, to the computer I had, and I searched online for something, anything, that could get me out of here. I didn’t want to be home anymore. I didn’t feel welcome there or at church or anywhere. I found Americorps, and so I sent an application for the National Civilian Community Corps. Within three weeks, they accepted me and sent me plane tickets to their campus, where I’d be trained and sent out on a team to help the poorest members of America. I told my parents what I was doing, and left a few days later.

 

It was the best decision I made that year, but even though good, sad, and bad things happened in Americorps, I’ll never regret my spontaneous decision to try for it. It was a brief year of respite, where I could escape my Christian friends and family, and just exist with people who didn’t know my past. I could just be me, and they let me be. I stopped emailing Exodus, and just focused on my job of helping build houses, of listening the those that had lost everything in natural disasters and offering them hope. It gave me far more hope than anything within the Christian communities. For the first time, I felt Christ close.  Nearly all the people I helped were more like Christ then my Christian friends and family. Here were people who had lost everything, that sought a listening ear and a friendly face, that had tried hard to help their neighbors despite the fact they had only their strength to give. They lived lives of love and gave what little they had; a vastly different environment than the toxic one I’d left. It was humbling and it helped me heal a bit.

 

Except it only lasted a year. I had to go home at the end of the program, and when I returned to my family, I found myself in the same toxic environment as before. I couldn’t live in it, suicide or running away became my only options, and so I left abruptly yet again in 2008. This time for Wyoming, where I worked in a tourist shop for eight months. There I found a Catholic priest who was supportive. He spoke kindly to me, and told me that the pain and suffering I was experiencing was me experiencing Christ on the cross. Christ was with me, even if I couldn’t see or feel him, and I was not alone. That priest gave me more hope. I felt like maybe I could survive, that maybe not all was lost.

 

This time, when I finally returned to my family, I had a battle plan. I saved up money during the few months I had to stay with them, and then I left immediately for college to finish my degree. There I decided to take a step forward in my healing. I found a safe and supportive therapist to deal with my trauma, and I joined the LGBT group on campus. This left me a target for evangelical Christians, some of whom would try to picket our meetings, but I was with the group. Safety in numbers.

 

I remember one incident where I had sat down in the student’s union to work on physics homework. A group of two guys and two girls sat at a table behind me. They started talking louder and pointing at me. Death threats sprouted from their mouths. I turned to them and was shocked to see one of them wearing a Campus fellowship shirt. Another had a Bible out, and the other two had just textbooks. One of them suggesting I was better off dead. I turned away, gathered up my stuff, and ran to the bathroom. There I cried into a stall.

 

During this time, I tried hard to talk with Rita and my family. To reconcile with them, but I gave up after my mother told me: “If you ever marry a girl, I want nothing to do with it. Don’t send me an invitation ever. You know I reject that. I love you, but not that.” My father on the other hand, after I asked him to sit and listen to me and stop being judgmental, finally listened. I might have a chance of reaching him, but the reaction of the family, how they accused me of shaming Dad and told me I shouldn’t talk about this, has left me exhausted. I have ceased contact with my family, and I only talk with Ariel and Ana now.  My health was being adversely affected, and I hope someday I will be strong enough to try again.

 

As for Rita? She calmed down and stopped pressuring me about Exodus. She still sometimes asserts that I’m not really gay, but she no longer brings it up, and she tries hard to spend more time listening. It took us years to reach this point in our friendship, but sometimes it’s hard for me. Hard to always be the one to explain, to try to convince her that I never chose this, and to do it again and again. Sometimes it’s hard because I’m still healing from the pain of what she said and did. She never apologized for it, and probably won’t any time soon. It still hurts, and sometimes I feel this helpless anger.

 

It never seems to end. I’ve tried hard now to be more open, to break the silence, to tell my story. To not let people’s hate dictate my life, but to speak up against it, yet it never seems to end. Many a day I am just too tired to fight.

 

Live a life of love. That is what I strive toward, but I rarely get that in return. Not even from Christians, who claim to follow Christ. Jesus called us to love others, and yet so many Christians cling to this view that LGBT people chose to be that way. That it’s somehow curable. That the Bible condemns it. And they don’t listen. They don’t hear our stories. I have to fight to be heard, and even then, I run the risk of so many hateful remarks, of death threats, and sometimes even ‘corrective rape’ threats. A few times I’ve been compared to the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, the people who wanted to rape the angels, and that comparison horrifies me even more than the phrase, “hate the sin and love the sinner.” These Christians try to claim those people, who broke the hospitality rules and sought to use rape to dominant others, were really gay and that’s why Sodom was destroyed. That and the other clobber verses are taken out of context and skewed to the point, where the original message is lost in this obsession with using these seven verses to condemn homosexuals. To make our lives a living hell.

 

There is no love there. I no longer go to Church. I don’t feel safe there. I no longer touch my Bible; it brings back such painful memories that all I can do is cry over it. I no longer talk about God to anyone, and all I feel safe doing is perusing Rachel Held Evan’s blog, Slacktivist’s site, and your site. I don’t dare dig too deeply into the online Christian community for the hate is still so strong. I’m not welcome, and despite trying so hard to speak up, to tell my story, to no longer live in silence, I’ve ran out of energy for the fight. I’m tired. I just want to be me. I just want Christ’s love, but I feel so isolated to the point where I am beginning to doubt that God cares. I’ve begun to wonder if maybe those people in my past were right — there is no room for me in heaven, not if I am gay. For I cannot stop being gay. I am who I am, and have always been this way.  It’s so hard to hold onto the hope that priest in Wyoming gave me and the hope you give me in each of your blog entries.  Life can be so cruel and heart-breaking.

 

All I can do is try my best to live a life of love, for that is all I have left. That is the one lesson I will take from Christ and forever treasure: Love others. Love is the greatest commandment. That’s all I can do.

 

That is my story. Thank you for offering to listen to it, and I apologize for the length and how long it took me to finally write it.  I hope you are well.  Take care and God bless. 

Aibird

 

These Hallowed Grounds: Aibird’s Story Pt. 3

Fotor0903230719

 

If you’re just tuning in, a reader emailed me her story and it shook me up. After talking it over with her, I asked if she would allow me to share. She agreed. 

These stories need to be told. They cannot be buried or silenced, they are a part of the individual and collective healing. And yes, they’re painful, but pain thrives in secret. We need to have more open and honest conversations, like what my dear friend Aibird is doing here today. 

Part 1

Part 2

~ ~ ~

The end of my first year of college I decided to talk to Father John at the Catholic Center, to finally just confront this, and maybe I could end it. I asked him what would happen if someone was gay.  Was that wrong?  He told me that there were two differing viewpoints:

 

1. It was wrong and that it can be cured. 

2. The behaviors were wrong but the orientation itself could not be changed. 

 

He explained that the Catholic Church held the second viewpoint.  It was alright to be gay, but one must never act upon it. One must never lust in one’s fantasies, and one should try to be pure and celibate as a gay individual. I walked home that day feeling sick.  At that moment, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was gay, and that according to Father John, my evangelical friends in high school, and my own family, I had sinned. For I had lusted after Rita in high school. It didn’t matter that it had never occurred to me to think of us as doing anything sexual — outside of a brief kiss — but in the fantasizing of us sharing our life and going on adventures together, I had commited the sin of homosexuality. I didn’t know what to think of it or if it was true. I didn’t understand why I was like this, and how I could have ended up this way. It scared me, left me feeling even more alone, and I began to dread the future. Would I have to live under this cheerful, friendly mask forever? Unable to share my deepest self with anyone? That night I went back to my dorm and visited my friend Sam, where I just asked if she could give me a hug. She asked me what was wrong, but again the wall of silence. I could only shake my head. The words would not come again. I had taken the risk and it had hurt me dearly. Now I was left with two choices, both heartbreaking and terrifying.

 

Fear. So much fear.  That night, a Wednesday, I went back to the Catholic Center for their evening prayer and Bible study. I sat at the edge of the circle, and the topic that night briefly touched upon the issue of gay marriage that was growing in our nation. I felt my stomach twist with anxiety. Several times, someone would mention, “love the sinner, hate the sin” to illustrate a point. That phrase hit me like a sledgehammer.  I quietly left. It was dark that night. Very dark with grey clouds covering the stars. One of the street lamps went out as I passed under it, and I felt so far from God’s love. I felt lost and alone.  I stopped at the intersection, where one street lead down to the river and the other to my dorm. I looked down the dark street, down the hill toward the Memorial Union and the pedestrian bridge. I thought of the rock garden on the west side of the building and how I could fit quite a lot in my cargo pants I wore. The image of me jumping from that bridge just captivated me. It seemed so reasonable, so easy to do. I’d never have to face these conflicting feelings, or the sin of homosexuality again. I’d be free. The Church taught I’d have to go through purgatory to be cleansed of my sins — kinda like taking a shower as the priest explained it, just a really long one — before I met Christ in heaven, but that didn’t seem bad to me. It’d be better than staying here.

 

A young man with bright green eyes suddenly stepped in front of me.  I had been poised to run down to the river, but I shifted my stance at his approach. “Don’t head that way,” he said abruptly, “You have to go back to your dorm. Now.  Hurry.”  He turned and walked across the street toward the trees of the Pentacrest. Terrified by his words and the fact he seemed to know what I’d planned, I turned to my right and ran back to my dorm instead. When I reached my dorm room, I collapsed by my sink in tears.  That is where my friend Sam found me. She led me to my bed and held me as I cried. She drove me home that weekend so I could spend some time with my family and recuperate. She even drove me back again. It was kind of her, but again, even when she asked what was wrong, I couldn’t speak out loud. Fear and shame held me in chains.

 

That wasn’t the last time I thought of suicide. Only a few weeks later I used some rope to fasten a device where I could open the door to my dorm room from my desk on the opposite side of the room. My roommate had laughed at the device, but we both found it useful since when someone knocked nether of us really wanted to get up to open it. One tug of the rope and the pulley by the door would turn the handle and pull it open. It was near the end of the semester, close to finals, when I was lying in bed unable to sleep. My roommate wasn’t home yet, it being a Saturday night and she was visiting someone in a different dorm room. I looked at the rope, and the urge to wrap it around my throat was so intense that I leapt out of bed and ran out of the room. Sam’s door was still open, so I went to her and confessed my thoughts. It shocked her. She asked me why, and I didn’t know how to explain. I fumbled around with stupid excuses, but none of them was the truth: I was terrified of being gay. Terrified that it would ruin my life, and death felt like the only way to end those feelings for good. To stop the torment. That way no one in my family would be shamed by learning the truth. Silence once again bound me. Sam helped me cut up the device and throw away the rope. She was perhaps the most faithful friend I had that year, more understanding than any of my Christian friends, and her belief system was simple: Treat others with kindness and try to understand them where they are. She didn’t believe in anything beyond that.

 

Out of all my friends, she was the only one to tell me to just be myself. Everyone else had emphasized the need to tackle my sins, to try to avoid the homosexual lifestyle, to do this or that to be a good Christian, but Sam didn’t do any of that. She let me be me, and that gave me hope. I began to curtail some of my activities at the Catholic Center, and focused more on my classes and hanging with Sam.

 

The summer before my sophomore year a terrible traumatic event happened, and again the veil of silence draped itself around me. I entered my second year of college with a battered heart and body. I once again hid behind my facade of cheerfulness, and strove to be the best friend I could be. Now I had two secrets to eat away at me in the quiet darkness of night. I couldn’t live with both, one had to be told, but I didn’t know how to speak of either.

 

I met a guy named Terry in my physics classes, and we, and another gal, would work on homework sets together. One day he invited me flying with him. As he was landing the plane, he confessed his feelings to me. I was shocked. I had no idea. I didn’t know what to do because I cared about him as a friend and didn’t want to lose the friendship, so I struggled to just say the words. It took me ten minutes, but I did it, I said out loud, “I am gay.”

 

It changed my friendship with Terry, but in a good way. He backed off and tried hard to just listen to me and treat me as a friend. He asked me if I liked anyone, and again I admitted that I still very much loved Rita. So he came up with a plan. He needed to do a cross country trip in order to earn some flying hours to keep his license current. Rita lived in a different state, but not too far, enough for the trip to take only a few hours in his small two seater plane. I called Rita, and she was elated with this idea. So it was settled. A few weekends later, Tim flew me to Rita’s college; he even let me try my hand at the controls during the flight and it was great fun. He got a hotel room and decided to do some tours of the city, while I stayed with Rita.

 

It took me nearly an hour before I could finally say those three words to Rita. She sat there next to me, and her hands curled into fists. She shook her head violently. “No. You’re not gay. I know you’re not. You’re just confused. College can be confusing. People can lead you astray, you know.”

 

I shook my head. “No, no. I’ve wondered about this for years. Rita, I love you.”

 

“As a friend.” She stood up and started pacing. “Nothing more. It can’t be anything more. You’re not gay. It’s not healthy! Don’t choose it.”

 

“I’m not!” I started to cry. I didn’t know what to do. I felt rejected. “I don’t want anything from you. Just friendship, but I wanted to be honest with you. That’s all.”

 

“I’m glad you did.” She walked over to her desk and started rifling through her piles of documents and books. “We had a speaker the other day. I took a brochure, but I think it will help you more. You need to talk to them.” She pulled out a fairly large brochure and placed it in my hands. It was for Exodus International. “They cure gays. And I know you’re really straight. You just need some guidance and help. Please talk to them.” She took my hands in hers and I couldn’t say no to her. I nodded and put the brochure in my bag. She sat back down next to me, and started talking about the clobber verses. How the Bible says it’s wrong. Even got out her Bible to show me them. I just sat there stunned and hurt. I listened and nodded, but I felt lost again. The momentum and relief from telling Terry had left me. Silence descended upon me yet again, and we went to bed with her feeling relieved that I’d be calling Exodus and me feeling great dread.

 

That same week, I wrote a mass email to my family and tried to come out to them. To see what they’d say. It took me hours to write just a few sentences. The response? Silence at first. Then a few phone calls asking me if this was a joke. My mother yelled at me that it was unhealthy. Dad stayed quiet. I have five sisters and two brothers, and three of my sisters and my older brother talked with one another and concocted a tale to try to explain it away. Only Ariel and Ana (my third oldest sister) let me be. They didn’t say much, other then they loved me. The response left me feeling even more conflicted and hurt. Especially my mother’s response, where she insisted it could be cured. Just like Rita.

 

I wrote an email to Exodus a week later.

 ~ ~ ~

stay tuned for the fourth and final part

These Hallowed Grounds: Aibird’s Story Pt. 2

Fotor0903230719

We continue today with the second installment of Aibird’s story. Read Part One Here.

[TW: There is a traumatic violent scene between Aibird and another man.]

~ ~ ~

My high school years were a myriad of confusion.  I knew two things for certain:

 

1. I loved Rita, but what that meant in terms of our friendship confused me a lot.

 

2. I was determined to be the defender of Christ, and try hard to live my life full of love as Christ asked us to do.

 

To do this, I decided to try to be the person people could go to if they needed someone to talk with. I was very optimistic and idealistic at that age, and I was certain I could reconcile the Catholics and the Protestants in my school, ending the war between them, and help them all to grow as brothers and sisters in Christ. I felt certain that if I just acted with love toward both, listened to both, and tried to be supportive this would help them grow in Christ and stop expressing such anger and misinformation. It didn’t take long to discover that the Catholics at my school had no wish to be apart of this, they only wished to be left alone by the Protestants and to stop being accused of not being Christians. The protestants? I found them to be far more judgmental than I’d ever guessed.

 

I remember my freshman year when I was standing in line for lunch. The line was long and wound around the bathrooms and toward the cafeteria doors. The girl ahead of me, Amy, was a devout evangelical, and we had only recently met a few weeks ago. She started to cry in line, and confused and worried, I asked her, “What’s wrong?”

 

She said, “Look at all these people. They’re all going to hell, and it’s all too much. How can I save them all?”

 

I was dumbfounded. How could she know what was in their hearts? Only God knew that. So I decided to quote the Bible. “Do not judge, lest you be judged. Amy, you’re not Christ. You cannot know what is in their hearts. They could already be followers of Christ but may just be private about it. Please don’t cry about it. Instead think about how awesome Jesus is, and how God works in ways we may never understand. He may be working on their hearts right now.” She stopped crying at my words, but we never spoke of this again. Instead, I became known as the tolerant Christian in my school. I had friends who were atheists, agnostics, Christians, and pagans. I didn’t try to convert them; I just listened to them and offered them friendship.

 

Yet, this was never enough. I felt so exhausted at times. No matter how much I gave to others, it only accentuated how alone I felt. How I didn’t have anyone I could speak with about my own fears and worries and sins. I was afraid to even go to my priest at Church, for I wasn’t sure I was ready to hear the exact teachings. So I hid behind this facade. I tried so hard to be cheerful at all times, to be happy, to be understanding and kind. It was exhausting. The truth was I hid behind Jesus’s name out of fear. I wanted answers, but no one was willing to listen.  I’d pray at Mass and during my prayer times at night about who I was, what these feelings meant, and why I was who I am.  But there was no answers. Reading the Bible, and searching for answers their, only brought more confusion. There wasn’t really anything there that even remotely described my dilemma, and I didn’t know what parable or biblical advice would make sense in my situation.

 

In my sophomore year of high school, my locker partner, Katie, took me aside one day out of concern. “Why do you try so hard with Rita? She’s popular now. We’re not.”

 

“Because I love her.” It was as simple answer. I couldn’t really offer any other kind of explanation.

 

Katie shut our locker door with a sigh. “She’s often mean and it hurts you. That doesn’t seem like she loves you back. Not the same way at least.” Her words haunted me for weeks. It made me realize there were different types of love, and so I had to do research on it. To try to learn more, but again, all I found was the usual four types: agape (unconditional), eros (sexual/romantic), familial, and platonic. It felt good to understand there was different types of love, but it left me confused as to what type of love I did have for Rita. That was when I began to wonder if something was severely wrong with me. The more I looked into this problem, the more I realized my love was far too similar to my friends who had boyfriends, and how they were devoted to their guy. I was devoted in a similar way to Rita. What did it mean?  I had no words for how I felt. My school used abstinence only education, and thus I knew very little about sex, LGBT issues, or really anything similar to it. Lesbian, homosexual, LGBT — none of those words were ever mentioned in my high school or in my family, and if they were mentioned in Church, it was to emphasize sexual purity and/or celibacy. Never really explaining, only condemning.  It often felt like I was the only one who had this problem, that no one else with this existed.

There was a journal about the size of my hand that I called my secret journal. I choose it because of the black and white cat on the cover and the lock it had; it’s small size made it easy to hide under my bed, and the lock gave me the illusion of privacy.  In that journal, I wrote about my fears, my pain, and my desperate entreaties to God.  When I was sick with bronchitis, I wrote a long entry about how I ripped open the doors of my heart and laid myself bear to the Lord. I wanted his healing love to wash through me, to wipe me clean, to ease my fears, and to help me find my true self, so I can follow him better. I wept so many tears that night. The love of Christ felt so close for such a brief while, then reality returned, and the isolation settled back into my soul.  No matter what I wrote in that journal, it didn’t ease the fear and isolation.

 

My junior year of high school, I felt even more isolated than usual. One of my band friends, Shannon, tried very hard to convince me to hang out more with Jack, this short guy with a lot of body hair — it seemed to just pop out of his shirts and he never could seem to keep a beard from growing no matter how often he shaved. Shannon told me how Jack confessed to her about how much he liked me. I didn’t really like him back; in fact, I felt nothing for him. Nothing at all. I wasn’t even sure about being his friend, especially if he liked me as more than a friend. Wouldn’t that be leading him on? I didn’t want to hurt anyone.

 

For Prom that year, Shannon convinced me to go with her and Jack and some other friends to Prom. I was not fond of dresses — hated wearing them to be honest, but I did it mostly because I wanted to hang out with my friends. It was rare for any to ask me to hang out with them outside of school. Usually I’d go home and write my science fiction novels and worked on homework. If I did hang out with anyone, it was usually Rita or Katie or my younger sister, Ariel. Despite people talking to me at school and often confiding random thoughts to me, most of them were not interested in actually being a friend, so I felt I couldn’t pass down this chance to feel accepted. A part of a group.  How badly I had wanted that!

 

Except that was not how it played out.  Shannon was determined to have us take Prom pictures. “How can it be Prom without official pictures?” she said. I didn’t like the idea but tolerated it mostly since it would make her and the others happy, and wasn’t that good? Except, when it came our turn, Shannon grabbed the other gal with us and pulled her out of the picture, so that it was just Jack and I standing there. Jack grasped my arm, and the picture was taken. I felt shocked and confused. Shannon then told me to go have fun with Jack, and that it’d be good for me to have a boyfriend. I didn’t want that at all. I was uncomfortable the entire night, and when they tried to convince me to go to afterprom, I declined and said I felt tired and my stomach hurt. So they took me home. The next day Rita called me and asked me if Jack and I were an item. I almost started to cry. She reminded me of our celibacy vow to stay pure until marriage, and I said in reply, “Rita, I would never break that vow. You know that.” She did, but she wanted to make sure and at the same time, she told me she was glad I was finally growing up. Being interested in boys is no big deal, she said that night, and it was healthy and good. She had been worried for me since I hadn’t shown any interest in them yet. Her mother, and even my own parents, had decided it was because I was a late bloomer. I didn’t know how to respond to that. I wasn’t a late bloomer at all. It just wasn’t guys that interested me. But I couldn’t say it to her. I was trapped in this closet of silence, unable to speak the words but unable to lie about it either.

 

Jack began to show up at my locker, much to Katie’s chagrin, and he then started to follow me to class. He put it as “escorting,” but it didn’t feel that way to me. I’d come out of my class during passing times, where we only had ten minutes to reach our next class, and there he’d be waiting for me. My band and drama club friends were elated and thought this was adorable. For me, it was strange and discomforting. I didn’t know what to think of it, and so one day I asked him, as he stood by my locker, if he could stop escorting me to classes. My locker was situated at the end of a side hall, right by a set of doors, so it was in the farthest corner of the high school. Jack turned his body so that his back was to that hallway, and my view of it was entirely blocked. He put his arm above my head and leaned close to me. “I like you. Don’t you like me?” He inched forward, and again I panicked. I didn’t want him to kiss me. I didn’t want it. I stumbled to the right, and ran into the doors. I pushed them open, and just at that moment, Katie sprang up from behind Jack and cuffed him in the arm. “Leave her alone! This is our locker. Not yours.” Jack frowned but left.

 

That night I slid my kitty journal out from under my mattress and sat down to write about Jack. To try to convince myself to like him. That it was healthy, like Rita said, and that I was being unreasonable, but Katie’s words stuck with me. The truth was I wanted him to leave me alone. I wanted to say those words to him, the words Katie could easily say, but I was scared to say. I didn’t know what Jack would do. He was so much stronger than me, and all my other friends were on his side. The rest of my junior year, I tried to hide from him by ducking behind taller people and following in their footsteps with my head down. It tried to look small, invisible.  I tried to tell my friends that I didn’t like him that much and I was not dating him, but they only pushed me toward him and urged me to just get a boyfriend. To be a real girl.

 

Every single one of those friends were professed Christians.  They would sprout Bible verses all the time, and we’d even pray sometimes together.  Yet here they were ignoring my discomfort and trying to force me to prove to them that I could date a guy.  I didn’t want to date a guy.  My younger sister, Ariel, tells me that rumors began to arise about how I might be ‘gay,’ but I never heard these rumors directly. Or if they did, I just shut out their words and answered with silence. I didn’t confirm or deny anything, and my reluctance to date guys led to one altercation, where my younger sister stepped in between me and one of the trumpet players — a tall, buff boy — and a drummer — a tall but slim gal — and she threatened to beat them up if they didn’t stop making fun of me. After that, I never heard any of the rumors again. No one mentioned it to my face, or called me it. Probably because Ariel was always nearby, being a year younger and in the same school. She was almost like my protector during those years.

 

My senior year, after Jack had graduated, I ended up on the Student Council after some band and drama club members decide to write me into the ballots. I took on the challenge, since most of the board was the popular group and I was the only band and drama club student on it that year. I figured I could bring their concerns to the table. However, being on the council meant I had to go to all the dances and a lot of the activities we planned. This was why I was at the homecoming dance that year, a dance I really didn’t want to go to. Once I helped set it up, I had to spend the first half hour helping pass out stuff at the doors, and then I was free to enjoy the dance. It was right when I finished my half hour when a friend from band walked in with Jack. Since y shift was done, I waved at them and then ducked into the bathroom. I waited ten minutes, then left to hide amongst the people who waited on the sidelines, either too scared to dance or unable to find a partner. My band friend, Jenn, found me anyway.

 

“Jack needs to talk to you.” She took my arm and led me outside and to the right, away from the rest of the students and teachers. “Just please, talk to him, okay?” Jack stood a few feet away, his hands in his pockets. Fear curdled in my stomach. I shook my head, but Jenn patted my arm and left me. I was shocked to see him, and very uncomfortable. I thought about running to my car, but he stood slightly in front of me, his back to the parking lot, where I was parked, and my back toward the brick wall of the school. I told him the same thing I’d said the year before, I did not want to date him.  He asked me to come with him to his car. I refused. I tried to walk away, but he grabbed my arm and pushed me hard against the brick wall of the school. “You want me. You have to.”  Those words punctuated the air between us, and his brown eyes glowered at me as he pushed me harder against the wall. He leaned forward, and this time I kicked him hard in the leg and screamed. A teacher came to my rescue and shoved him away from me. That teacher then ordered him off the school grounds and led me to the safety of the indoors. I was badly shaken and sat in the restroom until I felt calm enough to drive home.

 

My Christian friends never spoke to me again about boyfriends, but they began to give me random clobber verses. I was left confused and betrayed.  None of them wanted to hear my side of the story. Only Katie, my locker partner, and Ariel believed my side. Rita avoided the topic, and the rest gave me pamphlets of Bible verses about marriage between a man and woman or sexual purity. My last few months in high school was a nightmare for me, and I felt so utterly alone. Ariel and Katie may have believed me, but both advised me to stay quiet and they’d make sure Jack never came near me again. Stay quiet. Silence. That was the lesson of high school. Live in silence.

 

When I left for college, I was determined to start anew. I’d be even more fervent in my spirituality and really focus on living Christ’s love. I’d learn the truth about these feelings and I would defeat them. Rita’s Church, that summer before I moved into my dorm room, had a sermon about how gays could be straight, and that idea helped ease my fear somewhat. It gave me a chance to try to convince myself that this was just a trial. I was being tested by God, and I needed to be like Job in the Bible. I had to stay steadfast in my faith and I would be cured.  I joined the Newman’s Catholic Center and leapt into as many activities there as I could.  Except my feelings toward girls didn’t go away.  A growing panic settled in my soul, especially when I encountered preachers on the Pentacrest, the center of campus, preaching about the sin of homosexuality.  When I called my parents, asking them about this, their reply was to avoid that ‘lifestyle’ for it was unhealthy and sinful. Their words scared me even more. Was I trapped in sin then? Is that why the feelings didn’t go away? What more could I do? I was doing all I could to do well in classes and spend every moment I could living for Christ. I was trying so hard to live a life of love.

~ ~ ~

Stay tuned for part 3

These Hallowed Grounds: Aibird’s Story Pt. 1

Fotor0903230719

Aibird is a regular commenter on the blog and, in bits and pieces, she’s told me fragments of her story. Whenever I wrote a post that really resonated with a similar experience of hers, all the emotions came out for the both of us. And there’s something holy about that. This growth through empathy.

For a long time, Aibird has been edging closer and closer to letting me in on her life. I was stunned today when she sent this to me, giving me a quick note that she was laying it all out. Then my heart broke. And my temper ROSE. And I sat at Starbucks thinking through this series, this blog, and I knew that, at it’s bones, this is a place for sharing and healing. This is a place for hope.  

I asked Aibird if she would be willing to let me publish it, and she graciously agreed. She is truly an incredible person, a beautiful storyteller, and when I read this, her bravery breathes inspiration in me. 

 

 ~ ~ ~

I’ve tried many a time to write this tale, but I simply cannot find a way to say it succinctly. I’ve never tried to write it out in full. All I can do is try since you gave me an opportunity to share it months ago, offering that safe space, and I feel that maybe it’s time I try to write it in full. This hasn’t been easy, and I’ve sat on doing this for months out of fear of what this may unleash in regards to my own emotions and memories.  All I can do is try my best to pass through it and hope that Christ’s love may finally reach me again.  For I have not felt that love for years, and any attempt I’ve made to seek out fellowship in the Christian community has only reminded me of how much I don’t belong. How much of me is a freak and a sinner to them and nothing more.  I have not been to church for five years and have not touched the Bible since then either. Why? Because of the pain, this feeling of abandonment.

 

This is a long story, and I don’t really know how to shorten it.  My coming out is long and complex and happened over and over again.  Each iteration often full of pain. So if you are still willing to hear the tale, RR, here it is in full:

 

I remember from when I was a child that I was convinced of three things:

 

1. I’d never marry

2. I’d have a friend who was a girl, who’d stay with me and we’d spend our life together.

3. I’d write the first novel in space. (A bit of humor to lighten the mood, but in truth, I really did believe this as a child. Still has yet to happen!)


 

Why did I think, at such a young age, that I’d never marry?  Because it was taught in my Catholic Church and by my parents that marriage was between a man and a woman.  Thus, as a child, I took them literally and believed that I just couldn’t marry.  That was the most I thought about me being gay. I didn’t even have words for it. I only knew it was wrong to think about sharing my life with a woman, even though I couldn’t imagine it any other way.

 

I remember one instance in particular where I asked my father if a woman could share her life with another woman. His reply, slightly paraphrased, “As friends, yes. Remember that friends are important but not as important as Christ. Let Christ lead you toward your vocation. It could be marriage or celibacy, and either are okay.” He didn’t give too much details beyond that explanation, and the second time I asked, this time with my mother present, the same answer was given, this time with the addendum, “anything outside of friendship between them isn’t healthy.” They’d ask where I heard it, and I’d shrug. I never asked them again as a child or a teenager.

 

In sixth grade I met Rita, my dear sister in Christ as we called each other. The first day we met was my first day at her school. We were at recess and the bell had just rang for us to line up to return to class. I followed Rita toward the lines at the school doors, each very close to one another but fairly straight since the teachers had no tolerance for us mingling as we lined up. Three boys from the line next to mine turned to me, one stood out in my memory mostly because of how he laughed loudly at me and pointed. His hair also stood straight up like pieces of grass, a tiny detail I focused on since I had no idea how to respond to his question: “Are you gay?” I only knew of one definition of that word, one I learned from all my years of reading books. In the books I read, gay meant happy, and was often used in classics to describe a gay outing, as in it was happy and relaxing at the same time. At that moment in time, I felt happy and relaxed because I had managed to make one friend, Rita, the girl in front of me. 

I said, “Yes.” The three boys began to laugh and hoot. Slapping their knees and pointing at me as they repeated my word. Rita turned to them and told them in anger. Her face flushed. “She is not. Shut up jerks.” The three boys stared at her, and before they could respond, the teacher walked between us and scolded all five of us. I quietly thanked Rita as we walked inside.

 

That moment was etched into my memory, mostly because I didn’t understand why they asked it or what they meant by it. I also didn’t know who to ask. So I tried to forget about it and focus on my faith. I was a child of God. God loved me, so that was enough. I just had to live a life of love and follow Christ. Rita helped me along that journey, and I shared a lot of my fears and dreams with her just as she did with me. We made a vow to wait until marriage, one that I made mostly because I didn’t believe I’d ever marry, so the vow seemed like a no big deal to me. Rita was an evangelical Christian, and she’d often invite me to her church. I never liked her church much because the rock band seemed too loud and a bit pretentious. I came from a Catholic family, where our prayer and worship time together was very meditative. Any music we sang or heard in Mass that was lively held only traditional instruments and a choir. It also wasn’t loud but focused more on accenting the meditative aspects of the liturgy and Eucharist. We were there to focus on Christ not the music, so the evangelical Church confused me. But it also opened my mind to different ways of worshiping Christ, so I went to better understand. To be more open and accepting, and to learn more ways to show my love like Christ did.

 

My view of her church changed one night on Wednesday our eighth grade year. It was a short service and for the youth. It mostly focused on the music worship and the altar calls — another odd practice that confounded me. It reminded me too much of the pharisees in the Bible who stood on the corners looking sad as they fasted, but at the same time, I tried hard to be accepting of this different way of worshiping the same God. So I asked lots of questions to try to understand their faith, and so we could grow as brothers and sisters in Christ. Rita had often asked me many a question about my Catholic faith, so I did my best to be accepting and inquisitive in return. That night a group of girls came up to talk with us after the service. They knew Rita, and when she introduced me, one of them blurted, “Hey, is that the gay girl you’re trying to convert?”

 

Rita frowned at this and shook her head. One of the other girls began to laugh. “No it has to be. She looks so gay. Hey, are you gay?” I stood there in shock. I didn’t know what to say. It suddenly felt like I was in that line in sixth grade again. My silence condemned me in their eyes. “You know it’s not okay, right? The Bible says it’s wrong.” The third girl stepped in front of the other two and shook her head at them. “Hey, love the person and hate the sin, okay?” She turned to me with a smile and held out her hand to try to be welcoming. I didn’t take it. I shook my head and walked away. I felt burned and shocked. I hadn’t expected that at all, and for the second time in my life, I wondered what it meant. Rita had ran after me to try to apologize for their rudeness, but at the same time, she criticized me for rudely walking away. I should have said no in her view. But I found that I couldn’t. I just couldn’t do it. Saying no felt like a lie, but at the same time, even saying I was gay felt so terrifying and wrong that I was left with silence.

~ ~ ~

Stay tuned for part two.