The weight holding me down had, at times, nearly crushed me. This is why I must speak, why I must share my story. The pain, the shame, the guilt, the fear – all of these unwarranted emotions were perpetuated by a system that sits in smug self-righteous judgment over those who do not acquiesce to its prescribed mold. I always knew I was different, but I couldn’t exactly figure why or how. I was never a paragon of masculinity to say the least. Awkward and clumsy on the ball-field, I was much more at home singing in the choir, playing the piano, and – perish the thought – even dancing. It seemed that everyone – even my family – knew long before I did. Or well, at least before I could admit it, anyway. After all, growing up in a fundamental Baptist home, sexuality is not something that you would ever discuss.
For some reason, I felt compelled to attend Bob Jones University, and to stay there for the duration of my undergraduate education. My parents had insisted on Christian school if I left home, and somehow BJU topped the list, even to my parents’ initial confusion. I bought the lines I was fed about the alleged high quality education at BJU, including how accreditation was unnecessary. But what I wasn’t prepared for was how much I would be forced to suppress my own personality: my joy, my energy, my love for life and for people.
It became clear that I was marked from the beginning of my time there, based on my haircut – a rebellious buzz – and the fact that I had attended a public high school. Nonetheless, I enthusiastically embraced this new environment for my first semester. As I became more thoughtful, however, I realized how wrong I had been in my choice. Regret lurked in my mind as the second term began, but the cult had me within its clutches, and loaded on the guilt. Why would I want to leave God’s special place?! I endured, thinking it was the right thing, believing to do God’s will. But it all came to a head during my junior year, when a woman scorned decided to take me down. I was called into the Dean of Men’s office and questioned about my “inappropriate” (read “normal college student”) behavior the previous summer, about my dating habits, about my “tendencies.” At that point, I was still so entrenched in the twisted dogma that I was offended and broken by the accusations that followed. But mostly it was just denial. You might wonder why I didn’t get up and leave right then, but I was operating on the idea that the university gave me value, and had essentially relinquished my autonomy. Conformity was the only option, thus making it imperative that I stay and prove myself. Prove my innocence; prove my spirituality, my character, my manhood.
By the time I graduated in the spring of 1999, I knew in my soul that I would never know the marital bliss that most of my friends were beginning to experience – who would want me, especially with this dark secret I hid? Singing in a friend’s wedding the same evening as our morning graduation ceremony, the depression set up camp. As I embarked on graduate school, still in denial, I found myself in bath houses, cruising public parks, and desperately searching for yet another hook-up. This sort of clandestine behavior continued on and off for the next twelve years, taking me on a perilous roller coaster of highs and lows, frequently in a death spiral that more than once prompted me to consider suicide. In the meantime, I tried to keep up appearances, but after my parents discovered my secret, it brought the “struggle” to its crisis. In spite of the subsequent bevy of counselors, group therapy, and other change-my-sexuality efforts, nothing really changed. How much longer could I possibly continue? This was now becoming an issue that could undermine my career and my future. My depression medication apparently wasn’t working well enough, so I took matters in my own hands. In desperation, I took a bite on the lure of illegal drugs. That I’m still alive is quite frankly amazing. But thanks to therapy and the support of my LGBT-BJU brothers, I am stepping out of the shadows and into the sun.
To take a line from the Reformation leader, Martin Luther (and perhaps to be a little provocative), “Here I stand. I can do no other.” Two decades of fear, self-loathing, shame, and guilt have finally been thrown off: I’m gay. And it’s okay. You can’t imagine how hard it was for me to say that the first time, but the catharsis of honesty and authenticity have given me more freedom than I could imagine: to breathe, to live, to love. Acknowledging who I am has allowed me to be unfettered from the constraints that left me trying to prove myself on every level imaginable. I was hiding behind the religion that tyrannized my existence for fear of what might await me on the other side. Don’t misunderstand me: I still love Jesus, and I know He loves me. But I’ve finally discovered that there is grace for me to love how He created me to love. And it’s time that every gay kid growing up in fundamentalism knows that, too.