Hi there. Remember me? It’s been a while. At least ten years.
This is a difficult post to write. More often than not, the audience I have in mind when writing about faith and sexuality are conservative Christians. And even though I use words like “gay” and “sexual minority” that make so many of them uneasy, I’m typically careful to avoid certain other terms and ways of talking about things that they may find deeply troubling or could lead to substantial misunderstandings.
But this post isn’t for them. It’s for you. It’s for those of you in the lgbtq community whose paths crossed with mine sometime between 2004 and 2006. It’s for those who knew me well and were friends, as well as those who were only acquaintances. By extension, it is also for the gay-affirming straight people from whom I distanced myself or whom I otherwise alienated. And ultimately, I suppose it may even be for the greater lgbtq community, whether or not we’ve met.
I am ashamed that it took the shooting in Orlando to finally prompt me to write these things. I do hope that if you see this, you’ll take the time to read to the end. I can’t anticipate what anyone’s reaction may be. But I’ve never needed to express these things more than I do now. Perhaps I’ve not been ready to before now.
In my freshman year of university, when I first saw real-life lesbians, gays, and bisexuals daring to live unashamed and to throw off self-loathing, who dared to think that they were worthy of the same dignity as other people, and who lived in a level of freedom that I had never known, I wanted what they had. It was like the “Jesus-shaped hole-in-your-heart” narrative I’d always heard, but instead of straight-laced guys and gals with polished Christian smiles, those who had that special something were strong, proud queers who were living their lives rather than doing their best to be invisible. And they, as a community, were reaching out to those of us who hadn’t yet found the strength and courage to do so. Some of you were among them.
I remember the first time I shuffled into the back of the room at a Gay-Straight Alliance meeting. The atmosphere was so much more welcoming and so much more genuine than that of many of the campus ministry worship services I would go on to attend. Certainly more than many church gatherings I’d been to growing up. The people there knew that they were a family and that they were a haven, and that if someone new walked through the door, they were likely coming in as emotional and psychological refugees from a culture war zone, trying to find respite and peace and a solid footing. Some of you were there that night.
And even outside the safety of their own gathering, at an open-forum debate about gay marriage, I saw these young people defiantly standing up for themselves in the face of vile comments from several members of a certain campus ministry. Some of you were among those courageous enough to defend your own worth and dignity. I was there. But I was in hiding.
I was scared and insecure and still living with a lot of shame. But I was hopeful about what life might look like if I stepped out of the shadows and into the welcoming arms of the gay community and their allies. Slowly, I began taking steps in that direction. This is when I met some of you.
And then, I became a Christian. I mean, really became one. Though we weren’t a church-going family when I was growing up, it was still small-town Georgia, and I was influenced enough by devoutly Christian relatives for one to consider me “churched.” But I don’t know that you could’ve honestly called me a Christian any more than you could’ve called me a football fan, despite the Georgia Bulldog paraphernalia that I owned, and my periodic trips to Athens with my uncle’s family to see the games. (I never really had any idea what was going on and had to feign excitement when everyone around me started standing and yelling – it was an exhausting experience.)
So now that I was a Christian, it immediately complicated things. I set out to find Christian friends, a task I found somewhat difficult, but I managed. But I still needed my gay friends. I still needed people like you who understood. And it was at this time, after I’d already become a Christian that I met most of you. And I brought into our friendship, from the very beginning, the internal conflict I was experiencing between my faith and sexuality.
There I was, now with these two identities, and I just didn’t know how to live into them both well. So for a while, I just vacillated between the two. I knew I couldn’t continue on that way. And the only thing I knew to do at the time was to just pick one and abandon the other, and every remnant of it. And if I had to pick one, however painful, I knew which one it had to be.
And so I unceremoniously exited people’s lives. Gay friends. Gay-affirming friends. I just left. And I surrounded myself only with people who I felt would reinforce my faith in God.
In truth, some version of that really was the necessary thing for me to do at that point in my life. But the way in which I did it was cowardly and hurtful to some. And it communicated something that wasn’t really true: that I no longer valued any of you,that you were expendable, and now that I had my little God squad, you were nothing more than interesting characters in my “testimony.”
I don’t regret everything. I don’t regret placing faith in Jesus and in submitting to what I believe his will is for sex and marriage. I don’t regret marrying my wife. Though we’ve gone through some very dark times, I wouldn’t give up our life together for any other life. But I regret that I swallowed all the false dichotomies and all the implicit homophobia and heteronormative assumptions that informed so much of the church’s posture and position on so many things beyond a prohibition on gay sex. I regret that I acted as if I was not, in any way, one of you.
The truth is, as one writer put it, I can’t just “opt out” of the gay experience. Not wholly. And for some time now, I can say that I wouldn’t want to. I’ve come to see my being gay as a blessing in so many ways. For one, it has helped me to be more empathetic to marginalized people – something that Jesus was and is very passionate about – than I otherwise would be. Being a gay Christian in particular has helped me to see the need for and to be an advocate for the fostering of strong, intimate friendships. (I think the church could learn a lot by just observing a group of gay friends.)
I still hold my same convictions about sex and marriage. But I don’t reject the truth of my gayness; I just have a different idea about how it is best lived out than you do. I know that’s confusing, but it is what it is.
What I really want to say is that I’m sorry that I wasn’t a better friend. I’m sorry that I didn’t treat you with the respect you deserved. Some of you may have forgotten all about me. We make a lot of fiends and acquaintances in college, and inevitably, we move on or just grow apart. But I haven’t forgotten you. Because the choices I made and the way I handled my friendships with some of you have come back to haunt me.
I know that being a gay man whose convictions lead me away from gay romantic relationships puts me in a complicated position with the gay community. But I’m no less gay than others who don’t share my beliefs. And like all of you, I too felt the sting of what happened in Orlando recently, in a very particular way.
One day earlier this week, I clicked on a link to a news story highlighting some of the victims. I scrolled down, looking at each face, reading about each person, each beautiful life that was taken, and I just sat there in front of my computer and wept. I felt a flood of emotions, and the one that was the most disquieting was anger. At myself.
I was angry that I had estranged myself from the gay community – from the gay people who were once in my life. I was angry that for so long, my life communicated, at best, indifference to the community that once stood more ready to extend love and acceptance to me than many in the community that I left them for.
In the aftermath of the shooting, I instinctually wanted to reach out to the gay people I knew. To be sure, I appreciated and needed to see the mourning and outpouring from other people in my life. But there’s just something about grieving alongside someone who is feeling it in the same way as you, for the same reasons.
I’m thankful that there are once again many gay people in my life, even if most of them live thousands of miles away. Nearly all of them are Christians, and most of them have the same perspective on biblical marriage as I do, so I can relate to them all the more. And I found solace in mourning together with them. But I also wanted to reach out to the other gay people who’ve been in my life, those of you who aren’t Christians, and those who don’t share my convictions.
I’ve lost touch with some of you completely, and I wouldn’t even know how to go about finding you. I think you may be the only two people in America who aren’t on Facebook. I still have some semblance of contact with some others of you. (Social media is weird like that.) But I know I can’t just approach you after having been totally absent from your lives, without even acknowledging it.
The reality is that at this point in my life, I don’t have a significant relationship with any of you. In some cases, I never did. For some of us, even if things had been different, we wouldn’t have any more of a real connection than we do now. But for others, the only reason that we’re not close friends with more than a decade of memories to look back on is because I chose, half-way through college, to make sure that we wouldn’t.
So I want to grieve with you over the tragedy in Orlando. But I know there are things I need to say first. And this is my attempt at doing that.
With love and a heavy heart,