[Trigger Warning: suicide, self-harm, homophobia, Christianity]
I feel the ground moving beneath my feet
all I know is where I don’t belong
– ‘One by One’ by Against Me!
Words and phrases thrown at me by twelfth graders when I was a first grader. In first grade, on a bus, sitting next to a third grade girl who liked me and who I was shy around, while twelfth graders berated me from the backseat and the driver didn’t give a shit. First grade, when I had no clue about the weight of the word ‘faggot’ and felt only the sting of harsh words because I was too sensitive. First grade.
Second grade, I was pulled out of school mid-year for a variety of reasons. Chief of which, in my memory, was the poor handling of my class. One of the poorly handled incidents was when I threatened to kill my friend over Go-Fish and the teacher failed miserably at dealing with the incident. Second grade.
Third grade, I was home-schooled. I remember very little. I do recall at one point asking my female babysitter if we could change shirts. But she went into the bathroom anyways and I nervously stood outside waiting. She handed out her shirt and I gave her the one I had. And it was good. Third grade.
In fourth grade I went back to school for a single year because my family had just moved to Tennessee. I had a teacher whose great love for stories and literature wore off on me. Her influence went beyond simply reading a certain series. She taught me to appreciate the power of stories spoken aloud. At day’s end she would read Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events to us. The cynicism, the different-ness, and beauty of that series still moves me. I wanted to be like my teacher. I wanted to find as much joy in literature as she did. Fourth grade.
From fifth grade till about seventh grade not too much occurred, leastways not that I recall. I still had a temper to rival the wind and played with Barbies when I could. And when my family went to the resort we’ve always gone to, I asked the kids’ leader to tie the sash/scarf thing we were given with a girly knot. Fifth grade to seventh grade.
By eighth grade I had started doing speech and debate. I went, for the first of three times, to Worldview Academy. Basically, I fell in love with apologetics, theology, politics, and every goddamn thing under the sun that feeds mental stimulation. Worldview was good for me. It taught me more about how to think critically at a time when I was bringing forth latent beliefs. And debate provided me with confidence and a sense of belonging – a community of other people who didn’t mind arguing about theological topics. It felt good.
Of course, debates raged and poured forth, internally as well as externally. By this time I was pretty heavily involved in self-harm and to some extent suicidal ideation. Also, I remember beginning to wonder who I was. I was involved with Relevant Magazine‘s forum and encountered a post about transgender experience, dysphoria, and the like. I didn’t know what to do or say. But after that summer I became less active on the forum and slowly let it all die down. I suppressed whatever thoughts and experience of disaffection with the idea of being ‘male’ that I had and lived on. Eighth grade.
Tenth grade was my third year of speech and debate. It was this third, and final, time attending Worldview, when I began at long last to actually ‘get’ things about Jesus. But I also hit a new low. That fall I started having serious problems with my faith. I became disenchanted. Sitting on a toilet I cut my thigh 45 times. A month later: 36 times. It was the lowest I’d hit. Suicidal ideation began to spring forth and by the time December came around I felt like shit. And then my friend told me they had started self-harming and I blamed myself for that. Mix into this thoughts about my sexuality and it was simply a mess. Not that I had ever had too many thoughts about my sexuality but I knew I wasn’t ‘normal’ like the rest of the kids. I didn’t fantasise about the same shit other guys did or were supposed to – nothing in my suddenly apparent sexual life seemed normal. I told my best friend I thought I might be bi but that I was still thinking about it. Tenth grade.
Eleventh grade. Before my junior year started officially I went to Summit, a two week intensive Christian worldview camp. I had tonnes of fun, heard some great speakers and met some amazing people. But I dreaded – cynically, sarcastically – the night Mike Haley would speak. He was speaking on homosexuality and I knew enough about Summit and its ties to Focus on the Family that it wasn’t going to be a pro-gay talk. I went in knowing I was struggling with my own sexuality and I left right after in tears. Throughout the talk he kept mentioning gender identity disorder, now known as gender dysphoria, and I freaked out. Because, as he stated: 70% of kids who display any of the five general traits of dysphoria are likely to turn out gay and/or transgender. And, see, I knew two things. Stats weren’t set in stone – determinism was still a crock of shit. But, and this is key, I also knew I met all five criteria in varying degrees.
I left that talk crying and sat in the dark as the rain drizzled. Finally, some staff found me by the building and got my small group leader who I told, at least in part, what was occurring in my mind at the time. I couldn’t manage that summer thinking about dating and having female friends. By the time school started I had tried to relax some, to breathe easy. Through it all I still had an issue with self-harm. Eventually, at some point, a friend asked me if I was bi. And I told her, ‘No, in fact, I think I’m gay.’
By the second semester I decided to come out to my theology teacher, who responded with total grace and nothing less. Soon after, I learned my family and I were moving to Ohio. While in Ohio, I told my dad, in a Jeep on a highway, that I thought I was gay. Eleventh grade.
Twelfth grade. Now in a Catholic school in Ohio. I had a Twitter. I tweeted a lot, and openly, about sexuality. I stupidly didn’t turn on private tweets and eventually larger portions of the school found out, including the administration with their unfounded concerns for my safety. Twelfth grade.
Where am I now, though? I’m graduated from high school, attending a much more open and accepting college (or as accepting and open as Christian, evangelical schools go – which is pretty accepting).
Why now? Because I need to be open about my journey from hereon out. I need to stop hiding behind the facade of being an ally when half my Facebook friends, my dearest friends, Twitter friends, all know about my struggles. It demands honesty and openness. And I’m tired of hiding and suppressing myself.
All this . . . this drama, this shit, worries me. I’m worried about where it could lead. Worried about social acceptance since, though I try, I can’t say ‘fuck you’ to society entirely.
I worry that my parents might be right, that I’ve simply been unduly influenced. Maybe I’m empathising too much. Maybe I’m trying too hard to just ‘get it’. Maybe like Will Graham in the show Hannibal, I empathise too deeply and cannot know where I end and another person begins. And I’m scared that maybe this is all a lie. Maybe I am so subsumed in understanding the Other to the point that I no longer know myself, in part or in full.
What can I take away from all this, if anything?
I’m here now saying I’m gay, I’m genderqueer, loving Jesus horribly, desperately, and trying to figure my shit out. If you’ve got a problem with that, keep it to yourself. I don’t want to hear your comments on Romans 1 or your questions about my body. I just want to be open and real for once in my life.
I have no clue about how half this works. I have no idea what it all means. I can’t even see myself aright most days. And maybe some of this is melodramatic bullshit but I haven’t been able to shed the feeling of not being me.
I’m also here saying how fucking scared I am. I’m scared of all this. And I want to feel safe. And I feel unsafe too often. Closets were nice but closets have their own problems. So.
I’m done hiding and repressing myself. And God knows I’ve tried and failed to keep silent. I’ve made being an ally to LGBT+ people a political and theological goal. But that was a charade. It was an easy way to hide truths about myself. Hell, saying I’m gay might be an easier way to embrace gender non-conformity.
I just don’t know what I am. I only know what I am not.
Not anything of note, just a waste of God’s good space, but still graced enough to dwell here.
But here I am.
Take from this what you will. I experience God in brokenness and I can’t let go of Jesus as much as I try. So, here I am: open, raw, confused and waiting on Jesus to come through.
*Title: Taken from a Sylvia Plath quote, modified.