Sunday, September 6, 2015

My Love Story

I Corinthians 13: 13
“And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

I started to notice boys' bodies around 4th grade. I started to feel self-conscious in the locker room, to dress in a corner so nobody would look at me, and more importantly, so nobody would catch me looking at them. The school building where I attended 4th and 5th grade had “gang showers,” a big room with shower heads all around and so you had to go in and get naked in front of everyone. No matter how sweaty we got in gym, I might wipe down my face, but never showered. I knew I wasn’t supposed to be checking out the other boys’ developing bodies, and I was already ashamed. In 6th grade, we got a new building, and the showers had dividers. I became the master of changing under my towel so nobody would look at me. And I was so fast, always trying to be the first one out of the locker room, running from what I deemed temptation to lust. On vacation, I would ride my bike to the General Store and peek at Playgirl when the shop assistant wasn’t looking, hiding it inside Architectural Digest and standing in the aisle of paper products. Then I’d ride my bike back to my tent and ask God to forgive my lustful thoughts. Even in middle school, I had no desire to look at the Playboy magazines. Nobody told me which magazines to want; I just knew.

As junior high and high school passed, messages about homosexuality were delivered at church and school. In Bible class Freshman year, we watched a video about homosexuality and AIDS, leading us to believe that to go down that path would not only be sinful, but also result in a horrible fight with disease and death. It was a blatent scare tactic. But what stood out to me more was the day we walked into English class, and I overheard 2 classmates discussing 1994’s Shawshank Redemption (which I was not allowed to see because of its R rating,) and one of my classmates said “Man, when that homo got what was coming to him, that was really awesome.” I got the message that gay was not also wrong, but also deserving of a beating and death, that to be gay would be to be hated. When another student greeted me in the hall one day lisping “Hey Dave” and flopping his wrist, I was distraught and remember writing in my prayer journal, “I AM NOT GAY!” I’ve written before how I sought to bolster my self-confidence by over-achieving. But I never quite got over my inadequacy in sports. I wasn’t masculine enough. One of my friends had to tell me that he was sorry that people were calling me “Girly Man,” borrowed from SNL sketches of the time.

To arrive at Taylor University and discover that there were other people my age who loved Phantom of the Opera, Chopin, Mozart and a capella music was heaven. Soon I was nerding-out with the best of the music nerds, sight-reading Victoria masses for fun, and studying for Music History tests in an attempt to have the highest grades (I did. J) Romance wasn’t really on my mind, but on one school trip, my roommate called me out, guessing that I was hiding a secret, and that it was my attraction to men. I didn’t understand how he could see through my defenses, but it was because he was struggling with the same thing. We talked about it a few times, and we both said that it wasn’t what we wanted. We wanted to be married with families. We wanted to follow God’s calling for our lives. I ran from him into the arms of a girl who was fun to hang out with and make out with, and then summer came. I prayed for God to take away my homosexual desires and at the same time to bring me a friend with whom I could be vulnerable, someone who would make me feel seen and heard.

I kissed a boy for the first time that summer after my freshman year of college. It was innocent and sweet, filled me with anxiety, and was everything I think a first kiss should be. It filled me with all kinds of confused feelings, and I told the boy I couldn’t see him anymore, which upset us both. I felt so much guilt for being older and feeling that I’d led him into sin. These are the feelings I don’t think should be attached to a first kiss. But I ran from this and pushed those feelings away successfully for a couple more years. Just like in High School, I filled my time with activities: choral groups, extracurriculars, student government, even volleyball, the sport that I’d always loved but which boys weren’t allowed to play at my HS. A “girls’ sport.”

During my senior year of college, while I was broken up with my girlfriend, a professor I loved and respected came onto me. I felt powerless to resist, and this led to even greater confusion. These feelings were good, but they were wrong, right? But I had nobody I could talk to. I told him I didn’t want to be gay or engage in this behavior, and I got back together with the girl. Then, on a choir trip, I recognized a kindred spirit in another student, and we had a brief affair, rumors of which made their way to the Dean’s office at school. I was put on probation. The best part of this was that I was required to attend counseling sessions for the remainder of the school year. I had an amazing counselor who helped me deal with the abusive relationship brought about by the incredible power imbalance between a professor and student. She did not preach to me about homosexuality. She listened and didn’t judge, and helped me work through my feelings. She helped me write to my parents and begin to open up about my lifelong “struggle” with homosexuality. Strongly grounded in my beliefs that this “lifestyle” was forbidden, I continued to meet with counselors and pastors for the next year, who attempted to give me tools to avoid temptation and fill up that void for intimacy in my life with prayer, Bible reading, and community.

Then I saw E*** at grad school. I asked someone who he was. He was a violinist, an undergrad. I’d pass him in the hallways and know I was blushing. I figured out a way to hire him for a gig I was staffing, and eventually worked up the courage to ask him on a picnic. I remember telling my friend T*** that I was going on a picnic with him, and it was a date, and I was so nervous. You might guess that it went well. He introduced me to gay things like AbFab, Golden Girls, and borrowing money from your boyfriend to pay your phone bill. We made out in practice rooms, and he lay under the piano while I practiced Rachmaninoff. This was the high I’d never experienced when I’d dated girls. He gave me stomach butterflies. I’d do anything for him. I told the pastor I’d been meeting with that I was dating a boy. He asked the head pastor to remove me from the privilege of singing “special music” at church, and he told my parents they’d better ask why I was no longer meeting with him. So I came out to them. And this kicked off a rocky time in my relationship with my parents. E*** dumped me when he wasn’t prepared to help me go through the coming out process, and thankfully, I was cast in a musical where I met the community that brought me through this confusing time. The actors at Toledo Repertoire Theater accepted me with open arms, not judging, not expecting something. They took me to a gay bar for the first time; I was so scared! For perhaps the first time in my life, I was encouraged to be myself. To embrace what I liked (Drop Dead Gorgeous, skinny-dipping, ice cream, whatever!) and they would love me for who I was! Through these people, I met so many more of the “gay community” and people who were friends of the gay community, and I began to experience Toledo in a different way. Through them, I met the next boy I’d fall head-over-heels for, and I got those butterflies all over again. With less of the guilt.

I Corinthians 13:4-7
“Love is patient. Love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

I’ve fallen in love a few times since then, and each time, it transforms me. That’s what love is supposed to do! Sure, you feel all the feelings, but you also respond with action. When someone asked me to write a little about my personal experience in reconciling my faith with my homosexuality, this is the verse that comes to mind. Is falling in love with a man causing me to sin unforgivable sins? I am not a theologian or a Bible translator, and I can’t dissect all of the biblical references that are used to condemn homosexuality. (Much better writers and scholars have tackled these verses in depth.) But I can analyze my own feelings of guilt and behavior. When I hurt someone, I feel guilt. It’s not a good feeling. I can only imagine that if I were ever to murder, I would never recover from that. When I tell a lie, I feel guilty until I’ve made it right. I can go down each of the Ten Commandments and tell you with certainty that if I sin in one of those ways, I have an inner compass that tells me I am wrong. But when I fall in love, it’s different. I feel led to do GOOD! I do thoughtful things, like cook breakfast in bed, pick up a book at the bookstore, bring home flowers, send emoji texts, volunteer more, be kinder to everyone around me. I’m led to be a better person when I’m in love. So I have to wonder if there is one specific sexual act then that is the one that crosses the line from loving into sin? And if heterosexual couples do that thing, are they also sinning? And do I want to pray to a God who draws a line in the sand over one act that turns a whole relationship sinful?

As my friend Andy has written about in his blog, my parents did everything in their power to follow Proverbs 22:6 “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” We were in church 3 times a week, sometimes more. We participated in every possible Bible study and volunteer opportunity. I went to a Christian school from grade K-12, and despite nurture, my nature is homosexual. Many years of prayer did not change this, and I felt so lonely and isolated as I tried to deny myself intimacy and love out of the deep-seated belief that my desire for such intimacy was wrong. Who are you when you’re in love? Do you remember the first time you fell in love? Did you make them a mix tape? Did you send flowers? Write poems? What about the first time you had a crush? Do you remember that? Think of the people in your life, and think about whether you would seek to deny them those feelings, good and bad.

Jeremiah 29:11
“’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”

Psalm 139:14
“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”

The loving God that I believe in made me just the way I am. He filled me with desires for love and connection, some of which can come from friendship, and some of which can come only from a romantic relationship with a person to whom I’m wildly attracted, and who wants to be with me the way I want to be with him. If I believe that God is truly loving, I have to believe that he did make me exactly as I am, and I need to continue pursuing patience, kindness, humility, and the many other virtues of love in the way that best leads me towards these things. That way is love. So I will pursue love until I no longer can.

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