My 10-year high school class reunion is this weekend. I won’t be there.
It’s not that I don’t want to. I’ve actually been looking forward to it for a long time. Although I’m definitely NOT one of those who considers high school to be “the best years of my life,” I still have plenty of positive memories — and even more positive relationships — from that period of my life. I had really been eager to see these people again and find out what they’re doing with their lives.
I’d also been, surprisingly enough, eager to share with them what I’m doing with my own life. I’m nothing like the person I was in high school, and few things make me happier than that fact.
Maybe that’s a little excessive… but it’s fairly accurate.
I started high school as a closeted, self-righteous, Bible-thumping pain in the ass. I don’t mean that critically — a dear friend of mine has helped me to learn how important it is to forgive your younger self, to be kind to him, and to be fair to him. I simply mean it objectively. It’s just who I was.
I was the kid who carried his Bible along with his textbooks, broadcasting to my fellow students that Jesus Christ was my personal Lord and Savior. I eagerly proselytized, once asking a bus-ful of my classmates on a field-trip, “If this bus was in an accident tonight and we all died, is everyone sure they’d go to heaven?” One of my favorite t-shirts read “Friends don’t let friends got to HELL.”
At the same time, I was horribly, utterly miserable. An indescribably unpleasant person to be around. The love of Jesus that should shine forth from his followers and shower those around them with light? Not to be found. How can one communicate love when he is so filled with hate for himself?
***WARNING: I’m about to make a graphic confession, so please skip ahead a few paragraphs if you’re concerned you might be offended by what’s about to come.***
I discovered masturbation my freshman year of high school. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’d “played with myself” plenty before then — I was absolutely mesmerized by my erection and the sensations brought about by touching it in various ways. But nothing ever came of it (so to speak). It wasn’t until one night midway through the first quarter. I was up far later than normal, baking brownies for the next day’s Homecoming bake sale, and, after showering, sat down, naked, in my bathroom and decided to find out what this “jacking off” thing was all about.
And after I did I ran to my bed and immediately began praying for forgiveness.
I was sure I had sinned, terribly, against my body and against my soul. I swore I would never do so again.
Needless to say, no amount of willpower was capable of withstanding the power of a teenage boy’s libido, so it happened again… and again… and again…
The problem wasn’t so much that I loved masturbating, and not even so much the fact that I thought it was condemning me to an eternity of hell. It was that, little by little, my fantasies became more and more male-oriented. Classmates, celebrities, prominent student athletes.
There’s only so long a boy can do this and still convince himself that he’s not gay, he’s just “secure enough in his masculinity to consider other boys attractive.” ‘Cause isn’t that how it starts? I mean, girls are allowed to call each other pretty, why can’t guys do the same thing? It doesn’t make them gay — it just means they’re not “insecure.”
Well, maybe it did. But I was actually gay. So it really didn’t matter.
At any rate, for a short period of time, I did manage to convince myself that finding other boys attractive — even fantasizing about them in particularly private moments — did not make me gay. That these feelings were only physical and therefore didn’t reflect the “real” me. The “real” me was still a godly young man who liked girls and looked forward to one day having a wife and two or three naturally conceived children.
At the same time, I grew increasingly confused about my faith, and the more confused I grew about my faith, the more I withdrew into Scriptures declaring the abominable nature of the very acts I wanted so badly to perform but had no idea as to how. And the more I withdrew into Scripture, the more militaristic my faith became. I heaped righteous judgment on those around me in an obvious and utterly ridiculous attempt to divert attention from my unbearable unhappiness. People hated me. Or, more accurately, they couldn’t tolerate me. I don’t see how anyone possibly could.
The only saving grace, the only thing that got me through, was that the cause of all my confusion, that feeling which could never be expressed on pain of damnation, lacked a specific object and therefore could escape being labeled. It was only fantasies. It wasn’t homosexuality, and I wasn’t going to hell.
And then I fell with love. With him.
In typical object-of-desire fashion, he was everything I felt I wasn’t — brilliant, talented, impeccably dressed, and with a pair of lips you could fall into for hours. I had the torturous pleasure of sitting next to him daily as we studied the ongoing power struggle that is European history. I don’t remember the exact day it happened. I can’t. Because every day was a heart-breaking thought process, a never-ending loop of “I’m in love with him… but I CAN’T be in love with him… but I AM in love with him… shit…” I had to label it. It was homosexuality. And I was in deep.
There is but one possible outcome when two completely incompatible, opposing forces have no recourse but confrontation: total and utter chaos. It was the Yorks versus the Lancasters. It was Romans 1:27 versus that undeniable racing of my pulse when his sublimely brown eyes found mine. It was anarchy, spiritual civil war where one and only one side could remain standing when the dust settled.
The short of it is biology won out. I decided that something so strong, so visceral, and so elemental to my being could not possibly be unnatural. The long of it is — and even here I’m air-brushing details I don’t bother to remember myself — my faith was irrevocably altered, if not altogether obliterated. I could no longer accept the Holy Bible as holy at all. I could no longer take the bread and wine symbolizing a communion of which I no longer felt a part. I could no longer pray to a God that had allowed his disciples over centuries to mangle and manipulate his message so egregiously it left me no option save emotional or physical suicide. A God such as that deserved none of my love or devotion, and leaving Him behind gave me the greatest sense of liberation I had ever known.
And then, having made this discovery, having newly freed myself from the overwhelming misery of self-contradiction, I not surprisingly became a much happier person. I was, all of sudden, fun to be around, and a whole new world of relationships opened up to me. Classmates who had for years seemed nothing but antagonistic suddenly became dear, supportive, friends.
For so long, I was convinced that I was just being myself and the world was judging me for it (an evangelical worldview will do that to you sometimes). But all along, I was actually denying myself, and taking it out on those around me. Only when I finally figured who “myself” was, was I able to BE that self, to love that self, and to share the love I had found.
I want to go to these people, these high school friends of mine and say — thank you. Thank you, for your patience. Thank you, for accepting me. Thank you, for not judging me as I so quickly judged you.
And I want them to know that, ten years on, I’m still living in that love that I found — love for myself, for those around me, for the man I’m going to spend the rest of my life with. They allowed me, they helped me, to find that love. And I owe my life to them.