I’m From Downingtown, PA.

by Sean Berger

Satellite overhead image of Pennsylvania from Google Earth 2022

Strip away the flesh and bone
Look beyond the lies you’ve known
Everybody wants to talk about a freak
No one want to dig that deep
Let me take you underneath
– Adam Lambert

“Why do you dress like you do? Why do you make your gayness such a big part of your life? You are so much more,” my mom recently questioned me. Does she not realize this is who I am? I used to live a lie. She can’t understand. If she only could see my life as I do. If she had only lived the life that I had. That question would seem but foolish.

My name is Sean Andrew Berger. Born August 11, 1989, in a close suburb to Philadelphia, PA. Brown eyes. Light brown hair. I grew up a typical happy, and sarcastically funny boy. I loved matchbox cars, creating my own worlds of traffic on the living room couch. I loved to race people to the neighborhood fence where you could look through the cracks and see semi-trucks (a personal favorite) zooming by on the turnpike. I loved playing with neighbors and swimming in our little pool with slide. I loved to collect bugs and turn any day into a backyard adventure. Life was all about enjoying every moment of it. In my family, life was also all about Jesus. I grew up in a family where Jesus Christ and religion came first in everything. Praying before dinner. Praying before bed. Weekly church. It was standard. I memorized hundreds of Bible verses for church. It was drilled into me. In any decision in my life I was to put Christ first. I had no idea that very soon my faith would be shaken to its core, by a “choice” that I never made.

When I was around the age of five, I vividly remember an experience that would forever change my life. My mom received a phone call concerning my uncle. I would never, even to this day, find out the details of the call but they became irrelevant. The call brought my mom to tears for days. She needed counseling just to cope with its details. I was, as a young son seeing his mother in pain, very concerned for her and asked her just exactly what was wrong with my uncle. Was he dead? Hurt? Surely the reaction of my mother rendered something severe. “No, Sean, there is nothing wrong with him. I will tell you when you’re older,” My mom tearfully replied. She would however never need to explain. Piece by piece I put the puzzle together myself. My uncle must be gay. Being gay was a sin. Gays were to be hated. Gays went to hell. An unspoken understanding of the religion I grew up with. No wonder my mom was upset. Her brother was destined to eternal damnation. Soon after, I quickly became homophobic. I remember not sticking up for a gay student being picked on in the locker room. I remember not wanting to be around my uncle or respond to his emails. It wouldn’t be until the summer before middle school that I would find out that I was attracted to just guys. At that moment my memory of my mom’s reaction resurfaced. Surely, if my mom had this reaction about her brother, how much more she would be devastated by having a gay son as well. I remember one time questioning my mother about my Uncle in the guest room of our house. “Mom, can Uncle Phil ever change and marry a woman?” She simply replied not knowing its consequence, “Yes he can.” Right then and there I made up my mind what I was going to do. I was going to keep my attraction to guys a secret and somehow change my sexuality. They would never need to know. I would keep it a secret. Forever.

And I did. I regret my middle and high school years entirely. They are a missing decade of my life. Gone. Never to be gotten back. I have still never fully recovered. These years were nothing but silent suffering. Quiet pain. No one knew what was going on underneath. On the surface I was doing just fine. On the outside no one ever questioned me. I merely played the part. I excelled at playing three sports. I mastered two different instruments. I was actively participating in clubs and was getting straight A’s in school. No one ever knew there was a battle on the inside that was slowly killing me. No one knew that I never ever felt any happiness at all. I was viewed as just the quiet, shy kid in school. That couldn’t be further from the truth. I was simply holding back on the real me while screaming inside. I was scared to death that someone would find out that I was gay. I constantly felt guilty. Even about things that were out of my control, I would apologize. Many nights I could be found on my knees, begging God to change me, tears running down my face. I would attempt over and over again to get myself to be stimulated by girls but I never once succeeded. I would punish myself. Something was wrong with me. I needed to change. It would. Just not the way I had ever anticipated.

Eventually during my college years, my parents one night decided to investigate my computer while I was at work. What they found shocked them. Neither one of them expected to find guy on guy footage on my computer. They were devastated. I still remember coming home that night from work. It took all of a minute to know something was wrong. “Mom how are you?” No response. She just continued to wash the dishes. “Mom? How are you?” I said much louder so that she had to respond. She muttered something inaudible as she still didn’t even look up from washing the dishes. My heart sunk. My secret was out. I knew even before it was acknowledged. I would be brought to the basement as my sister was sent to bed. I had to pray on my knees to Jesus. I agreed to get counseling, scared. I had my phone and computer taken away from me. The next three days I lost over 10 pounds doing nothing but crying, throwing up and laying in bed.  My world came crashing down. My parents suggested that I drop out of college to focus on changing. I regretfully did. I became increasingly depressed, some days not being able to get out of bed. Less than a year later, I would come so close to committing suicide and ending my life.

Since almost killing myself, I have begun to slowly rebuild my life. I stopped going to the Christian counseling for my homosexuality, realizing that I cannot change. I have moved out from living with my parents and being surrounded by their ideals. I have come out to all of my friends and the rest of my family. I live proud, unashamed. Right now I am back in college working toward my major in communications and minor in business. I am building toward the future. A future that involves a husband someday. I am currently a volunteer in five different organizations trying to give back as much as I can. I want to turn my story of pain, isolation, silence into one of giving back, rejoicing, and hopefulness for others. I live to make the world a better place for LGBT individuals of the next generations. Why? So that they don’t lose a decade of their lives in painful silence, shutting down to the outside world. So that they can live vibrant lives celebrating who they are instead of crying themselves to sleep. So that they don’t live with regrets of not coming out sooner. So that they don’t feel as though they should end their lives. In the words of Harvey Milk, “I know that you cannot live on hope alone, but without it, life is not worth living.” I want to show people the hope that I have found. Hope to someday get married. Hope to someday raise a family. Hope of being accepted. Hope of being proudly me. “You gotta give ‘em hope.” And that is in the end what my life story has become. Hope.

So why do I make homosexuality such a big part of who I am? Mom, simply because I am proud. After years of hiding. After years of pain. After years of denial. I have learned that I am not a sin. I am not a mistake. My sexuality was not a choice. I need not be ashamed of who I really am. I need to let people see that my biggest scar, is the one that I am most proud of. “Welcome to my world of truth.”

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