Saturday, May 31, 2014

Captain's Log, Supplemental

This post might seem like something of a detour, but I think it’s necessary in order to better understand me.  This will give some additional insight into my geeky side.  I was born in 1976, one year before Star Wars would hit movie theaters, and three years before Star Trek: The Motion Picture.  This marked the birth of the blockbuster, the transition from the film industry being more about art to being more about money.  While the original Star Trek series had run in the 1960’s , science fiction was given new life when Star Wars showed the world that it could not only make money.  It could make a lot of money.  Being born when I was, I had the privilege of growing up with the science fiction industry as it was entering it’s heyday.  

As a small child, I can remember being fasciated anytime I could watch re-runs of the original Star Trek series or the campy Batman television series.  I did see the original Star Wars in a theater, but, of course, I wouldn’t remember it if I had seen it in 1977.  It must have been re-released at some point.  I’m guessing it must have been in preparation for the release of The Empire Strikes Back because the now familiar Episode IV had been added to the beginning.  

I remember when my mom purchased our first copy of Star Wars for home.  She was so excited to be able to get it for me.  This was back in the day when it wasn’t clear whether VHS or BetaMax was going to win the VCR war.  My parents actually decided to side-step that debate and had purchased a video disc player.  The movies were actually on what were basically giant DVD’s about the size of a vinyl record, and they were contained inside a plastic case.  The entire plastic case would be slid into the player which would release the disc, and, then, you would slide the case out.  You, then, grabbed a lever on the front of the machine and moved it up to play.  Wow.   You’re actually going to get a history lesson with this post, too.  I was actually able to find a picture which you can see below.  The picture is from Steve’s Tech Blog.  If you’re interested more in the technical aspects, he goes into much greater detail.

Video Disc Player and Star Wars
The day that my mom brought home Star Wars on video disc, I was so excited to watch it that night.  As fate would have it, our electricity went out that night.  I was crushed.  My mom knew how much it meant to me; so, she called some neighbors that lived a couple of miles away that also had a video disc player and also happened to be on a different electrical circuit than we were.  They still had power and they were happy to let us come over.  I don’t think they were too excited to watch Star Wars though.  They ended up hooking their player up to a small television in one of the bedrooms.  The adults all say out in the living room and talked while I sat in that bedroom staring at that tiny television screen.  I might as well have been an Omnimax screen though because I was completely drawn in.  It was Star Wars, and it was mine to watch whenever I wanted.

Now, I want to bring us back to the main focus of this post.  In 1987, when I was in the 5th grade, Paramount Pictures gave me, and so many others, a tremendous gift.  They released a new Star Trek television series.  I was like a kid in a candy store sans the candy.  The Enterprise D was my candy store.  I also remember that, shortly before or after the show began airing, Cheerios ran a contest in which you could win a spot as an extra on the show.  You better believe I ate a lot of Cheerios during that contest.  I’ve pasted a pic of the back of one of the cereal box’s below that I found on another blog.  It’s nice to know that I wasn’t the only one geeing out over this stuff.

ST:TNG Cheerios Contest

Paramount also broke ground with this series in that they decided that rather than deliver it through a single network, they would distribute the show entirely through syndication.  As we all know now, the show was a huge success and ended up running until 1994, the year that I graduated high school.  This means that it was a voice in my life throughout both middle school and high school.

The NBC affiliate in my hometown would end up picking up the show, and they ran it on Sundays at 11:00.  This time slot followed a show produced by a local televangelist.  I would often catch the tail end of her show while I was waiting for ST:TNG to come on.  It was one of those shows that featured gospel singers and she was always calling people down front so that she could pray for them and they could be healed.  Well, to a young child whose only church experience had been occasionally attending the small country Baptist church that his grandparents went to, that seemed like a special slice of crazy.  This would definitely impact my perception of religion and generate a certain amount of skepticism as I approached religion going forward.

Star Trek itself would be a huge factor in how I approached religions.  The Prime Directive would suggest that I respect the religious beliefs of others and not interfere with them.  From this perspective, I could observe and seek to understand the religious experiences and beliefs of others while not engaging in them myself and maintaining a certain amount of intellectual, emotional, and, when possible, physical distance.

I realize that the Prime Directive is not part of everyone’s daily language, and I should probably offer some explanation.  This explanation comes from a site called Memory Alpha.  It is the Wikipedia of all things Trek.

The Prime Directive, also known as Starfleet General Order 1 or the Non-Interference Directive, was the embodiment of one of Starfleet's most important ethical principles: noninterference with other cultures and civilizations. At its core was the philosophical concept that covered personnel should refrain from interfering in the natural, unassisted, development of societies, even if such interference was well-intentioned.

Hopefully, this provides some additional insight into why I would have been hesitant to jump into any kind of religious community at this point in my life. 

- Culbs

© Joshua Culbertson 2014

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Act One, Scene Two "Unexpected Friendship"

This is Part 2 in a multi-part blog post.  If you've stumbled across the page without reading Part 1, click the link below to go to Part 1.
Act One, Scene One

Max began working at the station with me during the summer of 1995.  Over the course of that summer, I would begin hanging out with him more and more, and this also led to me getting to know his family and friends.  I was nervous about hanging out with them at first because I expected to get a lot of pressure to attend church.  That just wasn’t something I was interested in; so, I went into things with my shields up.  It wasn’t long before I began to lower them though.

Max’s church held two services on Sundays, one at 10:00 AM, and one at 7:00 P.M.  After the evening service on Sundays, the young adults and some of the older teens from the church would gather at a fast food restaurant down the road.  Some of the adults would go as well, but they would usually sit in another part of the restaurant.  This would usually coincide with the time that I was ending my shift at the gas station, and I would go join them there.  While, there might be a mention here and there about God or the services that day, they just seemed to talk about the same things that other people that age would discuss:  movies, TV shows, music, and just general stuff about life.  They were a fun group of people, and I enjoyed spending time with them.

With my fears of him sermonizing me at work out of the way, Max and I got to know each other a lot better as well.  We actually had a great deal in common.  We were born less than a month apart from each other.  I was born on my dad’s birthday.  He was born on his mom’s birthday.  We also had some differences, too.  I had always lived out in the country on farm.  His family had just moved from living inside the city out to the more rural area they were in now.  Max was very much a nature buff though and enjoyed being in his new surroundings.

When we were at work, I could ask him about some of the other people from the church that I would meet when I gathered with them on Sunday nights.  I began to better understand the family relationships, their histories, and I began to see the connections.  I was beginning to feel like I was more a part of those connections as well, but there were many times that I also felt quite the outsider in those early days.  Some of these people had years of history together, and it can be intimidating to come into a group like that as a new person.

I don’t know why I’m sharing this, but it’s a funny memory.  It’s the kind of thing you do when you’re young and irresponsible.  Max and I both enjoyed video games.  We were neither one hardcore gamers, but we both enjoyed playing occasionally to pass the time.  Towards the end of that summer, Nintendo released a gaming system called the Virtual Boy.  The game system would ultimately prove to be a flop, but I was very excited that I was able to get one at the time, and I had just picked it up one Saturday morning before I came to work.  As we were working, I kept talking about it and telling Max how I couldn’t wait to get home to play it.  It wasn’t long before we had decided that I didn’t need to wait.  Max told me that he would cover the register while I got it out of the car and set it up in the manager’s office.  We justified it by saying that we could play it on our breaks and lunches.

Nintendo Virtual Boy Gaming System

Of course, we didn’t limit it to our breaks and lunches, and the phrase “just one more game” was heard many times that night as well.  At one point during night, the store manager, who almost never showed up on weekends, walked into the store.  Fortunately, at that moment, Max and I were both up front waiting on customers and doing what we were supposed to be.  We both held our breath as we saw her walk behind the customs we were waiting on and go to her office.  She stayed back there for what seemed like an eternity.  When she finally did emerge, she just motioned for me to come closer.  I walked over to her, and she pointed into her office and asked, “What is that?”

I could tell that she was struggling within herself to determine whether the anger she was feeling was an overreaction or not.  I explained to her that I had just bought it and Max and I were only using it on our breaks.  The look in her eyes told me that she knew I wasn’t being entirely truthful and appeared more than a little hurt.  I felt like an ass.  She didn’t say another word.  She left the store and never mentioned it again.  Nothing like that ever happened again either.

This demonstrates that Max and I were becoming genuine friends though, and soon I would find that friendship threatened as Max prepared to head to school in Athens.  I’ll share more of that in Scene Three.  Keep coming back, and comment below.  I'd love to know your thoughts on my story so far or how it might compare to your own.

© Joshua Culbertson 2014

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Act One, Scene One "This Preacher's Kid"

When Max started working at the gas station, they put him on second shift with me.  I had, of course, decided that he and I were not going to be friends.  There were other things to do in the station besides running the cash registers; so, I stuck him on registers, and I began stocking coolers, organizing the back room, making sandwiches to stock the deli case, and anything else I could do to avoid standing next to him and having conversation.  I probably worked harder when I was trying to avoid him than I did any of the other nights that I worked there.  I’m not sure why either.  I wasn’t out to any of the people who worked there, but I was still convinced somehow that he was going to come at me for being gay, tell me I was going to hell for drinking, and gasp in shock if my language went anywhere beyond G-rated.  On second thought, I guess I do know why I avoided him.

As much as I tried to stay busy, there were times when there would be a long line and the counter, and I would need to come up and jump on the second register to help out.  During one of the times that I rushed up to help, I noticed that there were some guys who weren’t leaving.  They were apparently friends of Max.  I almost began to walk back towards the coolers, but curiosity got the better of me.  I busied myself with doing some stuff at the deli case so that I could hang around and listen.  Max and his friends were talking about going back to a “campground” after he got off work.  They had apparently stashed some alcohol and cigars back there earlier; so, that they could have them that night.  I also got the impression that this was not the first time this had happened.

Well, this new information changed things a bit.  First, I no longer cared if Max got into my business and tried to tell me what I should or shouldn’t do.  I had ammunition to use against him now.  Second, I thought, “How typical.”  Christians are always telling other people how to live and then doing whatever they want when no one is looking.  My third thought was, “Hey.  Maybe this guy and I can be friends.”  

I went back to the coolers that night and finished up what I needed to do.  When I came back up to the front, I began asking Max about his plans for that night.  He seemed hesitant to share details at first, but he slowly opened up.  The “campground” was apparently just a spot on a neighbor’s farm where they went sometimes to build a fire where they could drink, smoke, and just relax in general.

Over the next few nights that we worked together, Max and I talked more and more, and I began to reach the conclusion that I genuinely liked this guy, not in a romantic or sexual sort of way, but I just genuinely liked talking to him.  Shortly thereafter, my parents were going out of town for a weekend, and I decided that I was going to ask Max if he wanted to come over one night after work.

Max, to my surprise, immediately agreed to come over.  He said that he’d need to clear it with his parents.  This caught me off guard slightly.  While my parents drilled into me the importance of common courtesy and the decency of letting them know where I was going to be, they didn’t expect me to ask permission to go places.  I was an adult now.  So was Max.  I decided to roll with it though.  

Within a few hours, it was settled.  Max was coming over, and we had made arrangements to secure some alcohol.  There was just one catch.  Before Max came over, his parents wanted to meet me.  I didn't see the point.  His parents had met me lots of times.  They might not have known my name, but they both came into the station regularly.  HIs mom was a very sweet lady and always very friendly when she came in.  His dad, on the other hand, was always friendly, but he had a presence about him that I always found intimidating.  He was a large Italian man that went by the moniker of Pastor Rob.  He was almost always in a suit and wore long overcoats.  He looked like someone who stepped out of one of the Godfather films.  I was not looking forward to a conversation with him after which I was going to take his son to engage in activities that I knew he would not approve of.  I tried to make every excuse that I could, but Max told me that this was the only way it would be able to work.  He told me not to worry as if that phrase has ever been effective at relieving anyone's anxiety.

When we finally arrived at their house, Max went to his room to gather some things while I sat in their basement watching TV with his dad at completely separate ends of their large sectional couch.  There we were, just me and Pastor Rob and all the distance and awkward silence (other than the TV) between us.  I know he eventually spoke first.  I know that he asked me some questions.  I know that I provided some answers.  I can’t, for the life of me, recall a single detail of that exchange now.  It worked though.  I can either conclude that he somehow approved of my answers or he knew full well what was going on and was allowing his son to make his own choices, or mistakes.  As I would get to know Paster Rob very well later, I’d lean towards the latter.

Max and I spent the night back at my parents’ house in the pool and drinking beers.  We just talked until both of us were tired and ready to call it a night.  I remember, after having a few beers, contemplating whether or not he could be enticed to engage in any kind of sexual activity.  I figured, even if he was straight, he’d probably be okay with me taking care of him, but something stopped me.  At the time, I would have described it as a spiritual barrier, and I’m not so sure I wouldn’t still describe it that way now.  Of course, I’m also open to it just being the voice of conscience, fear of being humiliated, or fear of Pastor Rob, but I’m also not completely willing to dismiss a spiritual element.  To be clear, I don’t, of course, believe that there is a spiritual barrier to being homosexual, but I do believe that, possibly, that action in that place and that time with that person might have been something that I experienced a spiritual resistance to.  Ultimately, Max got placed firmly in the friend category, and, if you remember from what I wrote about my high school days, once I placed you in a category, you stayed there. 

© Joshua Culbertson 2014

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Setting the Stage Part 4

This is Part 4 in a multi-part blog post.  If you've stumbled across the page without reading Part 1, click the link below to go to Part 1.
Setting the Stage Part 1

As high school drew to a close, that first summer didn’t really feel like much of a change to me.  I continued to hang out with my friends throughout the summer.  In many ways, it felt like a continuation of high school, just without the high school part.  I got a job working in a gas station.  It feels so odd to think back on that now.  I remember changing the gas prices many times to things like $1.05, 99¢, or even 89¢.  If regular gas got as high as $1.25, that felt outrageous.  Oh, to pay such an outrageous price now.  I was registered for classes at a regional campus of Ohio University in the fall of that year.  It was 1994.  Twenty years ago.

Having spent my senior year working as a writer was a great opportunity for me, but it had also artificially inflated my ego.  I had grand visions for myself then.  I thought I was going to spend a year at a regional campus, and then I would transfer to Ohio University’s main campus in Athens, Ohio to attend the E. W. Scripps School of Journalism, one of the top journalism schools in the country.  Matt Lauer went there for God’s sake.  I also dreamed of someday working on the White House Press Corps.  Somewhere during that first quarter of college, I began to understand exactly how difficult it would be to get into Scripps, and I didn’t like my chances. Plus, some of my friends from high school were attending a nearby technical college, and that seemed like a much better alternative than busting my ass to try to get into a school that I would probably not get into in order to pursue a career goal that I would most likely never achieve.  If I could go back and speak to a younger me, I would have told me to go for it.  I was young, and I wanted to be with my friends.

Over the course of that first year of college, as naturally happens, I began hanging out less and less with my high school friends.  Even going to the same school as my friends, balancing full time work and full time classes kept me pretty busy.  This is where circumstances came together in a perfect combination.  Here I was, a 19-year-old kid who, still claiming to be an atheist, had lingering doubts and fears from having been told as a young child sitting in a vacation Bible school class that he was going to hell if he didn’t get saved.  Add on top of that fear of social and familial rejection if anyone found out that I was gay.  Then, throw in the fact that I survived a car accident that many said should have killed me, but, for some reason, I lived.  Finally, having spent most of my life feeling socially ostracized and having now had a taste of social acceptance only to feel that slipping away.  I yearned for purpose and acceptance.  Given the circumstances, I was ripe for recruiting by either a conservative evangelical church or a white supremacist group.  Ironically, they both found me about the same time and in the same place.  No joke.

I was working in the gas station one day when a guy walked up and placed his purchases on the counter.  I rung him out, handed him his change, and bagged his items for him.  As he was about to walk away, he handed me a business card and walked out the door.  Now, as a guy who is young, naive, and somewhat geeky, although I was trying to be more closeted about that part of myself in those days, the notion of making contact with a guy whose title is Grand Wizard seemed pretty cool at first.  Then, I saw the smaller print at that bottom of the card and realized that I had just interacted with a bonafide and high ranking member of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.  Suddenly, all the newspaper pictures that I had seen of Klan activity in the area as I was growing up came flooding into my mind.  I point this out to those of you who think I should regret the years that I spent in the conservative evangelical church.  There are points in this story where things could have gone far worse.  Believe me.

Fortunately, a second alternative arrived at that same gas station, and it arrived in the form of my new co-worker, Max, short for Maximo.  Max’s family had recently moved to the neighborhood.  Max had two brothers whom I would later learn were named Marc and Maurio.  They were all very attractive young men; so, I was naturally interested when I learned that one of them would be working with me.  Then, I learned something else that would change my opinion completely.  Max’s dad was a pastor.  Now, as I have indicated, I had my share of doubts and fears about life, death, God, being gay, and all of that, but that last thing I needed was some preacher’s kid coming into sort all of that out for me.  With that, with Max standing in the wings, I would say that the stage is set.  My life was about to take a major turn that would change me forever.  

I’ll be back with Act One, Scene One tomorrow.

- Culbs

© Joshua Culbertson 2014

Monday, May 26, 2014

Setting the Stage Part 3

This is Part 3 in a multi-part blog post.  If you've stumbled across the page without reading Part 1, click the link below to go to Part 1.
Setting the Stage Part 1

Recovering from the car accident took me out of any kind of social activity for most of the summer.  One perk that came from this is that, since I couldn’t be subjected to any kind of physical activity, my younger brother assumed the duties of mowing the lawn, and my hands haven’t touched a lawn mower of any kind since.  Small consolation for nearly dying and being laid up all summer, but you take the positives you can get, right?  Additionally, feeling badly that I had to spend most of my summer laying around and not wanting me to not be able to get back and forth to work or enjoy all the things that come with being a senior, my parents surprised me buy buying me another car.

Upon returning to high school, at the beginning of my senior year, I discovered that I did, in fact, still have friends.  For someone who had spent most of his life feeling like he had none or only very few and constantly living with the anxiety of being singled out to be bullied or picked on by those who were higher up on the high school social hierarchy, this was quite a relief.  I think I was constantly fearing that I would wake up and find out it was a dream.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  I was never in any kind of position that could be confused as popular, but I did finally have a circle of friends that I felt I had a place within, and I got picked on a lot less.  From that perspective, for me, it was like winning the social lottery.

I continued balancing school along with the writing responsibilities of my job.  I went to parties and continued to hang out with friends.  My fun would experience another interruption however.  One night when I was driving to a party with some friends in the backseat, one of them decided to open a beer in the backseat.  Something happened, and the beer ended up getting spilled on the floor of my car.  I was furious.  They, of course, laughed and told me to lighten up.  Early that next week, it snowed.  We lived some distance from the high school, and my parents wouldn’t let me drive when the roads were bad.  That meant that I had to ride the bus.  While I was in the shower being pissed off about that, my parents also decided that my mom shouldn’t drive her car that morning because it didn’t handle very well in the snow.  The conclusion that they arrived at was that she should drive my car.  Well, in order to drive my car, she would need my keys.  This led them to my varsity jacket where they found the keys and…the cigarettes.  My dad took the keys out to start the car for my mom where he smelled the beer from where it had been spilled on the floor of the backseat.  Still being in the shower, my first hint that anything was wrong was when my mom knocked on the bathroom door and say that they needed to talk to me.  Something in her tone gave it the weight of a death sentence.  It didn’t matter how much hot water was coming out of the shower head.  I felt the cold dread of certain doom flow through me.

After that incident, except for going to work and school, I was not allowed to use my car until I turned 18.  My father made it a point to show up at work one day just to let the owners of the newspaper know that I was grounded from using the car outside of those two purposes and why.  That way I wouldn’t even have opportunity to sneak anything by them.  I was allowed to go to sporting events as long as I went with my parents.  This ruled out any kind of alcohol consumption before or afterwards.  In retrospect, it shouldn’t have been that big of a deal.  I barely drink now, and, when I do, I hardly ever drink more than a couple of drinks, but, to a high school student who was newly discovering the joys of alcohol and being a bit rebellious, this was the end of the world.

I turned 18 that April, shortly before graduation.  One regret that I do have from high school was that I didn’t attend either of my high school proms.  Again, I just wasn’t very popular, and I didn’t see a way to secure a girl to take as a date.  Although I knew that I was gay, we were years away from that even being tentatively okay.  I did, of course, have guys that I was involved with sexually, but I maintained a clear division between those that I was involved with in a sexual manner and those that I considered my friends.  As I look back on it, I was kind of an asshole, but I was not will to risk even the small modicum of social acceptance that I was enjoying.  If I had come out then, the result would have been far worse than anything that I had experienced previously.  I would have been putting myself and those I was involved with in very real danger.  

In the next post, we’ll go beyond high school and explore the final steps that led me to embark on my life as an ex-gay.  Please keep coming back.  Please comment, input your e-mail address to follow me, or shoot me an e-mail.  If you share your story with me, please let me know if you are comfortable with me sharing all or parts of it on the blog.  If you aren’t comfortable with that at all, I totally understand.  I’d still like to connect with you whether your a supportive ally, someone who is struggling with accepting themselves was LGBTQ, or an ex-gay survivor yourself.

© Joshua Culbertson 2014

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Side Note: The Book of Mormon!

I went to see The Book of Mormon last night.  Amazing!  It was so funny.  I laughed so hard.  While this show is incredibly irreverent not only towards Mormonism, but also towards religion in general, I think it is extremely therapeutic for those of us who have experienced harm at the hands of religion.  Also, while it would be extremely easy for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints to respond to a show like this with anger and legal action, I was impressed to see that the majority of the advertising in the Playbill was from them.

The stage before show opening
Playbill Cover

I just wish that this show had been around earlier in my life.  During all of those years when I was trying to not be gay, it would have been so much easier if someone had simply told me that all I had to do was "Turn it Off!"

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Setting the Stage Part 2

This is Part 2 in a multi-part blog post.  If you've stumbled across the page without reading Part 1, click the link below to go to Part 1.
Setting the Stage Part 1

As I got older and began to move through high school, I held on to my skeptical feelings of religion.  I didn’t trust it, but I did begin to build a respect towards religion.  I respected anything that could unite so many people and motivate them to action.  I was also at a point that I understood that I was gay, and I knew that religion, or at least religion as I was aware of it, didn’t like me.  I reasoned that, if there was a God and that God would condemn me for being gay after that same God placed those feelings inside of me, God had a twisted sense of humor and wasn’t anything that I wanted anything to do with, even if He did exist.  I use the male pronoun here intentionally.  My mind, at this point, had never conceived of anything other than a traditional male image of God, and, I saw that image as judgmental and condemning.  

Throughout most of high school, I was pretty much an outcast.  Finally, towards the end of my junior year, I did actually begin to make a few friends.  I started hanging out with people outside of school, and, about this same time, I began drinking and smoking cigarettes as well.  Having spent so much of my life going home alone to reading science fiction paperbacks, watching Star Trek, and collecting comic books, I was eager for any kind of mainstream acceptance. 

Another big event happened for me at the end of my junior year as well.  One of the graduating seniors had spent the last year working as a writer for the newspaper in the small town where my high school was located.  He was headed off to California to attend college, and he had recommended me to be his replacement.  The job didn’t pay a lot, but my parents were willing to supplement my income so that I could quit the job that I had been working at Wendy’s in order to take a job, an actual job, as a paid writer.  I had a weekly column and a couple of other pieces that I regularly contributed to the paper, and I also had opportunity to write an occasional feature news piece here and there.

I was on top of the world.  I was actually making friends, and someone was willing to give me real money to write.  Could life actually get any better than that?

My junior year ended, and I was excited to spend the summer focusing on my new job and developing myself as a writer.  On the first day of my summer vacation after my junior year, I was sent to interview the father of one of my classmates.  He was a member of the village council, and he had been selected as the newspaper’s Citizen of the Week, which was one of the weekly pieces that I was responsible for writing.  The interview went great, but I forgot the newspaper’s camera as I was leaving their house.  I always took the camera with me because I needed to take a headshot of the person to use with the article, but I had set it aside and failed to notice it when I left.  I realized quickly what I had done, and turned around to head back. 

After I had retrieved the camera from his home, I headed back to the office.  The only way that I know this is because this is what people have told me.  I honestly, to this day, do not recall leaving his home the second time.  On the drive back to the office, as I was crossing the major highway that runs through the small town, I pulled out in front of a full-size pick up truck and was broadsided. 

My car following the accident
The truck that I pulled out in front of

A closer view of the damage

I don’t remember the accident.  I’m told that the first people on the scene were picking pieces of glass out of my tongue to keep me from swallowing them.  Many of the first responders didn’t think I would make it.  Prior to the accident, my last conscious memory is of the inside of the large wooden door of the home of the council member that I interviewed.  My next conscious thought was of waking up in an ambulance and being held down while my clothing was cut away.  I remember a few fleeting seconds of consciousness in the ER, and then, it’s blank again until I woke up in my hospital room and being in incredible pain.  My injuries consisted of a fractured rib, a punctured lung, a bruised liver, and a concussion.  The concussion prevented them from being able to administer any pain meds, and I was in extreme pain.  Being gay and growing up in a small town, I contemplated suicide many times growing up, but this was the only time in my life that I remember physical pain so great that I just wanted to die so it would end.  The right side of my face was covered with blood.  My parents later told me that, when they first saw me, they thought that my right hear had been severed.

I would spend most of my summer healing from the accident.  It also cost me a trip to Paris with my school’s French Club that summer.  I was no longer able to go on because I was still in the hospital when the trip was scheduled to leave.  I still haven’t made it to Paris, but I will make that happen some day.

Following the accident, multiple people told me that I should have died.  The passenger side of the car was impacted so hard that, sitting on the driver’s side, I could have easily placed an arm on each arm rest.  I’m so thankful that I didn’t have a passenger that day.  They would have surely died.  This moment was pivotal for me because, having been through something that people were repeatedly telling me should have killed me but didn’t, it made me being to wrestle with the question of, “Is there a reason that I didn’t die?”  Although, it didn’t prompt any immediate change in my actions or beliefs, this question would begin to eat at me over the next few years.

© Joshua Culbertson 2014

Friday, May 23, 2014

Setting the Stage Part 1

First, I think it’s important to understand my relationship with religion going into this time period of my life.  I wasn’t someone who really grew up in church.  As a child, we would occasionally go for services on Easter or Christmas.  I realize now, looking back, that this probably happened at the urging of my father’s parent’s.  My father wasn’t a big fan of church.  It wasn’t because of any resentment that he bore towards God.  It was more because, coming of age in the mid-1970’s, he saw church as a place of criticism and condemnation, a place that was more concerned with the length of his hair and the style of his clothing than it was anything else.  I think my father and I could probably connect over the Church’s fascination with the superficial over the true nature and inner workings of a person.

In addition to Easter, I know there was one vacation Bible school.  The church that my father’s parents went to, and, therefore, the one that we went to when we did attend, was a small country Baptist church.  It exactly what you’d image, a small white building with a steeple on a postage stamp lot and off to the side a quiet little cemetery as a reminder that death was where we are all headed eventually.  As a child, this creates a nice balance of peaceful serenity and ominous foreboding.  It was at VBS at this church that I first remember hearing that I needed to be “saved.”  This was, of course, followed by a description of the torment that awaited me if I was not.  Well, let me tell you.  This puts quite a bit of fear into a child’s heart and mind.  I think I was probably 7 or 8 at the time; so, I was cognitively aware enough to begin putting pieces together and realize that I was being told that me and my entire family were headed for eternal damnation.

I saw this pic on Facebook recently.  It came to mind as I was writing this post.

I remember a tear-filled ride home in the car with my mother one night as I pleaded with her that we needed to take care of this “getting saved” thing.  I didn’t want to burn for all of eternity, and I couldn’t bear the thought of my parents being in that position either.  I remember her and my dad sitting me down when my mom and I got home and telling me that they believed that God looks more on the inner workings of our hearts and less on external things such as whether we go to church every Sunday or if we’ve said a specific prayer.  That appeased me for the time being, but I don’t think that I ever completely let go of it.

In my early teen years, I remember thinking about death and God a lot.  I remember receiving a teen study Bible one year as a birthday gift.  Occasionally, I would set a goal of reading it, but that was a goal that never came into fruition beyond more than a few pages.  I began to think about how it seemed to be so important to some people on the periphery of my life that I believe this stuff.  I began to contemplate why they would feel that way.  The conclusion that I came to in my young teenage mind was that they simply did not want to wrestle with the fact that they were going to die and that that they didn’t want to face that.  Therefore, they clung to this belief that there was a God and an afterlife and that there was a way for them to be “saved.”  I remember sharing this belief with others when the subject would arise, and I did it with just about as much compassion as I did here in this blog post.  I realize now that I did it, at the time, as a defensive posture.  I didn’t want them pushing me into what they believed; so, I put up as firm of a defensive wall as possible and, if someone got offended when they bounced off of it, that was their fault, not mine.  They were the ones who needed a crutch to get through life.  In true adolescent fashion, I had it all figured out.

- Josh

© Joshua Culbertson 2014

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Looking Forward to Summer!

I apologize for the silence of the last couple of days.  I’ve been focused on finishing up my Spring semester at the Methodist Theological School in Ohio where I am a student pursuing a Masters of Arts in Counseling Ministries.  My hope, at the end of this endeavor, is to be able to help people who, like myself, find themselves conflicted in terms of their sexual orientation/gender identity and their spiritual/philosophical perspective of the world.  I have finally submitted the last paper that I needed to for the semester, and I’m excited to be able to dedicate some more time to writing through this blog as well as some other things that I’m eager to try my hand at. 

June is fast approaching.  That means Pride month.  I’ll have lots of exciting things to post from that.  I also have my 20-year high school reunion coming up in a couple of weeks.  That make me feel really old.  I’m excited and curious for that experience though.  As I’ve alluded to previously, high school was not the best experience for me.  In the last few years, I’ve begun to make contact with some of my high school friends again, and that has been a very positive experience.  Given that, I’m looking ahead to this experience very positively.  I’ve changed and grown a great deal since high school.  It stands to reason that others have as well.  I’ll certainly be sharing some of that experience with all of you.

Also, of course, I’ll be sharing some more detailed accounts of the experiences from my life as an ex-gay as well as the experiences that led me out of that way of thinking.  My goal in this is to share my story.  It is not my goal to share the stories of others or paint of people or groups negatively.  I will therefore be using pseudonyms for much of this sharing.  If you happened to know me from that time period, and you are reading this blog, I am happy to have you along with me for this experience, but if you comment, please reference those individuals by their pseudonyms in the blog and not by their real names.  The purpose of this blog is to be a voice of hope, understanding, and acceptance, not a vehicle for attack or mud slinging.  Keep it classy, folks.  That’s all I ask.

- Culbs

With that said, I’m looking forward to the months ahead.  I plan to launch another blog or two to address other areas of my life that are also authentic to me, but also need to be given their own forum so as to not create an identity crisis for this blog.  Thanks so much for reading.  I’ll be back with more tomorrow as I begin sharing my first steps into my life as an ex-gay.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

What is Ex-Gay?

Whenever I share my story in a new context, invariably, within a few days, I will be approached by one or two of those who heard me to ask if they can talk to me.  Those conversations have changed over the years just as my own story has changed an evolved.  When I was living as an ex-gay, the things shared with me were often about friends or family members that they were hoping and praying would walk away from homosexuality.  Sometimes those conversations would be about same-sex encounters that they had experienced themselves and the shame and guilt they carried from those experiences.  Those were always heavy conversations, and I felt humbled and privileged anytime that someone would share something like that with me.  For some of them, it was the first time they had spoken of those encounters with anyone.  Even though my own context has changed, I still hope that I was able to help them in some small way, even if it was by giving them an outlet to voice those experiences and I hope that they, as I am still, are on their own journey of acceptance of themselves or others.

Now, living outside the closet and feeling more comfortable with myself as an out and about gay man, the conversations have changed.  Sometimes those conversations are brought about because the other person is struggling with how to come out themselves.  Other times, it is because they know someone who is struggling to come out, but they fear judgement from family, friends, or their church.  Just as before, these personal stories are such an honor to be the recipient of.  It wasn’t that long ago that I trembled and felt my voice lose it’s strength each time I had to say the words, “I’m gay.”  Sometimes it still happens.  I know what it is to feel the terror and vulnerability of that moment.  I know what it is to be affirmed and accepted after that disclosure, and I know what it is to be pushed away after opening myself up to someone.  Either response is filled with great emotion.  It is so important to me that, in that moment, that person knows that they are heard and accepted, especially if it is their first time saying those words.  I can’t promise that every subsequent time will go the same, but I can control how they are received by me.

A new response that I am beginning to get after sharing my story is, “What is ex-gay?”  I was taken aback the first couple of times this happened.  I am human, and I do fall into human traps sometimes.  One of those traps is that, if something is important to me, I assume it is important to everyone.  In life, we are often reminded that this is not often true.  To be honest, I like this question.  This tells me that there is a significant portion of the population that has never even considered that a person’s sexual orientation can be discarded or changed.  They have never heard of the former Exodus International which served as the umbrella organization for numerous groups around the country that would seek to help men and women across the country heal their “sexual brokenness” and shed their “unwanted same-sex attractions.”  I attended such a group near the end of my ex-gay years.  It was in an effort to be trained so that I could establish a similar group in my hometown.  It was that experience that revealed to me how damaging this type of process can be to those involved.  I will share more about that in a future post.

For those of you who, like many others, are unfamiliar with the term ex-gay, it is exactly what it sounds like.  It is an effort to intentionally separate from or put an end to one’s homosexuality.  It is usually motivated by the individual’s spiritual or religious beliefs.  It is more than waiting until later in life to accept one’s homosexuality.  That is a whole other experience that I have seen friends walk that comes with it’s own set of experiences and deserves its own discussion.  Ex-gays have accepted that they are gay, and they have made a conscious decision that, whether by therapy, prayer, or both, that part of themselves can be changed.  It is a rejection of a very integral part of who we are as humans.  Gender and sexuality are very deeply rooted parts of who we are, and being able to live those pieces of us openly, honestly, and authentically are essential for us being able to live healthy and meaningful lives.  Just as we see in the lives of those who are transgender, that internal voice, that sense of identity, cannot be muted.  Regardless of outward appearance or action, the voices of our gender identity and sexual orientation (There isn’t a person reading this that doesn’t have both.) are speaking from within us, and damage is done when we ask people to ignore or silence those voices.  

I know that this is a really brief discussion of what it is to be ex-gay.  If you would like more information, I’ve included a link to the Wikipedia page on this topic below, and, of course, please keep coming back here as I will be sharing more of my own experiences here.  Also, please feel free to e-mail me to share your own experiences and struggles with this topic.  I promise to keep anything that you share with me confidential unless you give your consent for me to share it on the blog.

“Today you are you!  That is truer than true!  There is no one alive who is you-er than you!”
- Dr. Seuss

Take care and keep coming back.

- Culbs

© Joshua Culbertson 2014

Saturday, May 17, 2014

I'm Back, And The Gag Is Off!

Welcome to my new blog.  This marks my return to blogging after having left the medium a few years ago.  I was in a very different place then.  There were things that I wanted to say, but I didn’t feel safe to put them out there for all to see.  The goal of this blog is to plow through the roadblocks that I previously placed around me.  

I guess I should tell you a little about those things and what has happened to remove the barriers that I felt confined me before.  Well, the elephant in the middle of the room is that I am gay, and I am also a Christian.  That may seem like an easy thing to say to some of you now, but it took me many years to get to a point that I was able to accept those two parts of myself and to believe that they could coexist peacefully as the deeply integral parts of me that they are.

As recently as 2011, I would not have felt comfortable to speak so freely about what is, for many, an extremely controversial topic.  In late 2009, I walked away from a conservative non-denominational church in southeastern Ohio.  That church had been a place of family, safety, and community for me for 13 years.  This was not an easy thing for me to do.  I still feel the pain of those abruptly severed relationships at times.

My story differs from those of many.  I was not coerced into going to that church.  They did not seek me out to corner me so that they could tell me that I was going to hell.  Things were very different then than they now.  I was born in the late 70’s.  I grew up primarily in the 80’s, and attended high school in 1994.  That was 20 years ago.  

A lot has happened in 20 years.  There was no Glee or Modern Family on television.  The closest thing we had at the time was a show called ‘My So-Called Life’ starring Claire Danes, which featured a character, which had a character name Rickie Vasquez who was written in such a way that you knew he was gay, but the network, ABC, was still hesitant to let it be stated outright.  I didn’t even watch it in first-run.  I was too closeted in high school to risk being caught watching anything like that.  I would end up watching it years later.  The show was cancelled before it ever made it out of its first season.  Still, Kudos to ABC for helping viewing audiences to take their first tentative step across that line.  In writing this, I actually discovered that this series is actually available on Hulu.  I know what I’ll be watching for the next few days. 

Wilson Cruz as Rickie Vasquez

Some of my friends that I went to high school have asked me why I didn’t come out back then.  I just look back at them and wonder if they really went to the same high school I did.  I was called gay or a faggot many times just walking down the hallways, and I got shoved up against walls and lockers a time or two.  There is no way I would have done more to call attention to myself.  I resented who I was back then.  I knew that I was gay.  I was even sexually active with other guys back then, but I maintained a very clear wall between those that I engaged in sexual activity with and those that I publicly called friends.  My life was very compartmentalized.

At the age of 20, with a coupe of years of college under my belt, when I started making friends with some of the people from my old church, their promise of a God that could heal and restore, I latched on to that.  I wanted to be healed.  I wanted to be restored.  I hated who I was, and I was willing to try anything that could make me “normal.”

This blog will primarily deal with my journey from self-denial to self loathing to reluctant self-acceptance to self embracing.  Looking back, I don’t regret a single step along the way.  Each event has contributed to who I am, and I’m finally at a point that I genuinely enjoy who I am.  I will also share some current events from my life when they come along.  Thank you so much for stopping by today, and I hope that you’ll come back.  My hope is that my story will give hope to someone else who needs it, that my story might help someone else come to a point of self-acceptance, but I also hope that I will also get to hear some of your stories.  I know that I was not the first to go through a journey like this, and, sadly, I will not be the last.  I hope that this blog can be a source of support to those that need it, to let them know that none of us is alone.

I hope you’ll come back, not only so that I can share more of my story with you, but because I also want to hear yours.  Please post comments, e-mail me, and share this blog with others that you think might benefit from it.  I’m sure that this blog might also attract attention from some who don’t approve of what I have to say.  That’s okay.  I’ve been called names before, but I won’t tolerate anyone being attacked or harassed on this blog.  We don’t all have to agree, but, on this blog, I will do what I can to make sure that all conversations are civil and respectful.  If you feel that someone isn’t playing by those rules, please e-mail me at

Thanks for joining me on this journey.

- Culbs

© Joshua Culbertson 2014