CG's Story

Updated: Oct 9, 2018

I sat down to write a brief introduction but now I feel like I’ve made a decent start on a memoir. Anyway, I’m nineteen (going on ninety, judging by my love of knitting and floral print upholstery fabrics), and I’m currently a first year English literature student at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. Aside from the last six months, I’ve lived my entire life in San Antonio, Texas—which has had its ups and downs. Ups: Texas is beautiful, and Texas is big, and I love my crazy Texas family, and we definitely have the best Mexican food of anywhere in the world (with the possible exception of Mexico). Downs: the Bible Belt is a sucky place to grow up gay.

Ultimately I’m grateful for the environment I was raised in. Both sides of my family have a deep and abiding love for Jesus, and I feel blessed to have grown up seeing what that looked like. But I always felt, on some level, that I didn’t fit. My dad’s dad’s greatest disappointment was that I, his eldest grandson, was brainwashed at a young age by that sinister, softening, highly suspect field generally known as “the arts.” My mom’s dad’s greatest disappointment was that I, his eldest grandson, never showed the slightest desire to go out into the wild with him and shoot things. Both of them have come to appreciate other qualities in me over the years, but it was a long and painful process for the one to realize that I would never carry a briefcase, and the other to accept that I would never carry a gun.

My father, bless him, was never the best with words. In more ways than I can count he’s been a better dad than I could ask for, but he does have this habit of dodging uncomfortable conversations—so when it came time to give me “the talk,” he gave me a book. The book was a Christian guidebook to all things puberty called So You’re About to be a Teenager, and it was well-intentioned, but a well-intentioned book, unlike a well-intentioned person, cannot answer your questions after you have heard what it has to say. To my father’s credit, he did say, “You can always talk to me our your mother about any of this.” Except what I heard loud and clear was, “We don’t talk about this,” or at the very least, “I am extremely uncomfortable talking about this,” so small wonder, I suppose, that I’ve never had a single conversation with my father about sex. (I’ve decided that if my life were a game show, it would be called Psychoanalyze That!)

Anyway, this book. It covered all the bases. Shaving, masturbation, dating etiquette, “nocturnal emissions”—you name any topic even remotely connected to puberty, and SYATBAT had something to say about it. There are two main things I remember about this book, and I can quote both of them in what I’m sure is near exact accuracy almost ten years later. The first came in a lengthy chapter about boys and girls and how they would soon be drawn to one another by irresistible forces of hormonal magnetism, and it went something like, “Are boys attracted to toned arms, a strong jaw, and a firm chest? Of course not! Boys are drawn to breasts, bellybuttons, and backsides.” And I remember thinking, Hm. And also, bellybuttons? (Actually I still find it slightly odd that bellybuttons made the list of top turn-ons for males, but that’s another discussion.) The second thing I remember came at the very end of this chapter. It was a lonely, single paragraph (subtle foreshadowing, perhaps?) about people who didn’t experience attraction this way: people who were homosexual. You got the sense that if the book could read itself aloud, it would whisper the word. The sentence I remember is: “If you think that you or someone you know might be experiencing this condition—and it is a condition—talk to a trusted adult right away so you can get the help you need.”

For a long time I managed to hold two separate concepts in my head: “something slightly wrong about me” and “gay.” I remember exactly when they collided, though I’m not exactly sure how old I was. Sixth grade, I’m guessing, so maybe eleven or twelve. I was standing in my bathroom, looking in the mirror, contemplating the painful reality of a body covered in unwanted hair, and suddenly it clicked for me that all the things that book described which I thought weren’t happening to me—the strange dreams and the looking around and the weird curiosity—they were happening to me, letter for letter as the book described, only I hadn’t realized because it wasn’t happening with girls. And I knew then that something was terribly wrong. In my memory this was a tragic and dramatic moment, as I lifted my tear-streaked face heavenward and sank down to my knees; in reality it probably looked more like a little boy sobbing into a sink and wiping his snotty nose on his shirt, but I reserve to right to take some poetic license. In any case, I remember thinking that I had to tell my dad—right then—I had to go downstairs and tell my dad straight away, because I would be further gone with every moment I waited. Maybe it wasn’t too late, and they could still fix my condition! In hindsight, I do wonder what I expected “them” do to. Maybe something medical. After all, my mom was a doctor—people had conditions when she left for work in the morning that were gone when she came home at night. Why should it be any different for me? But saying it would have made it too real, so I didn’t tell my dad. Or my mom. Still haven’t, actually, and I feel quite guilty about that sometimes.

Growing up, I thought I didn’t know any gay people. But that wasn’t technically true. I have this distant cousin, you see, who once lived in Texas but was banished to the "hedonistic cesspool" of New York City for what my mother always tastefully termed his “upsetting choices.” The rest of her family refused to speak to him, refused to speak of him—it’s only recently that they’ve been able to sit down to a meal with him, which doesn’t happen often because, funnily enough, he doesn’t visit often. And yet my mother always kept in touch with him, to some extent. If we were in New York, she’d give him a call and ask to meet up. Sometimes we did. I respect her so, so much for that, even though I didn’t understand the significance of it at the time. These are the things that reassure me for the conversation I’ll have to have with her eventually.

It was around this time that I discovered porn, and I’ve had a strange relationship with it ever since, best described as a mild addiction tempered by intense feelings of shame and guilt. Arguably the worst / most pathetic / probably not uncommon phase in that relationship was that at one point, by some warped logic, I started making myself look at straight porn, as if that would somehow make me straight, and that would somehow make me a better person. And I guess my porn therapy sort of worked, in that it did turn me on. But if we’re being honest, hot men are hot whether they’re having sex with women or with one another, and porn is still porn, no matter how noble your intentions. Ah, porn. It’s the worst. (It strikes me that I’ve just written a five syllable line, and I am seized with the sudden urge to write a haiku about the pitfalls of pornography. For your sake, I will restrain myself.)

Perhaps the biggest step on this journey towards honestly, and arguably the reason I’m writing this today, wasn’t even a choice I made. It was a choice a friend made, in the fall of our senior year of high school, to come out to me as bi. There she was, a committed Christian, someone I had known for years, and all along she had been struggling with this. Her honestly forced me to admit to myself that I was struggling with something, even if I wasn’t ready to put a name to it, so I made a decision of my own by arranging to meet a youth pastor from church for coffee on the afternoon of December 8th, “just to chat.” I told him about my friend, and how the news had really affected me, and it must have taken me the better part of two hours (that poor, patient man) to work up the courage to say, sweating buckets and shaking fit to shit, “I guess part of the reason it’s gotten to me so much is that I’ve sort of been struggling with the same kind of thing.” There. In my roundabout, inarticulate way, I’d said it, and I couldn’t take it back. The pastor, Brad, was amazing; in many ways he got me through that year. We chatted about the issue of same sex attraction, and how poorly the church had responded to it, and I shared my secret, half-formed plans to minister to the LGBT community through the arts. Afterwards I sat in the car for a solid fifteen minutes before I could drive, just laughing. It was the most incredible relief.

Brad told me about a blog he’d been reading, which was the coming out story of gay Christian. He wrote so openly, and basically I just stayed up all night holding my laptop at a distance to keep it safe from my floods of tears, because for the first time someone was presenting me with a growing-up story that I understood all too well, and I knew that someone else would understand me perfectly. After first coming out to a friend, he said that he “was addicted to this drug called honesty”—and that was me. I’d been honest with Brad, and I was starting to be honest with myself, and I wanted to be honest with someone else. So I told my friend, because it made sense for us to share this burden together, and I figured I owed it to her. And then I told another friend who knew about the first friend, and then a third friend who I just really wanted to know. All three were girls. All three took it really well. Each time I felt better.

In my journal, I started a list with two columns. One was headed, “Here is a thing that is a sin,” and included one item: “engaging in sexual activity with someone of the same sex.” The other was headed, “Here are some things that are not sins,” and it was a much longer list, including art, fabulous clothes, scented candles, Beyoncé, baking macarons, skinny jeans, potted plants, and even—believe it or not—folding laundry in time to the Chicago soundtrack. I had to make it dumb and funny and obvious to make myself understand, because I’m still working through a deeply engrained idea that morality is linked to a very specific kind of masculinity, and that simply isn’t true.

I told each of these people that I didn’t really want to put a label on my sexuality, but if I had to, I would say I was bi. These days it’s harder to hold off on labels, because they’re so darn comforting. Sharing a label with someone else makes you feel less alone. The thing is, I know I’ve been attracted to women at various points in my life. Increasingly, however, it feels like this is something that’s slipping away, and that I’m scrambling tooth and nail to hold onto it. How much heterosexual attraction is enough? How much do you need, really, to be a boyfriend? A husband? A father? And how are you supposed to see through all the mind games you’ve been playing with yourself for over a decade to get a glimpse of your own reality? I turn my eyes inward, and suddenly I am blind.

People have always assumed that I was gay—or, where “assumed” is too soft a word, they suspected. I always found a self-righteous, vindictive satisfaction in saying, “Ha! These narrow-minded bigots with their stereotypes! They think that if a man wears pastels, tap dances, and collects teacups, then he must be homosexual!” And though this indignation is still valid in principle, it was surprisingly difficult for me let go of this—to admit that, in my case, they were right, and they all saw right through to the parts of me that I was hiding from myself.

And once you stop hiding? Buckle up, brother. Beyond the closet lies a whole new world of challenges. After those initial conversations, I was getting comfortable again—and then a wakeup call came last July, during my two heavenly weeks in Iowa City, that glorious literary oasis in the cornfields. I was a student at the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio, and one of the other students was this boy. Harry. And like no boy I had ever encountered before, Harry breathed sex. He just did, without even trying. He was quiet, and brooding, and always halfway smiling at some secret joke, and he was a poet, which would normally put me off, but he was one of those rare teenage poets who doesn’t make me want to shove an icepick in my eye. He also had this gorgeous cotton-candy-pink hair, a look which I myself attempted shortly thereafter (much less successfully, it should be noted). And basically we had a dance one night, and we were all in a dark room, and my eyes met Harry's, and I knew: if he had walked over to me right then, I would have done anything with him. I realized that the only thing holding me back was fear, and that if he made the first move, I would make the second, third, and thirtieth. That terrified me. I got an honest, non-deluded look at my own self-control, and discovered that I didn’t have any. I still worry that the only thing preventing me from making the wrong choices is God mercifully directing me away from the wrong situations.

So yeah. It’s been just over a year since I first talked about this with Brad, and it’s gotten nothing but easier. I’ve confided in three people since I came to university, and I’m proud to say that I looked each of them in the eye without shaking or feeling like I was going to lose control of my bowels. It’s a start.

I still often feel like there’s a child inside of me who’s trapped in a perpetual puberty (surely as good a concept of Hell as anyone could come up with), and that he hasn’t had the chance to grow up along with the rest of me because I’ve shoved him down and hushed him up for half of my life. My current objective is to get to know him and, harder still, learn to love him. And maybe one day he’ll catch up, and find his place as a part of me, and experience the joy and peace that I’ve denied him for so many years. Then all of me, my wholeness and my entirety, will be washed and redeemed and made perfect; the burdens will be revealed for blessings, and the weariness will make the rest seem all the sweeter.


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