I didn’t have a blog post in mind for today until I attended last night’s Pride!Kent meeting where we discussed topics that had been anonymously submitted by members the previous week. There were a few cute/funny questions about M&Ms, lesbian sex, sluttery (that’s a word now; I’m making it happen), and how to properly put a condom on a Sprite bottle. Now that the silly questions were out of the way, we began discussing politics, religion, the army and other issues that are more in line with our civil rights issue right now.
A lot of people spoke about their personal faith and their experience with open and affirming churches. Until a year ago, I didn’t even realize that such a thing existed.
When we started talking about how religion affects the LGBT community, I had a hard time speaking up (surprise surprise) because my own personal relationship with faith, or lack thereof, has defined who I am in so many ways. I have a hard time understanding how a gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender person could be religious, but I obviously had a much different experience with religion than many of the people in Pride! last night. Part of me has felt for a while that “Gay” and “Christian” don’t go well together because, in most cases, they don’t.
When I was 7 years old, I was saved by the blood of Christ. Then again when I was 10 and again when I was 13. I don’t know if I was saved for myself or for the right to cross-embossed crackers and a shot of tepid grape juice during service. When I had faith, I didn’t know why I had faith, I just knew that I was supposed to. When I raised this point to my church’s youth group leader I was told, “That’s the point of faith.” That answer just wasn’t good enough.
I remember being told by my mother when I was around 10 years old that gay people go to Hell. Slightly older than that, I remember being pulled out of a church youth group because the youth leader was flamboyant and it seemed to be “rubbing off on me.”
My faith waned, however, when I found that I was attracted to other guys. My first crush was on a young teaching assistant in my seventh-grade language arts class. I had never thought about a man in that way before, and it frightened me. It was just a phase. It had to be. I couldn’t understand the attraction, as it was an attraction I didn’t even have to my girlfriend.
As I grew up I came to understand. I first put a word to the attraction nearly a year after I found that the fluttering in my stomach when Mr. S called upon me was more than nervousness. I remember walking down the hallway to a class and the word popped into my mind. I’m gay.
I don’t remember the exact moment that I stopped believing in God, but I do remember that I stopped praying when he didn’t make me straight.
I battled with myself for years by dating girls, joining football (which was… erm, a bit counterproductive to say the least), joining wrestling (even more counterproductive than football), attending an incredibly homophobic church youth group, and lying to everyone around me about who I really was. I feared that others knew about me, that they would find out and tell everyone.
While watching television with my mom one day, I saw a gay man was on Oprah talking about how he had come out to his parents when he was a teenager and was kicked out of their house. I don’t remember the rest of the show because my mother said, “If I had a gay son I would kill myself.”
“If I had a gay son I would kill myself.”
I had wanted to come out to my mom, but now it just seemed selfish. Would my coming out effectively sign my mother’s death certificate? This revelation effectively kept me in the closet until I was 16 years old. I couldn’t hide who I was anymore and needed to tell someone, and I figured my close personal friends were a good start. Little did I know that I would never have to come out to anybody in my high school ever again because one young man named James decided that it was his civil duty to let everyone know that I wanted to rape all of the guys in the school. The likeliest of scenarios, of course.
My mother was a substitute teacher at my school and I feared that somebody would tell her about me. It seemed that everybody around me kne I was gay. I would be followed to class, taunted in the lunch room, bullied in class, gym, everywhere. It seemed that I couldn’t avoid it. I mean, I’m a fairly big guy, so I’m kind of hard to miss.
It got to a point when I couldn’t deal with it anymore; the bullying, the taunting, I had to put an end to it. I noted one day that I was being followed from my locker to my next class, newspaper. Instead of going my normal, well-populated route, I took a shortcut through the theater where a guy who I recognized from football when I was younger, tried to beat the shit out of me. Before he could even touch me, however, I kicked him in the balls and ran to my class, screaming behind me, “How does it feel to get beat up by a fag?” as I went.
I knew at that point that I had solved none of my problems by doing what I did. He would likely be out for revenge, so it would probably have been best for me to stay under the radar for a while. Naturally, I instead caused the biggest fuss in school history by trying to start a Gay-Straight Alliance. At that point, I knew that nobody could touch me while I was in the spotlight like this. Moreover, I knew that my mother would find out about it and I realized that I didn’t care anymore. I didn’t care if she knew about me and I didn’t care if she kicked me out. I had no backup plan, nowhere to go, and absolutely no regard for my own safety.
The GSA became a big enough deal in that the administration wouldn’t let it happen that my aunt, who was the cheerleading coach, found out about my activities through her cheerleaders. As I understand it, my aunt told my uncle about it, who told my father, who refused to tell my mom. My father never approached me about this, but months later I couldn’t hide who I was anymore and, during a particularly heated argument about me not hanging out with gay people, I told her. My memory of the situation is nebulous as I remember her crying, screaming at me to get out, and running to my friend Kayla’s house where her mother offered whiskey Camel Filters to calm my mind.
Up until this point, I was still an active member of my church youth group. I didn’t know if I still believed in God, but I did know that I didn’t want to go to Hell, so I kept on going. The Sunday after I came out, I showed up to the youth group and sat in my normal seat, which was at a solitary corner of the room. I kept to myself most of the time, but shortly before the meeting started, the youth leader came up to me and said, “You need to leave.”
I asked her why, and she said, “We heard that you’re gay. You know how we feel about these things. Please leave.”
Without a word, I left the youth group and never returned. I have, in fact, never been back to a church since that moment; I do not intend upon going back to church; I have gone through Hell at the hands of religious people; and I do not see why I should put myself back into that kind of position just to feel warm and fuzzy inside.
Before I close this out, I need to mention that my mother came around and apologized to me for everything that she put me through. It took her time, but it’s hard to blame her for that when she used to associate herself with the kinds of Christians who wouldn’t think twice about dragging me behind a truck to knock the gay out of me. These days, the only issue that she really has with me is that I don’t believe in Jesus. My mother accepts me for who I am no matter who I bring home for dinner. I have my father to thank for that, as he never let her think of me as anything but her son.
As I said last night in the Pride! meeting, when I recounted my experience with that youth group, and mentioned in a previous blog post on here, religion has been thoroughly soured for me. I simply can’t imagine associating with people who can be so hateful of whom I am. Still, I can’t say that I would never go back to church because nobody has offered to bring me. I don’t know what it’s like to go to a church that doesn’t hate.
I know that not all religious people are hateful, but the ones who do hate are so very, very loud.