There was a week in high school when I wore a thin rubber band around my wrist. I first heard the idea through a quick comment in a cabin at church camp. My counselor, a cool long-haired 20-something, said that the way he conquered his lustful thoughts was by snapping a rubber band against his skin.
Involuntary look, snap.
Look leads to thoughts, snap.
Thoughts wander away, snap.
The rubber band idea stuck with me, I couldn’t stop seeing it. Training through repetition, through conditioning, always seemed to work. Like studying after an F or flossing more after dental work or even the way my dog would listen after a few squirts of sour juice in his mouth. Aversion was effective.
And yes, even then I faintly sensed how stupid this was.
But I had nothing else to lose.
I had tried everything.
I had knelt by the bed and prayed in sobs. Shouted for saints and rebuked the dark. I read scripture emphatically, with decision and eyes wide open. I wrote in journals, over and over, that I most certainly am not gay. Not gay. Not gay…
And yet, my orientation continued to settle in as I continued to grow up. It grew stronger. Despite all my writhing and raging nothing seemed to do anything. It felt inexorable.
The rubber band looked like something that could fling me from the darkness. I didn’t want to be gay and I didn’t want to come out, I just wanted the narrow, thin-aired closet to disintegrate all around me, like it was never there at all.
Every day I would walk through the school hallway and, inevitably, my eyes would betray me. I knew the “flesh is weak” so I snapped it harder against my veins. The sting and splotchy skin was, I believed, creating some sort of muscle memory in me. Something to make it all stop.
The pain throbbed through my arm, but I knew that this was the way. And truth be told, I kind of preferred this way. There was this internal zest whenever I cracked the whip on my sexuality. For such a long time, I hated it so much. Being gay meant being a sinner of the worst kind of sinners. It wasn’t the same as the other sins, which came through choices, this was more like an incarnation. I could not be clean, I could not be Christian unless I became straight. My sexuality stood between me and heaven’s small gate. It had to be slapped out of the way. One. Snap. At a time.
In sixth period I sat next to an Asian gothic girl who would always wear a baggy black hoodie and thick black eyeliner. We were in the middle of lecture and scrambling with our scribbles. She hastily raised her arm to pull back a stray lock, and her loose black sleeve slipped down to her elbow.
And that’s when I saw them. Big blue and purple zig-zags written down her wrist- still tender like they were born yesterday, rising and plump. I don’t know if she knew I saw, but she quickly covered them up like a child in winter.
I felt so bad for her, but I knew that the rubber band was a different thing. The exercise I was conducting was to correct a flawed part of myself. It was to make me normal. It was to purify my perverted soul. It was to save me from hell. What she was doing was savage and heartbreaking.
Only later did I learn about self-mutilation. Teenagers ripped the blade across the body for a variety of reasons, but all of them linked back to one: they didn’t like who they were. For a long time, they had tried everything.
They had probably tried to fit in, but the cliques kept them out. Perhaps they tried to change, but they couldn’t bring themselves to betray themselves.
Maybe they tried to do drugs and climb the social stepladder, but ended up addicted and alone. Maybe they tried to sleep with as many people as possible, thinking maybe, with just one, it would become first love.
They tried and got tired of fighting for themselves and, soon enough, started hating themselves. They became repulsed by the blood rushing through their veins; the sound of their own beating heart. Yet, they refused to give up and die. Maybe death was just too generous. They hated themselves so much.
And I looked down at my splotchy red wrist and looked up at the road I was walking down. Zig zags of dripping blood and ingested poison. Endless agony.
I started to wonder if this was the road of the suffering servant. If this is what it meant to walk with Jesus. And then I started thinking about God creating every hair on my head, my arms and my wrists, and every last detail down to each freckle. I remember someone say, “God doesn’t make junk.”
And the sympathy I extended to the girl with the Zig Zags felt like everything I ever wanted people to have for me. I wanted them to see me falling apart, disintegrating into dust. I wanted them to hold my wrist high and say that I am most certainly loved. I wanted someone to say Stop. I wanted someone to tell me that my sexuality need not be a burden or a blemish, but beautiful part of who I was.
On the bus trip home I took off the rubber band and stretched it between my fingers. So light and seemingly harmless. Venom in a veil. What I had first imagined was my way out, became another heavy chain, another damaging disappointment, another quick fix that would fail and let me fall. In that moment, on that bus ride home I knew there had to be a better way, even if I didn’t what it was.
So, I pulled it back and shot it out the window. Watched it hit the wind hard and fly off somewhere else. Never would I get that close again.