October 11th is National Coming Out Day. For those of us who came out years ago and have been living openly I think it is important that we make a special effort to show our pride this October 11th in particular. In light of the recent suicides that have been reported and because I am sure there are many that have gone unreported, or not attributed to sexual orientation, I think it is important that we stand up and out in support of those who may be struggling with their sexuality. I think it is important that we each tell our histories so others can see they are not alone, that someone else has gone through what they are going through or maybe something similar. This is my story.
I grew up in a very strict Christian family. My mom had us in church third pew from the front every time the doors were open. I learned a lot of things there; some of those lessons I have hung on to and some of those lessons nearly killed me. I was in elementary school when Anita Bryant was making the rounds on the news and talk shows and anywhere that she could draw a crowd to listen to her hateful teachings. Her anti-gay campaign made its way into our church. There was much discussion from the pulpit about homosexuals and their agenda, homosexuality became a big topic of discussion.
The things that I learned about gay people when I was about 8 or 9 years old were that homosexuals were drug addicts, alcoholics, prostitutes and child molesters. The churches take on it was that these people were the basic scum of the earth and if they didn’t change their ways they should been instantly destroyed like the folks in Sodom and Gamorah. To an eight year old mind the fact that these words were being spoken from the pulpit meant that they had to be gospel, true and undeniable. If the preacher said it you didn’t question it because he was a man of God and he would never lie!
I was a tomboy when I was a kid. My dad had wanted a son and wound up with two daughters of his own, three step daughters and a step son. For all intentional purposes I was my fathers son. Being a tomboy when you are pre-teen is acceptable, not so much when you enter jr high and high school. At that age you should be developing more feminine ways and looking at boys as someone to lure rather than someone to compete with.
Prior to jr high I was fairly out-going, I would speak up in class, participate in school plays and such. It seemed to me that the whole dynamic changed in jr high and for whatever reason I did not fit in! Seventh grade was the first year that we had a locker room and had to dress out for Phys Ed. I can still hear that first girl screaming “There’s a boy in here” at the top of her lungs and looking dead at me. I was mortified! From that moment on I hated school at least the social aspect of it. I loved learning, but the other kids made me nervous. I felt like they were all looking at me and that they knew something that I didn’t. I had friends that I hung out with though I did not always feel at ease with them either. I could feel there was something slightly different about me, slightly off, but I had no clue what it was. I played basketball and ran track during those years, and even there, though I could compete, I still didn’t fit in. There is nothing quite like sitting in the locker room before practice and being voted ‘team square’ by all the upper classmen.
It got worse in high school because then the whispers became more audible. I would hear people talk about me being queer! All I could think was “I am a Christian, I’m not queer!” In my mind the two could not coexist! Because queers were drug addicts and alcoholics and child molesters and I was none of those things. Plus the fact that I had never considered any of the feelings I may have had for any of my female friends to be anything more than admiration.
High school was miserable! I played sports because I didn’t want to go home after school to parents that spent the evening yelling at each other and to a father who was sexually abusive, and being at school was mentally and emotionally hellacious. There just didn’t seem to be a place that I belonged. Graduation was the best thing that ever happened to me. After graduation I did manage to date a couple guys still oblivious to the fact that I was gay. It really wasn’t fair to them because I ended both relationships badly. I have only ever slept with one man(voluntarily) and all I remember about that was that I was no good at it and there were water stains on the ceiling tiles in the corner of the room. I was sleeping with my first girlfriend at the same time; but that didn’t mean that I was gay, it was just her that I was attracted to.
I struggled trying to figure out who I was and what was going on with me. I would go days with no sleep because I was afraid that Jesus would show up any minute and I needed to be awake to ask for forgiveness before it was too late. I went through moments of euphoria in finding a kindred spirit in my girlfriend to moments of absolute self loathing and fear of going to Hell for finally being happy.
The one thing I can say for church was that it did keep me from killing myself. Which was odd because the church was much of the reason that I wanted to die. I knew that there would be no salvation from suicide, so no matter how much I thought about it, it just wasn’t an option.
It wasn’t until my second girlfriend that I realized that this wasn’t ‘just a phase’. It wasn’t until my second girlfriend and her gay friends showed up that I realized I wasn’t the only queer in town. Knowing that it wasn’t just me, that I wasn’t the only ‘freak’ around lightened the burden somewhat, but I still struggled with everything that I learned in church. I kept waiting for the day when I would wake up and be a drug addict or an alcoholic or a prostitute. One of my sisters had a child and I was so afraid to be left alone with him because after all, I was gay, which meant that I WAS a child molester. I was so afraid that one day I would just snap or something and I would hurt him.
It took me a while to come to terms with who I was and am and to come to terms with what the church is and is not to me. It took finding out that I was not the only queer in town, and that I was not going to turn into some evil person to be able to accept and appreciate who I was and who I am. I am not going to tell you that it was easy or that it happened overnight, but I will tell you that others have gone through this and you are not alone and you can be and deserve to be loved just exactly as you are.
There are a number of people and agencies, websites and phone banks that are there to help you. Please seek them out. In many cases you do not have to identify yourself you just have to make contact. Please take care of yourself, be good to yourself, you are worth it!
Cross Posted from Robbi's Space