Hello, Seekers! Jonathan here. Today’s blog post will delve into a topic that is deeply personal to me. I am sharing because I believe words have power. With that said, I have no desire to cause anyone to relive any traumatic memories. If your coming out experience was difficult like mine, you may want to skip this one. Otherwise, I hope you can stick with me to the end. Grab your coffee or tea because this will be a longer read!
I grew up in a rural part of central Indiana in a traditional nuclear family. My childhood was corn fields, crawdads in creeks, and green and yellow John Deere farm equipment. As the younger years went by I developed into a student athlete and cultivated my ‘smart kid’ persona. Through it all, I attended Sunday school and church with my family. I sang in the choir while my father pursued his Masters of Divinity and my mother played piano for several different churches, ranging from Southern Baptist to nondenominational Christian. If there was a prototype for the stereotypical model child, I was it. There was just one problem: I knew I was gay.
While I knew from a very young age that I liked boys and not girls, it wasn’t until 7th grade that I actually had a name for that truth. I had transitioned from private to public school, and suddenly I heard the words ‘gay’ and ‘faggot’ being thrown around. From context clues I deciphered that what the other kids were saying as a joke was my reality. Once I understood that, I fully grasped the conflict between my upbringing and myself. It tore me apart inside. I did not feel safe to talk to anyone about my sexuality, surrounded as I was by my religious family and community where it was abundantly clear that being gay was sinful. So I buried it deep and pretended that who I mirrored what I told everyone.
I maintained the illusion through high school. There were nights I cried myself to sleep, pleading to God to change me, make me ‘normal,’ and most of all, that I could stop lying to the people I loved the most–myself included. The effort of maintaining my constant deception was exhausting and I lived in fear of slipping up. There had always been a rainbow over my head, but I did my best to wreath it in clouds. And yet, I was never able to fully convince myself to believe my own falsehood. Even as my teenage hormones raged, girls failed to engender the kind of response that they were supposed to. Like most intelligent young people, I already felt set apart from my peer group through a combination of my own awareness and the adults who recognized my intellect. Knowing that there was another, yet-to-be-perceived barrier between me and acceptance to the mainstream made me feel even more isolated. I often wonder how different things would have been had I opened up to someone, but to this day, I don’t know who that could have possibly been.
College proved to be the crucible that finally broke my self-imposed exile from actualization. Sometime over the summer between graduating high school and starting my undergraduate program, I gave up on pretending, but never told anyone and never stopped feeling conflicted about my decision. It was my dirty little secret. I finally kissed a boy and independently tried to wrap my head around what it meant to be gay, a tall order in the era before things like Grindr existed. Then something happened. Here’s the short version: a girl liked me and I didn’t like her back, but I needed her to know that it wasn’t her fault. Little did I know that my confession would spread like wildfire through my friend group. Thankfully, their reaction was positive. In fact, they were upset that I hadn’t told them sooner. It was impossible to make them understand why I hadn’t. Years of hiding my true self as a form of protection was a terribly difficult habit to break. Regardless, they accepted me for who I was and I took the first steps down the path toward doing the same.
This halcyon era did not last long. I met my first boyfriend and concealed our relationship from everyone but my closest friends. Like most secrets, it eventually came to light, and my carefully ordered world imploded in violent fashion. I had been living at home, but was no longer welcome there. For a period of time, I lost all contact with my family and couch-surfed until I found roommates for an off-campus apartment that I really couldn’t afford but somehow did. Friends who I thought were reliable disappeared. It was the personal cataclysm I had always feared, but foolishly hoped would not come to pass. At least, not until I felt ready to handle the fallout.
I was 19 when this all happened. Despite the turmoil, being ‘out’ for the first time in my life represented a casting off of shackles that I’d allowed to bind me for so long. There was a freedom born in the aftermath that tasted sweeter than any praise I’d ever received for trying to conform. I still had a long road to travel to achieve self-love, but the biggest personal reckoning was over. Next came the social one.
We’ve arrived at the reason for this post. Over my decade plus of living as an out gay man, I’ve witnessed huge steps forward and backward in the battle for LGBTQ+ rights. The primary common thread among the opposition to things like marriage equality is a religious belief system that asserts the inherent wrongness of same sex relationships, much like the one I was raised in. I know firsthand how much peace and fulfillment that faith can bring and have no wish to rob anyone of that. I have also experienced the condemnation of the faithful for my ‘sins.’ If I could say one thing to everyone who ascribes to Christianity, Islam, or any other religion that decries homosexuality, it is this: leave me alone. Flawed, imperfect humans were never meant to be the arbiters of God’s judgment–if God exists, only a perfect entity like them can do that. I could quote many verses from the Christian Bible, but one that sticks out is “‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay,’ thus saith the Lord.” If I am wrong and I truly am living in sin, then when I return to dust as we all do, I will know and, perhaps, suffer for it. Until then, it does not harm you or otherwise make any difference to your daily life whether I sleep with the same sex or not. It does not matter if I marry another man, or adopt and raise children with him. It may offend your sense of right and wrong, but that is your problem. Don’t make it mine, and don’t make it the government’s. If you wish to follow the Great Commission from the Christian gospels and attempt to enlighten me with Scripture, that is your prerogative. You might be surprised to learn that I admire those who so devoutly follow their faith. But, I do not have to listen to your message, and I certainly don’t have to believe the same as you. That is as much my choice as it is yours to believe what you do. All I ask is that you accord me the same respect that I have shown to you.
I’d like to think that what I have just said is logical and reasonable. It is not meant to condemn anyone with religious beliefs. My own family is included in that. I just want to love and be loved for who I am. If there’s anything more human than that, I don’t know what it is. Faith is a fire that can consume reason, so my appeal may fall on deaf ears. But if you made it this far, I hope my story has either resonated with or made an impact on you. That, dear reader, is the greatest honor a writer can be accorded. Until next time, you can find me somewhere over the rainbow.