[FIRST PUBLISHED 11TH JUNE 2012]
The expression “the truth hurts” is an often batted about mantra, one that in recent months I’ve taken to disbelieving. It’s clear that sometimes the truth can sting, cause conflict or perhaps damage a relationship but its principle purpose is to offer compete freedom and liberate you i
n a way that a lie never could. I speak from experience as I spent much of my adolescence living a lie, which undoubtedly prevented many of those around me from feeling the sting of the truth, yet it offered me no freedom, no sense of peace or liberty.
My story is nothing special; I haven’t overcome illness, I am no genius found in the depths of poverty and my battles have very rarely been the losing kind. However, it’s something I’d like to share for you to scorn, mock, pity or appreciate as you see fit.
My “wife” of over a decade (we’re the old married couple kind; you know those that finish each other’s sentences, exchange knowing glances and our idea of our hot night is going for the extra spicy option at Nando’s…) knows this fact of me all too well: I have an utterly appalling memory. I rely on her entirely to remember huge chunks of activities that we’ve engaged in and will often fill in the blanks only to receive a disdainful look and to be informed that it most definitely did not happen like that. However, what I do have incredibly vivid memories of is re-enacting Cinderella as a child. I had a peg basket, some pegs and a tea towel as well as my overwhelming desire to be the centre of attention. I also quite clearly remember being obsessed with Cher’s “The Shoop Shoop” song and would often perform it for members of my family forced into watching my one-boy show. I think my Nanna loved it, everyone else would have probably passed had they been given the option. So, it w
ill hardly come as a surprise to you or I then, that when catching up with my Godfather last year he made a passing comment that he’
d always known I was gay. I can’t say that I had known the same.
The power of hindsight is a wonderful tool, isn’t it? Looking back I guess I should have seen the signs myself; my love for one Miss Britney Jean Spears, for example. It had absolutely nothing to do with her school girl outfit and the raging hormones that it released in my peers and everything to do with bowing down before the poster of her, wanting to be her and feeling empowered by “Stronger”. But alas, the penny just wasn’t dropping.
My years at secondary school were spent in the company of a fabulous (finger snap, bitches) group of girls and I have incredibly fond memories of my time in the hallowed halls of Seaford Head Community College. However, vicious cries of “queer” and “fag” would often follow me through the corridors and so it transpired that I stayed in denial for the duration of my school career. You see, I would “date” girls (which mostly entailed awkward hand holding, footsy under the Geography tables and attempting at all costs to avoid anything that resembled a big fat, slobbery snog) but all the while I would secretly be “experimenting” with boys at the school.
It would appear that denial is quite th
e powerful coping mechanism, albeit in the short term. Being the good Christian boy that I was, I spent a fair amount of my time at Church. I attended a weekly Bible study, volunteered with the children’s work and went every Sunday morning to sing the songs with everybody else. I did this not because I had to but because I wanted to, for let me be very clear: I have always and will always have my faith.
But such Church commitments took their toll as I began to slowly wake up to the fact that I was different. I would cop off with a boy from school and then walk home crying with guilt and shame, spitting the taste of him
from my mouth before getting to my bathroom in which I would scrub my teeth until my mouth bled and wash my hands until the skin cracked. I began to find ways in which to punish myself and would secretly dig out my toenails, feeling that the pain I was causing myself was justified because of what I had learnt at the Bible study the week before. Those that led the meetings were not evil, or malicious and they most certainly never meant me any direct harm (and if you so happen to ever read this, let’s talk?) but their teachings of the sinful nature of homosexuality, of its hellish consequences and the passion and drive that was needed to pray for a cure ensured that I was locked into a spiral of self-hatred; for clearly I was evil and that God could only ever love me again if I really wanted to change.
Could I leave though? No. I loved my friends too much and feared the worst should I have decided to go, for I felt accepted there, even if the acceptance was based on a lie and I passionately wanted to learn and love God more. I couldn’t leave, they were my family.
Whilst studying for my A-Levels I found other ways in which to hurt myself, often going for an entire day only eating a bagel and a packet of gum. I’d then go home, hungry and fatigued and lash out at my parents. To this day I still don’t understand why they didn’t just throw me out; at times I was utterly vile. There simply is no way to express my appreciation of them. I just remember being so angry, so hurt that God could have made me this way as if some sort of sick joke. Clearly my only obvious choice of action at the end of my A-Levels then, was to ensure the continuation of this loathing I had for myself and I accepted the chance to spend a year as a Youth and Children’s Intern, which was followed by four months in New York as an Inner City Children’s Intern and then three months in Albania as a Youth and Community volunteer; all with Churches or Church organisations. I don’t glaze over thes
e years because they are inconsequential (quite the opposite as I have many lifelong friends because of them, gained invaluable experiences and learnt a heck of a lot) but because it was much the same as the years before. I would do all that I could to be a “good Christian” in the hope that it would make up for how inconceivably evil I actually was. On returning from Albania in 2008 I accepted the position of Youth and Children’s Pastor at Seaford Baptist and would spend the next three years studying for my degree in Theology as well as growing the work with the young people at SBC and in the town of Seaford.
These were an incredible three years. I wholeheartedly loved the young people I worked with. Even when they were ripping off doors from the walls and I had to ban them from the youth club, I still valued every moment I spent with them. That goes for the team in which I was a part of, as well as the wider Church family. My own battles and struggles continued though, being older now I could quite easily disappear for the night and go to a gay club (oh Revenge…), meet someone and no-one would be any of the wiser. This would of course only result in the same negative feelings that I had experienced at school. However, things would soon change. I was studying Theology, reading the Scriptures for myself and for the first time in my life I asked the question: what if there is actually nothing wrong with me? I prayed. Oh how long and hard I prayed. I wrote essays on the subject, I read blogs, listened to interviews and began to realise that I wasn’t alone; there were other gay Christians out there and they didn’t seem to think that their eternal destiny resembled a medieval portrait of
hell. It was during these years that I began to officially “come out” to those closest to me, leaving my parents to last for I never wanted anyone to lie on my behalf. There were some who had guessed before this, who offered to pray for my soul and how they knew that this demon of homosexuality could be cast off. It all came out of love, but it was all so incredibly mishandled. And then there were those who looked at my no differently: my current flatmate, my parents, my wife and my old core from school. I was finally beginning to allow myself to be me, the me that God made.
And it was incredible.
As my time at SBC drew to a close I looked to the future, concerned for employment and wondering where a gay Christian co
uld possibly go in the world of ministry which is really all that I knew. I considered long term placement abroad, but that all fell through, I sought out other youth worker positions but none of them sat quite right. I was restless and needed a change and so I signed up to a recruitment agency and got a job, moved to London and now live every day so eternally grateful for all the good and the positive that I have. It sounds twee and I’m sure many of you might tut and roll your eyes at this point, but it’s the truth.
Where do I stand now? I have a great job, even better friends and I’m settled in the best city in the world. I feel that God isn’t done with me, and I’m figuring out what’s next but in the mean time I plan to enjoy my G&T’s, continue with this blog and get the most out of London. What do I want you to do with this blog? If you’re a Christian, perhaps in a position of leadership or authority, I’d ask you to prayerfully consider how you handle this topic: there are undoubtedly LGBTQ people in your fellowship and your actions and language can cause more pain than you can ever know. Am I asking you to change your minds, to renounce everything that you’ve believed in before? No. But am I asking you to dialogue with us, to approach us with care and compassion and watch your tongues? Yes I am. For those of you who have randomly stumbled upon this blog due to my social network whoring, thank you for taking the time to read it and I hope it has done some good to your day. For my friends and my family, I’m sorry for not sharing this with you sooner, I love you.
In the words of the Queen of Pop (long may she reign): “But now I’m stronger than