I’m From Oakdale, MN.

by Johan Baumeister

State Satellite overhead image from Google Earth 2022

My mother’s first words to me after I told her and my father, were something along the lines of, “I thought we raised you better than that.” Then my father fetched his Bible, and the rest of that conversation didn’t go much better. After I left that night, they changed the locks and didn’t speak with me for several weeks.

Almost nine years have passed since then. Things are not perfect with my folks. I wish that they would try to understand and stop trying to influence my life or punish me for what they see as a “phase” or a “lifestyle.” I am of their creation, and I wish that they would at least respect themselves enough to listen to what I have to say. Growing up in a strong family, seeing the importance of marriage and love, there was no way I could deny myself those things. I hope that some day they understand that in many ways, I am just like them.

They are stubborn, and so am I. I’ve said things I regret, as I’m sure they have too. I’m fairly certain they’ll never come to my wedding, and I sometimes doubt whether my mother will ever tolerate the presence of a boyfriend or husband of mine at family events. I’ve argued with them, been angry with them, cried about them. Our relationship is difficult, but at least we have one, and that is something.

For all the difficulty that honesty has brought me, it has also rewarded me.

An aunt and uncle took me in when I was alone, out of work, and had no place to go. My grandparents surprised me, not by agreeing with what they see as sin, but by fully accepting me anyways. I suppose that shouldn’t come as a surprise, but when you’re raised as strictly as I was, reality has a distinctly black-and-white feel to it and it takes time to be able to see the full spectrum.

I’ve learned to love myself, which is no small feat for someone who used to cry himself to sleep more often than not, praying for God to make him into someone else. Someone who wasn’t different. I’ve learned that faith is more than than the rote memorization of catechism and scripture that my childhood made it seem. I’ve learned that it’s more important to love someone than to be more righteous than them, or more right than them.

I’ve found deep friendships, and have been pleasantly surprised by those family and friends who couldn’t care less whether I’m gay because they love me, with no conditions.

Sometimes integrity is painful, but it is always better than surrendering to fear and lies. I would know. I’ve done that. The most important thing I’ve learned though is that the only person who can free you, is you.

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