Monday, June 9, 2014

20 Years, Part 2

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

About five years ago, shortly after I had left my old church and life as an ex-gay behind, I was invited to the home of a former high school classmate.  She had invited me and a few other members of our graduating class over for drinks and to catch up.  It ended up being just me and four of my female former classmates.  I remember sitting in her kitchen, and we were chatting about what we had been doing over the past 15 years.  Then, we shared a little about the lives of other people from out class and what they were doing.  I didn’t say much through a lot of this discussion.  I was still getting comfortable with myself, and I think, being back with people from high school, made it easier to fell back into that self-suppressing shell.  Eventually, the subject turned to those in our class who have come out as gay or lesbian and the journeys they have gone through to get where they are.  Eventually, one of the women turned to me and, jokingly, said, “Josh, I suppose you’re going to tell us that you’re gay now.”  I froze.  This was it.  I could deny it, as I had for years, or I could just say it and wait to see what their reaction was.  I just kind of smirked at them, shrugged my shoulders, and said, “Well…”  My being gay dominated our conversation for a bit after that, but then we just moved on to other things.  As I went home that night, it felt incredibly good to know that I had the support of people who had known me for almost all of my life, and they have been nothing but supportive ever sense.  We have traveled together.  They have joined me for evenings on multiple occasions, even joining me at a gay club once.

Even with these very positive experiences, I was nervous to walk back into the larger population of my high school class.  I am from a small town.  The high school that I attended is in an even smaller town.  I had no idea what I could expect.  Knowing that I have some supportive friends in the room did help, but it didn’t remove all of the anxiety.  At first, I began looking at all of the other things that were going on that weekend, and I began thinking either about not going or about limiting the timeframe that I could be there.  I eventually decided that I needed to open myself up to this experience, good or bad.  I needed to face this.  I needed to face this group of people who represented such an intimidating part of my past.

Tri-Valley High School
When I went to the reunion, whether it was survival instinct or just conversational etiquette, I decided that I wasn’t going to discuss my being gay or the journey that has led me to be able to say those words with confidence and self-acceptance.  At this point, anyone who wants to know my sexual orientation can find out with a quick Google search.  I don’t have many secrets left.  There were different events planned throughout the day: a tour of our old high school, a picnic for families, and a dinner that night.  Throughout much of the day, the subject of my sexuality didn’t come up.  This was, to me, a relief.  I have no need or desire to be labeled “the gay guy.”  Towards the end of the night, I found myself in several conversations with people who made it a point to bring it up to me so that they could share their support and love with me and to let me know how proud they were of me for finding the courage to be honest with myself about who I am.  I was very touched by these conversations, and I left feeling very much affirmed and connected to these people, some of whom have been a part of my life since Kindergarten.

My name tag from my class reunion
I reflected on this more last night as I stood gathered in an auditorium full of progressive United Methodist clergy and lay persons, all gathered for the purposes of promoting the cause of full inclusion of all people and in all aspects of church life, including ordination.  As I surveyed the room, the recognized the faces of some who I knew to be LGBTQ themselves, but the majority of the people in the room were straight.  We heard two speakers last night, one was a gay African-American student from Ohio State University who shared his story of not being accepted by the church he grew up and his struggle to overcome his lack of trust when invited to attend a campus area United Methodist Church when he arrived in Columbus.   The other speaker was a white straight retired United Methodist Bishop who shared his story of how he, from his position of privilege, came to understand and become an advocate for the cause of those in the LGBTQ community who have been hurt and pushed aside by the church.  With so many people in the room whose lives are not directly impacted by these issues in the room, I was, as I have been many times, struck by their willingness to commit to this important fight.
All of this to say, it truly does get better!  If, by sharing my experiences, I can make life easier or provide a point of connection for just one young person who, like I did all those years ago, is thinking about doing harm to themselves or, if one person who is conflicted  over their sexuality and their spiritual beliefs finds hope in my story, then it was worth putting myself out here.  If you find yourself in either of these circumstances, please reach out to someone.  You are always welcome to shoot me an e-mail.  I will work to help you find support and resources in your area.  Also, I have created a Resources page.  There are a few things on there now, and I will be adding more as time goes on.  This blog is about more than my life.  It’s about your life as well.  Whether you are someone who identifies as gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender, a straight ally, or if you are someone who is wrestling with questions of sexual orientation or gender identity, you are not alone.  Hang in there!  It truly does get better!

- Culbs

© Joshua Culbertson 2014

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