What's Love Got to do With It? (Continued)
This is Personal
I don't know why, exactly, but of anything I've written here so far, this next part is the hardest for me to put into words.
I've been putting it off for weeks...every time I sit down to finish this chapter, I just can't seem to do it...can't seem to deal with the memory of this...and I hit a wall and have to put the book away and not think about any of it for a while.
It's not writer's block.
It's something more complex than that.
No doubt, some of you will be incapable of understanding why this is so hard for me to talk about, especially since I've already touched on so many controversial aspects of my life, my theology and my sexuality in the previous chapters.
But I'm not afraid of controversy.
Controversy has never been a problem for me.
I was considered controversial in the religious world long before I came out, so I'm very familiar with the territory. And holding a mirror up to the ugliness and ignorance of what often comes out of the religious mindset of so many is actually very empowering for me on a personal level.
Nothing that I've written about so far comes from a victim mentality, because I don't have one.
I am at peace with God and with myself.
But I have to talk about this to fully explain why this chapter is so important...to address why I refuse to let those who don't understand what it means to have same-sex attraction to reduce it to being just about sex...or to label it as a perversion, or something unnatural just because it seems unnatural to them.
As I've already said, same-sex attraction isn't unnatural to those who have it.
Anyway, let me just go ahead and put it out there, and then I'll explain why it's so hard to talk about.
Basically, it's this...when I was around 10 or 11 years old, I fell deeply in love with a boy who was about a year older than me whose family lived a couple of doors down from where we lived at the time.
You may be thinking, "That's it? That's the thing that's so hard to talk about?"
Please don't judge what I just said until you hear me out.
First of all, he never knew it, and doesn't know it until this day. With the exception of a short, generic e-mail that I sent to him a couple of years ago, I have had no contact with him for over 40 years, and from what I know of his life as an adult, he is a straight man who is married and has a family.
One of my hesitations in writing about this is that I didn't want him to somehow hear about my talking about him, or to get a copy of the book and be embarrassed by what I am saying, or to become angry with me about it. Some straight men have killed gay men for saying similar things about them. There's even a legal defense for the murder of gay people called "The Gay Panic Defense", in which a straight man is able to claim that he totally freaked out because a gay man told him that he loved him, or made a pass at him, and as a result killed the gay man during a bout of reactionary, responsive temporary insanity.
Amazingly, this defense often holds up in court, and straight people are regularly exonerated for the assault or murder of gay people in many cases by it.
I don't think that he would want to kill me for what I'm about to say, but honestly, these days gay people can't be too careful.
In the world of Facebook and other social networks, word can travel very fast, and it's entirely possible that he may read this or at least hear about it.
In the event that he does, let me again make it clear that he is not a gay man, and that he and I never had any kind of physical relationship, whatsoever...which is precisely the reason I need to include this in this chapter.
Well, let me qualify that...I did receive a harmless bear hug/wrestling hold from him as we and some other kids from the neighborhood were running through a garden hose sprinkler one summer afternoon a lifetime ago...it was basic horseplay between boys that I'm quite certain meant absolutely nothing to him...I, on the other hand, can very vividly remember the sensation of his wet skin next to mine, and the way it made me feel...I'm not trying to be provocative here...just trying to make a point...and the point of saying that is that I had never before felt what I felt when that happened, and I never once in my life felt anything that nearly equalled it from a female...
"But you were just a boy!", you may be saying to yourself. "This memory should be a non-issue in your life...a typical instance of normal, adolescent male bonding that happens to most people."
My response to that is, "No...a thousand times, no!"...
And here's why...
I'm not talking about the physical sensations that any boy begins to feel around that age as he awakens to his sexuality (regardless of his preference)...I only mentioned the day in the sprinklers because it so clearly stands out in my mind, and reveals something about who I was at the time...and about feelings that there is no way I could have chosen to have...
It's just a memory...like the memory a straight man has of what he felt...about what awakened within him...the first time he kissed a girl...
But what I felt that summer day when he touched me is nearly a side issue, because I'm talking about something quite different from a sensual experience.
I'm talking about love.
"But you were just a child", you may say..."You were too young to even know what love is...the most you could call that is puppy love."
To that I say that puppy love is very real to the puppy, and as much as a kid of that age can or could love someone, I promise you I was in love with him.
I know what it is to have a crush on someone.
This was different.
Let me say here that this kind of experience is real for a lot of kids, both straight and gay.
That's why an adult should never trivialize or dismiss young love, especially a first love.
If you've ever done any research on the teen suicide epidemic, then you probably can appreciate what a big deal this is for some young people.
I know it was for me.
It was the first time I can ever remember feeling love for someone, and it was real...and somewhere in the mind of my inner child, it is as real to me today as it ever was.
Let me also interject that the middle school years for kids are sometimes really, really hard for them...much harder, in fact, than all the high school years put together. I know that middle school was a constant trial for all four of my kids...really did a number on them for different reasons, and as I remember, they all had some miserable experiences during those years...but they loved and did well in high school, and are all now well-adjusted adults.
This would be a good time for me to encourage those of you with middle school-aged kids (6th, 7th and 8th grade) to cut them some extra slack right now...they may be currently going through very traumatic things that you know nothing about.
My parents certainly were unaware of what I was going through at the time.
In fact, one reason that the feelings I had at that age for this boy were so significant for me is that it was a very rough season in my life, one in which I was emotionally vulnerable because of the nature of my relationship with my father.
He and I have made peace now, and I intend to say nothing in this book about him that I will regret later, but suffice it to say that my father had made it abundantly clear to me, even at that young age, that sissies were unacceptable, and that homosexuality (as I understood it at the time) would never, ever be tolerated or even understood by him.
I believe that there is a statute of limitations on how long you can be angry with your parents for whatever reasons, and I have certainly put away childish things when it comes to my attitude toward both of mine.
The man my father has become in his senior years is quite enlightened and tolerant, and has even paid a great price among his own friends and in his own denomination for not publicly renouncing me when I came out. His refusal to disown me, which resulted in him having to surrender his ministry credentials to the denomination, was an act of redemption on his part that deeply healed something in me that very much needed healing.
That being said, I can't even begin to imagine what the man my dad was back then would have done to me if I had even hinted to him that I was in love with a boy!
I literally shudder to think about it...
There is no possible way that I would have ever even come close to discussing with either of my parents...or anyone else, for that matter...the feelings I was dealing with at the time.
"OK, we get it...you really liked a boy when you were a kid...what's the big deal?", you may be thinking.
Let me see if I can make you understand why I'm even talking about this.
Last week I was reading a typical hate-letter from a Christian who took it upon himself to inform me once again that the Bible said it's an abomination for a man to lie with a man as with a woman (by the way, the ONLY time people ever quote Leviticus or any of Moses' 613 laws is pretty much exclusively for gay-bashing, but I digress...)...anyway, as I read his typical, crude expression of disgust for what he perceives that I like and do sexually, my mind went back to a certain afternoon in my boyhood when I lived in that house two doors down from the person I felt at the time was the love of my life.
And that's why I even brought this up at all.
When people say that being gay is a choice, or that it's just about sex, or about giving place in your life to a sexual aberration, I can't help but remember what young love felt like to me...love that wasn't a choice...love that was entirely non-sexual, but was love, nonetheless....and I realize once again how incredily ignorant some people can be.
Let me say here that I am fully aware that straight people certainly know what unrequited love is all about...anyone, straight or gay, can fall in love with the wrong person...someone who doesn't love them back, or is unavailable to them...someone who belongs to someone else. The heart wants what it wants, and love has a mind of its own, and often love hurts...a lot...in fact, probably everyone has experienced this on some level.
But when a gay person falls in love with a straight person, there's a whole other dimension of pain involved. In these cases, rejection is almost guaranteed, but it's not just your standard rejection...not just the rite of passage of a broken heart that every person experiences at one time or another.
Ellen Degeneres once eloquently described the isolation that closeted gay kids experience, and I had never thought of this until she said it, but I agree with it. Her point was that even if a kid who is part of a minority experiences prejudice or rejection, they at least have other people in their world who are like them and can understand what they're going through. For example, if an African-American kid gets called the "N" word on the playground, he or she at least has a home, a family, a community of other African-Americans whom he or she can talk to about it....like-minded people who can provide empathy and support.
But when a gay kid who can't tell the truth about himself or herself experiences prejudice or rejection, they can't talk to anyone about it. In most cases, they are strangers in their own homes. They don't even know anyone who is like them. I certainly didn't. Even those closest to them can't possibly empathize with what they may be going through, even though they may experience it repeatedly.
Anyway, back to that afternoon, many years ago.
It was a Wednesday, and we had church every Wednesday night, so I was supposed to be doing my homework...was supposed to finish it before church that night.
Church was mandatory...attendance was never one time optional.
I not only went to church every Wednesday night of my life (besides Sundays and the other days of the week, for whatever reason), I usually had to sing or play my saxophone in the service, or attend a youth meeting... one way or the other, I always participated in church.
So I remember that I was laying across my bed that afternoon, supposedly working on a social studies or math assignment (but most probably I was drawing pictures, or writing the name of the boy I loved over and over again)...anyway, at one point in the attempt at engaging in something that resembled homework, I looked out my window and saw something that literally took my breath away for a few seconds.
I saw him walking down the street with the little girl who lived in the house between our two houses.
In my memory, they were holding hands...I don't know for sure...but I remember they were definitely laughing and having a good time...I remember looking at him as he looked at her, and recognizing that he had never looked at me that way...and in that instant it dawned on me that he would never in a million years look at me that way...he certainly would never walk down the street, laughing and holding my hand...that's for sure.
I'm not a good enough writer to explain to you what happened to me in that moment.
Even as I write about it now, I know it probably doesn't seem like that big a deal...I just don't know how to describe the pain that my 11 year old heart felt upon seeing them together that day.
I'm feeling it even as I write about it as if it just happened, but I still don't have the language to convey what I experienced standing there at my bedroom window.
It was more than just the realization that he liked girls. I'm sure I already knew that, but I just had never seen it manifested before.
If I had been a girl who was in love with him I could have tried to compete with her for his attention.
But I wasn't a girl.
I was a boy.
A boy who liked boys.
A boy who liked boys who didn't like boys back, and never would.
And this is why I won't let people who don't know what they're talking about get by with saying that sexual orientation is exclusively about sex.
That day I watched the boy I loved walking with a girl...I watched them for as long as I could, until they disappeared over a hill in the sub-division...
And then I collapsed in a heap on the floor in the way that a marionette puppet does when its strings are cut, and just began to sob.
I sobbed the deepest sobs I ever remember sobbing in my life up until that point.
I sobbed as quietly as I could so that my parents wouldn't hear me, because if they heard they would naturally want to know what in the world was wrong, and there was no possible way that I could tell them.
I sobbed on that hardwood floor in my bedroom until it felt like my guts were going to come out.
I sobbed because I didn't know what to do with the feelings I had for him.
I sobbed because I knew I could never tell him about it.
There's no way he could ever understand, and he certainly didn't feel the same way about me.
If I told him, he might hate me and never speak to me again.
He might call me a fag.
I'd been called that before on the playground at school because I didn't know how to play ball...I already knew what that felt like...I remembered the day in third grade when they threw me a football at recess and (I swear) I had never even seen one before...had no idea what to do with it. My dad never watched football, and I had no brothers and no male playmates to speak of, so football wasn't even in my consciousness...
But this was about more than not being able to play sports...the bottom line is that even if he understood my love for him, it wouldn't make him stop liking girls...it certainly wouldn't make him love me...
I sobbed because I couldn't tell anyone about it.
I sobbed because even at that young age, I knew that I would never feel that way about a girl.
My parents would never accept it.
I couldn't even talk to God about it, because He would just send me to hell for loving a boy, so I avoided the subject with Him, altogether.
Bottom line, the jarring reality check that I got in that instant...about who I was...about who I loved...about everything that was wrong with my young life...just came crashing in on me all at once...it was a moment of truth, but not the kind of truth that sets you free...all it did for me was make me want to die.
I don't know how long I lay on that floor and cried...I just cried until there weren't anymore tears.
By then it was time for church, and on the way there, when my mom noticed my swollen, red eyes and demanded an explanation, I came up with some lie...I don't remember what I told her...whatever it was, she didn't buy it, but the service was about to start and she had to play the organ, so the subject was tabled...
Remember when you were a kid and you cried really hard and then got the hiccups from it? Well, I played the sax that night with a serious case of the hiccups...with deep gaps in my breathing from having cried so hard...it was an ordeal, but I got through it.
Then, somehow, after church we just never discussed it and I went to bed and it never came up again.
He and I remained friends after that, but it became increasingly hard for me to be around him because my feelings for him were so intense. I started having bouts of depression, but I disguised them as much as I could.
My extended family still chides me to this day about what a moody kid I was...about how I always look so gloomy in the family reunion home movies that were taken during that time period.
When they say it I think, "You have no idea..."
A few months later we moved away and I never saw him again.
About a year after that I felt the call of God into the ministry, and just started channeling all my energy into trying to serve Him...and into trying with all my might to not be gay.
That's when I entered the "on-fire-for-Jesus phase" that I talked about in the beginning of the book.
Throughout my life, I fell in love with a lot of my straight friends, and they never knew it.
I just learned to deal with it.
No one ever suspected because I was always dating girls.
I slept in beds with friends of mine that I was very attracted to over the years, and practiced enormous amounts of self-control, because they never knew it, either.
But that first one hurt.
I would be embarrassed for him or anyone else to actually know how many times over the years I have driven over to that town and have gone to that neighborhood and have sat in my car in front of his house, hoping that I would see him...hoping that if I did, I would somehow find the nerve to tell him how I felt...not that I thought I could convert him (because that can't be done, I don't care who tells you that it can)...but because I thought at one time, especially during the years I was still trying to be delivered from homosexuality, that talking to him about it would somehow be a key to set me free.
This went on for decades, even after I was married and had kids of my own.
Even after I knew for sure that he didn't even live there any more, I still drove over there a lot. I can't explain why...just trying to make sense of my life, I guess...but every time I went, I cried again.
It's amazing how much you can cry over someone in your life who never even knows about it.
Anyway, I finally stopped driving over there a couple of years ago...right about the time I came out...in fact, I don't think I've gone there once since I came out.
Once, I looked up his new address and drove by where he lived at the time...I think I saw him coming out of the house and panicked and sped off...I don't know why...I just did...it sounds irrational, I know, but it is what it is (or was what it was)...
I hesitate to even admit to all of this because I know it makes me sound like a stalker or a crazy person...but I need to drive the point home about orientation that I'm trying to make...
So, to those who say that orientation is a choice, or to those who think it's just about sex I say, "Tell it to that broken-hearted kid laying on that floor crying his eyes out all those years ago...and to a million other broken-hearted gay kids (who have never had sex with anyone), who experience the same thing every day..."
You have absolutely no clue about how misguided your opinions are.
Love is real...
...even if you don't understand it.
He who answers a matter before he hears the facts--it is folly and shame to him. (Proverbs 18:13 - AMP)
In other words, don't attempt to speak with authority about something you can't possibly understand.
That's what love has to do with it.
OK, I'm ready to move on now...