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.
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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.
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stay tuned for the fourth and final part