This past Saturday, I was blessed to be able to reconnect with a number of my former class mates from high school for our 20-year high school reunion. As I have alluded to previously, my experience throughout elementary school, middle school, and a significant portion of high school had some moments of pretty high anxiety for me. I know what it is to be shoved around in a locker room, to be pushed into a locker, and to be called a faggot while walking down a hall way. Whether a person is gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender, or even if they are just perceived to be so by their tormentors, these experiences can be quite damaging, and life can feel devoid of hope while going through them. For me, knowing that I was gay, and, knowing that the thing that some of these people resented about me was true, caused me to resent that part of me as well.
I don’t generally dwell on the darker days of my past. I find it more helpful to focus on the good things that are in my life now and my journey forward, but I remember being that isolated middle schooler who wanted so badly to feel accepted by anyone. I remember all too well the feeling that the world would be better off without me. This self-resentment, driven by internalized homophobia, put me in a place that I found myself a few times staring at a bottle of pills or gripping a razor blade between my fingers. I remember thinking that my parents’ lives would be so much better if they never had to experience the agony and embarrassment of having a gay son. I doubted life at school would even miss a beat if I wasn’t there. Sadly, one of the things that kept me alive was a very bad piece of theology, that I had heard at some point growing up, that told me that someone who commits suicide would go to hell. If I knew that I could have ended my own life and that would be it, there would just be darkness, I would have done it. Fear kept me in a life of isolation, and fear kept me from ending that life.
Things would eventually get a little better. Towards the end of my time in high school, I began to come out of my shell a little bit, and I made some friends. I went to parties, and I felt like I began to make some real connections. Of course, those connections were only partially genuine because I would have never allowed any of those people to know the full extent of who I was. I knew there was no way for me to accepted as someone who was openly gay. Still, I am glad that I let myself step out of the shadows and have those experiences. Even then, it allowed me to see that there was some acceptance available if I opened myself up to it. I still struggled at times, wondering why people would like me or what me around, but, at the time, I was just glad that they did.
For the first 10 years following high school, I didn’t have much contact with anyone from that part of my life. I was glad to be able to have those days behind me, and I was one of those people who say that they would never go back for anything. I would eventually begin to make contact with a person here and a person there. Those interactions went well, but they still didn’t know the real me. At that point, I was still fighting the real me. Even though I had said the words, “I am gay,” I was living a life centered around trying to change that. I wanted more than anything to be “normal.” I wanted to be someone that my parents could be proud of. I wanted to be able to live accepted by society and not have to be ashamed. In many ways, the life I was living provided me with pieces of that. I would receive receive a great deal of praise and support whenever I would share with someone that I “used to be gay.” I would tell them about how God was working in my life, and I had no desire to go back to being who I was. I said it so much that I began to believe it was true, and it brought hope to so many who wanted to believe that God was sufficient to help them overcome obstacles that they faced in their own lives. It also gave them hope and ammunition to use whenever they encountered someone who told them that they were gay, and that’s just who they are. Those who knew my story could point to me and say that it wasn’t true. I was their proof that homosexuality could be overcome, that God could change a person’s sexual orientation.
Bringing together my spiritual side and my geeky side, there is a quote from Star Trek VI (1991) that I love. It’s from a conversation between Capt. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and Lt. Valeris (Kim Cattrall) in which Valeris is concerned about a turning point in the relationship between the Federation and the Klingon Empire.
Spock: “History is replete with turning points, Lieutenant. You must have faith.”
Spock: “That the universe will unfold as it should.”
|Leonard Nimoy and Kim Cattrall in Star Trek VI|
In one sense, I regret not having been more out going in high school. I wonder what my life would have been like if I had allowed myself to experience going to the prom or even if I had chosen to come out of the closet during high school, but I firmly believe that things happen when they are supposed to. I needed to go through the things that I have gone through to become the person I am now, and the people that I graduated with needed to do the same.
© Joshua Culbertson 2014