Today, May 17th, is the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, an event designed to get people to rally together in this ongoing fight.
To that end, I’m participating in the 2013 Hop Against Homophobia and Transphobia, in which almost 200 authors, publishers, reviewers, and cover designers of LGBTQ literature promote awareness of discrimination against the LGBTQ community on their blogs.
Each blog is also contributing a prize. My prize, for one lucky person who leaves a comment on this blog, is a free copy—either digital or a signed paperback, your choice!—of my novel, By That Sin Fell the Angels, about a small New England community reeling from the suicide of a young gay teenager… who happened to be the son of a prominent fundamentalist pastor in town.
This novel is loosely based upon my own experiences as a teenager in a fundamentalist community. I came into this community late, though already devoutly Christian. When my parents had been married, we lived in the small town of Gorham, NH, where much of my life revolved around the church—I believe our church, if I read Google maps correctly, was the United Church of Christ—including Sunday services, Sunday school, after school Bible study, church socials, church potlucks (with more Jell-O salad than you could shake a stick at), and church-run Easter egg hunts in the park. For a short time, one of my best friends was the pastor’s daughter.
According to Wikipedia, that church is a fairly socially liberal Protestant church these days (not to be confused with other similarly named churches), which might explain why I managed to grow up very liberal. But this was the seventies, and the community was still pretty conservative about some things. When my mother divorced my father, she wasn’t treated particularly well and ended up withdrawing from the church, as a result. But I held onto my faith, reading the Bible on my own. Not all the time, mind you, but now and then—especially during the holidays.
Then puberty struck. It took two weeks—literally—for me to go from “It feels good when I rub this!” to “My God! How do I get rid of this mess!” And although I was confused for a while by crushes on both boys and girls, I have no recollection of ever feeling the slightest bit of arousal when looking at girls. But I have a very distinct memory of watching a male friend undress in our living room after swimming. We were eleven and I thought he was utterly fascinating.
Still, I didn’t know I was gay. I thought the attraction to girls would come eventually. And I knew that the Bible said homosexuality was an abomination. Since I was still a good Christian, I was convinced that I couldn’t actually be homosexual. It had to be something I was just being afflicted with for a while—like bronchitis. It couldn’t be helping of course that, when I was aroused, I would write out my fantasies on paper, or sketch naked boys. I kept destroying these, convinced I could swear off my homosexual tendencies, go cold turkey, but then I’d just end up creating more.
When I was sixteen, I moved out to New Mexico to live with my father for a year. Unlike my mother, he’d stayed with the church and was now attending the considerably less liberal Assembly of God church in Truth or Consequences. I had no problem settling into this church, primarily I think because certain topics never came up. Nobody ever talked about homosexuality—the gay rights movement hadn’t really come to small-town America yet. Nobody talked about Evolution. (I had no idea I was supposed to be against it.)
Then we moved to Texas. The Assembly of God church there was great! The kids in the high school were mostly horrible to me and the teachers weren’t much better (with the exception of a wonderful English teacher who did a lot to encourage my writing), so the teenagers in the church seemed particularly nice. The pastor was a woman (surprising in and of itself, back then) and she was incredibly funny and charismatic. She even let me come in to practice on the piano during weekdays.
Then there was the anti-gay sermon. This hit me completely out of the blue. One minute, I practically idolized this woman and the next, she was breathing fire about homosexuals. I was still in denial about my own homosexuality, despite having fallen in love with my best friend in New Mexico (he figured it out before I did), and I’d convinced myself that I was just being tested with these feelings. I was being given a challenge to overcome by God (because He was apparently a sadist). But there was nothing in this sermon about some of us might have to contend with these feelings, or why God would allow some of us to be afflicted with this thing. There was no sense that any good Christian could possibly experience homosexual feelings. It was them, the outsiders. They were against God and therefore prone to evils like homosexuality.
I was shocked to my core. For the first time in my life, I didn’t feel like I belonged to my church. For seventeen years, I’d felt close to God and Jesus, but suddenly I was the enemy. I was a sick pervert. And there was no hope for me. God hated me.
All of this happened so long ago, it’s difficult to even recall now how much of an affect this woman’s hatred of homosexuals had on me. We moved away from Texas soon after that and I returned to New Hampshire to live with my mother again. I think that probably saved me. As it was, I spiraled into a depression for next year, searching desperately for answers in the Bible, but there were none there. It was probably a good thing that I didn’t have access to anything from the ex-gay movement (which may not have even started yet), or I might have jumped on board. I’d already been trying some of the tactics they’d later employ—psychoanalyzing my childhood in an attempt to find out what made me this way, trying to remain pure and “pray away the gay,” trying to condition myself to find naked pictures of women arousing. Celibacy, which many ex-gay organizations now claim is the best answer, was something I knew I could never do. I was eighteen by then and feeling isolated and alone. The thought of never finding someone I could be with romantically frightened me more than God turning His back on me!
It got to the point where I was coming home from school every day and literally rushing to my room before the tears could hit. My mother noticed and tried to help, but I didn’t feel I could talk to her. In the end, it was coming out—first to a family friend and then to her—and finding love and acceptance there, that saved me. Within a couple years, I was no longer Christian. My faith had turned it’s back on me and, in order to survive, I’d had to turn my back on it.
Looking back now, I realize I had it easy. I wrote By That Sin Fell the Angels as a way of reconciling old conflicts still lingering in my psyche from these years, but since then I’ve spoken to others who were much more immersed in Evangelical fundamentalism than I’d been and whose families turned on them. I was lucky that my mother didn’t turn on me. Would my father have cast me out? I like to think not. He is still as religious as ever, but he tells me all the time about the nice gay couple who live down the road and have just adopted a child. He seems very happy for them.
If I’d known certain people back then—my mother’s second husband, a Baptist minister who strongly supports the LGBTQ community, a friend who came out as an Episcopal priest and found support within his congregation, many other good Christian people I know—I might have been able to retain my faith. But I have explored many religious paths since then and I no longer believe that there is only one valid one. I have no desire to go back.
To view other blog posts on this hop, click the link below (here’s hoping it works!) or click here to go back to the blog hop page!