Last week a reader sent me this email. Its subject line was “Trying not to hate myself for being gay.”
I’m writing this because you seem like a compassionate person who will listen to what I have to say. There are few people I know who are willing to listen to me without preaching. I get so...sick of constantly having to defend, to give an excuse for who and what I am.
More than anything, I just want to be heard. I feel like I am never heard.
A little about me: I am 23-years-old, the son of a prominent, powerful ministry family. My father has been a strong advocate for the ex-gay movement, and has worked closely with many of the founding ex-gay leaders. Of course, I turn out gay.
I want to be okay with what I am. I want to tell myself that my humanity is not broken, damned, and diseased. It doesn’t take a genius to discern that I am a deeply homophobic person . . . but I don’t fear homosexuality in other people. I hate and fear it in myself. I was raised being told that homosexuality is a disease; that it will bring the downfall of America and Western Civilization; that I will go to hell. I’m still so fucking scared of hell.
I want all this to change, to stop being afraid. I have come frighteningly close to going to a ex-gay ministry to just see if it is possible to change. Please tell me that that is a bad idea. Three weeks ago, I tried to go to bed. Instead, I cut myself brutally, and just sat in bed crying, crying, crying. I couldn’t stop crying. I was overwhelmed with the desire to cut too deep. Instead, I went out for a long walk until the desire passed. That was far from the first time I ever wanted to kill myself because of this issue. I feel lost. I’ve felt lost for years now, and I don’t know how to stop feeling lost. I am afraid that if I keep living like this, I will end up doing something terrible to myself. I don’t think I will ever commit suicide, but I could easily get into hard drugs and other shit. Please, please try to convince me that it is okay to be gay. I’m sick of living like this.
Dear Guy Who Wrote Me This:
When I was seventeen years old, I was lost. I couldn’t live at my parents’ house; I didn’t know how to live on my own; I wasn’t attending high school anymore. I was just a mess. I had a friend I hadn’t known long, a guy two years older than I. This friend reached out to me. He joined up with me to rent my (first!) apartment; he supported me financially whilst I flailed around at crappy jobs; he encouraged me in my writing. He was gay. I had no idea that was true; if he had told me of it I wouldn’t have known what it meant. Neither he, nor any of his gay friends—who also supported and loved me—ever hit on me, or … in any way tried to make me gay, or whatever. Just nothing in that regard. I was straight; those guys knew it; sex was just literally never an issue.
My friend was a friend. A friend who saved my life.
When I was a kid, my dad, a true ham-bone, was Joe Amateur Theater: he was always acting in local plays. One of his fellow thespians was a man named Dallas. Dallas was an extraordinary actor: the first true actor I ever knew. I didn’t realize it at the time—I was eleven, twelve years old; now I can see what my mom and dad meant by their little innuendos about his personal life—but Dallas was gay.
Dallas had a problem: offstage he was profoundly—clinically, I would say—shy. My parents often threw the cast parties for their plays at our house, and during them Dallas would invariably situate himself in the near darkness of the hallway that led out of our dining room and back into the bedrooms, and for the entire party just stay there, alone, basically pasted against the hallway wall.
During one such affair I ventured out of my bedroom, and in the shadows started a little chat with Dallas. All of sudden he sort of started talking to me. He mostly kept his eyes down, but during our chat he would every once in a while look up, and just blaze his eyes into mine for a moment before looking back down.
He talked to me—whispered to me, really—about art. He talked about how essentially dangerous art is, or can be, for the born artist, since it demands, or certainly invites, total surrender to its power. He talked about how art already is—how the artist’s job is to find the art that is there waiting to be discovered, and to then align himself to it, and never look back.
“As you can see, I’m not a terribly social person,” he fairly mumbled, eyes to the floor.
“But you’re such a great actor,” I said.
He looked up at me. “Because I become someone else. That’s me, catching the art train.”
Dallas’ words that night meant a lot to me. They helped form my entire philosophy and understanding of art. They’ve informed pretty much every word I’ve ever written.
When I was in college, a gay professor of philosophy offered to allow me, under his auspices, to essentially study independently: he set up this thing where, as an undergraduate, I could engage in what amounted to independent graduate work. He really put himself out, both professionally and personally, so that I could do that.
When I was in my early thirties, a gay friend of mine was the first Christian I ever knew who was deeply knowledgeable about Christianity: he was intimate with its entire history. He taught the philosophy of Christianity. He made me respect Christianity in a way I didn’t even know was possible.
If you believe nothing, friend, believe this: I could go on for books about the good gay and lesbian people who have so personally and directly enriched my life that without them I don’t know what I’d be today. All I know, for sure, is that I’d be a lot worse a person.
If you ruin yourself—if you denigrate yourself, if you feel shame for yourself, if you allow yourself to believe that because you’re gay you’re intrinsically less worthy than people who aren’t—then how are you ever going to be for anyone else what so many gay people have been for me?
You need to save yourself so that you can save others, gay and straight.
About gays and homosexuality your father is terribly, terribly, absolutely wrong. That doesn’t make him an a__hole; it doesn’t make him mean-spirited; it doesn’t make him homophobic. But on this issue the man couldn’t be more wrong if he climbed atop the roof of his house and started screaming through a bullhorn about how two plus two equals nine.
Hell is an unbelievably toxic notion born of nothing but fear, natural guilt, and mythology; God created gay people the same as straight. About hell and gays your father is wrong; Christians who share his beliefs are wrong—and the whole world of ex-gay ministries has exploded apart, since even the people who used to head them are now, seemingly en masse, telling the world that such “ministries” work like duct tape on the sinking Titanic.
You don’t cure being gay—anymore than you “cure” being left-handed, or … enjoying food.
And when God looks down for people to consider smiting, he doesn’t look to gay people. He looks to people who are using him to convince gay people that they are losers, shameful, abominable. Those are the people who make God rethink his promise about not just washing all of humanity off the planet and starting over again.
Do not cry. Do not cut yourself. Do not fear that God will send you to hell for being gay. Do not worry that you shouldn’t be gay.
You should be. You are. It’s not a problem.
Lots of people are gay, and they love themselves just fine. Lots of Christians are gay, and they don’t see any problem there at all.
We’re out here. You just need to shake off the dumbass history with which you’ve been inculcated, close your eyes for a moment in order to feel the truth of God within you loving you—and then come on, baby, into the bright, warm light.
Please: join the party.
Image Flickr antonio skilton