24

 I used to joke that I wasn’t going to live past thirty-five, and I know the word is still out on that one, but I can’t recall the last time I was excited about my birthday. I thought my life was over at twenty-one (dramatic I know). Today, October Seventeenth, Two Thousand Sixteen, I turned 24 years old. I’m happy and I’m alive. Two adjectives that didn’t describe who I was for a very long time. 

Everything changed during my early twenties and it all revolved around my faith and sexuality. In my teenage years, I became a conservative american evangelical christian and went all in. I did everything a good church boy should do: I attended multiple times each week, did countless bible studies, sang in the worship band, got baptized, led my own small groups, worked for a church in various avenues, read my bible/prayed everyday, abstained from sex/drugs/drinking, etc. That lifestyle probably would have kept working if I was straight, but I’m not. I'm gay.

 The church became my home back then, it filled a big void that a shallow family life had cratered in my heart. At church I found love, acceptance, community; a place to belong and be myself. Some of my most meaningful and life giving relationships came through the church. But there was a large part of me that wasn't allowed expression, and if I did, I wouldn't be a part of the family anymore. I knew I had to tell them. I wanted to be seen, and known completely as I was; I didn't want to be something I'm not. I was treated differently after coming out, and it was one of the biggest pains of my life. It led me down a road to depression that sucked away at my humanity until I became lifeless.

The conservative evangelical church has a very firm stance on homosexuality. There are two options if you are gay: “struggle with same-sex attraction” and live a life of celibacy or “indulge in a unrepentant sinful lifestyle” and go to hell. I wasn't a fan of either, but I knew if I wanted to be a part of my faith community, there was only one option. Remain celibate for the entirety of my life… Alone. So that’s the route I chose for a few years, which can be read about in my previous post.

After I came out to my church leaders, I was no longer treated as a brother. I felt like I was seen as an animal that needed to be kept outside, and the hardest part about being kept outside, was knowing the warmth of what living inside felt like. It felt like I lost my once loving family and to be left out in the cold; hoping that one day they’d let me back in. I spent years waiting, hoping, and praying for that, but it never happened. Each year I lost a little bit of myself and my health. It got to the point where breathing felt like a chore, and each breath I took became heavier and heavier. Eventually, I didn’t want to breathe anymore, and that terrified me. So I left the place I called home, and got help.

 Many of the great changes in life don't come from gritting our teeth and trying harder, but from discovering new perspectives on our lives and developing fresh patterns of thought and behavior, one step at a time. I spent a year repenting - learning to think again, learning to ditch seeing myself as an animal, learning to stop thinking God hated me, learning to be kind to myself instead of hurting myself, learning to enlarge my mind to accommodate a new identity. Call it therapy, call it repentance - it’s a change of mind, the beginning of a new and liberated experience of life, which I believe is always inspired and energized by God’s Spirit. It’s been a little over a year since I reached the end of my rope and encountered salvation - a will to go on when there is nothing left that is not my own. I have been saved from the depths and brought back to life as a new creation. Stronger, healthier, happier, full of wonder, aware and alive.

I'm not here to argue about theology, but, from what I know about God is that he sent Jesus to show us what love is. He went to the homes of the broken hearted, downtrodden, the lost, the outcast, the abandoned, and was present with them.  Jesus permanently invited them into his family regardless of their social status, color, sexuality, or behavior. He left every person he interacted with a chance to be more human, and not by following rules or regulation, but by accepting his love, being transformed by it, and spreading it to the world. If Jesus was here today, he would care that I'm gay and treat me the same. He would want me to be loved, be alive, and share that life with the world.

I tell my story because this conversation is worth having. Regardless of wherever you land on the issue, I hope you can pause and see the humanity of it all. We're dealing with real people, real stories, real experiences, real hopes, real dreams, and real lives. My hope is that this could bring peace and understanding. If you've had a similar experience, I hope you can find comfort in knowing that it gets better and that you are so loved. Most importantly, I hope that we open our hearts and learn to see and love our neighbors as humans.

THE LONELINESS OF EVERYDAY

In Genesis the second thing God says about humankind is that it is not good for man to be alone.
That's what I feared most about my decision to come out and to remain celibate, that I doomed myself to lifelong loneliness.


Before coming out I often daydreamed about what it would be like to be married, to have a house, to raise children, what their names would be, what activities they’d do, to have a home unlike the one I had growing up, to know that I belonged somewhere. I always dreamed about where to put my love and where I'd receive love. Now, in light of where I felt my Christian faith and Biblical inerrancy was taking me, I stopped dreaming about those things.

In their place, I began to have a recurrent picture of myself around age fifty, coming home to an empty apartment, having lived all of my adulthood as a single man. I started to think about the particulars of that scenario: not knowing each year where I’d be for Thanksgiving or Christmas, waking up each morning to a quiet bedroom and having no one across the table from me as I ate my eggs before heading to work, coming home at the end of the day and not having anyone to share it with, reading a book with no one to talk to about the parts of it that stood out to me. The loneliness of the everyday. The loneliness of no one knowing if your plane lands on time, of no one to call if you lock yourself out of your house or your car breaks down— I find that loneliness worse than the loneliness that comes as a result of a breakup or a divorce. And I began to wonder what, if anything, to do about it.

COMING OUT

Three years ago, at 20 years old, I came out for the first time. 

After spending an entire summer ignoring the desire to be known fully, I finally decided I was going to come out to a few friends of mine in the fall. It was in San Diego on October 25th, 2012, after Macklemore & Ryan Lewis' concert. I remember driving down towards San Diego with one of my best friends in the car, anxiously making small talk while really thinking about what I would say, how would I say it, and how they'd react. Driving turned into waiting in line at the venue, which turned to waiting for the concert to end, to finally heading over to my friends place with three of my best friends. There it was, the moment I've been dreading since my early adolescence, being known.

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There’s a lot I don’t remember about what happened next, honestly it seems like a pretty big blur. I don’t remember what I said or how I phrased things, although I know I certainly wasn’t using terminology like “gay” or “coming out” then. I have no idea how long our conversation lasted, and I don’t really remember how it ended. 

Here’s what I do remember: It felt like the biggest weight was lifted off my shoulders, even though I expected them to respond well. I expressed my fears about how this disclosure would change our relationships, their immediate confident reply was that it did not affect the way they saw me.  They hugged me and thanked me for trusting them, which communicated love and debunked any of my own stereotypes about homophobia among straight men. And that night, when the dust settled, I felt more relief than I’ve ever felt in my life.

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Maybe it’s strange that I came out for the first time to Christians after a Macklemore concert. The potential irony of the situation escaped me at the time because, as far as I was concerned, I was just telling some of the safest people I knew. And evidently, I made a good choice.  Over the next few years, as I continued the process of coming out to others, of trying to determine who exactly I was, and of trying to reconcile all of this with my faith. They have remained loyal and I am so grateful for them.

I haven’t found perfect answers for my countless questions about the intersection of faith and sexuality. Nor do I have guaranteed solutions for the endless public conflicts between evangelical Christians, LGBT communities, Republicans, Democrats, middle school bullies, the American Psychological Association, or Macklemore. What I have learned, though, is that I am incapable of walking this journey on my own, and everything started to change when I came out three years ago.