Saturday, June 10, 2006

 

My Labels - Christian and gay

These last two labels are the hardest to write about. I can't write about one without mentioning the other, so here they are:

Jason the gay Christian
I was in first grade when I began to realize that I wasn't the same as the other kids, but I didn't really think anything of it. As I grew older I found that most of my friends were girls. The other guys would talk about who they had a crush on, but I never had one. At least not on a girl. Even though I was too young to even know the word “gay” or all its connotations, I knew that I had to keep it a secret.

By eleven I had gotten the idea that there was something horribly wrong with me. The attitudes I saw in my small, Western town had made this abundantly clear to me. I tried to ignore it and, for the most part, I succeeded. Little realizing the damage I was doing to myself, I made sure to keep it hidden and act like the perfect child.

When i was twelve my family moved to the Middle East. At first life in the was an adventure. It was exciting and I loved the newness of it all. That lasted for about three months. Tensions ran high in our home as my older sister made sure that everyone knew how much she hated living there. My little brother followed suit. When I saw how stressed my parents were I didn't want to add to their burden, so I kept my dislike, and eventual hatred, of my new home to myself. This set me on a path of withdrawing from everybody. No one suspected that I wasn't a perfectly happy twelve year-old boy.

In reality I was extremely unhappy. I was at a British school where it seemed like I would never fit in. The teachers were mocking and overbearing. I remember a teacher shouting at me on my first day of class for making a joke, and being failed in assignments because my “presentation” was bad. Through three years and five different schools life just got worse. I was hated and attacked for being American, and even though my bruises faded, the pain and the loneliness only got worse. My attraction to other guys became stronger as time passed, and I hated myself because of it. I was so ashamed of myself; even looking in the mirror made me sick to my stomach. Sometimes the pain and the loneliness was too much and I would take pencils and carve in my arm till it bled. When the blood dried I would carve again.

Relief was nowhere in sight. Out of necessity I became numb: I turned off my emotions because they were too painful. Although it made life seem less painful, it cut me off from all the good emotions too. Joy. Happiness. Love. At this point I couldn't feel any of these. I couldn't make other people feel them either. My life was an empty shell, a human carapace with a void inside.

In the summer of 2003 I was vacationing in the States, staying in the little Western town I grew up in. One of my sister-in-laws came to me and asked whether I wanted to join a small group of Christian youth that she led. I declined; being forced to go to church once a week was bad enough. She asked again. I still refused. Insistent, she asked until I gave in. What the heck, I thought, if I don't like it I don't have to stay. I remember every detail of that first day.

I walked into the store-converted-church prepared to bolt if I didn't like it. No one noticed me; I stood unobtrusively in the corner while they, seventeen youth sitting in a circle around my sister-in-law on faded brown carpet, talked. Instead of listening I watched them. I looked at their faces and at how they interacted. All of them were smiling. One of them began talking and started crying. The others reached out and touched her. Those nearest hugged her tightly. A dam burst within me. All the emotions I had held at bay came flooding back. I wanted to go over and tell them my story, so I could be touched. So I could be hugged. So I could be loved. Instead I stayed in the shadows.

As I watched them with a wonder bordering on awe, I saw joy in the way they talked and moved and the expressions on their faces. It was such a contrast to the feelings of worthlessness, of self-hatred and shame that filled me. I wondered how they could feel that way. The people sitting in that circle weren't strangers: I had grown up with many of them. One was an orphan, another had a father in prison for murder and another was an illegal immigrant who knew she could be taken out of the country at any time. Most had similar stories, yet there they were, smiling. I couldn't remember the last time I had really smiled.

I spent the next couple of weeks becoming part of the group. When I talked to the other youth I discovered that all had one thing in common: the focus of their life was Jesus. Technically I knew who he was; I had grown up going to church and hearing stories from the Bible. But as they talked about him I discovered that, to them, he was more than someone who lived and died 2000 years ago. He was their reason for living. I knew that I had to see if this was real. If it was, I wanted it.

I started looking through the Bible(something I had usually avoided at all costs) and discovered something incredible. I am loved, or rather, God loves me. Although I had heard a lot of this before it had never really registered. I found passages that said things like “We love Him because He first loved us” or “Whether we are high above the sky or in the deepest ocean, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” If true, this was beyond amazing. How could God love me? I didn't even love myself. I looked back at some of the things I had done and wondered how anyone who knew everything about me could look on me with anything but revulsion. It says in the Bible that Jesus died for us, to save us. But did that really include me? My shame and self-hatred said no, but this book, the Bible, said otherwise.

This filled me with hope, but also with fear. I wanted to believe it was true, but what if it wasn't? I wasn't sure whether I was ready to risk it. But then I began to ask myself whether I could live the rest of my life this way: drowning alone in a sea of self-hatred.

Lying in my bed with tears streaming down my face I asked for help. Desperately hoping that this God was listening I told him that I needed him, that I couldn't live another moment the way I was. I was ready to do whatever it took to experience the love that I had read about, the love I saw in the lives of those around me. Something changed inside me and I began to feel different. I felt like I had been dragging around this enormous weight and someone had come and taken it away.

The rest of that summer was fantastic. My cry for help hadn't gone unanswered and I found a friend who loved me unconditionally. I loved quiet times of reading my Bible and talking to God, and I loved hanging out with the other youth. I learned more about what the Bible calls sin, things that are wrong in God's eyes, and decided to make sure not to do those things.

When I got back to the Middle East I was pumped: my life had changed radically over the summer and I thought everything would be perfect. It wasn't. After a couple months life got harder again. School was tough and I was becoming more attracted to guys. I would look at the Bible and see verses that spoke against homosexuality and wonder what it meant for me. "Christian" and "gay" seemed to be two mutually exclusive words. I started praying to God to make it go away. He didn't. I thought that if I only prayed harder things would change. They didn't.

For the next two and a half I felt like there were these forces tearing me apart. I had found God, and I knew that the love I had felt from him was real, yet how could he make me gay if it was a sin? I struggled so hard. Every time I messed up, whether it was looking at pornography or lusting or even just looking at a guy and thinking “he's cute” I would feel horrible and dirty. I started hating myself again because I couldn't change. Life became a perpetual series of ups and downs. I would have “gay thoughts” and go into a depression because I had “failed” at changing. Obviously I hadn't prayed hard enough. Then I would ask God to forgive me and feel like this time I could really make it. Then I would mess up again. Sometimes I spent hours begging God to change me.

I began wondering how a God who loved me, one whose love that I experienced, could let me be like this. It was like he made this mold that I was supposed to fit, but no matter how hard I tried I couldn't.

About six months ago I reached the lowest low of my life. It was the last night of a four day youth conference and I felt like I was being torn apart. I had prayed for God to make me straight, but he didn't. Everything I had seen told me that being gay and being Christian were incompatible. I thought that either God was mocking me, giving me a desire to serve him while making it impossible, or that he was deaf to my cries. I begged for a sign that he heard my prayers, but none came.

From that point on I turned my back on God. I felt like I had done everything, like I had fulfilled my side of the bargain, but he didn't make me straight. It was like I gave him my heart, and he broke it into pieces. About a month passed and life was just horrible. My life felt emptier than ever before but I refused to go back to a God who acted to cruelly.

Then one night I lay in my bed miserable and crying and the most amazing realization of my life seemed to seep over me: God loves me. Period. Everything else in my life, including being gay, is secondary. I had felt like a failure because I had been judging myself, not because God had. Being gay had nothing to do with God's love for me, and nothing to do with how much I could love him. By hating myself for being gay I had stopped feeling God's love for me, and replaced it with some supposed condemnation.

I don't know where my life is headed, and I'm not betting on ever being straight. Despite that, I stand now more assured then ever of God's boundless love for me. For me, the words "Christian" and "gay" are no longer mutually exclusive.

Comments:
Interesting and somewhat familiar story - I particularly liked how though you did not know the words for it, you knew at a young age that you needed to create an "Acceptable" persona.
 
It really makes me sad that I had to do so... I often wonder how much of what I do and what I say comes not out of the real me but are leftover from my days in hiding.
 
Hi Jason. Very nice post. It sounds somewhat similar to mine (the finding the youth group part, though mine wasn't quite as trying I don't think).

Glad to see you blogging. Keep it up, it's a good outlet and offers a lot of other views.

Oh, thanks for the blogroll too. Do you mind if I ask how you found mine?
 
Hi Jason,

I believe you've answered a question I've been asking for months... which was "who is this person who keeps reading my blog in the middle east?"... honestly, I've been very curious.

Anyway, I'm glad I found you and I look forward to reading more of your posts. I envy your language abilities, I must say... I wish I could pick up some Korean!
 
God, your post made me just want to weep. It was like you had been reading my mail for the last three years. All the questioning, all the pain, all the "how the HELL could You have built me this way, God, if it's not part of Your master plan???"

It took a while for the simple answer to come to me.

He couldn't.
He didn't.

You are acceptable to God.
And so am I.
 
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