Tag Archives: fear

The Path Left Behind

Rainbow flag flapping in the wind with blue sk...

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I came out to myself and my best friend at the time on Monday, 1 April 1996.  Today, 1 April 2011 marks the fifteenth anniversary of that event.  In honor of that, I’ve decided to do a series of posts on the topic.  This is the second one.

As I said in my previous post, the night I came out to Merion in that little alcove was the beginning of a new journey to self-acceptance and personal discovery.  However, the start of that journey meant the end of a different, darker journey.  The journey that ended that night, the journey towards “freedom from unwanted same-sex attractions,” was a painful and self-destructive one and one I’m glad I left behind.  And yet, this anniversary would not be complete without talking about it at least a little.
Truth be told, I can’t cover that journey — which lasted for roughly eight years — in a single blog post.  I hope to restart A Journey to Queerdom soon, and I will explore it more fully there.  For this post, I hope to tell just enough to capture a glimpse of the emotional chaos that overshadowed me as I came to that fateful April Fool’s Day night.
At the end of my sophomore year in college, I had finally admitted that my feelings for other guys was more than “just a phase.”  It was a very real part of my psychological makeup and it was there to stay unless I took some drastic measures.  So I started trying to turn myself straight.  Granted, I didn’t go to any sort of therapy or ex-gay ministry — fortunately, I wouldn’t have known where to find such help in Selinsgrove of the surrounding area.  So instead, I simply tried to go through the process of praying for healing on my own and asking friends I could trust to also pray for me.*
Asking for friends’ help actually created a cycle of increasing frustration.  I would admit my “struggle” to each of them separately — a frightening prospect in itself each time, as I was never sure how they might react to the experience and there’s a lot of shame in admitting you like members of your own sex in evangelical and fundamentalist circles, even if you make it clear that you don’t want them.  They’d pray with me and for me, and I’d feel better.  I’d get an emotional boost and would feel like I could take on the world.
But the emotional high would eventually wear off while the feelings of attraction would persist.  My frustrations and sense of shame over feeling the way I felt would return, often magnified by the sense of added failure that somehow I had lost forfeited the “spiritual help” I had gotten and failed yet again.  So I’d decide that I needed more help, and that meant telling another friend and seeking further support and help.  And there, the cycle would begin all over.
The thing is, dealing with one’s feelings is ultimately something one has to do alone.  No one can feel those feelings for you.  No one can take them away from you.  No one can do anything other than support you through it all, and no one can give that support 24/7.  I found that late at night, laying in my bed, I was left all alone to either face my desire for love and intimacy with another man alone or repress it alone.  It was my burden to carry, and the more I fought it, the heavier that burden got.
One of the things that drove me to the breaking point on Saturday night, 30 March 1996** was the fact that my loneliness was driven home when my closest friends and my biggest supporters all ended up spending that night with their respective female love interests.  I realized that night that this really was my burden to carry, because when push comes to shove, they got to go to their God- and church-approved girlfriends (or potential girlfriends) and find some degree of intimacy and the promise of full intimacy sometime down the road.  That realization, and their unintentional acts of rubbing it in my face, pushed me into a full tailspin that night.  I spent over half an hour considering and even planning to end my own life.
I’m not going to describe that night.  I think I’ve described it well enough elsewhere.  But what I will say is that in that night, I wanted to die because I realized that I could never “beat” my sexual feelings and romantic desires.  There was no going straight for me.  I had tried and failed.  If I continued down that path, the only thing waiting for me was depression, loneliness, and shame.  And I couldn’t face that path.  If that path was my only choice, I knew it would be better to end my life.  So I seriously contemplated it.
And at some point, that realization horrified me.  So two nights later, I chose to walk another path.
* Given the number of ex-gays who talk about going to therapy, support groups, or even residency programs, I felt out of place at first.  I was quite relieved when I discovered that the bXg community had an entire group for people who went through self-guided attempts at becoming ex-gay.
** I’ve searched every aspect of my memory, and everything convinces me that the truly terrifying dark night was two nights before I came out on April Fool’s Day.  Curiously, this means I surived in some sort of in-between state for a full day on Sunday.  I have no idea what that day was like or how I managed to survive and not find myself with the same dark thoughts that night as I had entertained the night before.

In a Small Alcove at Susquehanna University

Rainbow flag flapping in the wind with blue sk...

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I came out to myself and my best friend at the time on Monday, 1 April 1996.  Tomorrow, 1 April 2011 marks the fifteenth anniversary of that event.  In honor of that, I’ve decided to do a series of posts on the topic.  This is the first one.

My mind floats back fifteen years ago — almost to the day — and a few hundred miles away.  I can still remember what it was like that night, sitting in the cloth-covered chair with wooden arm rests that sat in the tiny alcove of the first floor of Seibert Hall.  I never knew which professors had their offices there, but the place was familiar.  I chose that place to meet Merion because not only was it relatively secluded from the bustle of campus nightlife (or what passed for campus nightlife on a Monday night), but it was a place both of us knew well.  It was the same tiny alcove that the Bible study we both attended — and I eventually became coleader of — met once a week the year before.

I needed that familiarity to help calm my nerves.  It didn’t work, because I was a complete wreck.  I think it took me over five minutes to build up the courage — that is, to grit my teeth hard enough — to utter those two words:  “I’m gay.”

I hadn’t said those words prior to that moment, and that was a big thing.  Oh sure, I had admitted that I was attracted to guys.  I had even told a number of people.  But I had mostly said “I’m struggling with homosexuality” or something like that.  Up to this point, I had made it clear that I didn’t want to feel this way.  The closest I had come to those two words were a few weeks earlier when I told my friend, Joyce, “I think I might be gay.”*  Even then, I had left myself the escape hatch.  I may have started to realize I was losing the “ex-gay struggle,” but I hadn’t “conceded defeat” yet.

That night, sitting in that chair and facing Merion in the the chairs twin to my right, I made that concession.  And it was hard to do, because I knew exactly what I was doing.  It was terrifying to do it, even though I knew that Merion would be completely supportive, as she had already came out to me as bisexual** about a year earlier.

I think by the time I said it and for the first several minutes after I made my confession, I was actually shaking.  I was that worked up.  Merion was wonderful though.  She was encouraging.  She was supportive.  She was incredible.  I don’t really remember much of what she said to me, other than the fact that she told me how honored she was that I chose to tell her.  The rest of the details, however, blur into the emotional chaos I was going through at the time.

But that also marked the beginning of the end of the emotional chaos.  I escaped the prison of fear and shame that day.  I ran out screaming — almost literally.  And while things didn’t get instantly better, the process of improvement began.  It’s taken me years to clean up the mess I was left with, and in some ways, I’m still cleaning it up.  (I’ll talk about that more tomorrow.)  But that moment moved me into a place in my journey where I could face that task, no matter how daunting it seemed at times.

* And Joyce, in her well-meaning but less-than-helpful way, glibly responded by saying, “It’s about time you figured it out.”  Seriously folks, I know sometimes you can tell that a loved one is gay before they’re able or willing to admit it to even themselves.  But this is not the way to respond when they finally confide in you.  If you must tell them you already figured it out, do so in the gentlest way possible.  Otherwise, it can come across as you dishonoring their choice to be completely open and vulnerable to you in a way which was probably took a lot of courage on their part.

** That night, Merion clarified that she was a lesbian.  She was one of those people who originally came out as bisexual because it was easier to take that as a step towards coming out as strictly gay.  And no, that does not mean that everyone who says they’re bi is doing so.  There are authentically bisexual people out there, too.  The fact that there are some people in the gay community who refuse to accept that is a personal pet peev of mine.

Homophobia: I’m not the enemy

Today, Pam reminded her readers that today is International Day Against Homophobia. Thanks to this reminder, I felt it important that I not let such a day pass by without some sort of comment.

Homophobia is one of those unfortunate things that all of us wish would go away. It’s a shame that in 2007, people still have to worry about whether they could lose their job if their boss finds out they’re gay. It’s terrible that same sex couples still have to worry about their legal status and the protections offered to their relationship, things that heterosexual couples take for granted every day. It’s wearying to think that we have to listen to paranoid people attempt to raise animosity towards us by making alarming references to the dreaded “homosexual agenda” and “special priveleges.” It’s annoying to listen to these same people make accusations about “recruiting attempts” (which I’m convinced is little more than projection on their part).

I think the one thing that makes all of this more bearable for me is the realization that homophobia is not about me or other gay people at all. Homophobia is actually merely a manifestation of a greater problem: Some people’s need to have something to fear and attack as “the enemy.” If people didn’t have gay people to blame for the ills of society, they’d merely have to look for something else. They’d have to find some new danger to rally against, because it’s that perceived danger and fear of it that such people need to galvanize their will and draw their strength from. Without it, I suspect most of them would be lost.

I am not the homophobes’ enemy. I’m merely the screen they have chosen to project their own inner demons upon. Their real enemy lives within themselves. And as I keep that in mind, it enables me to deal with the issue of homophobia from a completely different mindset. It enables me to fight the consequences of homophobia — such as legislative discrimination — while understanding that the underlying issue isn’t about me — or even homosexuality — at all. And for me, that realization is liberating.