Ed. note: In Jonathan Nichols, Part One, we introduced readers to nineteen-year-old Jonathan Nichols who was expelled from his Christian high school just a few weeks before graduation one year ago simply because he confided to a friend that he thought he might be gay. Today, we present the conclusion of Jonathan’s astonishing story.
I wanted so much to be able to be honest with someone that I was actually in contact with. I hinted to my closest friend that my friendship with Ryan wasn’t just a friendship. She was, naturally for someone in our atmosphere, worried for me. So, despite her promises that she would trust me to do what I felt was right, she went to my youth pastor for help. He promptly told the senior pastor, who is superintendent of the school. The next day, I was called into Pastor Dennis’s office for questioning. Pastor Overton was also in the room, sitting to my left with a legal pad and a pen, taking notes. Dennis tried to start off nice enough, but it was obvious that they found out. I decided that a clean breast of the issue would be best, and went into my research on the matter, hoping at least to get an opposing rebuttal and at best to convince them. How naive I was. . . I don’t remember much of that conversation, but one thing rings vividly in my mind. I mentioned that the Greek word malakoi in I Cor. 6:9 was never elsewhere, in the whole of Greek literary writings, translated “effeminate.” It carried a whole different connotation. His response? He turned around, pulled his Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance off the shelf, looked up the word, and pointed to the definition. He never for one second imagined that Dr. James Strong was not infallible and that his concordance was not holy writ. In those several hours, my pastor beat me down. Hard. I was totally conquered, save in one regard. I would not tell him who I was “dating.” I did not see that it was my place to get someone else, especially someone I loved, in trouble like this. Dennis found out anyways. He had me break up with Ryan. I cried all night.
The next day, I woke up to the realization that Ryan blocked me on Facebook and wasn’t responding to texts. I was devastated. Then I was called into the church office again. Pastor Dennis, Pastor Overton, the principal, vice-principal, and my mom were there. I was curtly informed that I was being expelled. I was to call Ryan and tell him that he had an hour to turn himself in or Dennis would call BJU administration and get him expelled. After that, I wasn’t to have any contact with him. My mom was placed on paid leave to homeschool me for the remaining two and a half months.
This all happened the day before my state fine arts competition. All of my prepared speeches and music entries were now worthless, and my mom, who, by the way, fully supported the school’s decision, needed to carry on for two stressful days as if nothing had happened. Dennis told me to tell no one about why I had been expelled. He said it was for my own good. Like a fool, I believed him. If I had gone looking for help or support then, I might have been better off. It would have exposed some of the underhandedness, at least. At the time, though, I was far too scared to do anything like that. I was totally beat down, and reverted back to being as much of a non-person as I could. That worked for about a month. At that point, I realized that they had never provided refutations to any of my points. They had simply refused to consider them. They had used their position of power to crush me. I had never been on the wrong side of any authority figures before then, and I was quickly cowed. I also realized that I had been more fulfilled in my time with Ryan than any other time in my life, especially that month. I decided then that I would go with what I had researched rather than blindly follow the men that cared only to see me bent to their will. I decided, furthermore, that even if I was wrong, any god sadistic enough to make me who I am and then hate every ounce of it did not deserve my worship. I would rather live in eternal torment knowing that I lived by love towards all than spend paradise with the being of hatred who is infuriated by my just being me.
I messaged Ryan and asked him if he would have me back. He said yes. By now, attending BJU was out of the question for me. I had no idea when I would see Ryan next. He mentioned, though, that he would be staying on campus over the summer to work. I immediately determined that I would be there for the two summer music camps, as no one else knew that he would be there. I managed to convince my parents to let me drive myself there, so we would have a car at our disposal. All that was soon to change. Two events left me devastated. Late at night on July 3rd, Ryan ended our relationship. He needed someone who could actually be there with him, and I couldn’t do that. July 4th, 2011, was probably the worst day of my life. Everything was closed and everyone was doing something. I had no distractions from the fact that the one person in the whole world that I most wanted to be with didn’t want to be with me anymore. I made it through, though. I was still going to go down to the camps, though. He still had, and still has, a special place in my heart. If it weren’t for him, I would not yet have come to grips with reality. He helped find me, and I am eternally grateful for that.
Well, camp time came. I drove down from Ohio to South Carolina, and things were going wonderfully. Despite the emotional wounds, I was happy to be with him. Then, on Tuesday night, my mom called. She had decided to do me a favor and clean my room for me, which evidently included rifling through the papers in the bottom of my desk. There, she found a note I had written to myself shortly after July 4th as a way to get some of my feelings somewhere, anywhere, outside of my head. She now knew that Ryan was on campus and I was seeing him. She called the camp director, and he had us separated with the threat that I would be sent home if I tried to contact him again. At the end of the week, my mom flew down to Greenville to accompany me back. After this, though, I wasn’t having any more. I knew that I couldn’t change again. I tried it, and it didn’t work. I had spent sleepless nights crying to God for help. No change. Either God was (1) fine with me being me, (2) powerless to change anything, or (3) sadistically watching me flounder in my sin. Under none of those possibilities did I feel obligated to try to change this second time.
I contacted relatives in Portland, Oregon, and they agreed to take me in. The day after I got home from South Carolina, I packed what things weren’t already packed and drove to Oregon. I was never kicked out like far too many other gay kids, and I’m grateful for that. I recognized, however, that I would face indescribable mental, emotional, and spiritual abuse from everyone surrounding me. Before I left, my mom asked me if I would consider going to the Reformers Unanimous men’s home in Rockford, Illinois. For those of you unfamiliar with it, Reformers Unanimous is an “addictions ministry” that is completely Bible based. Basically what that means is that there is no certification necessary. Church laypeople are acting as counselors to anyone, regardless of what he or she is struggling with. The men’s house is a place where the extreme cases can go for more intensive Biblical treatment. The realization that my mother saw my being me as the same level of non-desirability as a compulsive alcoholic or serial drug user increased my desire to leave.
In Portland, I could start being someone new. It was so incredibly freeing. I stayed with relatives for a few months before getting my own apartment close to downtown. I still have a great love for the city, although I wish it were on the East Coast instead, as I am not a West Coast person. But then, I suppose, it just wouldn’t be Portland anymore. . . . I found a social group for LGBT teens that I regularly attended until I totaled my car. At that point, I had to bike everywhere. But I didn’t mind that. I was biking as me. Not as a shell of a person, but as me. Whether it was biking to rehearsals for the Portland Gay Men’s Chorus or to practices and performances of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (my first professional gig) with the director of the Portland State University orchestra, I was living my life for the first time. Biking down King’s Hill in the rain and realizing halfway down that one of my hand brakes had accidentally been unlocked and was currently useless? Priceless. I wouldn’t trade that for anything.
The euphoria, however, was not always there. I can’t tell you how many times I walked across the Salmon St. bridge over I-405, looked at the chain link railing, and asked myself if it was worth the effort to climb. I fortunately never did. By late November, things were getting tense. I was just not settling down well. I don’t know why. Part of it may have been that I hadn’t been able to get a job. Part of it may have been that I just am not a West Coast person. At any rate, I couldn’t take the time difference between me and everyone I knew or the thought of the geographical distance. Isolation scares me immensely, and I felt isolated every time I would think of the Rocky Mountains and Great Plains separating me from most everyone I knew.
Earlier, however, I had met someone very important to me. There’s a blog called Stuff Fundies Like that I had discovered earlier. It became a large part of my life because it is a healing place for recovering fundamentalist Christians: a place to laugh at the foibles and gain closure on old wounds. And no one I knew in person knew what my background was like. I would generally end up describing my home environment by simply saying that we considered the Southern Baptists to be godless heretics. No one around me could even comprehend that. But anyways, I had noticed that one of the other commenters on SFL was gay. I wanted to meet him, to talk to him, to ask him how he dealt with coming out. But I didn’t know how. I finally found a way to link my Facebook page with my commenting name, and I commented on something that he had commented on previously, hoping against hope that he would message me. He did. His name turned out to be David Diachenko. We started talking, and became close. Not in the same way that Ryan and I did, though. I now consider David my brother. I honestly have no idea what I would do without him. He’s done so much for me and helped me more than I can ever say. I never got any closer to suicide than simply toying with the idea, and I owe that mainly to him.
I decided then, in early December, to move to Greenville, where David lives. All of my obligations would be up at the end of the first school semester, and I would be free to move. I did, and am now happily in Greenville, SC, less than 5 miles from Bob Jones University, in an ironic twist of fate. I would not have been able to imagine a year ago that I would now be living on my own, getting ready to attend a highly respected accredited college, and preparing to embark on a life of freedom and love.