So apparently a few people were concerned about my state of mind after reading the McDonagh story. Rest assured, I am not depressed or suicidal or anything. I chose to begin with that because of the overall theme of The Pillowman—if, knowing what pain and heartache we will go through in the journey to growing into adults, we would choose that path anyway; if the pain now is part of the happiness then.
If I shared with my happy seven-year-old self that one day he would grow up to be a gay man and all that means; experience the confusion and anguish of disappointing your parents, your friends, your church and G-d; and spend many dark years feeling like a freak, not knowing who or where you are as an individual—would he still go through with it? Is the pain now part of the happiness to come?
Picking up where I left off—college. This’ll go a bit faster.
Going to a conservative Christian college poses its own unique challenges. It has its own culture, just like any place. At a secular university, I probably would have been spotted right away by the GLBT crowd, thrown out of the closet and begun my college life as a gay student. And gotten into a lot of trouble that would have probably led to me losing my faith entirely through essentially sinful living.
Instead, though unsaid, the pressure is to hook up with someone of the opposite sex as quickly as possible. “Ring by spring” as the saying goes. I discovered a bevy of distractions though—working as an accompanist and piano teacher; taking as many credits as possible each semestre; and joining too many music ensembles (which made for some interesting Christmas concerts logistically).
The hardest thing about that college was how many attractive guys there were. In fact, most of them were. Walk into a classroom and there’s eye candy everywhere. Not that there weren’t plenty of attractive women as well, and that should have been a dead give-away—that it was the guys that my eyes were drawn to instantly. One summer I took tennis and spent most of it outside with several very muscular (and incredibly sexy) guys who, naturally, had to lose their shirts. I won’t tell you how I managed to deal with all that pent up sexual frustration.
By my sophomore year, I had a clue what was going on. I wanted desperately to tell someone, to find out if this was normal, if I could be “fixed.” But I also knew that I rant he risk of being kicked out if they found out that I was gay. So I did what any conscientious Christian guy with same-sex feelings would do. I hid. I tried hard to be attracted to women; tried fantasising about girls in an attempt to force myself straight. But invariably a guy would enter the mental picture and it was all over.
The next two years were a blur of activity and productivity. I wrote two full-length operas in that time span, and scores of other pieces for my musical friends. Self-medicating with busyness works well until you have to stop. By the end of my college career I was so burnt out that I couldn’t stand music any more and had resolved that my educational stint was done.
In 2005 I visited a friend in England who I had a bit of a crush on as an undergrad. She was doing post-grad work there, and of anyone I could see myself possibly marrying her and white-knuckling it. However, upon spending time with her I realised that it was the idea of her that I loved—the intellectual artist-philosopher that I idealised. But I wasn’t attracted to her.
By this time most of my friends were married or on their way. I lost my job in April of 2005 and about the same time was involved in a major accident (that wasn’t my fault), so much of my energies were directed toward survival and making ends meet. G-d provided both a job and a new car, and for a few months saw a shrink to deal with my anger. Surprise, surprise, my parents were at the centre of a lot of it, but there was also the issue of unvalidated feelings. You’d think that there, in the confidentiality of that setting, I could feel comfortable telling my therapist that I was having feelings for men. It wasn’t until journaling one day that I really grasped the idea that I could be gay. And that scared me so much that I quickly shut the door and never went back. Probably a big mistake, but I picked up a lot of valuable tools, such as cognitive therapy and metacognition.
Got back into theatre with a friend of mine who I’d done some work with in 2004. With a few of his friends we founded a theatre company and put up a couple of productions that weren’t the greatest, but it led to some more work with the same director. That all eventually led to the work that I’m doing now, writing for companies and theaters throughout the Twin Cities.
Fast forward a couple of years to February of 2008. I got laid off again due to budget cut-backs and was once again jobless. That previous summer I’d come out to a girl friend of mine who expressed her own feelings for me, and in that moment I knew that I couldn’t lead her on any more. It was hard because several weeks earlier I’d attended a session on spiritual healing with another friend of mine and was actually prayed over by a husband and wife. That was the first time I’d told anyone that I struggled with same-sex attraction, and I thought it was over. But the feelings were still there, and I was just as attracted to guys as ever. So, at 25, I told my friend that I was gay.
At that point I still held out hope that I might just be bisexual. I had feelings for another friend of mine, and one night after a rehearsal actually told her so. She confessed that she too had feelings for me, and like a complete dolt left it at that. So she was probably very confused—but then, so was I! I had a major crush on one of the guys in the cast. Then she started dating a mutual friend of ours, and I was super busy stage managing so again I let it go.
So back to the summer of 2008. I’d just moved into the apartment I’m at now, and had been job searching and applying anywhere there were openings. A lot of friends were kind enough to help financially and I never would have survived without that. I’d come out to a few more friends, at least telling them that I was 99.9% sure that I was gay. But it wasn’t until working overnight at Target, when I had scads of time alone, to think, and surrounded by some very attractive males, that it really sank in—I’m gay.
It wasn’t until that point that I even considered some of the theological ramifications of this realisation. The Bible condemned homosexuality. I’d been taught that my entire life, so therefore the Bible was now condemning me and my feelings. I didn’t choose to be gay. I’d fought it for years, and couldn’t anymore. The Bible condemns sin, and I am definitely a sinner; but there was no way out of this. Was G-d testing me to see how much He actually mattered to me—whether I could be willing to live a celibate life to His glory, alone? But then why allow me to have these desires in the first place? From the first post, I think I’ve made it clear that it wasn’t like I woke up one day and said, “I think I’ll try being gay.” I’ve always had feelings for men. It wasn’t until adolescence that they became sexual.
So I set out to try and figure it out. I knew that I didn’t fit the stereotype of a gay male, and had no desire to either. Culturally, I identified as a straight man. (From my very first post, I now identify as “mainstream gay,” practically indistinguishable from straights.) I wasn’t promiscuous and had no desire to be. But I wanted to be with men, physically.
That’s been the past few months. I’ve been having a conversation with a now good friend from another blogging site. His insights have been invaluable in accepting and learning to love myself again, and gaining right perspective on my own orientation. I made the decision early on that I wasn’t going to let the gay culture define me. It was the subculture-orientated gays who ran contrary to the Bible—sex addictions, multiple partners, drugs, alcohol, cross-dressing.
G-d made me a man (and not a woman) was my reasoning. I’m male, and am going to embrace everything about that. So apart from the Biblical condemnation of homosexuality there seemed to be no reason why I couldn’t be attracted to other men and still be masculine, provided that I follow the same guidelines that straight Christian guys do—don’t lust after another man, treat guys with respect as brothers in Christ. The only difference is that the Bible advises men and women to marry rather than “burn with passion” (1 Cor 7:9). There is no such provision outlined in Scripture for gays.
When it came to getting a handle on this theologically though, there was absolutely no consensus among scholars. The conservative Christians sounded too dogmatic, and the liberals seemed too open-minded. There had to be a balance somewhere because I was stuck in the middle wanting to not be condemned to hell for liking guys and also not wanting to live the life of a celibate monk. Because let’s face it: I was not granted that gift.
One of things I addressed was my frustration with masculinity as it is currently expressed by most western males. It seemed equally fragmented and distorted as the campy subculture-oriented drag queens; so I started researching the history of masculinity as traced by sociologists and anthropologists. That will be another post.
One final thing I’ll add is that it’s incredibly lonely being a Christian who is gay, and that’s one of the most crippling things of all—not being able to tell your Christian straight friends that you’re not like them after all. So several weeks ago I joined what is known as the Gay Christian Network. Its mission is to “serve Christians who happen to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender and those who care about them.” I’ve found that a lot of guys have a similar story to mine in terms of a conservative religious upbringing and then coming later to realise their same-sex feelings and the confusion that arises from that. So it’s been incredibly helpful. Still haven’t found much in the way of off-line community here though.
One guy on there pointed me to a ministry called Inclusive Orthodoxy, founded by a fellow by the name of Justin Cannon. There’s a booklet on there titled The Bible, Christianity, and Homosexuality. It’s an in-depth study of all the famous references to homosexuality in the Bible, going back to the original texts and looking at them in the context of word usage and the culture in which the documents were written. It helped me come closer to terms with who I am right now and the possibility of being in a committed relationship with a Christian guy.
I haven’t looked, but I’d be curious to read a response to Cannon’s study from the reformed theological community: D.A. Carson, Os Guinness, R.C. Sproul, John Piper and the like—all theologians I admire and respect.
If you have questions about any of this, please feel free to ask. There are probably many holes in this story, things I’ve left out or unaddressed.
One more thing. Unlike many gay Christians, this issue does not define me. I’m not looking to identify with the gay community, even the LGBT Christian community. This is a very private thing for me, so don’t expect to see me in gay documentaries or publishing gay literature. It doesn’t interest me and there are more important things to spend time on or campaign for.