My family was very religious, and I grew up going to church with them on a regular basis, at least until the bullying became too much to take. I myself was quite religious as a child, and didn’t want to leave my Sunday school class but grew weary of the harassment heaped upon me for being different. I actually don’t remember any mention of homosexuality in church, but do remember plenty of references to hell. Most of the references to the evils of homosexuality came from televangelists that I happened to see on TV. It was enough to cause a lot of emotional trauma for me later on.
One day when I was in the fifth grade a schoolmate asked me if I liked guys. I answered yes. To me, it was an innocent answer, but no one else saw it that way. Hell, I didn’t even really know what it meant. For quite some time afterwards my life was pretty rough and I was picked on regularly. Eventually, however, I had enough, and started to fight back, which helped put an end to the harassment. After all, no one wants to admit they got punched in the face by a “faggot.” Eventually everyone moved on, and for the rest of junior high I managed to avoid any rumors of being gay.
As the years progressed, I became more and more attracted to the same sex. It was something I could not make any sense of. This was just before the internet and before mainstream gay characters on TV or in movies. All the gay characters on TV and gay people I saw on the news seemed like caricatures, one dimensional people that I could never relate to. There were no gay role models, no resources, nothing to counter the notion that being gay led to a lifetime of misery. As a result, I kept pushing these feelings deeper and deeper, raising self-repression to an art form.
High school came around, and my single focus was on getting out and moving away, although I still didn’t fully grasp why. Then, one night, I woke up in a cold sweat after having a dream about a senior at my school. By this time, I had (I thought) a better idea about what being gay meant for the rest of my life, and I became paralyzed with fear. Thoughts of suicide sometimes entered my mind, but at the same time I knew that one day things might change. That, along with believing that people who committed suicide went to hell, was enough for me to not seriously consider it. Maybe this was one reason most of the colleges I considered, at least at the beginning of my search, were all religious schools. Although not comfortable at church at the time, I had plans of finding a church in college to help me overcome what I thought was a sin that would condemn me to hell.
It took about a year in college to find a church that seemed like a good fit. Although I never shared my problem with anyone, it seemed to me to be helping. There were many attractive, eligible females in my college class at church, and soon found myself becoming good friends with one of them, who also seemed interested in me. We spent a lot of time together, talked on the phone regularly, and I could tell she wanted more. Luckily, the fact that she was so religious meant that “more” didn’t require much in the way of physical contact. Finally, though, I couldn’t go through with a relationship with her, and also knew that it was in her best interest for me to be out of the picture. I stopped going to church with no explanation. She and my friends deserved better but I also knew how they would have reacted with horror had they known why I was pushing everyone away.
At the same time, though, I still couldn’t make the leap to fully accepting my homosexuality. Finally, I turned to the internet, which at the time was still rudimentary. A gay chat room on a college bulletin board service provided the right outlet, and I found someone from near my area to talk to. Much of our conversation is now forgotten to me, but I do remember the relief of finally, for the first time in my life at 19 or 20, having someone who knew what I was going through. Unfortunately, though, my relief didn’t last, and for some reason that is lost to me now (probably my deep seated religious background) and again began to believe that I had to change in order to ever have a happy life.
The harder I tried to change, though, the more I realized what a hopeless prospect that was. Religion at this point offered no cure, I knew that now. Having since turned 21 and having even easier access to alcohol, I turned to drinking and partying to divert my mind and try to fit in. It wasn’t long before I was drinking a half bottle of Jack Daniels a night, even during the week, just to make me forget. One night, I woke up covered in my own vomit and knew that this was rock bottom and needed to make some serious changes. I began looking into gay resources in the town I attended college, but found little. There was a gay bar in a dilapidated part of town, which I drove by several times, but never went in. No one was ever there, and it just seemed too dangerous. I turned again to the internet, finding more resources available this go around, and finally started making some decisions. By this time, I was near graduation, and considering the lack of resources available locally, decided to move to a larger, more gay friendly city to explore this side of my life more freely.
After moving, I found a local chat group that actually met in person for coffee once a week. I made several good gay friends, finally rid myself of the last shreds of doubt regarding who I was, and finally began moving beyond the fear that had been so instilled into my being. That was well over ten years ago now. I’m not going to lie and say I came out, immediately found a relationship, bought a house with a picket fence and lived happily ever after, but I am happy and content with the life I have built for myself and the amazing friends that share it with me. My main regret is the time wasted; time spent trying to change myself. However, the places I’ve lived in the past, and the depths to which sunk emotionally; make me appreciate my current community and life that much more.
To any young person reading this, be yourself but be safe. Survive school and make it to graduation. Find someone to confide in, if you can do so safely. Then leave, if necessary, and find one of the many communities out there where you can be yourself and be happy. Life is too short to try to change who you are.