Peterson Toscano’s “Doin’ Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House”–Some Random Rambly Thoughts

April 17, 2007

A couple weeks ago, I saw exexgay Peterson Toscano’s one-man show, Doin’ Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House.  Some people are curious as to what I thought of it, as an exgay and as an alumna (veteran?) of a residential treatment program for reasons related to my sexuality struggles myself, so I’m going to post some extremely scattered thoughts here.  Sorry it’s not a real (i.e., quasi-edited and semi-organized) post–maybe I’ll turn it into one eventually, but right now I have a ton of work to do in my real life (as opposed to my blog life), and I’d like to keep the identity series moving as well.

I was nervous about seeing the show, something I didn’t realize until I pulled into the parking lot and found myself a little shivery.  I’m still not quite sure why.  I’m not easily offended, and I normally don’t mind being made fun of.  But I do have some sensitivities about this stuff.  I have occasionally felt hurt by some things exexgays and other critics of the exgay movement do and say.  I have some exgay shame issues, which I hinted at in this post, and hope to dig into in a post after this identity thing is over.  My gayness or ssa-ness or whatever doesn’t faze me at all, but the fact that I am kinda sorta one of those nefarious “ex-gays” is enough to make me blush and stammer in polite company.  And I wasn’t sure what difficult memories of my own residential experience the show would dig up.  Don’t get me wrong, as I’ve said before, I think my program experience was a good thing.  But a residential program is the sort of thing that even when it’s good, it’s awful.  At times it almost felt to me like a kind of electroconvulsive therapy or chemo for the soul, coming within a hair’s breadth of the absurdity of burning the village in order to save it.

I guess I should do a nutshell description for those who haven’t seen it yet.  Peterson has a little promo video on the show site that explains it–although I think the performance that I saw was light-years better than these clips.  The bulk of the show is a “tour” of an exgay residential program (the Homo No Mo Halfway House), which is not so loosely based on the Love in Action program Peterson attended.  (If you’re one of those rare birds who reads me but not him, he often talks about his experiences on his blog.)  The audience is “led” through the facility by their trusty tour guide Chad, who introduces them to various other characters.  Aside from that, there’s also an interlude which is sort of like a sermon (actually, it is a sermon), and at the end, Peterson enters the show as himself, and shares his story more directly.  Peterson plays everybody, and there’s no change of costume or anything, but the different characters are readily distinguished by their very heavily accented voices. 

I was sooooo not the target audience for this show–not that I expected to be.  The target audience, as far as I could tell, was enlightened well-adjusted queer people. (Okay, just a faint hint of a snark there.)  It seemed that the point of the show was to educate them about the exgay experience, and to encourage them to be compassionate and come alongside their brothers and sisters who are coming out of an exgay or conservative Christian journey.    As a result, while fiercely critical and condemnatory of the whole exgay thing, the show’s portrayals of exgays were sympathetic and humanizing, as opposed to the “Jennifer Jason Leigh, these people are FREAKS!” style. 

I really liked the characters.  The character of Peterson’s (everstraight) dad, Pete, won my heart instantly.  And the exgays seemed very true to life, to me…little bits and pieces of the exgays I’ve known.  One thing I appreciated is that he didn’t make all of them stereotypical flamingly gay caricatures.  Chad was, of course, over-the-top, and that’s fine because some exgays certainly are!  I’m not interested in whitewashed portrayals of exgays pretending that all the girls are dainty and all the boys are butch.  But I’ve been made uncomfortable in the past by attacks on exgays which largely focus on how very gay they look and act.  It always strikes me as bizarre and maybe even hypocritical–gay people picking on exgays for the same things that straight people have historically made fun of gays for, sort of like a food chain of mockery. 

I think Marvin was my favorite exgay character.  Perhaps that’s in part because I’ve gotten to know him a little through his podcasts on Peterson’s blog.  But it’s also because he seems so much more fully himself than the other three exgay characters.  He’s got more backbone, more nerve, more sass–his tail ain’t quite as between his legs as with the other guys.  He gets accused of being “active-aggressive,” and you can’t really imagine any of the others being accused of that.  He’s gonna organize the Bibles according to year and accuracy of translation, and he don’t give a rat’s behind how anal-retentive you think he is for it.  Vlad, Chad, and Tex, while definitely characters you feel for, seem much more whipped.  Which again, is fine and fair…some exgays are thoroughly whipped, so submissive to what’s being pushed on them that they let other people basically erase and rewrite their souls for them.  (Digression:  Am I the only one who thinks that too many exgay testimonies and confessions and self-descriptions sound like they were flat-out plagiarized from the standard exgay texts?  Look, even if your story fits their models, couldn’t you at least tell it “in your own words,” you know, like they made you do in grade school?  I’m just sayin’!)

Okay, where was I?  Oh yeah…Chad and Tex seem like gutted, hollowed-out human beings, and you kinda get the feeling that the only reason Vlad ain’t there yet is that he hasn’t been in the program a month yet.  I mean, yes they have their own traits and personalities, but they all seemed devoid of a core sense of themselves, of who they are and what they stand for.  They haven’t merely submitted their outward behavior to the program, acting in conformity with its rules, but they’ve submitted their minds and hearts to it as well, letting it dictate to them who they are.  There’s no resistance, no questioning, no pushback.  Maybe it’s just me, but I find that sort of total intellectual submission horrifying.  (I’m all for being teachable, learning from those who may have more knowledge and wisdom than you.  But that means critically thinking about what they tell you, evaluating it, questioning it.  If something they’re saying doesn’t sound quite right, make them persuade you, make them convince you, press them for arguments and evidence.)  So I much prefer Marvin’s feistiness.  He might rely too much on his pastor, but he’ll also call his pastor up and say “Hey, you’re wrong.  This doesn’t work at all.”  He’s crazy and ridiculous and passionate and confused about a lot of things, but he tries to be his own man and think for himself.  Maybe I’m just projecting, but that’s the way his character feels to me.

I appreciated the attention that was paid to depicting the very religious nature of the exgay experience.  That’s one thing I found really lacking in But I’m a Cheerleader:  parts of it were hysterically funny in their accuracy, but overall they didn’t seem to know what to do with the spiritual dimension of exgay life, so they just left it out altogether.  I know Peterson is very concerned about the non-spiritual motives behind many people’s exgay journeys (fear, prejudice, self-loathing, ill-informed beliefs about gay life, desire to please others, desire to fit in, etc.), and that he feels very strongly that for most people (all people?) taking up an exgay path isn’t simply about pleasing God the best way they can figure how.  He and I could probably quibble about that all day long–unsurprisingly, I like to think that my motives are pristine.  Yet nonetheless he knows that you can’t really make any sense of exgays whatsoever without the faith / pleasing God aspect, so the strong and sincere Christian faith of at least some of the characters is believably portrayed.  It helps, of course, that he knows whereof he speaks.

The show was really, really funny.  Especially funny for me I think, because of my familiarity with the experience, on which more below, but it seemed pretty funny to the rest of the audience as well.  Every now and then the stream of humor was punctuated by a terrible or sad statement, delivered matter-of-factly, which caught you like a knife in the ribs–casual mention of attempted suicide, or an indirect remark upon a son’s deep sorrow.  I really loved that interplay of funny and sad…in that respect, it seemed to mirror program life itself.  There was a lot of laughing in my program…you need it to survive, and besides, the whole situation is so ridiculous that it lends itself to humor easily. At the same time, underneath that layer of humor that sort of lubricates the daily grind of program life, there’s the terrible fact of your past, the pain you’re trying to escape from and deal with, and the profoundly humbling experience of the program in itself.  You try to keep those things at bay with a heavy dose of silliness, but every now and then they break through.  So, from my perspective, Doin’ Time didn’t only portray some of the details of program life, it also managed to duplicate the very feel of program life.  Which impressed me a lot.

Now, all programs are different, and I think mine was better than the Homo No Mo Halfway House in countless ways.  While it seems that mine was much stricter, more intense, and offered us far less freedom–there was no “halfway house” about it!–it also seems that mine was much sounder emotionally and spiritually.  There was none of this shaming business, this public disclosure of one’s darkest moments, that seems to be a regular part of life at HNMHH / LIA. They didn’t mess around with blaming people’s parents for stuff–the focus was on your responsibility.  (I think focus on parental blame, especially for people who are grown adults, is somewhat silly.)  Instead of banning classical music and allowing only CCM, like LIA did, my program allowed classical and banned most CCM.  And I’d take our regimen of manual labor over their 12-stepping any day! 

Also, the show reminded me how much I appreciate that my program was free of charge.  I understand the rationale for making people pay, that you want to have them take ownership of their lives, that you want them to “invest” in their healing.  But for myself I am glad that there was never any doubt in my mind about the motives of the staff–there was a level of trust that I simply couldn’t have had if they had been making money off of me, if having me in the program had been useful to them.  I don’t mean to begrudge those people who want to help others a living, but at the same time, for me, trying to deal with my sexuality issues was a very complicated, conflicted matter.  So I am really glad that there weren’t financial complications and/or feelings of exploitation mixed in with those. 

But despite all these differences in the programs, there’s still that fundamental sameness of humiliating experience, and it’s so hard to find because so few people have been through programs.  You go through this surreal crazy adventure, and when it’s over the only people who really understand it are others who have gone through it.  Everyone else just looks at you like “You did WHAT?  You let them do WHAT to you?”  So it was a huge blessing for me to just be able to laugh about the residential program stuff–it spoke to a part of me that doesn’t get spoken to a lot.  

To be sure, the show had its preachy parts, and I was definitely not the choir.  As I mentioned above, there is a full-blown sermon with a preacher character, and the text is John 11–the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead.  It’s treated allegorically here:  being exgay is equated with being dead, stinking up the tomb, and coming out as gay and gay-affirming is equated with being raised from the dead.  Just as Lazarus needed others to unwrap his grave clothes, bound as he was in them, so do former exgays (or gays from conservative backgrounds) need others to help free them from the bondages of their pasts.   I wasn’t offended or anything, but I just couldn’t really relate all that well.  As I’ve talked about before, over the years I’ve come to pick out some of my old exgay beliefs as unhelpful and/or stupid, but from my perspective it was just ordinary mistake-prone learn-as-you-go life, not a kind of living death.  Knowing a little of Peterson’s story, of the pain and frustration he felt, of the lengths he went to and the sums he paid to try to change, and what he believes now, I can understand how things would feel to him. 

But to understand, of course, is not to share the feeling.  Maybe an imperfect but decent analogy would be that of an older gay guy, who sowed his fair share of wild oats back in the day, listening to an exgay guy testifying about the horrors of his past “deathstyle” of debauchery and boundless misery.  There might be a powerful similarity of experience between the two, on one level, but their interpretations of that experience and the conclusions they draw from it diverge wildly.  Both Peterson and I see most current expressions of the exgay and gays-should-be-celibate viewpoints as troubled and flawed, but in the final analysis I see them as redeemable–as founded on authentic, Spirit-led, Christian conviction, but thwarted by ignorance, arrogance, and sundry Freudian bad ideas, all of which can be corrected and repented of.  Peterson, I suspect, would instead see those troubles and flaws as the bad fruit of a perspective/ideology that is rotten to the core (despite being believed and advocated by some very nice and sincere people), a destructive, abusive, oppressive force in the lives of those of most if not all of the same-sex attracted people who fall into its grip.


Why I Forsook Gay Identity, Part 3: Openness

April 12, 2007

(Okay, enough groundwork.  The rest of this series will be spent discussing five reasons why I gave up my gay identity, one reason per post.  The posts are arranged so that they should get increasingly interesting as the series progresses, so if you think this one is stupid, you can just check out right now and come back later.)

Reason #1:  My gay identity made me less open to the will of God.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with an identity that acknowledges where we are at, that says, “This is who I am, this is how I feel, this is what my life looks like right now.”  That’s why I balk at the exgay tendency to deem any sort of gay identity a “false identity.”  There is nothing false, in my opinion, about coming to terms with the fact that you are attracted solely to people of the same sex, as well the ramifications that has had on your past and is likely to have on your future.  Our sexuality does influence us powerfully, and it is a significant chunk of who we are, and denying that seems to be the sort of thing that always comes back to bite us.

So, as I see things, a valid Christian gay identity might say “You know, the fact that I like chicks is part of the reality of my life today.”  It would be an identity that’s like a tent we pitch in a place that looks good to spend the night.  For me, however, gay identity was more like a lovely mansion that I had done up real nice on the inside, that I would never dream of leaving.   I was settled, I was comfy.  I didn’t merely see same-sex attraction as my present reality, I saw it as my destiny.

Let me try to explain a little. I have this general tendency to fall in love with the idea of myself as a certain sort of person, even to the point where I do things in order to conform to that idea, out of fidelity to it.  

Sometimes this is good.  Being deeply invested in my sense of myself as a loyal and honest person helps me do the right thing when my rather limited stores of virtue wouldn’t do the trick on their own.  I often find myself rejecting a sinful course of action not only because it’s wrong, but also because I have this conviction that DM just isn’t the sort of person who does things like that.  Sometimes it’s just silly.  I started listening to Bach not so much because I liked him, but because I thought of myself as a person who would listen to Bach.  (Now I love his music in its own right.)  The same goes for buying my first leather jacket–I didn’t really want a leather jacket, but my DM-ideal wore one, so I had to get it.  And sometimes it’s downright pernicious.  I like to see myself as a physically tough person who never gets hurt.  So I am notorious for brushing off and ignoring various injuries, so that little things become very serious, all because of my stupid devotion to an idea of myself as somebody who doesn’t feel pain. 

When it looks like I might have to give up or change things in a way that threatens my cherished idea of myself, I get really ticked off.  For example, I love my pessimism.  I love that while other exgays see their experience of attraction change as a comforting token of God’s favor, I look at mine suspiciously, waiting for the other shoe to drop, thinking there’s gotta be a catch.  I love how intensely brooding I can get.  I love how I so often find myself pleasantly surprised with life, simply because it would be astoundingly difficult for the world to underperform relative to my gutter-level expectations.  So when I recently read in a book about pregnancy (I’m not, yet, by the way) that optimism in pregnant women correlates with healthier babies, and that moms-to-be should therefore “try to see that glass of milk as half-full,” I was furious.  I’m supposed to become one of those sunshiny people?  I wasn’t upset because I thought change would be impossible–I have no clue whether or not I could actually be an optimist if I tried–but I was upset because optimism just seems so beneath me, so unworthy of the ideal vision of DM that I have. 

My relationship to my gay identity was like that, only exponentially more intense.  That’s because it was something I had fought hard for, something I had labored to build, something I had achieved.  It had been a huge struggle to make sense of who I was and what I was doing here. When my queerness began to dawn on me (and everybody else!) at age eleven, I was confronted with tons of questions:  What did it mean that I liked girls in roughly the same way that the girls seemed to like boys, and what was I supposed to do with that?  What made my mom freak out about the way I instinctively dressed, walked, and acted, and what compelled her to keep trying (futilely) to make me over?  Why were the other kids asking me in between punches where my dildo was, and what the heck was a dildo anyway?

Over the years, I gradually worked towards an idea of what my feelings meant, of who I was supposed to be.  Learning at first from snippets of gay-related stuff in the mainstream news and on TV,  and later from gay books, gay music, and other queer kids, I somehow cobbled together an understanding of what it meant to be gay, and correspondingly invented myself as a dyke.  And I really, really liked the finished product.  I saw my queer existence as an impressive hard-won accomplishment, which in a lot of ways it was, and looked forward to spending the rest of my life enjoying it.  Even after Jesus crashed that party a few years later, I fought like crazy to hang on to whatever I could. 

I mentioned in the previous post in the series how I would have rejected a hypothetical miracle pill to make me totally straight.  This remained the case even years after I became a Christian and renounced homosexual sex and relationships.  (I would still reject such a pill today, though probably somewhat more politely than I would have then, but that’s a post for another day.)  Not only did I not desire attraction change, and the sorts of lifestyle that might go along with that, I found the prospect repugnant.  Sure, I wasn’t real thrilled with a probable future of lifelong celibacy, but there were certain depths to which I couldn’t imagine myself sinking. 

It wasn’t so much about hetero marriage’s evil patriarchal nature or anything like that.  It’s more that I just felt that heterosexual attraction, heterosexual relating, and marriage, should have absolutely nothing to do with me.  I mean, I was gay, after all.  Maybe I couldn’t be with girls, but I was still somehow special, somehow above intimate dealings with men and the messy business of breeding.  Heterosexuality, like optimism, was unworthy of me, and there was no place for it in my vision of who DM ought to be.  If an extraordinarily naive Christian acquaintance innocently asked if I had a boyfriend, I would go gripe to my Christian friends afterwards about the heterocentricity and marriage-idolatry of American evangelicalism.  How dare that silly girl think I might be involved with a MAN! 

But several of these friends eventually challenged me on this, suggesting that it was sinful to have such a dismissive attitude toward something that God had created and called “very good.”  It was fine for me to point out that I wasn’t attracted to any man, and that I would likely never be, and that in such a case singleness would make a lot of sense.  But I was going further than that.  I was personally scorning heterosexuality as being beneath me, as being entirely out of character for me, and in the absence of a clear divine call to celibacy, such an attitude was sinful.  If I loved God and trusted Him as God, they argued, then I ought to see heterosexuality and marriage–His creative intent for humanity–as beautiful, excellent things, and not just for those I looked down upon as “normal” women.  I didn’t necessarily have to marry, but I had to at least be able to raise the question for myself, to see myself as the sort of person who could marry a man, if the circumstances were right.

My friends’ arguments seemed plausible enough, so I decided that I needed to try to open up my heart to the possibility of heterosexual relating and marriage.  Not that I needed to seek those things or pursue them, and certainly not that I should enter into them without some significant changes occurring first. But just that I needed to be ready and willing, if direction and opportunity arose–in the same way that we ought to be open to any call from God.  That I should prayerfully consider the possibility that God might take me down such a path in my future.  That I should consciously and explicitly submit my own comfort in my exclusively homo-attracted state to His will for my life.  I didn’t need to be straight to be a Christian, but I needed to be willing to be straight, or married, or whatever, in the unlikely event that God should so will it.

I had already sought to make my heart open to go wherever God called me to go, in a literal, geographical sense.  (Many of my friends at the time were feeling the pull of overseas missions.) I had striven to make myself willing to do whatever God might call me to do in terms of work/career.  I had tried to ready myself to renounce whatever privileges God might ask me to give up for His sake, whether money, or prestige, or whatever.  But my attitude toward all things hetero stood in stark contrast to those postures of submission.  When I tried to contemplate the possibility that God might someday make me start to like a boy and call me to go the hetero marriage route, I watched my heart crouch defensively, its hackles raised and its teeth bared.  And to see that was to know that my gay identity had to get put down. 

As part of a broader commitment to letting the Bible interpret me, I had to see myself as a woman created by God, and therefore a candidate for marriage to a man, if God placed a suitable one in my life and so led me.  I could no longer see myself as a special kind of creature automatically guaranteed exemption from the heteronorms God had instituted in His creation, even though that was central to the conception of myself that I had fought so hard for and treasured for so long.

I would go even a little further and say that I came to the conclusion that I ought to desire heterosexuality and marriage.  Not that I necessarily had to spend time and money and effort pursuing them, especially when the available methods were of dubious efficacy, but simply that I had to see them as things I would welcome and delight in if they came my way.  I had always mocked the young straight women who dreamt of their future husbands, their Prince Charmings.  While there were no doubt elements of unrealistic escapist fantasy and idolatry in their reveries, I had to recognize that in their seeing marriage as a beautiful, eminently desirable thing, the sort of thing one could easily stumble into fantasizing about, their hearts and minds were more closely conformed to the heart and mind of God than mine were.  Similarly, I had always despised the older, thirty-something single women who were panicky about their prospects, priding myself on how superior I was to them in my attitude of self-denial and willingness to accept singleness.  While I was probably right that some of them had some serious contentment issues, I failed to realize that they were light-years ahead of me in their appreciation of the goodness of God’s design, their conviction that they were meant to have spouses and families, their sense that their singleness had something to do with the world being out of joint in some way.  Truly virtuous self-denial does not arise from a despising of God’s creation and blessings, from deeming worthless what He has called good.  Rather, it comes from acknowledging and rejoicing in the goodness of what God has made, yet being willing to lose all lesser goods for the sake of gaining Christ.  My gay-pride style of resignation to celibate singleness was no more pleasing to God than the most pathetic marriage idolatry of a straight woman; in fact, her inordinate love of a particular good was probably better than my having no love for it at all.

My gay identity thus proved to be a double impediment. It made me cling to my same-sex-attractedness, unwilling to consider the possibility of changes in my life that God might call me to, and thus made me less open to following wherever He might lead.  (This may not seem like such a big deal, but for me as a believer, one who professed to love Christ with all her heart, mind, soul and strength, it was incredibly distressing to realize that there was something I simply would not do for Him, something I would flatly refuse to give up if He dared to ask it of me.)  And it made me less open in another respect as well–it made me less able to receive what God had to say about who I was and who I ought to be.  It made me less able to embrace what I could see Scripture teaching about men, women, sexuality, and marriage.  Regarding those subjects, while my gay identity held sway in my heart, I could not truthfully say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”


ack! (2 Points of Clarification)

April 12, 2007

1.   I should specify that this whole identity-forsaking saga thing, while not easily pinned to a particular instant in time, took place roughly two years before I fell in love with Mr. DM.  Otherwise, readers might think, “Well duh!  Of course your gay identity took a hit, because you fell for a guy!”  But it didn’t work that way at all.  While I wrestled with these issues, I was not aware of any significant bisexual potential.  I fully expected to live and die single, celibate, and totally same-sex attracted.  Renouncing gay identity with that sort of life outlook seems to me a very different matter than suddenly falling in love in a way you hadn’t quite planned for. 

2.  Peterson Toscano writes:

So interesting that now we have met, now I hear your humor in your posts.

Uh, for those who haven’t had the pleasure of meeting me, and therefore may not be hearing the (evidently inadequately conveyed) humor in my posts…it may help enhance your DM experience if you realize that I don’t take myself all that seriously.  Granted, I’m no comedian, and this blog isn’t meant to be slapstick hilarious anyway.  But you should know that when I write this stuff, most of the time I have a wryly amused smile on my face.  


Why I Forsook Gay Identity, Part 2: What Gay Identity Meant To Me

April 2, 2007

In this post, I’m going to briefly describe a few characteristics of gay identity as I experienced it, in order to give some idea of what I’m talking about before I spend the rest of the series sharing why I became concerned about that identity. It’s not rigorous analysis or anything, but I hope it will help flesh out a little what my gayness meant to me. 

(Note:  I am not pretending to define the word “gay” here.  When I talk about gay identity, I’m talking about patterns of thought, ways of seeing oneself, what kind of significance we ascribe to our homosexual attractions, what they mean to us.) 

And yes, I’m very aware that the identity I’m about to describe is strikingly immature in some respects.  Several of the things I talk about would probably only be issues for a younger or freshly out gay person, as most people tend to mellow a bit as they grow up and get on with their lives. And some of this is possibly also very ’90s.  So…if you want to make fun of me for having been a gay teen in the ’90s, well, you’re a little late to that (well-attended) party, but go right on ahead. 

Importance

I saw my gayness as a very important, perhaps the most important, fact about myself.   I’ve said elsewhere that if you had asked me to describe myself in three words, “dyke” would have been one of them. But that was an understatement. In fact, if you’d asked me to describe myself in one word, “dyke” would have been it, even after becoming a Christian.  Every morning when I looked in the mirror, the first thing I saw a dyke, and was quite pleased by that. When meeting other people, I felt that if they came away from our encounter not knowing I was gay (if that were possible!), they hadn’t really met me and they didn’t know who I was at all.

Tribalism

I felt this powerful bond with other queer people, that our shared sexuality was this hugely significant thing. I would sometimes feel I had more in common with a gay girl who was otherwise nothing like me than a straight one who was practically my clone in every other respect. It went way beyond the ordinary affinity that comes from shared experience or adversity.  Gay people were my people.  In my isolated small-town teens, I longed for the day when I could surround myself with them, as my high school had little more than a handful of troubled closet cases. Upon arriving at college, I threw myself into queer circles energetically, and later found myself in a bit of a social pickle when my conversion snuck up on me all of a sudden. After I became a Christian, I was tormented by feelings of guilt from being such a traitor, but nonetheless continued to feel a much stronger connection to gay people than to my new “family” of believers in Christ.

Superiority

I saw my gayness as being about far more than sexual or romantic inclinations. It was about having all sorts of other qualities, about being a generally superior sort of human being. All kinds of virtues were attached to gayness in my mind–a clever wit, an independent streak, a creative bent, a knack for sports (on the girls’ side), a flair for design (on the boys’ side). Of course, I didn’t actually possess most of those, but I belonged to a group that did, which was just as good.  I savored those studies and reports which claimed that gays were smarter, more successful, and contributed more to society than straights.   There was also a sense of identification with the accomplishments of the Great Queers of History, a sense of pride in their awesomeness, as if the achievements of Sappho, Alexander the Great, Michelangelo, Alan Turing, and Bayard Rustin were something for me to brag about. I blush to remember this, but in high school I once indignantly declared to a hetero classmate that while everyone had their vices, few were worthy of the vice of great men.

Nobility of the Cause

Being gay was something that was always worth suffering and fighting for.  This started in middle school.  I’ve learned recently from talking to straight people who were picked on, beaten up, etc., as kids–for being geeks or losers or whatever–that the mistreatment they endured never held any great meaning for them.  It was just a profoundly unpleasant experience, a miserable time of their lives, and they were just glad when it was over.  In my mind, however, my suffering at the hands of my peers on account of my queerness was woven into the struggle for gay rights, this grand cosmic narrative of good versus evil.   Somehow, just by being myself in spite of the consequences, I felt I was fighting a little battle in the great war for justice and freedom and equality, doing my part for the cause. (In retrospect, that was all incredibly silly, but it sure did help me survive early adolescence.)

Once I got out of high school and away from my parents, I tried to make myself as queer-looking as possible, but unfortunately most people just assumed I was a straight boy. (Or occasionally a gay boy, which made for some awkward situations!) So I stuck all these gay buttons on my backpack, hoping some ignorant hetero would notice and get in my face about it. The few times I did get serious negative attention, I was admittedly a bit frightened in the moment, but after it passed I would be very proud of myself for being such a fighter and messing with those bigots’ comfort zones. (Miraculously, despite my mother’s dire predictions, I never got gay-bashed during this time, although I did have to call upon my gifts as a sprinter on one occasion.)   I saw Matthew Shepard not as a victim, but as a martyr. I was very out, and was convinced that anyone who didn’t instantly respond well to that wasn’t someone who was worth knowing. I gloried in discrimination and homophobia in the way that some American evangelicals yearn for persecution and harassment to the point of hallucinating it.  I was a zealot.

Essentiality

I used to think that my gayness lay at the very heart of who I was. That it was somehow tied to my essence, in a way that was unlike almost any other desire or trait. More essential perhaps than even my gender/sex. (Gender was a collective social fantasy, but sexual orientation, now that was real. That was BIOLOGY.) Certainly on an entirely different plane than any other kind of sexual preference or taste. I can hear the voices in my head even now: “How dare you call it a taste? How dare you suggest that it is a preference? It’s at the core of your being! Your bones are gay! Your soul is gay!”

Normativity

I saw myself as someone who was meant to be with a woman. My gayness meant that the proper shape of my life, if all went well, would involve Ms. Right(s).  It was part of what I was made for, in some incoherent atheistic sense. Even after my conversion to Christianity, I still found myself feeling this weighty sense of normativity and telos. The Bible seemed clear on this subject, and the Christian witness over the millennia seemed even clearer, but how could they be right? How on earth could a good God possibly not want me to be with women? Wasn’t that cruel and destructive of Him, preventing me from being what I was supposed to be, from fully living out what my life should be like?

Celebration/Delight

For me, seeing myself as gay meant seeing my same-sex attractedness in and of itself as something to celebrate and delight in. It made me different, it made me special, it made me extraordinary, it set me apart from all those run-of-the-mill breeders. I saw it as an asset. I saw it as a beautiful thing. I saw myself as transcending the petty, trivial distinctions of sex and gender. I saw myself as a true lover of women, one who could appreciate their worth, care for them, and love them in a way that no man ever could. I saw same-sex love as being a higher love than any other, precisely because of its biological purposelessness, and considered myself gifted that such a love came so easily to me. 

Attachment

I was very attached to the homosexual direction of my sexual attractions, and generally found the thought of their changing horrific. Perhaps in my preteen years I would have considered the hypothetical “straight pill,” but by the time I was an older teen I definitely would have spat it in the face of whoever was offering it to me. I had fought too hard to be queer to let it go, even if doing so would have made my life easier in many ways.

(go on to part 3…) 


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