We live in a society where we feel that as individuals, nothing can shape us or harm us. We are free thinkers only influenced by what we want to be influenced by. The reality is, that is totally false.
Erik Erickson was a developmental psychologist who proposed that a person grows through different life stages. At each turning point, there needs to be room to have an “identity crisis.” This allows for the individual to adapt—or not—to their circumstances. Different stages can be revisited if the internal struggles are not acknowledged. The success of a person’s development is affected by outside influences.
As a person who has grown up in Christian culture and is of a homosexual orientation, I have come to realize that I have never fully been able to trust until this year. And I am 27 years old.
My dad was in the military until middle school and then became a pastor. The fear of the Lord and rigidity of religious rules weighed heavy in the household. Matters of faith and theology were never to be questioned.
Before I even started thinking about my sexual orientation, I happened to become friends with a guy who was “out” in my freshman year of high school. We communicated through letters, and eventually I gave him my number. My dad found out who he “was,” and I was instructed not to associate with “people like that.” The friendship ended.
My dad became vocal about Disney supporting the gays. As a family, we joined the boycott against Disney and “those homosexuals.” I remember hearing about the Matthew Shepard murder and started wondering why the Church hated gay people.
After high school, I started working at a Christian bookstore. Employees were allowed to take books home to read and return them at their leisure. I snuck a copy of Desires in Conflict, a book published by an ex-gay ministry. I remember seeing the “gay” spectrum. I thought to myself that I wasn’t that gay and maybe could move closer to heterosexuality. The next week, a co-worker made a comment about the flamboyant men who purchase the gay books. I laughed it off and wondered if he knew.
A year later, I attended a short-term Bible school in Spain. After numerous suicidal nightmares, I walked to the beach and yelled at God. I needed Him to show His face, to give me mercy and love because the Christians I knew hated people like me. The next morning, my ability to soak in Scripture was like night and day. God had showed up, but my secret was kept to myself in fear of others.
I started to become honest with others at 22 years old. I came out to my professor through an assignment I had written, and also to many friends. An immense fear of others resurfaced, and I started to hate myself again for my orientation. My college friends showed me love, but I knew it was time to tell my family. Before heading to Georgia, I kept watching Valerie’s story in V for Vendetta. She shared this: “I remember how the meaning of words began to change. How unfamiliar words like ‘collateral’ and ‘rendition’ became frightening, while things like Norsefire and the Articles of Allegiance became powerful. I remember how ‘different’ became dangerous. I still don’t understand it, why they hate us so much.”
My worst fear of being thrown out of the family did not happen. However, I was left deeply damaged. Questions arose like, “How did we raise you?” or “Have you prayed enough?” or “Your friend, Toby, is he your lover?” Yes, I knew how I was raised; yes, I prayed relentlessly for this to stop; and no, Toby was not my lover, nor had I ever had one.
Despite my suicidal ideations, I headed to Costa Rica for a year-long internship. I was upfront about my “struggles,” which led to being questioned about male friendships that developed. I had to have surgery while in Costa Rica, which resulted in easy access to pain medication. The medication caused hallucinations, and my four-year struggle of suicidal thoughts became a reality as I consumed a cocktail of pills. The 30-minute race to the hospital was accompanied by the director, his wife and my roommate. With an unpredictable heartbeat, I kept saying, “The man said, ‘Homosexuals must die. Homosexuals must die. They are all going to hell.’” I was put on schizophrenic medication and two months later went on to finish my final year of college. Deeply broken, I partook in some prayer counseling, which was immensely helpful until it turned into reparative therapy to change my attraction to men. The American Medical, Psychiatric and Psychological Associations are all in agreement that reparative therapy is harmful to clients. Why are evangelicals still doing this? After a few sessions, I stopped going. I questioned if there was a place for me in the Body of Christ.
In 2010, Jennifer Knapp released Letting Go, which spoke directly to the emotions I had. Lyrics like I’m the one who keeps it on the inside / so they’ll leave me alone radiated what I lived by, just so I could have normal relationships with people.
In October 2011, I read Love Is an Orientation by Andrew Marin. He placed emphasis on the Gospel and not orientation. Christ’s love and acceptance goes way beyond this. I stopped viewing my sexual identity as something to fight against. As a result, I am off all medications, suicidal ideations have stopped, and I lost the 45 pounds that I’d gained in less than two years. I finally began to trust in myself and who God is.
The highest at-risk group for suicidal behaviors is found in celibate, self-identified homosexual males at 46.1 percent with an attempt rate at 15.5 percent. I am both of those statistics. Do I remain celibate? If I do, how do I gain a sense of community? Even the idea of having a guy roommate results in Christians telling me to “warn” my roommate about “who I am.” I am then questioned about whether I will be “tempted.” Should I be forced to live alone, like a leper?
The environment we are in has great impact on who we become. Christian culture can help a person flourish into who God wants them to become or burn them alive. I love my family and consider myself God’s son. Christian culture has influenced me to remain celibate, but I don’t “struggle” anymore. I just question if I am remaining celibate to appease my evangelical family or friends and wondering if that statistic will reappear in my life.