No. 12 – The Life of a Christian Gay Teen
Entering the halls of Wetumpka High School in 1991 was a mixed bag of “Will it be better now that I am in high school?” and “I am soon to be liberated far from here.” I was a freshman. I worked all summer to be able to purchase heavily pressed duck head shorts, and baggy t-shirts. Each morning before school, since kindergarten, I had a nervous stomach. I can not pinpoint a time or an event where I believe something occurred, that caused my constant nervousness. It was part of my morning routine, to lock the bathroom door and hope the diarrhea eases enough for me to get to school. I would sit on the cold porcelain and think “I hope today is easier. I hope this ends soon.”
During the summer between my freshman and sophomore year, I had a growth spurt, and lost my baby fat. I also grew 6 inches and grew facial hair, and that was enough to garner popularity. I moved into being a class clown, who thrived on making others laugh. This was also around the time my sexual abuse ended.
The affirmation of other classmates released a sense of safety where I had just enough confidence to begin building an identity for myself outside of the identity of being the unwanted kid I had grown to believe I was. Due to the amount of secrets I was carrying regarding the sexual abuse, and believing it was something I wanted, I was managing dual stories, and learned to perform in any scenario to insure no one would know what lied beneath the humor.
So, I followed pursuit and made people laugh. I thrived on making people laugh. I regretfully used other people as my content, and at all costs, would gather humor as a chaotic backdrop to shift the attention away from the broken shell that carried my story.
I went to church. I went to church a lot and found the rules to be appealing. I did not obey them, but they were something that I would someday strive for. I looked for ways in that environment to connect with families. I was often invited to others family lunches after church and I always obliged.
I worked full time as early as 15 years old. I left school in a co-op program each day to go work with kids at the local YMCA as a camp counselor, and took up extra shifts as the janitor and receptionist to make as much money as possible. I loved my job, and genuinely enjoyed being with those kids.
I was willing to invest anywhere that I could escape feeling alone, and be seen as adding value.
After each evening, when my shift was over, I would feel a sense of exhaustion. I would back out of the gravel parking lot, put my Nissan Sentra in 2nd gear, and light my cigarette for my ride home….exhaling … I felt I was managing my life well, and if smoking was the only thing people knew I did wrong, then the church and others should be ok with the rest of my story. But, I knew I had other secrets.
I had girlfriends. I had beautiful, innocent girlfriends that I admired. I admired their femininity, and their ability to express their desire. It was terrifying when that desire was directed at me. So, I would act. I would perform. I would be funny, kind, gracious, manipulative… I knew I had other secrets.
I had many sacred moments where friends would share their home life with me. In our own ways, we would share our hurts, and despairs. We would take a moment, smoking in an abandoned parking lot, and talk openly about what scares us the most. We would talk about how we are surviving under our parents pressure, but what we actually feel is lost and afraid. My friends would divulge their most vulnerable secrets. I would disclose what was safe. I would allow them to believe they are getting the best of me, by showing up for them in their pain. But, I knew I had other secrets.
I managed the tightrope of my high school years with anticipation. There was not anticipation of what would one day be released, and known, but what would go away and never come back. Damn, these secrets.
The secrets shaped a habitual life of performance where the most skilled investigator could not get me to admit. I was gay. It was the worst case scenario in my environment.
So, I managed everyday to tell lies. I lied by saying hello. I lied by saying goodbye, and I lied by saying “I love you, too.” Anyone who had a solid family unit and were sexually active with the opposite sex were light years ahead of me. To me, that is what it took to be a real man. I only knew life in Alabama, and had not given myself permission to daydream of other options, so I crippled my mind and conditioned my life to be exactly what it was supposed to be for a christian kid in a small town. And, I lied.
The smoking was for me. It was mine. No one could take that from me, or be there when I would go on long drives, strategizing how to continue to present who I am not.
The pressure endured with each passing year, and each new relationship. I would enter into a relationship with another beautiful young girl, and hope that whatever is supposed to happen inside of a straight young man would kick in with this next one. It didn’t. It felt awkward. It felt blank. There was a flat line of my heartbeat, and my desires. I would shame myself, end the relationship, and hope on the next chapter, my christian heterosexuality, would finally come alive. I tried and tried. I would lay in bed at night and quietly pray to my Southern Baptist God, “I am so sorry for feeling this way. I am going to try harder tomorrow to make this go away.” I really was sorry. I was only willing to tell God that in secret. Anything else would have been too much.
During my senior year, I began to feel the pressure of making decisions of what was next. I was afraid of college and the preparation required to get a degree. I was constantly thinking about how I was going to make a living and support myself. I was sad to think of all of my friends moving to new places and us not being together. I was terrified that I could possibly still have thoughts of being gay, into my adulthood.
I began to unravel with the future looking dim, and not knowing how to process life with these awful feelings inside. I felt like a liar, and justly felt as though I was saving anyone who attempted to love me, from actually knowing me…the young man with gay feelings. I was 17, and seeing beyond my small town options with limited hunger for more learning, left me hopeless.
I began to craft a plan. I walked around for days watching the reaction of family members to day to day life. I examined my parents interactions with one another, and wondered what they would do if I told them about these feelings. I watched my friends engage with one another as they bonded over rooming together at Auburn University, and wondered where I fit, if I fit anywhere at all. Where do gay people go? The future seemed hopeless.
The hopelessness grew. I was alone, and no one really knew me. And if they did, I wouldnt be allowed to receive their love.
I wanted out.
On a Thursday evening, my home was eerily quiet. My older sister was living at home, but was at work. My Dad was outside working in his yard in early fall weather, and my mom was running errands. This was not a rash decision. I had attempted suicide before, but this time I needed a gaurantee.
I went to my dads gun closet, and stared at each rifle. I had only shot a gun once, squirrel hunting on Thanksgiving Day two years earlier. I looked, and would hold the gun in my hand and examine how it worked. I ran my hand down the barrel, and a painful tension came over me. Not because I thought what I was doing was sad, but because I did not believe I had other options to face the world that would soon be staring at me, asking for explanations.
I chose the rifle that was smaller, and had less detail. It was simple, and I knew it would work.
I never considered the aftermath of my being gay. I only thought I was ending the gayness. I believed, if I prayed right before I pulled the trigger, that God would forgive me for committing suicide, and I would be able to negotiate the judgement from Him, and then enter the pearly gates of heaven.
I began searching for the shotgun shells , and to my chaotic dismay there were none. I numbly sat and thought if this were a sign for me to go buy the shells, or if I was meant to place the gun back. I placed the gun back in the closet, recognizing, I would not know how to buy them. I stood, contemplating the signs, and what that meant. I came to a simpler conclusion. A more familiar path.
I wandered through our empty home, and would glance at each pill bottle. I would read the warnings, and the side effects. I gathered a lethal amount of relief to make it poison. I went to the kitchen and found a large plastic cup from a fast food restaurant, and filled it with milk. I went to my bedroom, sat by a lamp, and wondered how fast it would kick in. I wondered how it happens, and if it will be peaceful. I was curious if I would be able to look back down and see my parents when they found my body. There was a sense of revenge to my dad, and a sad anger toward my mom.
I pulled the pills in by the handfuls. I could not go on. Being gay was horrible. I could hear the gulping sound, and wonder how many pills just went down. I saw no hope for my future. I was doing the right thing. Another handful. Another handful because what I had been taught about my attraction meant that I would be persecuted in my future. I swallowed, and felt full. I felt safe, and that somehow this would ease the chaos and pain that was constantly hovering over me.
The last bottle was emptied. Its remains were inside of my aching body. Now I wait. My mom returned from her errands later that evening to find me in my bed, already “asleep.” She came and said goodnight to me, and I chose not to utter a word in return. If I spoke, I was scared I would say “Mom, please help me!” or “Mom, please tell me I am ok!” So, I remained silent. I lay on my bed, body full of what I hoped would send me to a permanent distance from my pain.
In the hospital, my mom was poised, make up in tact, and dressed well. She came and sat by my hospital bed, and after the Dr. came and shared that my tests look good, she turned and said “Isn’t that good news?” She saw despair on my face. She looked at me like she had never looked at me before, and she knew my thoughts. She knew that hearing that I was going to be ok, was not the news I wanted. She could see by the pain in my eyes, that I was disappointed it didn’t work.
I was out of school for two weeks, while they did MRI’s and began to discuss mental illnesses. I sat in one of the final Drs. appointments and remember the Dr. asking if I had ever been bullied, or had I experienced any type of abuse. He then asked, if I could be wrestling with my sexuality. He asked me, and my mom answered both “No.” The Dr. knew she was lying, while I, on some level, believed her. I was that confused and disconnected.
I finished high school while working 40 hours a week, and celebrating great memories with my friends. My senior year was capped off at one of our final nights together with me being prom king. I tucked that deep in my being as a farewell message from my many close friends who were saying “We know it has been a hard journey for you. We see you. We love you.” It was a special time.
On graduation night there was a shift inside of me, that was determined to move to a new a place and find a different life. I was still in full secret of what I understood to be “struggling with homosexuality” but was glad high school was over. I decided to go to the mission field right after high school and explore mission work. I applied, and that fall was leaving for Youth With A Mission’s (YWAM) base in Elm Springs, Arkansas. I wondered if I would find a place to be honest. If the distance from home would make it safe for me to say out loud what has been done in secret. I wondered if I could possibly remove the “gay feelings” but I could not imagine a more sacred place than the mission field to dislodge these feelings. But, would I be honest? Would I honestly share? Could I honestly expose these secrets.
In September last year, 9 year old Jamel Myles told his mom he understood he was gay. He had been exposed to enough education to identify what the feelings were, that made him different from most of peers. There was relief and excitement, as he went on to explain that he was going to share this with his classmates. Any 9 year old may not understand the scope of their sexuality, but they know when there is something about them that is not like their peers. We have made that “something different” a shameful path to walk. When Jamel shared his news with his classmates, he was told that he was disgusting and that he should kill himself… by other kids. I can only imagine the horror of his mom finding his body after he obliged the suggestion, and at 9 years old, took his own life.
Peter Delacroix is a youth pastor who works closely with LGBTQ youth. Max, was a young man he had been mentoring for a while. Peter woke to a painful email from Max, and sadly after rushing to his home, was handed this note, after hearing of Max’s death.
“You are ugly and dirty and you make me feel ugly and dirty. I have heard all my life that I am a sinner even though I love God and I like to think God loves me too.
“I’m sorry Jack that I didn’t kiss you that day. I’m sorry Pastor Pete but please don’t be sad. Mostly I’m sorry Gramma because I know you tried really hard to love me when no one else would. I’m sorry I let you all down. I’m sorry but I’m just tired of all the hate.
“I’m tired and want to sleep forever but maybe I will wake up in Heaven and there will be no hate there and only love. No one will call me bad names or hit me or remind me of my accidental place here.
“Everyday I watch the news and see the hate against people like me and I realize I have no future. This country I don’t recognize anymore hates me and makes laws to punish me just because I’m gay.
“They hate me because I love too much and love too wrong. I learned that my kind of love is bad. I heard it enough to believe it a long time ago.
“Everyday someone comes along that tells me that I am worthless and my love, how I love, who I love is an affront to God as if anyone truly knows God’s mind.
“I love beautiful things and I cry when they are gone. There is no more beauty left in the world. It has been replaced with this alien thing called hate. Bad people killed all the beautiful things. This is not a world I want to live in.
“This is my choice the only choice I was ever given and it is mine alone.
“I love you but I won’t miss any of this and I don’t think in the end I will be missed much at all in a world that looks at me like I’m something dirty they found on the bottom of their shoe.
“I’m sorry I was weak and that I loved too much. “Max [sic]”
What I would give to have conversations with Jamel and Max. Today. What I would give to pull little brown-eyed, curly haired Jamel in to my arms, and tell him how brave and wonderful I think he is. That he is made in the image of God, and that he brings God great pleasure.
And Max. Incredibly intelligent, and empathic Max. Max who is comforting those who are losing him, when he is in his greatest amount of pain. When his life is ending, he is making sure the people who mattered most, knew it.
I break over these stories. Their deaths are unnecessary. It is easy not to think of these issues, and somehow bring the bible in to this with suggestions about choices and God’s design.
It is never God’s design for other people to have such little options in any grasp of God’s love that they belittle their humanity so severely to death.
It is never God’s will that someone take their life because their secrets are forcing them to walk planks of dead end despair, and self hatred.
It is never God’s will for a child to hear in a church that there is any detail about them that can, in ANY way separate them from God’s love and send them to hell.
It is never God’s will for a parent to find their child hanging from a noose and live with that image as the last time they saw their child.
In the course of my ambition to end my life, there was mercy. To this day, I can feel the despair of what my 17 year old self was facing. The terror of wanting desperately to be someone different, while carrying the weight of not knowing how to change, but willing to try anything.
I am glad I am here. I am thankful that I found enough curiosity in the world, and strength in myself to break away from these old messages. There is a guilty gratitude that I am here, and somehow am not able to speak with Jamel or Max. Maybe today some gay teen finds this, and is lacking the much needed support to understand that his/her value is needed and wanted on this earth. That by hanging on they will be able to add a unique perspective to pain being transformed into pleasure.
Wherever you are out there, I was there too. What you don’t have now, you can build.
But, you have to be here to be the force the world needs.
Be well! I am fighting for each of you…
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