When I was fifteen, I attempted to hang myself in my bedroom closet.
As a partially sighted, fat, gay, kid, growing up in Arcadia, CA (the town where Focus on the Family was founded) I was an easy target for the bullies at my school. Verbal harassment was a part of my daily routine. Several students (ironically including one who would later become my brother-in-law following my brother’s marriage to his sister) had taken to physically harassing and intimidating me. I changed classes to try to get away from them, but it did not make things seem any better. So, I tightened around my neck, imagining the relief of choking to death and not having to deal with it all anymore. Thankfully, I misjudged my height. I managed to scare the [!] out of myself and bruise my neck/throat, but I didn’t die.
Rather than dying, I decided to bury myself in religion, devoting my energy to working as a leader in my church’s youth group. I tried to push my sexuality aside and devote myself to God. I convinced myself that my life was going to be too important for me to need a lover. I saw myself as a prophet charging headfirst into martyrdom, and I thought it would be unfair to bring anyone for the ride. i longed for celibacy, and I hated myself for continuing to have sexual urges. It was in this spirit that I buried myself deeply in the closet while a student at Westmont College. I was not trying to mislead anyone (not even myself). I wanted the passionate, purposeful, Christ centered life that Westmont promised. If that meant that I had to cut off my sexuality to do it, I was willing.
Several years later, after falling into stomach churning, heart stirring, undeniable love for friend (an achingly attractive, tragically heterosexual boy whose identity I’d prefer not to reveal), I finally admitted to myself that I was gay, and that my sexuality was not going away. As a young minister, this revelation was devastating for me. The only thing I wanted was to serve God, and I was entrenched enough in my evangelical faith to believe that this was impossible. I learned to hate myself, to hate God, to hate the church, and to push my closest friends away from me. I became so disgusted with my own body that ANY physical contact was threatening to me (one of my close friends, a girl, enjoyed giving me a hard time by poking me and watching me back away from the touch). I was at war with myself and sinking further and further into depression and self-hatred.
Around this time, as I was asking my friends what I should do, believing as a feminist that I could not ethically enter into a marriage where I would be unable to meet the needs of my wife for sex and intimacy and fearing that I did not have the strength to continue in celibacy, my first mentor — the man who taught me songwriting, the epitome of the Christian artist that I wanted to be — came out to me as ex-gay. Over the course of the next several months, I let screw with my mind and heart, praying with me for guidance and urging me to continue to prioritize my faith over against my body.
I tried. I desperately tried. I prayed to God. I begged for relief from my sexual desire. When that failed, I begged for God to just kill me in my sleep. I wept. I talked with my psychiatrist and some of my friends about the possibility of physical or chemical castration. I wept some more. I physically beat myself (and not in ways that I considered pleasurable).
The turning point came one night during my first unit of training as a hospital chaplain. My mom, who has been ill most of my life, was going in for extensive back surgery at UCLA Medical Center the next morning. Considering her fragile immune system, I was too weak to be able to see her before she went in for surgery, but it was the holidays and I was unable to get anyone to cover my on call at the hospital. That night, I got called in to host a viewing for the large family of a 40 year old man who had died in an auto accident. His grandmother, who had been his primary caregiver through much of his life, had had two of her grandchildren die over the course of a month. As I tried to comfort her, she expressed the thought that God was punishing her because she had refused to die of an illness from which she had suffered when she was 18. Something about her story broke what remained of my dysfunctional faith. I finally admitted to myself that I hated God, and if I was giving up on God I figured that I might as well at least accept my sexuality and finally come out as a gay man.
Thankfully, God was not done with me yet. Several dear friends were able to help me process my grief about my mother’s ongoing health woes, my anger at God and the church, and my emerging understanding of my sexuality. Looking back, I consider it a miraculous grace of God that I happened to find myself in social circles that involved a number of dedicated Christian allies of LGBT folk. Through their acceptance and empathy, I was able to vent my anger and realize that I could be accepted and loved as the partially sighted, fat, gay boy that I am.
Through these friends, I was connected with a professor of mine at Fuller Seminary who had accompanied Mel White through his own coming out process at Fuller. Following her advice, I visited Metropolitan Community Church of Los Angeles, where I was able to find a space where I could be accepted not only as the partially sighted, fat, gay boy that I am, but even as a partially sighted gay Christian whose theology was still more or less Evangelical. I still find it difficult to put into words the release and empowerment I was able to feel as I stood alongside two hundred other lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Christians and singing “let every breath and ALL that I am, never cease to worship you.”
The idea that I could worship God with my sexuality, and that I could use those parts of my experience that mark me as different as tools to serve God, completely transformed my life. For the first time in my life, I did not feel alone in worship. For the first time in my life, I began to believe at the core of my being, in every fiber of my body, that the God who made me loves me. I was able to release the anger, the hurt, the fear, and the pain. I was able to believe in God, and to dwell in God’s love. Rather than dedicating all of my energy to fighting myself for getting in the way of my ability to serve God, I was freed to serve God with all of myself.
Along the way, I have been moved by the strength and courage of so many LGBTQ Christians whose faith has persisted despite more painful stories than my own. Increasingly, I have learned how lucky I was as a child, despite the difficulties I faced in integrating my sexuality and spirituality. While my parents have not always known how to reconcile their love for me with their religious beliefs, they did not reject me when I came out to them as gay. I also realize that I am incredibly fortunate for the many friends who have been able to accompany me, and embody God’s love and acceptance for me, along the way. I realize that many people have not been so lucky. I also am grateful that my brush with ex-gay teaching did not send me as far down the rabbit hole as it has for many of my friends. While the many nights of weeping and self-harm that I endured seemed almost unbearable, I managed to maintain my grades and life throughout that period, thanks largely to the patience and support of my family and friends.
To the core of my being, I believe that releasing the distorted belief that God hated me and required me to bury or discard my body and my deepest longings for intimacy and connection saved my life.