Coming from Philadelphia to Riverside California during a chilly fall season to do reconciliation work was definitely a task filled with a hard emotional toll, but also the joy of springtime weather. The artist in me wanted to take a picture of Crystal in front of the poster advertising the performance we were giving in just a few days on campus. We had just finished giving a workshop at the University of California Riverside on what it meant to be an LGBTQ person of faith.
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by Desmond Tutu…God does not say black is better than white, or tall is better than short, or football players are better than basketball players, or Christians are better than Muslims… or gay is better than straight. No. God says love one another; love your neighbour. God is for freedom, equality and love.
from William Woods, story submitted as part of the Repent Campaign 2012
Whenever I try to write out my thoughts in response to a request by someone, I strive to be as honest & accurate as I can be. The challenge is always that none of us is completely honest or accurate. Depending on our personality we can drift toward something more noble or desperate. So you know, I am for the most part an optimistic person. Some of that was instilled by my parents & some by the faith that I acquired as an adult. With that caveat I will attempt to convey my metamorphosis from “model son and married man” to “ ‘out’, divorced, and now partnered man”. It is not intended to be a guideline, just a tale that perhaps will trigger your own personal understanding of yourself. This is my story of reconciliation.
I grew up a “heathen”. Oh my parents belonged to a church but fortunately because we moved a great deal we never really got connected to one. Being “too enthusiastic” about anything (including religion) was viewed with disdain. While my family was happy & loving, there were several subjects that were NOT discussed. The biggest one (in my mind) was sex and I dutifully stepped into the first level of my closet. My father took a very active role in the raising of my siblings & me. He made it clear that our goal should be the American Dream… college education, a career, spouse, kids, and a house. We were to never surrender our decisions in life to someone else and we were to never do ANYTHING that would threaten to block us from our goals for life. Physical contact was discouraged except for a handshake. I was compliant and happy.
My first inklings of being “different” were really not inward but rather from my father. I was a decent athlete and truly enjoyed competition but I was not fanatical about it. Some days I would play ball after school but other days I would like to come home & listen to classical music. On those latter days there would be some sort of comment about needing to “go outside & play ball”… something a bit more masculine. As puberty hit with a vengeance there was no freedom to discuss this with my parents as it had long been established that sex was NOT an appropriate topic. I enjoyed going out with girls, not from a sexual standpoint but because I loved to dance & go to movies, theater or concerts. You could not do such things just with guys. After all, “real men” don’t do such things! I felt completely normal but I also sensed that my parents were trying to “butch me up” by pushing sports & downplaying theater or such. I was the only one of four children to go to private high school… all male! I will tell you that this was not the normal insecurity conflict between a child & his parents. My mother recently acknowledged a whole litany of things they did while trying to guide me away from who I am.
By all counts I was progressing. I was popular, had several lovely girlfriends and was majoring in architecture at a major university. I had joined a fraternity that was more serious about academics than some where the focus was more on wine, women & … well wine & women! I was a total virgin (unless you count masturbation as having sex) and despite attempts by my fraternity brothers to get me laid, I was perfectly content to “wait”. I just assumed my ability to fend off the aggressive women with whom I was fixed up, was due to my “moral upbringing”. I am amazed that no one ever, even as a joke, suggested I might be gay! What began to confuse me was wondering how I would “know” who I should marry. As far as the time line for those “goals” in life, it was now time to focus in on one woman. I became aware of homosexuality at this point because my university became one of the first to recognize a gay/lesbian group as an official organization. I became more conflicted because I was fixated on that group. Despite all outward appearance, I was confused & insecure. I know now it was because I was constructing my life based on a false premise as to my orientation. I felt I was on a fast track to a life and yet having so many questions that could not be asked. I resisted the temptation to make contact with the gay group & just plowed ahead with the hetero American Dream.
It is perhaps ironic that despite all the bad comments any of us might make regarding spirituality, what “saved me” from the path I was on was a Christian ministry. It was not “organized” but rather a more fluid relationship. Since I had not ever really been a member of any “organized” church, I did not have any prejudices as to how things ought to be conducted. There were just spontaneous gatherings of men & women in dorm rooms, my fraternity, in coffee houses, to discuss passages of the Bible & encourage one another. Through these people I experienced my first “reconciliation”… I was reconciled to God. I know it sounds crazy but I view it as my first step toward coming back out of that deep closet I was in. My parents picked up on this first step… not from a sexual standpoint but from an optimistic standpoint. I was suddenly more confident. They assumed I had started taking drugs! I became very involved in ministry & believed that my future spouse would be someone who shared my faith & ministry. I still had the nagging question of how I would KNOW which woman it was, and I asked a man in the ministry that very question. He just said, “You’ll know”. I accepted the implied standard of conduct that “dating” a woman who was in the same group was inappropriate, and so assumed that “the one” would be a woman who elevated my spirituality. While I complied with this “don’t touch a woman” standard, there was now a new freedom with men… we could hug! The attractions that I felt inwardly toward some of the guys was attributed to a spiritual bonding rather than the sexual attraction that came with it.
I married a woman when I was 28 years old. We had not dated but she was very “spiritual” and we both were enthusiastic about ministry. I asked some of the more mature married men if there were things that she & I should discuss BEFORE we got married, & they said that if we knew God wanted us to marry, then all would work out. EVERYONE was enthusiastic about us getting married. The engagement was short & the ceremony was enormous. I sensed a degree of “relief” on the part of my parents but even more so when my first son was born. I think it is inaccurate to say that true gay men cannot & would not have sex with a woman. At age 28, and being a total virgin, I could have had sex with ANYTHING! The reality was it was not a good experience with her. Any orgasm is good but somehow I expected a sense of bonding. It never happened. In part because of that, our sex life together ended with the third pregnancy. My attractions to men physically never went away but now with no outlet for sex, the battle raged to resist fulfilling that desire. I plunged myself into raising my sons.
I want to stress that I was a happy person. I loved being a father. The relationship with my wife became more & more strained as I felt there was no reciprocal love. As I put it later, she loved being married to me but she did not love ME. I was confused and at times bitter about where I found myself but I determined to keep “honoring God”. For most of those years we were living in the Midwest & then I resigned from ministry and took a position in a different career in Florida. Here there was a much more relaxed attitude toward homosexuality. I stepped back one day & asked myself a question… with raging hormones & a sexless marriage, why am I never tempted toward women but rather toward men. It was an epiphany. I found a gay website where I could chat with other men and quickly realized there were many married men struggling with this challenge. As I learned how to chat I began to understand all the fragments of my life that had not been connected to make me whole. I also realized that the narrow stereotype of what a gay man was like was false. They are as diverse in careers and interests as the general population and their goals were the same as everyone else…. To have a home, someone to share a love with, and to live life freely. It was at this point that I had my second reconciliation; I embraced my true orientation.
The saddest part of my whole journey was that I felt no ability to talk to the people I had labored with in communicating the Gospel because they had always expressed such condemnation for homosexuality. Their stand did not leave me any hope of having an open dialogue about this or any other subject that had been deemed sinful. What I discovered is how many gay men & women have a true spiritual hunger but are disenfranchised by the organizations with which they share a common faith. As for myself, while I was no longer a paid minister, my faith was becoming stronger and my message of reconciliation more focused, loving and effective.