I’ve talked about it a lot. More than I really want to, honestly. As a writer, director and stage performer I’ve used the tale as material countless times. It’s Pride month, the world is in a crazy place, and once again I feel compelled to tell my story.
I grew up in Evansville, IN, a small town right on the Indiana/Kentucky border where the Ohio River makes a curly bend. It’s still a pretty conservative place, but in the late 80s and early 90s it was even more so. A fundamentalist Christian mega church was the center of my world. It’s strange. My parents to this day are accepting, fairly liberal people—but for whatever reason I was compelled to hang out with who I now know were religious extremists who ran a cult-like organization.
It does make sense I guess. There was nothing to do in Evansville. It was either Jesus or meth. This church had a vibrant youth group with multiple weekly social gatherings. The praise and worship band played rocknroll and several members had long hair and pierced ears. I wanted to be like them. I was learning to play guitar and growing my hair out also. In the back, a glorious permed pelt. In the front, a giant wave of Sun-In and Aussie Scrunch spray. I paired it with a dangly cross earring that my mother hated.
Everything was fine until the hormones kicked in– when I realized my desires were for the same sex. You see, in this particular world, there was absolutely nothing worse. Gay people were talked about as unredeemable perverted monsters. That’s putting it mildly. I remember in the lobby there was a table with several brochures on various topics. Abortion. Satanism. The one called “What You Need To Know About Homosexuals” had several statistics about how many pounds of feces a homosexual would consume over his lifetime and how you must protect you children around them, because once left alone terrible things would happen.
It was a years long, gradual process. When I was 15, it was somewhat easy to block it off. Lock it in some back room of my brain. But then I fell in love with my best friend, and it was torturous and confusing. I dared not even let my brain think it, much less say it out loud. In my senior year, I had sex with a girl. There was no coherent thought process there. Premarital sex was a sin too of course, but I was so desperate to feel normal. I didn’t want to be the monster described in the brochure in the church lobby. She got pregnant. She had an abortion. The story got out, and it was a huge small town scandal that started to turn the wheels of my excommunication. And thank you Jesus that it did, because I might have grown into an adult there and become a miserable, repressed creature. Or worse.
The long progression continued. It wasn’t fast. It wasn’t easy. It was many years.
I decided to go away to college, a decision that saved my life.
I very much still considered myself a christian then. My whole world view was built around that. And being gay wasn’t an option. I moved into a phase where I became open about it and considered it a “struggle” that I would some day overcome. I read every brainwashy book I could get my hands on and unfortunately started attending meetings with the now disbanded “Exodus Ministries”— the original “pray away the gay” organization. There was no name for it at the time, but looking back I realize I was putting myself through a self-imposed conversion therapy.
And from there, the story gets harder to tell. There was no big moment. Just a lot of small ones sprinkled along my path. I wasn’t locked into a manipulative congregation anymore. I was at a liberal university around people who thought differently than me. Around openly gay and seemingly happy people. I didn’t even know that was an option. Then, my first kiss. It came with both guilt and undeniable electricity. Later came a first date that filled me with butterflies. Something most people experienced at 15 —but I was 24. All these coming of age moments a decade late.
I watched the world change around me. Transitioning from the Bush Era to Obama, when gay marriage became a reality. I remember seeing a same-sex couple holding hands at the park in freakin Nashville, TN for the first time and no one seemed to care. A thing some communities might take for granted today. I never thought I’d see it.
Lately, things have taken a darker turn with our current government. It’s a little scary. I do fear gay marriage might get overturned someday– the way things are going. But at the same time, there is an acceptance level in western culture never seen before. And I can’t imagine that getting undone no matter what the government attempts to do.
I’ve told this story a lot. It may seem to some that I’m burdened by it all, that I should seek therapy because I can’t move on. But that’s not why I keep telling the story. Today, I feel mostly well-adjusted. These aren’t painful memories anymore. I live in a calm household with 3 cats and the man I plan to marry someday. My life is good. Stable. Normal. No, I don’t need to tell my story again for my sake… but for yours. Happy Pride Month!