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

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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 

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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