Describe a circumstance, obstacle or conflict in your life, and the skills and resources you used to resolve it. Did it change you? If so, how?
My dad is the preacher at the red-brick Southern Baptist church that I’ve attended since I was seven. It’s just down the road. Sunday school at 9:30, “big church” at 10:30. Youth Group on Wednesday nights. As the preacher’s kid, I know all the ins and outs; I’m the first one at church and the last one to leave. I used to be in the youth praise band (I’d play the piano and sing). I know all the answers, the covenant lineage, the story of Hezekiah and Obadiah and all the obscure prophets. I know the Bible verses by heart. I wore the food pantry t-shirts, the inspirational bracelets; I sang the songs, raised my hands, even cried a few times. I was the model Christian, the one who wears that “Jesus is my homeboy” shirt without any irony.
And then I got my first boyfriend.
Hear me out: I am in no way implying that gay people can’t be fully devout Christians. They, we, can. But when I heard my Sunday school teacher equate gay people with ax-murderers, when my church friends would throw around the word “faggot,” when my own father would speak so openly against the idea of LGBT rights, it hurt. A lot. When you suddenly become ostracized from the identity in which you once felt so comfortable, so at home, you look at things differently. I became on outsider, even though no one at church knew it. I still played the part. Sang the songs. Wore the shirts. But things were changing inside.
It’s not like it happened all at once, either. I didn’t forget my own old beliefs overnight. In fact, that’s part of what made the whole gay identity that much harder. I was so ashamed and thought Jesus would be disappointed, to say nothing of my parents. But through this early stage of self-discovery, there was a pair of strong arms (well, stronger than mine at least) that were open and accepting. His name was Jared, and he was a senior and I was a sophomore when we met. And he was an Atheist, and I was still convinced that I was a Christian. So in my mind, this boy, whom I cared about a lot and who made me feel remarkable, was going to Hell. Eternal torment. For what? I shared my concerns with Jared and he listened; he didn’t try to convince me that Jesus was dumb or that I should give up on my faith. He encouraged me to think for myself.
The week before my senior year started, I came out to my parents. I wrote them a letter, went to my friend’s house, and texted them instructions to read it.
“You can come home now,” was their response.
I drove home, blasting Macklemore’s “Same Love” for strength. I envisioned two extremes: being kicked out, told I had to pay for my own college. I feared that. But I hoped for the second extreme, what every LGBT youth hopes for after coming out: parents who say “So what? We knew that. Bring you boyfriend over. Let’s put an equality sticker on the car.” I hoped really hard, wished really hard, for that. And it didn’t work. They were crushed. They didn’t kick me out, but they cried a lot. They didn’t yell, but they looked at me with such disappointment. A few days later we were in Dallas, sitting in a Christian Therapist’s office who specialized in “cases like mine.”
Cases like mine.
“What the hell does that mean?” was my question. Cases like mine? A seventeen-year-old kid whose foundation crumbled around him while he tried to hide it from his own family for fear of rejection? A kid whose friends have been more supportive of him than his parents? Did he mean gay kids? Gay people who wanted to “change?” I didn’t, I don’t, want to change.
Let me tell you about me, Mr. Counselor, Mother, Father, person reading this essay, God: I can give love, and I can feel love. I don’t know exactly what I believe any more about religion, but I’m looking. I am searching for truth, under rocks and on top of mountains, on the streets and in the not-so-pretty parts of people. “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” Well, then I’m freer than I’ve ever been. I am running faster, stretching out my arms farther, feeling deeper, singing louder, loving harder. It’s been a screwed-up, terrifying, beautiful, incredible journey.
Cases like mine. Let me tell you about me:
I am strong.