These column deadlines come way too soon ... once again, I'm sitting here on the day the column is due trying to put my thoughts together. Fortunately, this issue has a theme, so it won't be as difficult as it normally is.
The theme, as you've probably gathered, is something along the lines of "What has Oasis meant to me?" I first started reading Oasis in December of 1996, when I was out of a job for a month and had the time to surf around. I was stunned that there was a publication with columns by actual young people, most of whom were willing to identify themselves, that talked about the many struggles with being gay. I read all of it, and read all the back issues, and couldn't wait for more. Every month I would find comfort in knowing that there really were other people out there dealing with a lot of the same problems ... and I also learned quite a bit, about the realities of being gay in a straight world. I'd never had such a great, REAL source of information; I don't know any gay people, and nobody knows I'm gay (except for one person I met last month, which I'll talk about in a minute).
And so, I would eagerly read Oasis every month. In June of 1997, I became irritated after reading too many columns in a row about how people should just get over it, accept themselves, and live openly as they choose. At the time, I did not accept myself at all, and hated the fact that I was gay (still do most of the time). And so, I decided to write a column geared more towards those who don't accept themselves as gay, want to stay in the closet, etc. etc. I also wanted to emphasize my faith in God; Christianity, if not condemned in other columns, only received lip service. I don't know if I've stayed entirely true to that mission in subsequent columns, but I do know that I've received a lot of mail from people who feel the same way ... people completely in the closet, wanting to live straight but dying on the inside because they just can't. Some had excellent "success" stories, and shared their long journey to eventually accepting themselves. I've learned a great deal from these accounts, and they've helped me accept myself as gay (at least more so than I did when I first started writing).
In fact, the most valuable part of writing for Oasis has been the people I've "met" and correspond regularly with. Ron Belgau from Washington has been a true friend, and always makes time to write detailed (and very long!) responses to questions and issues that come up in our conversations. He has also researched, more thoroughly than anyone I've encountered, all of the spiritual and faith issues that surround being gay. I am also very grateful for Jim, Anthony, Brian, and Bryce ... all very supportive and thoughtful guys that I am thankful to call friends (and they're all very patient, since I'm usually the slacker that takes so long to write back).
I actually met Jim a couple of weeks ago, which is a pretty big deal, since it was my first face to face conversation with another person who knows I'm gay. I was pretty nervous about it ... not only had I never met someone blindly over the Internet before, but we were going to talk about being gay. Ironically, we met in a Russ's restaurant, the hangout of the most conservative element of our region. But the conversation went extremely well; Jim put me at ease. He was normal. Nothing to be afraid of, and a great discussion for several hours. It was so great to move beyond the limitation of email conversations. And now, I think, I will have an easier time doing that sort of thing in the future.
To summarize, Oasis has helped me grow quite a bit. I am more comfortable being gay, and I accept that God created me this way. I know there are people out there who have been through the same thing and will support me when I do decide to eventually come out. I am still angry, jealous, and hateful, but I'm learning to control all of that, with God's help. And I actually met another gay person face to face, something I could not even imagine just a few months ago.
I want to thank Jeff Walsh for all of the work he puts into this publication. And I want to thank him for providing a platform for all views. For a time, I feared that my columns might be censored or something, because they really aren't designed to help people come out, because I am not supportive of the behavior of many out gays, and because I don't buy into the mainstream gay rights movement. But he's never censored a word. That means the other extreme gets heard too, but I support free speech and open dialogue.
I hope Oasis continues to prosper and will help many more gay youth realize they are not alone.