The continuation of my article from last month:
I stood in my lawn chair looking out at the swarm. "How many people do you think are here?" someone asked me.
"I don't know! What does a million guys look like?" I shot back.
A mass of humanity, with the male gender representing probably 97%, had descended on Washington D.C. This was October 1997, and Leo, Jot, another Jamie, and myself were here for Promise Keepers. By getting there early, we managed to get pretty close to the stage. Jumbo-trons were scattered about behind us.
To pass the time before the event started, we talked and played Rook, using the cooler as a card table. We got bored of that after a while and, remembering an incident at a concert, one of my friends dared me to provoke the crowd into yelling.
Like a sine wave, I have fluctuated wildly between extrovert and introvert. Since accepting my sexuality, I have definitely gone the way of introvert. A combination of fear of rejection and the need to understand myself have caused me to shy away from people this past year. My brother, who doesn't know I'm gay, even asked if I was becoming a hermit.
But back then, I was feeling particularly outgoing. So I stood in my lawn chair, got the people's attention, and yelled the incredibly deep and meaningful statement, "God is great!"
The crowd is supposed to respond, "All the time!" Then I (or whoever was leading this) would yell it back as a question, "All the time?" Finally the crowd would shout their answer, "God is great!" and then we'd start over.
So here I was, a deeply closeted 23 year old gay guy totally absorbed with an ultra-conservative church, being the youth director at another very conservative church, and in love with my friend Leo whose mom routinely visited the state capital to persuade lawmakers to vote anti-gay on everything.
"God is great!"
"All the time!"
"All the time?"
"God is great!"
The dual truths that I wrote about it my last article were bearing down on each other. At that moment, it must have caused my world to tremor because I lost my balance and tipped the lawn chair over. I came crashing down on the guy sitting on the ground beside me. While I was apologizing outwardly and cursing myself inwardly, a friendly-looking, well-fed, black man started up the next round of vocal participation. With his deep voice, he made a complete song using but one word: "AAAAAAA men, AAAAAA men, A-A-A-A-AAAAAAAmen." The crowd, my friends, and I quickly caught on.
A few months later, a game called StarCraft came out. It had been a while since the last time Leo and I had played computer games over at his house. The day it came out, he bought a copy and called me up. I went over and we played till 3 a.m. We were huddled around the monitor with the lights dim. I guess I so wanted to put my arm around him that my brain finally mistook the thought for a command. I didn't even try to play it off as a "how ya' doing buddy" type gesture. No, this is where my arm belonged.
The next day I was so worried that I had somehow thrown the closet door open and leapt out with authority. I loved my relationship with Leo, but looking back now, those two and a half years that we worked and played together were somewhat strange. It was like I was a gay mime or something. We would "flirt" but never talk about it. Leo, for his part, would try sometimes. He started dropping the word 'gay' a lot, as in "that is so gay." Whenever I'd do something at work like clean up or something, he would say that I would make a good wife. Yes, I know that is both sexist and misuse of terminology, but I still thought it was cute. Leo, by the way, is no more or less "masculine" than I am. We both played softball for church and the company team. I could hit the ball further than he could, but he played much better defense. At work we would stare into each other's eyes when we talked. I would brush his hand whenever I handed him stuff.
If you remember from my last article, I had graduated college and was working full time. Leo was still in school, working part-time. Once, I asked him what he would have majored in if he hadn't chosen electrical engineering. He said that he might have gone into liberal arts but that he didn't want to be gay.
I don't know how many of you can relate to this or not. Does everyone else realize that they are gay at 15 and just accept it? At some level I realized I was attracted to boys instead of girls. But dammit, Pinocchio had to be a REAL boy! Didn't his creator wish for that?! All I had to do was behave myself, listen to Pastor Jiminy Cricket, and soon I would be a real boy. But if I stared too long at Leo my friggin nose grew!
One of my friends that I had made from the University of Kentucky was a guy named Curtis. Everyone says he looks like Drew Carey. Curtis had also gotten a part-time job as youth minister at a small Baptist church. Since each of our groups had around eight teenagers, we would sometimes team up and have a bigger group. We went on a fun trip to Gatlinburg, Tennessee together. It was neat because I was only a few years older than the guys and girls in my group and people couldn't tell who the leader was. Two years ago I got carded for buying sparklers at a gas station! What?!
Curtis and I once joined youth groups and did a True Love Waits service. If you are not familiar with this, basically it is talking openly about dating, sex, and commitment. In the end, teenagers decide if they want to sign a card that says the following:
Believing that true love waits, I make a commitment to God, myself, my family, my friends, my future mate, and my future children to be sexually abstinent from this day until the day I enter a biblical marriage relationship.
'Biblical' is used to exclude any marriage that is not a relationship between one man and one woman. I might write about that sometime, but for now let me just note that the bible also includes many marriages in which the man had more than one wife at the same time.
As part of the service, we divided the guys and girls up. I had a friend come meet with the girls during this time, while Curtis and I spent time with the guys. We gave everyone a couple strips of paper and asked them to write down any questions they might have. Then we collected them all and Curtis and I took turns pulling a question out of the bowl, reading it, and discussing. Some questions were about non-traditional orifices. I got the question on masturbation. I breathed a sigh of relief that nobody asked about gays. Of course, the irony here was that a deeply closeted gay guy was trying to answer wide-eyed teenage boys' questions regarding the opposite sex. For the most part, however, my role in the discussion was getting the guys to see the need for sexual integrity. Sometimes talking about sexual integrity makes people feel like their freedom is being taken from them. I think sexual integrity frees you; it frees you to take intimacy and trust to new heights with someone you are in love with.
Anyway, at the time I was by no means ready to accept myself as gay, let alone suggest that perhaps God would be willing to approve of a faithful, stable, and loving same-sex relationship. No, I was fighting this. I had accepted what I thought were all the answers-homosexuality is wrong; the bible says so. That Sunday, when I stood before the church of 100 or so people where I served as youth director, I stated that God ordained the institution of marriage to be between one man and one woman for life.
Despite my feelings for Leo, I think at the time that my greater love was that of acceptance. The need to be accepted is perhaps one of the most powerful needs we humans experience. Meeting this need explains a lot of our less than noble behavior. Two years ago I didn't understand God's acceptance so I confused it with acceptance from other Christians-in this case, Southern Baptists. I was a member in the college department of one of the largest Southern Baptist churches in my city, with an average attendance of 1200. On Sundays when I got out of that church, I drove fifty miles to the little church and worked with their youth. I didn't see this as work though. I enjoyed it.
The big church, where most of my friends went, including Leo, was very much into politics. The topic of homosexuality was like the Superman figurine in Seinfeld-you could bank on it appearing somewhere in every service. Here are some examples:
The morning service around July 4, 1998 during a Carmen video shown to everyone:
They are coming out of the closet, so we Christians should come out of the closet and say "No more!"
The pastor during a morning worship service:
If you're gay I want you to know that God tells me I'm supposed to love you as a person but I HATE YOUR SIN!
A deacon during a business meeting about the church using Microsoft's operating system on their new computers:
I think I should bring it to everyone's attention before we vote that the business in question supports homosexuals.
A guest preacher during the morning worship service in December, 1998:
I don't know what kind of depraved mind it takes to choose that lifestyle.
The pastor during morning worship services:
America is on the threshold of divine judgement from God Almighty for its sinfulness of homosexuality.
God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.
We must tell our elected officials to pass the Defense of Marriage Act to save God's divine institution from ungodly homosexual activists who want to destroy the family.
A minister's prayer in the morning worship service after sexual orientation was officially added to the list of items that people could not be discriminated against in the areas of housing and employment:
Lord, we know that our city has passed some laws that are not pleasing to you.
I remember statements like these. I remember the chorus of "Amen"s that echoed them. There was rejection to no end if you happened to be gay.
One summer, my boss sent Leo and I up to Cincinnati to install some hardware on conveyors. He asked us if we wouldn't mind sharing a hotel room while we were up there for three days. YES! THAT WOULD BE GREAT! Uh, I mean, yeah sure, I suppose that would be ok.
We went out and bought some tools the weekend before. Leo picked me up very early Monday morning. I about got sick on the way up there. I think it was a result of my incredible fear of rejection. I worried about crossing some point in our relationship that would cause him to turn on me and yell, "What are you, gay?" I worried about being rejected by fellow Christians, by society, by family, and by God. And why shouldn't I (or Leo, if he was like me) fear all that? I was constantly being bombarded with what was causing my inner hatred of myself. Friends at church made gay jokes. The teacher of the college Sunday school class would get laughs by imitating a queer and talking in a high voice. Curtis and his friends made it plainly known their disgust with homosexuals. One of my grandmothers (who may have suspected something with my utter lack of interest in dating girls) once, while I was around, casually said to the dog, "We will have no fags in this family." So whatever excitement I had about being with Leo was met with an equal amount of fear.
What did I want to happen anyway? I don't know, maybe while talking something would happen and a mutual kiss would break the spell-free the words that were trapped behind a wall of fear.
That did not happen, of course. We ended up getting into an argument over something on the second day and didn't talk for hours. We made up though before having to come back home.
That was June, 1998. As I have been writing this column, I have been looking at pictures in my album. Picture of friends I don't see anymore. Pictures where we went skiing. Pictures where we hung out. Pictures of us acting goofy.
Yesterday, I was in my boss' office at work. He keeps a photo album in his closet. As I thumbed through it, I found a close-up shot of Leo and me. None of my own pictures were of just us. I sighed as I stared at it for a moment. It had been taken last year before he left the company and I left the church.
I stole that picture.