Growing up, I thought about being gay all the time. That word was a constant fixture in my mind, and I usually associated it with intense feelings of fear, self-hatred, and sadness. I carried it around like my own personal bell jar. I still have shelves full of journals I kept as a teenager, most of which contain my personal struggles with homosexuality and fears about how I might be treated because of it. I thought my parents would hate me. I thought the world would treat me like a monster. I loathed it, and I knew there was nothing I could do about it.
Now that I’m an adult, I rarely think about being gay. I don’t think about my upcoming wedding as a gay marriage. I just think of it as a marriage. I don’t think about LB as my lesbian lover; I think of her as the person I love most in the world. The people in our lives don’t treat us like we’re gay. They treat us like two human beings who fell in love. The only time I’m reminded of the struggles I endured as an adolescent is when I’m approached with hateful ideologies about homosexuality. Or, when I meet someone who’s experiencing the same difficulties as I did years ago.
The other day, LB and I had dinner at a local restaurant on Oregon Pike in Lancaster. Living in this area has brought me nothing but happiness, so I sometimes forget that there are people who hate us because of our sexuality. We had an awesome dinner, and that restaurant is easily one of my favorite places to eat in Pennsylvania. But, going into the restaurant, I realized rather quickly that holding LB’s hand wouldn’t go over well with the other patrons. So, I didn’t. LB doesn’t even think about those things; she’s literally the most positive person I’ve ever met, and it’s such an admirable quality. But, even LB can’t shield me from the ignorance and cruelty that still plagues the world today.
I’m not interested in using my love to make a political statement, especially in that kind of environment. I won’t hide my sexuality but I won’t use it as a weapon either. Arguing with religious zealots and closed-minded conservatives has done nothing but teach me that it’s a total waste of time and energy. Their ignorance is stifling, and no matter how honestly you approach it or how much empirical evidence you produce, they will respond negatively. So, I didn’t give it another thought. We sat down at our table and talked quietly, until the server came over to take our order.
I couldn’t decide what to eat, so I asked her to suggest something. I told her I wanted something light because I have to fit into a (very tight) tuxedo in two weeks.
That prompted a short conversation about the wedding. She congratulated us and asked the usual wedding questions. It was just like every other conversation I’ve had about my wedding since we got engaged. But, shortly after, another server approached us. She was also young, still in high school, sweet, well spoken, with long hair…just a regular kid. She stopped at our table and said, “I don’t mean to be intrusive but my friend just told me that you two are getting married. And, I was wondering if I could ask you a question.” She seemed a little nervous, but also maybe relieved. I told her yes, of course. She asked, “How did you find the courage.” I wasn’t sure how to answer that question. “The courage to do what? Get married?” I asked. She paused for a moment before replying “Yes…” This is what I told her:
I wasn’t afraid to ask LB to marry me because every one in my life loves her and fully supports our relationship. But, when I was your age I was very afraid to come out because I wasn’t sure how it would be received. In fact, I was scared to death and totally depressed. It was absolutely miserable. But it got better. It does get better.
She shook her head in recognition, and at that moment I realized she wasn’t asking me how I found the courage to get married. She was asking how I found the courage to be gay. Then, LB found the courage to ask about her life. And, with tears in her eyes, this is what she told us:
I’m in love with my girlfriend, but we had to breakup because she doesn’t want her family to hate her. I can’t see her anymore. They’re very religious and they won’t allow her to be gay. I know she’s struggling and I’m having a really hard time dealing with it. Also, whenever I think about my future and getting married, I think about how other people will perceive my wedding. Will they even come? If they do, will they take it seriously? Will they hate us for it? It’s so overwhelming, and I just want to be happy and get married and live a normal life. But I’m gay.
I struggled to find the right words to console her in that moment. The restaurant was really busy and we didn’t have much time to talk. I tried to tell her that she will be OK, that her family will accept her relationship eventually. I tried to tell her that although it feels like the end of the world now, it’s really just the beginning for her. But, what I wanted to tell her was how hard it was for me to be gay when I was her age, and how easy it is now. I wanted to explain to her that so many people told me it was “unnatural” or that I would “go to hell”. I wanted to tell her that they said “no one would ever accept my relationship”, that I would never get married or have children. I wanted to tell her that they said if I acted on my “homosexual impulses”, I would live a miserable and God forsaken life. But what I wanted to tell her most of all is that they were wrong. They were all so very wrong. Those experiences plagued me for such a long time. But, not now. And, to be completely honest, there’s one single moment in my life that I can recall when I stopped fighting it and just let it be: when I decided to become Catholic.
I was 16 years old when I came out, and 20 years old when I converted to a religion that vehemently opposes homosexuality. It was 13 years ago, and even my best friend at the time felt that I should deny my feelings and live a life of celibacy. The interesting thing about that experience is that it changed me for the better. I still can’t explain it, but it’s the single experience in my life that allowed me to maintain faith in a higher power, despite other people’s negativity and my own intellectual doubts about religion. Once I accepted the religion, I accepted myself. I don’t know why. It just happened that way. And, the more I gave up control over my life, the less anxiety I had about it. I don’t know who took the reigns for me. Maybe it was God. Maybe it was the Universe. I have no idea. But, some one, some thing saved me from myself, saved me from other people, and saved me from living a miserable existence wrought with fear and insecurity about who I am. And then, my friends and family followed suit. After that, it was easy to find the courage to be gay.
So, in retrospect, I didn’t have the answers for that girl when she asked how I found my courage. It wasn’t bravery. It was desperation. I had no other choice. I was making myself miserable. I placed my faith in a higher power, fully expecting to be rejected and unwanted. But, somehow, that’s not what happened. Even so, converting to this organized religion didn’t give me more faith in God. It gave me more faith in myself. So how could I tell this girl to have faith in herself without also telling her to have faith in God? I couldn’t. I wanted to. But, I couldn’t.
From a young age, we’re taught to experience God based on other people’s perception of Him. From the Bible to the adults who preach it, we’re told what God thinks, who God wants us to be, and how we should feel about Him. It’s wildly irrational, for me anyway, that a personal relationship with God is based on other people’s interpretation of Him. If God exists, neither you nor I should be brazen enough to assume we know what he expects of one another. And, it’s NOT ironic that assuming this belief in God is the ONLY way to evade eternal damnation. Every religion in the world believes theirs is the only way. The Greeks and Romans sacrificed human beings in the name of their Gods. There have been at least 16 different saviors throughout history who have sacrificed themselves as the perceived Son of God. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems that anytime man becomes too intimately involved with God’s plan, the result is catastrophic.
In the Bible, Jesus was called blasphemous for telling the Romans he was the Son of God. That term was also used to crucify thousands of people throughout history. It’s still used to justify hatred, bigotry, and violence today. Fundamentalists would likely use that term to describe this very post. I guess they missed the memo about history repeating itself and learning from it and all that. In fact, there are still religious fundamentalists who openly refute the existence of more than one solar system and promote the idea that Geocentrism is still a legitimate school of thought. It’s astounding. We’ve known for 400 years that the Earth revolves around the sun, and yet, some people refuse to believe it because it doesn’t jive with the Bible’s description that we—and our planet—are the center of the Universe. Blasphemous? You tell me:
Four centuries ago, when a Dominican friar named Bruno shared his belief that the Earth rotated around the sun and was not the center of the Universe, he was imprisoned by the Church and burned at the stake. That was in 1600—ten years before Galileo announced his first observations with a telescope, which confirmed that Bruno was right.
The Roman Inquisition listed eight charges against Bruno based on his philosophical worldview. Before they murdered him, they charged him with believing in multiple worlds, denying the divinity of Jesus, denying the virgin birth, denying transubstantiation, practicing magic, and believing that animals and objects possessed souls. (I guess they hadn’t heard the good news yet: all dogs go to heaven). Overall, they accused him of blasphemy. But, he was right. Bruno’s worldview was more than just scientifically accurate. It was rooted in his unflinching faith in God. He believed that God and the souls of His people filled the entire universe. He was not denying God; he was opposing the Church’s limited interpretation of God’s creation. Clearly the story of Bruno hasn’t taught us very much, even so many centuries later.
There was a recent debate about creationism, where Ken Ham asserted that the world was literally created in six days and that the universe is 6,000 years old. We’ve found humanoid bones dating as far back 3 million years ago, and yet there still exists this limited interpretation of the Bible. Fundamentalists have spent the past two hundred years denying the existence of dinosaurs. Today, with irrefutable proof of their existence, many of them reason that Satan must have placed dinosaur bones on Earth to test their faith. How convenient.
But, it’s useless to debate something with someone who lacks the intellectual understanding required to grasp what you’re saying. It’s useless to argue with someone who is so deluded by a fundamentalist belief system that they’re willing to pervert the truth using folklore and mythological reasoning. And, then, teach it to their children. It’s like trying to reason with someone who is suffering from a severe mental illness. There’s just no way it’s going to happen. If we can’t have an honest conversation using real hard facts about the world, how can we have an emotional one about our common human experience? We can’t. So, like the Amish with the English, I ignore their existence altogether. It’s like they literally don’t exist. Figuratively speaking, these people are my fundamentalist dinosaurs.
When I was young, I openly encouraged honest dialogue with conservative Christians who opposed homosexuality. I felt like I had nothing to hide once I came out, and I was fucking tired of pretending. So, rather than ignore it, I tried to be as transparent as possible, expressing my fears and hopes, and talking openly about my sexuality. The truth is, I’ve been gay since I can remember. When you’re a child, that’s a difficult reality to accept. When I tried to express those feelings, I was usually met with intolerance. They didn’t leave any room for God or a spiritual relationship with Him. There were two kinds of people in my life: the people who told me God hated homosexuality, and the people who didn’t embrace religion. So, what was I left with? Be gay or have a relationship with God. But, I was already gay; that was never my choice to make. So, I had to choose to be happy.
Thirteen years later, the world has come a long way. And, perhaps I’ve just learned to ignore ignorance. I’ve learned that it’s virtually impossible to have an open, honest, transparent discussion with a fundamentalist about almost anything, especially homosexuality. I stopped asking. I stopped talking. And, I stopped caring. I showed myself some respect, and I put my faith in love. And, once I learned to trust myself—and my own propensity for goodness—I was free.
When the server left our table, LB was in tears. I laughed at her for a moment, surprised by her visceral reaction to the girl’s story, and then realized how seriously it had affected her. I asked her why she was crying. She said, “I just don’t understand. I have never experienced that kind of hate. So, I just don’t understand how people can put a young girl through so much suffering for absolutely no reason.” And, it struck me. I was so numb to it for so long that it didn’t even faze me. Although I have fully embraced my sexuality, I’m still prepared for the wrath of other people.
These people have no idea how much damage they cause to children all over the world. They have no idea how often their own blasphemy creates a rift between gay people and God. It’s so fucking easy for them to fling around their opinions, to denounce homosexuality, to tell the world what God thinks. It’s easy because it doesn’t mean anything to them. They can pretend to be some kind of heroic Christian warrior for God, filling up young minds with anti-gay rhetoric, and then go about their normal lives without ever considering the ramifications. They don’t have to struggle over it, to lose sleep over it, to hate themselves for it. A man once told me, “Maybe you hate yourself for it because you know it’s wrong.” But, the truth was, I hated myself for it because I cared what every one else thought. I hated myself for allowing ignorance, fear, and bias to control my life. I hated myself for not having the courage to be who I am. If I could re-do that moment at the restaurant all over again, I would say, “I didn’t find the courage”.
I didn’t find the courage to be gay. I didn’t find the courage to get married. And, I didn’t find the courage to overcome other people’s perception of me. But, lucky for me, other people did. My parents found the courage to love their child no matter what. My friends and family found the courage to stand up for me, to use my story to change the hearts and minds of other people. It wasn’t me who found the courage to love myself. It was the people who love me who found the courage to teach me—and the world around them—that I deserve to be loved.
The world is changing. But, that’s not because gay people have convinced conservative Christians that it’s OK to be gay. It’s because each generation is more educated than the last. It’s because the ignorance that causes fear-based bias and cruelty is fading away. Little by little, fear and hate are eradicated and replaced by acceptance. These generations, the living generations, are changing the world today. They question what people tell them. The only bias they project is intolerance for the ultra-conservative mindset and the hatred and cruelty it perpetuates. It’s not perfect. We’re not entirely there yet, but we are well on our way. And, each time someone like Jerry Falwell or Fred Phelps dies, that type of hatred dies right along with them. And, eventually all of those fundamentalist dinosaurs will be completely extinct. Until then, I have a wedding to prepare for, and a very happy married life ahead of me. And one day, “D”, you will too.