God, I'm uhhh... I'm gay.
Oh - My - Self!!!
Wait, how can you be shocked if you're omniscient?
Well, there is a difference between "knowing" from observation and "knowing" from being told. Yeah, I do know everything that can be known - in both the realms of fact and emotion... and yet, people tell me nothing.
In January 1999 my college class from church went to Snow Shoe, West Virginia for our annual ski trip. We had a group of twenty people or so. When the vans pulled up to our motel, everyone started making their way to one of the rooms. I ended up in front of a door with Leo and two other guys. When they handed us the key, we walked in and the other guys threw their stuff on the far bed. This left one bed for me to share with Leo.
In general, sleeping arrangements tend to be a big deal for us humans. Writers and movie producers make use of this all the time. For example, unusual sleeping arrangements can be used to introduce tension or comedy into their story. The audience easily relates to the situation because we all spend close to a third of our lives asleep and each night (or day) we have to find a place to lay our head. We balk at the idea of sleeping next to most people and yet are thrilled with the thought of sleeping next to some people.
I was a part-time youth minister for three years, and when I took my teenagers on weekend trips I certainly played by the "straight" set of rules. Everyone is familiar with them - this area is where the boys sleep and the girl's room is over there. The presence of chaperons helped everyone to remember that relationships should advance slowly. If there was an area in which I was naïve in, it was this one. Some of the teenager's parents suggested that I should be more attentive to how close "Billy" was getting to "Stacy." I suppose my being gay made me somewhat nearsighted to such things.
So anyway, now the roles were reversed. I was with my college group and it was us who were being "chaperoned". On college retreats, use of the term "chaperon" would be inappropriate since we're all adults now. Still though, this was an official church outing and somebody had to be in charge.
I probably should have made it a point to "stack the cards" so that it ended up I wasn't sharing a bed with Leo - the one person that, time after time, I fantasized about sleeping next to. If you have read my last two articles, you will recall that everything in me tells me that Leo is gay. Not only that, but I believed that he had feelings for me. Still though, I worried about crossing some point in our relationship that would cause him to turn on me and yell, "What are you, gay?"
I like reading Oasis columns (and now contributing my own) because I know that you all understand the unique "difficulties" of being gay and living in a straight world. Society has "rules" set up to keep boys and girls out of "trouble". Boys and girls don't share locker rooms, public restrooms, or beds when going on a group retreat. Marriage is the one thing that, for the two people involved, puts the rules aside. For that reason, I can understand why straight people like to think everyone else is attracted to - and only to - the opposite sex. Anything else upsets the balance that the "straight" rules are meant to keep.
Anyway, here I was in a rather small hotel bed with the person I was in love with lying within arm's reach. Surely the universe itself was aware that the only thing keeping it from being made new that night was my arm not being around Leo while we slept side by side.
Well now, who was I to keep the universe from being made new?
Falling in love is an odd thing. Little children sneer at the idea of ever falling in love.
Teenagers struggle with differentiating puppy love with the committed kind. Singles sometimes feel like misfits in a married world, worrying that they will never fall in love, and sometimes becoming bitter. To older couples who have been together forever, I suspect falling in love was the beginning of a long journey. For God - a being who once declared in third person, "For God so loved the world..." - love is not just something he experiences. He goes as far as to define himself by the word. Our grandfatherly image of God is challenged when we read his passionate words found in Hosea: "How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused."
In our relationships, I suppose it could be argued that romantic love in its infancy is closer to lust than it is to love. I really don't know. Perhaps members of another society would insist that an arranged marriage, where the individuals work it out despite differences, cumulate in real love more often than the romantic kind. Of course, a society that practices arranged marriages would probably be incredibly intolerant of people who were same-sex attracted.
I certainly wasn't composing this mini-thesis on the nature of love while I was lying in the bed next to Leo. My head was spinning. I had never come out to anyone and, at this point in my life, I really couldn't see myself coming out anytime soon. I just didn't know how to TELL Leo that I was gay, TELL him that I was attracted to him, and ASK if he was gay all at the same time. So it makes perfect sense that, after a few hours of lying awake in the dark, I went right ahead and tried to snuggle up to him, huh?
Leo sure was acting happy the next morning as everyone got up to get ready for skiing. But later (to my utter horror) he told the others in the van that I had been stirring all night and lying against him. I didn't know what to say and apparently neither did anyone else. One girl though, who was new to our Sunday school class, looked at me and said, "Way to go." Then the conversation was quickly changed.
Leo, however, was determined to bring it up again. That would have been fine if it had just been us. When we got back from skiing later that night, while we were sitting in our room with some of our other friends, Leo plainly told them that I had practically tried to cuddle with him. He said it in such a way so that no one would think HE was weird. This time it got a response. One of the girls gave me a confused look and asked, "Is he talking about you?"
I panicked, grabbed the doorknob to my closet, and jerked it back shut. "You're imagining things!" I shot back at Leo. Embarrassed and angry, I left the room and went to one of the other rooms where some friends were playing cards.
To make things even more confusing, on the trip back to the ski resort the next day, Leo sat next to me in the mini-bus and, pretending to be asleep, leaned in until his head was resting on my shoulder. Maybe he really was dozing off. Anyway, I gave him a jolt to wake him back up. Now, 18 months later, I'd give almost anything to have him rest his head on my shoulder.
Four weeks later - on January 31, 1999 - the Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention published its first ever lesson devoted entirely to homosexuality. I had known it was coming up for several months. Would I sit there quietly and take the condemnation? That would probably seem odd considering that I regularly contributed my opinion in our class. I decided that I would skip. I knew I would be condoning their spiritual violence towards gay people, but I also knew that I wasn't at a point where I could face my friends with this. I wasn't ready to be that black person who decided she shouldn't have to give up her seat on a bus to a white person. I wasn't ready to be that black father who gave his boy permission to sit in the front rows of the church instead of trying to convince him the back rows were better. I wasn't ready to be that minister who suggested that women could also serve as pastors. I wasn't ready to do anything that really challenged the majority view - especially if it involved me gambling on my acceptance.
To be sure, that says volumes about what I "really" put my faith in.
As that Sunday loomed on the horizon, I became increasingly aware of how much of a fake I was being. If you read my last article, then you know the types of things that were said about gay people in my church. Their view of God leaned heavily towards the wrathful side and gays made for an easy target. Especially so since no one dared suggest otherwise.
That Saturday, I decided that I would indeed be present for tomorrow's lesson and that I would not just be spoon-fed someone else's interpretation.
I had been reading Oasis for a few months at this point. I had also bought Mel White's book "Stranger at the Gate" a while back from Amazon.com. I printed out stuff off the web, including some Oasis articles, and kept them in a binder. When I went to church the next morning, I took that binder with me.
I had put much thought into what I was going to say. I had stayed up past 2 a.m. the previous night planning. I was nervous, but more confident than when I first accepted that I was gay. When I arrived, one of the guys asked me if I knew what the lesson was on. He knew already and I think he sensed that I might be hiding a different opinion. Homosexuality had been brought up once over dinner at Wendy's. I guess I given the impression that maybe I didn't agree with the position our church held. It was an impersonal discussion of course - I didn't want to be a social leper by letting people know I had different attractions.
After prayer requests had been taken, announcements made, and visitors introduced, the lesson started. My friend Matt began by reading questions from the book. They were the standard ones: Is homosexuality acceptable? etc. Almost unanimously, everyone chimed in "no." When our teacher Danny took over, I raised my hand.
I said that during this discussion, in wanting to find truth about homosexuality, in wanting to get beyond the cliché "God created Adam and Eve - not Adam and Steve" that I was going to take a position that differed significantly from what was written in the lesson.
The room got absolutely quiet. To make it even more intense, Leo walked in right as I had begun. After a moment, Danny nodded slowly, clearly taken by surprise. Our class discussions rarely got even remotely controversial. On this day, it got really controversial. If it hadn't been for me, it would have been a normal meeting. And I wasn't arguing anything too radical! I was just saying that people who are same-sex attracted should probably accept it and move on. I wasn't arguing for gay marriage or gay sex or anything. My opinion on those things weren't clear yet.
No one even stood next to me in my view that same-sex attraction is not a sin. They wanted to just use the word homosexual and even argued that the attraction itself was a sinful desire caused by not believing the truth of God. The tension between Danny and me (something I desperately had hoped to avoid) was rising. At one point, he questioned my understanding of what attraction is.
"I KNOW what attraction is!" I shot back. And when he said for me to explain my attraction, I stated, "I am attract..."
Someone interrupted with a comment.
Then someone said that God wouldn't make someone gay. It was a remark that I myself had once voiced - only I had been trying to convince myself, not someone else.
Then, just like that, the hour was over. I couldn't help but feel like something big had just changed. I got some odd glances on the way out and I wondered if everyone "knew." Surely if anyone else was gay, their gaydar would have been pegged.
For various reasons - the sake of church unity, friendships, because Leo still went there, wanting to leave but not wanting to leave - I stayed for another seven months. Then that summer, Lexington was voting on a fairness ordinance. If passed, it would make it illegal to discriminate based solely on sexual orientation in the areas of housing and employment. It became the mission of many of the churches to insure that this fairness ordinance did not pass. Leading the way was my church. They passed out flyers during the "worship" service. They had members call the city officials. The opinions page in the newspaper became a battleground, swelling to twice its usual side.
After much debate, the city council passed the ordinance. At my church, one minister prayed, "Lord, we know our city has passed laws that are not pleasing to you."
That same summer, Lexington was in the middle of a big drought. On August 22, in the morning service, our preacher suggested that God was withholding rain from the city because of its wickedness in passing this fairness ordinance. Keep in mind that this was not a church whose members were a handful of zealots. This was a church with an average attendance of over a thousand people - one of the largest in Lexington.
On that day, I decided there would be one less member.
Next month, I will finally bring this story up to the present. I also hope to write about an event I'm going to called WoW 2000. You can visit their website at www.wow2k.org. It will be my first-ever gay gathering! Thanks for reading and writing.