Thursday, June 28, 2007

Reflections On My Life: Part One

The other day I was reading through some of the posts on my blog and it occurred to me that I'd never really written about any of my gay experiences. Well, other than some of the feelings I've had related to them. I think I can honestly say that I've been somewhat avoiding this subject. It is not an easy thing for me to talk about being gay. There are so many things about my life that I've tried so very hard to pretend wasn't real, or to forget about or block out, to lock deep down within myself to never let resurface. But there are a lot of things that I've wanted to write about and to open up on. So, I began thinking about where to start. Then it hit me, “How do I begin to tell the story of my life?” I had no idea, and I definitely didn't realize how difficult this would be. There are so many things I could tell, but it'd take me a lifetime just to write about it all. I tried to start from several different points, and then I just decided to start with what I know...

I am gay. Don't ask me to explain this, because I don't know for sure why that is. Not to say that I don't have some strong ideas about that, but I can't say beyond a shadow of a doubt that it's because of genetics or the environment in which I've lived, or a combination of the two. I've always tended to believe that certain environmental factors played the biggest part in this, but I'm not closed-minded or stubborn enough to rule out the possibility of genetics having played some role. Whatever the cause, however, I am, beyond a shadow of a doubt, a homosexual

The first time I ever remember hearing the word gay was when I was in the fifth grade. All I was told it meant was that that's what you were if you liked other guys. I had no clue what that really meant though. I had already began noticing other guys. I was drawn to them for some reason, which I couldn't understand. I would catch myself looking at them and having odd thoughts and feelings, which made no sense at all to me at the time. It was strange, because I knew that as a guy, I was supposed to find girls attractive and I was supposed to want a girlfriend, but that just wasn't at all what I felt for girls, or what I wanted from them. Girls were never anything more than just friends, if even that. I honestly had no desire at all to be with any of them. I only wanted to be around other guys.
I was desperate for their friendship and acceptance. I just wanted to feel as though I was “one of them”.

I always had trouble making friends while in school. Girls were most often easy to befriend. But with the guys, I always seemed to be this outcast or loner. I never felt as though I was good enough or fit in. I didn't enjoy sports, and was never any good at any of them when I tried to participate. I'm not a car junkie or a music fanatic either. So, that practically ruled out three-fourths of the guys I could have had anything in common with.

I remember being made fun of. I suppose that's why I deplore that act so much today. I absolutely hate seeing another person being made fun of or belittled. But I remember so many innuendoes and jokes at my expense. I remember being called gay for the first time when I was in the sixth grade. I had already began to wonder about myself by that age, always in denial about it though. Not that I thought I was gay, because I didn't fully understand what that meant, but that I knew there was something different about me. But I remember one day when a local doctor was invited to our school to teach us boys about the birds and the bees. Somewhere in the question and answer session that followed, it was asked, “How many guys are gay?” The response was, “About one in every hundred. Chances are, one in this room of about forty might be gay.” The room became really quiet and I remember feeling myself turn beet red. I wasn't even sure why. Afterwards, however, when we returned to our regular classes, one of the other guys, someone whom I'd mistaken as a friend at the time, was telling one of the girls in our class about what all had been discussed. When he mentioned the part about the gay question, he turned to me and said to the girl, “Yeah, we all thought he (the doctor) was talking about Brandon”. I made some fire back remark and left it at that, but I felt crushed. I knew that being gay wasn't something a person wanted to be. I knew that much. Being gay meant that you were different. But I realized at that moment that that's what other people were beginning to think of me, or at least might be thinking about me. And whatever gay really meant, it must not be anything good, or else it wouldn't always be used in a negative context.
I often wondered why anyone would think that about me, but looking back, I suppose I probably did give myself away fairly well in a few regards. But at the time, I was always puzzled about it.

In the later part of that same year, I began having sexual encounters with another guy. He was a couple of years younger than me, and it was mostly innocent type of stuff at the start. Over the next two years though, things got a little more serious. We eventually ended up having sex with each other at least three times that I can remember.

When I entered high school, I broke off that relationship. One reason for this was out of necessity. I didn't want anyone knowing I was gay, and after a few close calls, I decided it would be better to play it safe and lay low. I decided it would be safer and more convenient to pretend to be straight. Secondly, I'd began to realize more fully what being gay was, and I just didn't want that for myself. I also didn't want to give in to something considered sinful by God. Thirdly, I had to listen to my conscience. As right as being with another guy felt, there was something about it that never felt right. It was just one of those gut feelings, which told me I wasn't doing something I should be. Perhaps it was God laying heavy upon my heart? Whatever the reasons, I did decide to break off that relationship, and looking back I'd say that it was the right thing for me to do

That same year, as a freshman, a few older students began thinking I was gay, and decided to make my life a living hell because of that. They began routinely picking on me, calling me “queer”, “faggot”, “homo”, or any other derogatory word used to describe a homosexual
. And I was routinely reminded by the persons branding me with these labels that they hated me and everyone else like me. I was put in my place rather well by a few of them, and on more than one occasion. Even still, I tried my best to pretend that I wasn't gay. I was in denial. Or, actually, I was confused. I actually did have a girlfriend during eighth grade—the same time I was secretly having sex with that other guy—and I liked her a lot. I was never attracted to her, but I liked her. Maybe I was even in love with her. Maybe that's why it hurt as much as it did when she broke up with me. And there were other girls I considered dating as well. Usually they were friends who'd fall for me, and who I'd regrettably toy around with just long enough so that other people would think I liked them and was therefore NOT a homosexual. I wanted to prove myself to be just like everybody else. After all, who really wants to be gay? I never did. But after that freshmen year, things did improve. In short, I left high school much better than I entered it.

My first year in college, I decided to face facts for the first time and admitted to myself that I was a homosexual. I was attracted to other guys, I'd had sex with one of them, I'd already been looking up gay pornography for about a year or so, and I just wasn't interested in girls whatsoever. Unfortunately, I allowed that realization to blanket my life under a dark layer of clouds. I became very depressed. I was miserable with myself. I hated that I was gay, and I blamed God—at least partially—for that, and I just felt so alone. I couldn't tell anyone. I couldn't talk about what I was going through. No one seemed safe to go to for support. I felt trapped and isolated, and I hated who I was and all those past things I'd done. I felt so much regret. I hated the fact that I'd had sex. I actually tried to, and was successful for awhile, at blocking those experiences nearly completely from my mind. I knew it happened, but I tried to pretend as though it hadn't. I felt so torn and confused.

I eventually began contemplating suicide. I had it all figured out. I'd drive myself right off a cliff and wreck and die and all my troubles would be over and done with. My miserable life of conflicts and loneliness would be no more. I had just become so tired, and was so frustrated, that killing myself seemed to be the only logical thing to do. I couldn't find or think of any other way out. It seemed as though this was my only option.

I remember begging and pleading God to help me. I blamed Him for making me gay. I actually believed that He had. I believed He had messed up with me, that He'd made a mistake, and I let Him know how I felt about that. I believed He was being unfair with me, and that He was torturing me, and had turned His back on me from the very beginning. I just couldn't understand why it would be so wrong for me to have a boyfriend. I couldn't understand why it was so wrong of me to be so drawn to other men. I couldn't understand why He'd consider that to be something sinful.

Eventually, I decided I needed to make a few decisions. One, I wanted to live, so I'd better get the idea of suicide out of my head completely and start living my life better than I had. Two, I didn't want to blame God for something I'm sure He'd have never purposefully made me and then condemned me for being. Three, I wanted to obey God, and refrain from acting out on my homosexual desires in the future. I realized that when I didn't give in, I felt better about myself, and I felt closer to God. That is what sin does, by the way... it separates us from God. When you give up sinning, you draw closer to Him. So, I determined never to have another homosexual relationship for as long as I live.

I felt good about my decisions for about two or three years. Then, my brother found out I was gay. He was the first person to ever truly know this about me. It happened due to my own carelessness. He'd come across some gay pornography I used to have, and so it was pretty clear cut and dry that he knew. I couldn't weasel my way out of it. I couldn't deny it or pretend anymore. At least not with him. He confronted me about this, and in not the best of ways, but his confrontation sparked in me an urge to obey God more thoroughly than I ever had. I decided to give up pornography. I also decided to try to change. I felt in my heart that with God I could change. And I wanted to change.

I eventually, out of some desperation for help, came across Exodus International, who as it turned out, promoted the message that one could possibly change from gay to straight. Now, my decision to want to change, was mostly due to a desire in my heart for a family. I'd love to be able to find a woman I could fall in love with, and have kids with, and to grow old sharing my life with her. At the same time, I could say that I'd like to share my life with another man, but this dream is greater than that one.

During this last year, I've been trying to change my sexual orientation. I do, however, seem to be failing miserably to do that. There have been times when I truly have been attracted to girls. And I've also had times when I wasn't attracted to other guys at all. However, those attractions always seem to keep coming back. I am still gay. Even though this hasn't worked very well for me so far, I won't go as far as to say that it can't work for anyone else. With God, all things are possible. Even this, I think. And as much as I'd like to just give up and be gay sometimes, I still have that hope that it's possible for me. One change that has been permanent so far is my attitudes towards other guys and myself. I don't see them as unreachable anymore. I see them as potential friends. I also see myself being more like them than I ever used to think I was. I don't feel as different as I used to.

I look to God for strength and support. Sometimes I need Him so desperately in my life. I can feel so conflicted and frustrated with myself. I can feel so lonely and also so very tempted. I realize now that there's a great possibility I'll never have that family of my own. And that bothers me greatly sometimes. I hate the thought of always having to live alone. And the temptations bother me. I hate meeting a guy for the first time and instantly having that thought about how good looking he is. I feel torn in two. I know the very thing I want is the very thing I cannot have. I know that I want to be friends with other guys, but I tend to distance myself from them whenever I find myself attracted to them. Then there's the regrets. I feel so much regret for so many things I've done in my life. I hate the fact that I slept with that other guy. The thought of that really does bother me sometimes. I hate that I've looked up, and continue to keep looking up from time to time, so much pornography. I hate that I've pushed away so many people for fear of them getting close enough to me to find out that I might not be perfect, but gay. I hate so many things about my life.

I know God loves me though. I can hold onto that, if nothing else. I know that no matter what I do or how I feel about myself, no matter how rejected or abused I may feel, He'll always care deeply for me. He'll always be there for me, no matter what. And I know I'm forgiven for all those terrible things I've done. I don't know where this life is going to lead me, but I hope it'll always take me further and further toward God. I struggle with the fact that I'm gay. I deny that fact quite a bit usually, but it is true. I like other guys. But as much as other guys do it for me, none of them do it for me like God does. And I'll choose Him any day over anyone or anything else of this world.

God, I may be gay, but I'm yours.”

When I look back on my life, I can't help but remember so many things. There were times when I was a kid that I wished I'd been born a girl. I played dress up occasionally. I've struggled to have a relationship with my dad. Sometimes I can feel really close to him, and other times I can feel so far away. I've always liked interior design—up to a certain extent (yeah, I hate to fit that cliché). And I've always felt it easier to relate to girls than other guys. I've hurt a lot of people. Some intentionally, others not—usually not. I've struggled to fit in at my church. I've resisted a lot of things the good Lord has wanted of me. I've struggled a great deal on whether or not to tell anyone in my family about my past and current struggles. There's just so much I could tell. But, for now, this is my story. It's not by any means my whole story, but it's a start.

Monday, June 18, 2007

The Teased and the Teaser

At the church I attend, we receive each week a little handout booklet called “Seek”. A couple of weeks ago, there was an article in that handout titled, “When Teasing Goes Too Far”. It was perhaps the saddest thing I'd read in a long, long time. The article was about a young man named Charles Andrew Williams, who in March of 2001 took his father's gun to school with him and shot two of his fellow classmates. Thirteen others were wounded during his shooting frenzy. According to those who witnessed the event, the young fifteen year old was smiling the whole time.

In trying to figure out young Andy's motives for this brutally violent attack, some very sad details came out about his life. Williams' parents had divorced less than a year before. Until that time, he had lived in Maryland. He had had a girlfriend. He was well liked and got along with his peers. Afterward, however, he went to live with his father in southern California, while his mother resided in South Carolina. He was separated from his mother by a distance of over 2,000 miles. At his new school, he was quickly targeted for bullying. He was the new kid. He was thin and apparently awkward in looks, so he must have made for an easy target. His skateboard, as well as a pair of shoes, were stolen. He was constantly being picked on and teased by other students. In short, his life had been turned upside down. These things is what is believed to have led to the motive. Something, or all of these things combined, must have literally sent him right over the edge. And he decided to get even, and to vent his frustrations and anger out on his fellow classmates. Two of them are dead now, and thirteen were wounded.

I wonder if those he attacked were the ones who were constantly picking on him? Was the smile on his face one of relief in that case? Not to imply that he was right in what he did because of that. Far from it! But I can't help but feel somewhat sad for him. Here's a young kid whose family life was shattered, and he was probably confused and saddened deeply about that. He was uprooted and moved to the other end of the country, far away from his mother, who he could no longer see on a regular basis, and, well, he basically had to give up all that was familiar to him. And then, in his new environment, those around him, rather than to have welcomed him, decided to pick on him and bully him to the point where he was outright miserable. I think it would be hard for any of us to respond well under those circumstances. Not that we'd all make the same decision that Williams did. But doesn't all this set bad with you?

As it turned out, Williams was tried as an adult and was given a 50-year to life sentence in a California state prison. According to the article, he won't be eligible for parole until he's 65 years old. He'll spend the majority of his life behind bars.

Isn't this horrible? I don't mean the punishment, but the fact that all this happened. Andy Williams' life has literally become a tragedy. And it's all laced with sin. His parents divorce, the forced separation from his mother, the thefts, the teasing, the failure of the school administrators and others to prevent that, his dad being careless with an armed weapon, Andy deciding to hurt other people and to kill them... If this story says anything, it's that the consequences of sin are great. I feel sorry for all the families and friends of those involved. I wonder how saddened the parents of those murdered feel. I wonder how
his parents feel. Does anyone regret having bullied him? Does he regret what he did? I wonder how much harm was done by all those involved. I feel sorry for Andy. I wish that all those terrible things hadn't happened to him. I also wish that he hadn't responded to all those things in the manner he did.

It isn't right for any of us to make somebody else miserable. Making fun of others and putting them down, what's right about that? And of course, it's always just “in good fun”. It's never meant to mean anything. No one ever intended to hurt the other person's feelings.

I felt awful after I read this article. I was reminded of all those times I've been made fun of or was mistreated or picked on. I was reminded of how horrible that's made me feel each time it's happened to me. I also was introduced to the idea that maybe I'd done that to others though. Maybe not intentionally... well, yes, sadly that's true too—intentionally. But I thought of one person in particular. A guy I've worked with for some time now has often been made the butt of many jokes. He's not the brightest of people, and so he is an easy target. It's easy to get him riled up over something. I've teased him before, and picked on him, never meaning to hurt his feelings, but just to have a bit of fun with him. But now, I realize I probably have hurt his feelings a few times. And that's made me feel terrible. I don't want to be the cause of making someone else's life more difficult. I don't want to hurt anyone like that. I know how it can feel.

So, I decided to do something nice for this coworker. Since I'm technically head of my department now, I took it upon myself to make him an honorary employee of the week. I gave him a certificate with his name on it, with a dollar bill attached, and got all the other workers to applaud whenever I gave him the award. When I gave it to him, his face lit up for the first time in a long time. He smiled and looked beat. He thanked me and the others and seemed to be floating on cloud nine the rest of the day. I'd become use to seeing him angry and frustrated, but I didn't see that afterwards, and it was wonderful not to see that. It made me feel good just because he felt good.

Isn't that what we as Christians are supposed to be in the business of doing? Aren't we supposed to be helping each other, and building each other up? Aren't we supposed to be setting a good example? How are we doing that when we tear others down?

Yes, teasing can honestly be “all in good fun”, but sometimes it can literally be taken too far. As in the case of Andy Williams. But just when do we cross the line? When does playful banter become abuse? Ephesians 4:29 tells us, “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.” A good saying to include here might be, “Do unto others as you would have done unto you”. Nobody, I'm sure, would enjoy being teased day in and day out. So, why do we do that? “All in good fun” can't be an excuse. As the article stated near the end, “The teasers and others who made Andy's life miserable were not charged with any crime—at least not in the courts. But if any of them are Christians, God will hold them accountable for their actions. Count on it!” If we contribute to sending somebody over the edge, you better believe that God is going to hold us just as much accountable for their actions. In the case of my coworker, I didn't want to see anything similar happen with him. I didn't want to see him come in to work one day with a gun ready to wipe out all of us. I want to see him lifted up, made to feel good, and hopefully brought to Christ. I hope that's the future in store for him, and not the other way around.

As I brought up earlier, I've been both the teased and the teaser. As a Christian, I know not to allow rejection or abuse or any other sin to drag me down to the point of killing those who treat me like that. But I'd neglected to think about how others may feel when I'm the one teasing them. I've never purposefully meant to hurt anyone like that. I hope that I haven't. But, it's always good to keep in mind that one could in that manner. It's always good to keep in mind the feelings of others.

How many people have
you sent over the edge?

Sunday, June 10, 2007

There's Only Grace

There is no guilty
there is no shame
no pointing fingers
there is no blame
What happened yesterday has disappeared
the dirt has washed away and now it's clear

You're starting over now, under the son
you're stepping forward now
a new life has begun,
your new life has begun

And if you should fall again, well get back up
just reach out and grab my hand
and get back up again

There's only grace, there's only love,
there's only mercy and believe me it's enough

your sins are gone, without a trace
and there's nothing left now
there's only grace

Isn't this a great promise? These are (roughly) the lyrics to the Matthew West song “Only Grace”. It's one of the songs I've been listening to a lot recently. I hear these lyrics and I think about how wonderful their truth is. With Christ, there really is only grace, love, and mercy. Through Him, our sins will be remembered no more. All the blame, pointing figures, guilt, shame and regret will all be washed away. We will have a new beginning, and a new life in Him.

I long for the day when I'll no longer have any regrets. I long for the day when I'll no longer feel guilt or shame. There's been a lot that I've done to make me have these feelings. Hasn't everyone? Thing is, with Jesus, we really will one day experience the great truths mentioned in the lyrics of this song. They're a comfort to me because of the hope they offer. One day, I'll no longer have to experience these feelings. There's forgiveness for all those horrible things, and a promised peace for those of us who follow Christ. There's love abundantly poured out to us, even though we've done all those things we shouldn't have done.

There really is only grace, and that sure is enough. It's enough to know that God loves me. No matter what I do, or how I feel about myself, or no matter what anyone else thinks, or anything else, God will always love me, as He loves everyone unconditionally and always.

I long for the day when His loving arms will wrap around me and all those bad thoughts, regrets, and hurts will be no more. I long for the day when His grace will be fulfilled in me. And I long for that day when it will be fulfilled for all of those who believe in Him. Imagine the overwhelming happiness there will be...

Won't that be great!

Monday, June 4, 2007

Abstinent, and Glad About It

We somehow got into a discussion on sex today at work, and two of my workers told me they were virgins, and that they both believed sex outside of marriage was wrong. Both of them are a few years younger than me, and they go to the same church, along with a few of the other guys I work with. I honestly felt really good hearing them say they wanted to be abstinent, and that they were taught about abstinence at church and from their parents. It was good to hear that they wanted to obey God in this regard and to do the right thing. I respect them greatly for their decision. They weren't embarrassed by the fact that they were virgins. They were glad that they were! And I felt glad for them. Resisting the urge to act out on sexual desires can be a very hard thing to do. Especially since we are bombarded everywhere we look these days by sexual images and temptations.

As for myself, I gave in when I was between twelve and fourteen, and on many occasions. I wish like crazy I hadn't though. I'm not proud of the fact that I've had sex. It's nothing at all for me to brag about (as so many guys feel the urge to do). I honestly wish I could still say I was a virgin, but I'm not, and with the grace of God I hope I'm forgiven for what acting out I did do. I ended up telling them that when they asked me if I'd ever had sex (they know I'm a Christian, and I suspect they thought I'd never given in, considering I've never been married). I didn't tell them it had been with another guy, but I did admit that I'd had sex, and that I felt bad about it. I do feel bad about it. I went on to tell them that I thought they were doing the right thing by obeying God, and by not giving into to their sexual desires. I encouraged them to try as hard as they could to resist giving in, because it's a decision they'll never regret, unlike the other way around. I pray they'll be able to resist.

I wondered for a few minutes after our talk as to whether or not I'd done the right thing by telling them vaguely about my own, eh, indiscretions. Then I realized, maybe I gave them some encouragement by what I told them. Being a Christian, and one that's somewhat older than them, maybe I was able to influence them to do the right thing. I don't know, but that's my hope. I hope I was able to influence them for the better. And in a way, I was influenced by them. It was good to actually hear that they'd rather please God, rather than themselves. It was good to hear straight guys actually saying that having sex wasn't all that important to them--they could live without it. I was moved by their faith and their determination to obey God in this regard.

God, please help me to always be a positive influence on those around me, and please always help me to resist any temptations that come my way. Thank you for today, Lord.