“Why won’t they let me in? Why won’t they accept me?” This has been one of the most recurrent questions I’ve had to ask myself in my short life here, but in some odd way, feeling silenced and shamed has given me my voice.
I think it’s obvious to those who know me that I don’t fit the mold. I don’t fit in, and I’ve always been the round peg in a square whole. I speak my truth and let the chips fall where they may. It hasn’t always won me adoring fans. I’d be the first to admit, however, that I haven’t always lived according to this part of me, and that’s what I wanted to talk about here. My last blog touched on this, but that was reactionary and was written literally the morning after everything hit the fan. Now, almost a month later, I have some more clarity on things that I want to share and things I think could and should be done to prevent a similar occurrence in the future.
How it all began
I came to the party late. During my school years, my sexuality was erased. I had no idea what being gay was, let alone who was gay. I didn’t start to even begin to question my own sexuality until junior year of high school, and even then, because of immense fear of hell, I wouldn’t even entertain the thought for more than a fleeting second before stuffing it. However, every couple months or so, it would resurface. I “prayed the gay away” almost every night to no avail. One of these insistences is still etched in my memory.
I was on a retreat with my class at the beginning of my senior year of high school, a conservative Christian school in Northern Illinois. The whole theme of the retreat was centered around sex and sexuality, and a pastor from my church was brought in to talk to us. It was the usual purity culture stuff, “No one wants a chewed piece of gum” or “the Bible doesn’t really say anything about masturbation, but still, don’t do it.” All the hits. At the end of the last session, there was a time to write down all our sexual sins and pray for God to break the chains of our desires and to forgive us. Sitting under a tree in the dead of night, I wrote something down on my piece of paper that I’ve never revealed, and at the time, and for many years after, was my deepest, darkest secret.
“God, please forgive me for being attracted to men. Break the chains, Lord. I am so sorry. Amen.”
After a time of reflection, we went to a bonfire and were advised to throw our pieces of paper in and let the flames consume our sins. For years, it would only be me and that fire that knew the truth.
God boy’s secret
Fast forward four years and a month from that retreat, it was October of 2016 and I was finally ready to come out publicly. I’d spent the previous months coming out to those closest to me but by October I was done hiding from the world. In the pre-dawn hours on October 6th, I came out on my former blog and posted it to all my social media channels, and went to bed. I was now out, but even then, my language and true thoughts were masked in a way that both heaped undue shame on myself while also affirming that “God doesn’t make mistakes.” I had come around to accept myself, but I was still very guarded, thus explaining the mixed language. I was afraid I would be disowned.
In the almost three years since coming out, I’ve made many missteps as I’ve come to get to know a large part of my identity that had been erased for much of my life. Late last year, I kind of low key manipulated myself back into the closet and was referring to myself as asexual. I don’t know how this happened or why, but it did. Around this time, I also started going back to my old church and got swept in really fast. My identifying as asexual seemed fine for the one person who knew everything.
Now, I believe sexuality is a spectrum, and I also believe I register as asexual to a point, but that’s still something I’m working out. I know I am primarily gay. To make a long story short, this person was fine with asexual Tim, at least as it appeared, he was fine with the Tim that wasn’t “acting on his homosexuality” but not openly gay Tim. What makes this even more strange, is that this was never mentioned to me at the time. This person, an old high school friend who was leading the young adult ministry, just skirted around all that, using ambiguous terms to describe relationships and sexuality.
As time went on, I could tell my body was going into a fight or flight response. It all culminated at an elder’s meeting that focused on the direction of the church, one where a lady got up and asked why qualified LGBTQ folks were getting denied by the elders to serve or work in the church. The response from one of the elders was a smug, “Well, because it’s a sin. We don’t want them being role models to our youth. We welcome them to attend, we just can’t have them serving.” I initially freaked out because I was serving. And I had made friends who I didn’t want to lose.
After the meeting, I went to talk to one of the elders and said something that I immediately regretted. I told him that I had previously identified as gay but no longer did and would this be a problem in the future. He told me no, it wouldn’t be at all, but that did nothing to ease my mind. After all this, I ran out to my car, collapsed into my seat and just started sobbing. I had just disowned myself. I knew then that this church was not my future and it didn’t have my best interests at heart. I lied to the elders about my sexuality, but more importantly, I lied to myself, and I was lied to, and it all happened before I could even catch it.
As that week went on, I knew what I needed to do. I knew it was over and this time, it had to be for good. Disowning myself went about three bridges too far. That could simply never happen again. I quickly accepted that I was gay once and for all and I also accepted that my sexuality and my faith didn’t have to be mutually exclusive. When this all fell into place, I was at total peace.
I felt I owed it to my friend to tell him I was leaving, seeing as I was a part of his small group and was at that point, helping him with coffee a few times a month. I called up my friend, who had already been tipped off by myself that I was gay and okay with that. I invited him to grab some coffee where I would tell him my plans.
A little backstory here: I had been texting him that whole week, and like I did to the elders, I disowned myself to him, as well. He also had previously said that no one at the church knew about my sexuality it “just wasn’t something we talk about over lunch, you know?” I found out later that he had told everyone, even going so far as to tell another ministry leader that he was on his way to an intervention for a 20-something who’s “struggling with his sexuality.” An intervention. For the meeting I requested. He had no intention of hearing me out, to him it was simply just a reconnaissance mission.
I didn’t expect this conversation to be easy, and it wasn’t. In reality, it was far worse than what I had anticipated. He came in and I cracked some lame joke that I hadn’t been “straight” (groan) with him. One thing led to another and I told him I was leaving and I was going to try a mainline church that would accept me for me. A bunch of hemming and hawing ensued after this, one thing led to another and suddenly I found myself on the defensive while he took it upon himself to read all the clobber passes (the dozen or so bible passages that seemingly condemn gay relationships, a matter that is up for debate in many theological circles) to me, then explaining them all. I was devastated that a so-called friend of mine would act this way toward me. I was upset that all I was at this point was a project. It didn’t matter that we had the exact same background and working knowledge of the Bible and its many different interpretations, it only mattered that I was now seemingly going against what the church had historically taught and I must be wrong. I. tried explaining that churches don’t have a consensus on this and many have actually come around to being LGBTQ affirming, but to no avail. It was heartbreaking and draining.
Thankfully, the coffee shop had closed in the middle of all this mess, so it was over, but not before he followed me out to my car to impart these parting words onto me “Tim, God doesn’t want you to be happy. He wants you to have everything you need in him.” I took that as the final blow. As someone who had just spent the better part of the last seven years of my life clawing my way out of the abyss of major depression and anxiety. I was finally happy, and no one was going to steal that from me. That comment cemented in my mind that I was doing the right thing.
So, What Now?
Like I said earlier, I still have faith. I’m still gay. Within the last couple weeks, I’ve started attending a small but growing Lutheran church, a church that, on my first day there, was blessing two church members who happened to be married and lesbian, as they were getting ready to move out state. I felt like I was home. Like I belonged. I felt totally cared for and I felt I could be myself.
Is this the end? Of course not. I realize I still have much to learn and a lot of growth to go through, but as time has progressed, as I’ve gained more experience, I do feel I have a good base from which to build on.
I’ll end with a call to action: Clarity is important. I was not told the truth about my former church, I was lied to and manipulated by a person I trusted, something that ultimately ended up with me sobbing in my car in a dark parking lot because I had just disowned myself. This is what it’s like to not have your actively enforced church policies on LGBTQ people and relationships easily available. It only hurts people, it only leads to destruction.
Manipulation was what the serpent used to seduce Adam and Eve. It’s sad to say that all too often, this same tactic is what the church uses to seduce and then systematically, piece by piece, erase Adam and Steve.
If you want to learn more about the work of clarity, and where your church might score, head over to churchclarity.org