I was born into a blue-collar, non-IFB family. My father had been an atheist for most of his life, and my mother had an odd form of Christianity: a blend of her experiences growing up in Depression-era West Virginia. Mom didn’t finish high school. Dad didn’t go to college.
I was reading before I entered kindergarten, delighting my folks by reading signs, cereal boxes, and fifty-cent words like “hospitality.” My dad even tried to teach me some rudimentary algebra.
I was precocious. And shy. And very different.
I loved watching TV; my favorite shows included typical kiddie fare, but my favorites were Batman and Speed Racer. I didn’t know what “gay” was, but when Batman was on-screen, I was transfixed. He made me feel tingly inside. It’s not that I wanted to be Batman (or even Robin), I just knew I wanted to be close to him. Racer-X had the same effect on me. So did the guys on Adam-12, Vega$ and other classic TV shows. I was always mesmerized, oblivious, and lucky enough to never have said a word to anyone.
In the late 70’s, we started attending an Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB) church because of my uncle. The pastor’s son was finishing his M.Div. at Bob Jones University, and several other families in the church had allegiances to BJU, Tennessee Temple University, or Pensacola Christian College (PCC). The church also ran a small Christian school that was adding a grade per year (using the A Beka Book curriculum from PCC). When I was in 8th grade, they decided to go all-or-nothing, and added grades 5-12 via the Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) curriculum. This is a program that is self-paced, and very non-traditional. My mom enrolled us in the ACE program only a few short weeks after I had started eighth grade.
I was now in church twice on Sundays, Wednesday nights for prayer meeting, every day for school, and at the youth pastor’s house on Saturday nights for teen fellowship. Yes, my world and the people in it varied little once I was attending a Christian school. The message never changed either: rock music is evil, long hair is evil, premarital sex is evil; but those evils barely registered on God’s ruler of sin compared to the real evils of homosexuality and sodomy. I didn’t fully grasp the concept of those terms, but I recognized enough of it in myself. Enough to know to keep my mouth shut, and follow the recipe I’d been given from the pulpit for putting my life in order and make it honor the Lord. Only then would my filthy, unspeakable secret lose its hold on me. Countless times I questioned my salvation, my dedication, my self-worth, and my ability to become somebody that pleased God, much less anybody else. I avoided getting wrapped up in any kind of relationship in school, only asking girls out when it was expected, which was usually for the dull Christian versions of public school events.
I realized midway through my ninth grade year, that my ACE experience was, in fact, so truly accelerated, that I would be completely finished with high school by the end of my tenth grade year. I don’t think anybody at my school, church, or even my folks, knew what to do with me, but they all “just knew” the Lord wanted me in a Christian college. I visited BJU in spring 1980, during Let’s Get Acquainted Days. Imagine if you will, a hormone-filled teenager, barely 15 years old, visiting that campus. Oh. My. Goodness. I was enthralled with it all: the campus, the services, the music, the activities, and the students – they were all so handsome! There were girls there? I didn’t notice. This really was God’s perfect place on earth. I applied and was accepted.
I was still gay, and I was still oblivious to all that meant. But surely this place would fix that. I just needed to follow a new recipe.
My freshman year (81-82) was a blur. I shared a room with a senior, a junior, a BJA senior, and me. The BJA kid thought he was God’s gift to the ladies. What a wonderful way to make me feel even more socially awkward. It didn’t take long to realize BJU was not the Shangri-La I’d experienced during my prospective student visit. Looking back, I realize I went into stealth mode. I went to class, chapel, dinner, etc.; followed all the rules, and stayed away from anyone and any situation I thought looked like trouble. I followed the recipe as best I could, but the hellfire and brimstone preaching approached a level I’d never experienced at home. This made my self-doubt, my questions, my self-loathing, and my feelings of inadequacy stronger than ever. The recipe wasn’t supposed to turn out like this. Whenever it approached the point where I thought I would break, thankfully it was Christmas, and after that, Commencement. The school year was over, and I had survived.
I was still gay, and while I wasn’t as naive as I once was, I was starting to feel jaded. Maybe I just needed to follow the recipe a little longer.
My next two years more or less duplicated my freshman experience. It was a shampoo experience: lather, rinse, repeat, with lots of emphasis on the ‘sham’, and lots of feeling like ‘poo’. The main difference was an increasing awareness of the tremendous bureaucracy and nepotism that held the school together. There were also sparks of enlightenment where I saw that Fundamentalism didn’t make any logical sense. But my lips remained sealed: mass purges, radio hall meetings, and campus gossip made it clear how easily one could get swept up in a witch hunt as the result of almost any action or statement, regardless of its intent, attitude, or even innocence.
There was certain feeling I would always get as we approached Greenville after summer break, or as I rode the bus from Greenville-Spartanburg (GSP) Airport after Christmas breaks. A numbed silence would come over me. I realize now that it was depression settling in, because I was about to spend many weeks in inner turmoil, while outwardly attempting to avoid being labeled in any way that would have made campus life even more miserable.
As I started my senior year, I was still gay, no longer naive, and very jaded.
I knew I didn’t want to be an Assistant Prayer Captain (APC). That required too much responsibility for others and I was already expending energy trying to keep my secrets. Somehow I hit the sweet spot: I wasn’t an APC, yet I managed to avoid any further scrutiny of my person or my spirituality. If I could get hired by a good Christian School, and complete my student teaching assignment, I could graduate, and be free of this place. I’d have a new recipe to follow that would fix everything that was wrong with me. Math teachers were in high demand, so finding a school wasn’t a problem. My student teaching assignment at a prominent local Christian School was uneventful, except the kids realized I wasn’t much older than they were. I had only just turned 20 that past February. I aced the evaluations and observations, and marched across the FMA stage to shake hands with the BJIII (Dr. Bob Jones, III) and get my degree. Whew. I wonder how many other gay hands the Great Medallioned One shook that day?
Two years out of BJU, and I still had that inner turmoil.
Teaching wasn’t working out so well either. I was teaching math, but I was also teaching a lot of science classes that I barely understood myself. The kids were more than I could handle, and many of them made more money bagging groceries or working at McDonald’s than I did teaching school. I had tried yet another recipe that didn’t work.
But there was hope. I had started dating a friend that grew up with me in my home church. Better to marry than to burn, right? We were engaged, and then married after I completed my second year of teaching. I resigned my position and began to look for work in the real world.
The marriage was rocky from the beginning. Northern Virginia is an expensive place to live. We had a fire. My wife wanted to finish her degree (she had asked not to return to BJU a few years before we started dating). She managed to get accepted back into BJU to finish her degree, so we moved back to Greenville for the 88-89 school year. A daughter came along in 1991. We moved back to MD in 1996. The marriage was still rocky. We would argue. She’d ask me if I was gay. I would deny it. Over 14 years after being wed, I vowed to myself that I was going to make this work, if only to make sure my daughter had her dad around until she grew up.
I was shocked and devastated on the day my wife said she wanted to separate. I felt like my whole world was going to collapse. What would my parents say? What about my daughter? This isn’t supposed to happen to BJU grads (even though I knew that wasn’t true). But my world didn’t collapse. The ground didn’t open up and swallow me. Both families took the news in stride. We worked out living arrangements, hired a mediator to draw up a separation agreement, and she moved into her grandparents’ house. Our separate lives commenced. Marriage was the final recipe I attempted to make my life what I had always been told it was supposed to be. And it didn’t work.
And then, I had my Eureka! moment: I was finally free to be the person I’d always been inside.
To hell with everything I’d ever been told was ‘the right thing to do’, and the preaching, and the twisted, flawed logic. I was both scared and excited, and regardless, I finally felt better about myself than I could ever remember.
As others have described on this website, that first kiss with a man was all I needed to know that everything I had been working against was in vain, and the feelings I had tried to suppress were not abnormal or perverted. That first night in another man’s arms was like being wrapped up in warm sunshine after getting caught in a cold winter rain. I certainly still had to be careful; my wife, my daughter, and our families could never find out, at least not yet. I didn’t want to jeopardize my relationship with my daughter. I kept “the new me” a secret, and it worked, for awhile.
One day I noticed several missed calls from my ex-wife. There was a frantic voice mail: “Hello, RoadRunner65. You’ve got a lot of explaining to do. Call me right away.” She was not happy. My cover was blown. But how? I quickly realized the fatal mistake that betrayed my secret. Despite being separated, she would come to my place to do laundry. I made it a point not to be there when she was, and that particular day, I arranged a date with a guy I’d been chatting with online. I left for my date, neglectfully leaving the monitor on, and the chat window open. I was busted. Big time.
She was severely angry at first. There were accusations of unfaithfulness (there was none), questions about HIV, and “I knew you were gay”, “Our marriage was a lie””, etc. etc. Anger cooled to become disgust, which eventually morphed into laughter. She was OK keeping the separation and custody agreements as is, and I’d still be able to see my daughter. Crisis averted.
I knew she’d eventually tell my parents if I did not, so I had to do it ASAP. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but having so recently broken the news about our separation made it slightly easier. At this point my Dad had been a fundamentalist Christian for several years, so I was risking my entire relationship with my parents. They still went to the same IFB church in which I grew up. There was no way they’d accept me, but I couldn’t change them; I could only tell them the truth and let the pieces fall where they may. I conveniently stopped by the house while Dad was out running errands.
“Do you have a drinking problem?” was not the response I had expected from my mom. No, I didn’t have a drinking problem, I wasn’t molested as a child, and I wasn’t a pervert. Gay was the way I am, and that was never going to change. We cried, we hugged, we talked for awhile, and I am so thankful that she never shunned me. She bravely told my siblings and my father — not in a gossipy way, but standing up for me and making her expectations known that they were to treat me exactly as they always have. And you know what? They did. Even my father. The silent steel worker who smoked, and drank, and went four-wheeling in Corvair. He had always wanted one of his sons to graduate from the Naval Academy. Instead he got a gay son who graduated from BJU.
As I type this I can barely hold back the tears. My boyfriend, who never knew his real father, unexpectedly lost his stand-in father today. It has brought to remembrance my own father’s final days. He told me he loved me: these were words I never heard from him when I was kid, had convinced myself I would never hear as an adult, especially if he knew I was gay. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
What words of wisdom can I give to you who are reading this, and dealing with the same conflicts?
I can only tell you what I discovered for myself.
First, be true to yourself. If you don’t love yourself, you will never be truly happy, and you’ll never truly love somebody else. If you are comfortable and confident about yourself, it helps others be confident and comfortable around you.
Prepare for the worst and hope for the best. Friends and family may desert you, but in time you’ll have a new family that accepts you for who you are, no questions asked. It’s trite, but true: friends are the family you get to choose. I have never been as welcomed, accepted, and loved as I have been by the friends I’ve accumulated since coming out. And if you’re lucky, your longtime friends and family will come along for the ride. If they don’t, it may take them awhile to change their hearts and minds. You can’t force them to change any more than they can force you to be straight.
Don’t hide it from your kids. They are more understanding (and more knowledgeable) than you think, and they know when they’re being duped. Don’t put that kind of stress on them. Don’t let your spouse or significant other bully you. If you can split amicably, consider using a mediator and saving some money; if it’s not amicable, hire a good lawyer. Stand up for your parental rights. If you can’t afford a good lawyer there are services that can get you the legal help you need.
Does it get better?
I think so, but it’s not guaranteed. I can, however, guarantee that you don’t have to suffer alone or in silence like I did. Contact the good folks who operate this website, or a local LGBT organization if you need help, advice, or a non-judgmental ear.
Ed. note: You are not alone. E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We will be happy to help you any way we can, and your e-mail will be treated with respect. Your privacy is guaranteed.