Casting stones

Each day, when I browse the news and look at social media, I see countless stories concerning religion that make me sick at heart. Whether it is someone committing mass murder in the name of Islam, a “Christian” refusing to bake a cake for a gay couple, or a politician trying to appeal to his conservative base by making disparaging remarks about same-sex marriage, it all makes me completely disgusted with religion.

The only problems I have ever had from being openly gay are because of people who have been blinded by their religion. I have had people tell me I am going to hell. People who have given me books about how God can make me straight. Family members who refuse to be around my partner at family functions. Anonymous people who have harassed me and called me names online. People I know who have done the same.

The common denominator between all of these activities has been religion. Specifically Christianity. How someone can follow Christ and know anything about him, yet allow bigotry and hatred to overcome their thoughts and actions is unconscionable.

I am glad I am gay, mainly because I have had to question things that some take for granted. It has made life more difficult, but I feel like I can see things more clearly than so many who use their faith as shields while they throw stones at anyone they deem abnormal and unworthy of love.

To thine own self be true

Much has been made recently of comments made by Russell Tovey, one of the stars of HBO’s gay-themed Looking. During an interview with the Guardian, he said the following:

I feel like I could have been really effeminate, if I hadn’t gone to the school I went to. Where I felt like I had to toughen up. If I’d have been able to relax, prance around, sing in the street, I might be a different person now. I thank my dad for that, for not allowing me to go down that path. Because it’s probably given me the unique quality that people think I have.

While he has since called his statement “inarticulate,” it is easy to see why so many in the LGBT community found his remarks insensitive and outright homophobic. After all, how many of us grew up in similar circumstances where we often felt the need to hide our true nature from family members and friends in order to fit in with social expectations?

We live in a time when the effeminate male has become a bit of a pariah within the gay community. The standard for a desirable man is often described as “straight-acting,” and many guys are quick to point out they only want masculine, non-effeminate men. Because so many of us exhibit behavior that could be considered feminine, one has to wonder if this is symptomatic of self-loathing within the gay community.

I certainly wasn’t what one would consider a boyish child. Sure, I did my fair share of tree-climbing and the like, but I was just as comfortable playing Barbies with my sister or going shopping with a car full of women. As I got older, there were times when this kind of behavior was discouraged by adults, but most of the negativity I received as a child came from other kids. I absolutely despised being called a sissy. “Only girls play tambourines,” said one boy at church, much to my chagrin.

On the other hand, my maternal grandmother practically encouraged my girlish behavior by saying I should have been born female. She even gave me, my sister, and our two girl cousins matching dolls and strollers for Christmas one year, explaining, “I didn’t want him to feel left out.”

Even though I tried to alter some of what I thought were undesirable traits as I grew older, I never was able to morph into the idealized concept of masculinity. As an adult male, I still have characteristics that most guys would consider feminine. I cry easily while watching television. I love dancing like a slut to Beyoncé music. I worry incessantly about how I look. I’m pretty sure I have at least two periods a month.

But really, why do we care so much more when female traits are exhibited by a man than when masculine traits are exhibited by a woman? I suppose our patriarchal society can’t help but attribute power and strength to masculinity while relegating anything feminine to the weak and defenseless. It does a huge disservice to women when gay men allow themselves to be brainwashed into such a misogynistic way of thinking.

Human beings are complicated, but I wish we could evolve beyond our imperfect expectations of what we think male/female and gay/straight should look like. I wish we all could just accept ourselves as unique and whole persons without pressuring ourselves to become something we can never be.

“This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.” – William Shakespeare

Did molestation make me gay?

I used to think what happened to me when I was a child was what made me attracted to males. I blamed my uncle for my sexual orientation for many years, and while I definitely believe what happened shaped my sexual interests, I am not so convinced of the connection anymore.

Those encounters are my first memories of sex, and they greatly altered my views of affection and intimacy. As a counselor once told me, the guilt the victim shoulders is because the attention and sexual activity feels good even though it shouldn’t.

Because I was too young to understand what was happening completely and enjoyed the attention, I didn’t want it to stop. When my parents found out what was going on, I was upset because I knew it wouldn’t happen again. It didn’t.

From that point, I acted out sexually with boys whenever I had the chance. There were only two that I did anything with, but it went on for several years. It was always just fooling around to me. I never felt emotionally attached or like I had a crush on either of them. Even though I know it is normal for kids to mess around while they are learning about sex, I have had a lot of guilt over the years about those encounters.

There were guys that I did have crushes on who I fantasized about incessantly, but I never acted on those impulses. I was too scared and also too ignorant to really understand my sexual inclinations. These guys were like idols to me. I watched the way they walked and talked, admired and imagined their bodies, and rarely ever said a word to them. I had them placed so high on a pedestal that they were unattainable.

As I grew older and began to figure out what it meant to be gay, the crushes continued. I fell really hard for a couple of different guys my age, but, again, I was too scared to act on it out of fear of rejection. We would have sleepovers and spend as much time together as possible, but nothing physical ever happened. In my juvenile mind, the guy would be my boyfriend. Both times, the parents of the guy stopped the friendship because they grew uncomfortable with all the time we were spending together. Both times, I about lost my mind from the grief.

When I finally grew up a little, I met a much older man who took advantage of me in many ways. I was ignorant and inexperienced, so I poured everything into a clearly dysfunctional relationship. When that relationship ended, I began another with a man several years my senior. It was also dysfunctional for many reasons.

Looking back, I realize I was substituting sex for affection. If a guy liked me, I felt like I was supposed to sleep with him. Friendship needed to progress to sex in order to mean anything. This was obviously a direct result of what happened with my uncle. Sex equals friendship equals affection equals love. It wasn’t enough to just hang out and have a good time; I needed them to prove they liked me enough, and the ultimate expression of that was sex.

Over the years, I have changed that line of thinking. I met someone 9 years ago who cherished me from day one. He didn’t expect me to show my appreciation for his company through sex (even though I wanted to). He has been patient and kind and anything but a user. I am one of the lucky ones.

My uncle never faced the consequences for his actions 35 years ago, but I know, one way or another, he will. He denies it happened now, even though he admitted it when it was first revealed. I am a forgiving person, but I refuse to consider forgiving him until he admits it and accepts responsibility for his actions.

I said all of that to say this: It would be easy to assume what happened when I was a kid made me gay, but that is oversimplifying it. I know plenty of gay people who weren’t molested, and I know plenty of straight people who were.

Regardless, I am what I am. Whether I was born this way or made this way, I didn’t have a say in the matter. I know being molested shaped my views of sex and intimacy, but those are things I have struggled with and continue to work on. It makes more sense that I was born with this orientation, and the sexual abuse was just a terrible thing that happened to me along the way.

Simply the best

tj_klune_into_this_river_I_drown

Into This River I Drown by TJ Klune is the best LGBT novel I have ever read. I liked it so much that I bought a physical copy after reading the electronic edition on my Kindle.

I wasn’t surprised to learn that Klune won the 2014 Lambda Literary Award Winner for Best Gay Romance, even though labeling this book “romance” seems far too limiting. It contains unexpected death, painful mourning, paranormal activity, love, mystery, chill-inducing terror, and some absolutely superb writing.

After finishing the book and going online to research the author, I discovered the heartbreaking events the author and his fiancé, Eric Arvin, have been going through over the past several months. An online support fund has been established to help them through this trying time.

Being effeminate

Years ago, while living with my grandparents for a short time, my grandfather and I were driving home from work when he took the opportunity to bring up some things about me that he had issue with. As he drove, he lectured me about helping them out more financially before getting to the heart of what he really wanted to talk about.

He started by telling me I needed a hair cut. I had been letting my hair get sort of long. It wasn’t even shoulder length, but was several inches long on the top and sides. Although having short hair was a requirement for men in the Holiness faith, this wasn’t exactly the reason he brought it up. As he talked, he recalled a verse in the Bible about being effeminate.

Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. – 1 Corinthians 6:9-10

Now we were getting to the root of his issue with my hair. It wasn’t just that it was longer than normal for men in our tradition, it was that he thought I was trying to look like a woman (I was really trying to look like Michael Jackson, but whatever).

Not sure how to respond, I brought up two highly-respected men in the Holiness community who were very effeminate. Both had soft voices, had never married or exhibited any interest in women, and were perfectly manicured. “No,” he said, “They are just different.”

I began to get angry, more at his refusal to admit these men fit the very definition of effeminate than at his insistence that I did. Surely he could see what I saw, but just refused to accept it because these men claimed to be holy. My anger took a more personal slant when he told me I was being a bad influence on the younger males in our church. I realized this talk we were having was more about his fear of me being gay than the length of my hair.

When I get mad, I usually clam up and stew in it. That means I have to find other ways of releasing my anger. When we arrived home and he finished belittling me, I decided to go for a walk. I removed the cap I normally wore to work and let the wind blow through my hair as I journeyed down the country road in front of our house. I always loved the feeling of having my hair in my face, so I enjoyed it as long as possible. Then I returned home, grabbed the clippers, and shaved my head in the bathroom. From my perspective, this was an act of rebellion. If I couldn’t have long hair, I would have barely any hair at all.

After showering and getting dressed for church, I walked into the kitchen. My rebellious act wasn’t seen as such, but was embraced as me having finally seen the light. Both of my grandparents exclaimed how much better I looked, but the damage was done. I knew I no longer wanted to live with them, and I moved out a few weeks later.

It is worth noting that a couple of years later while visiting a local gay bar, I bumped into one of the effeminate Holiness men that I had mentioned to my grandfather during our conversation. That was definitely an enjoyable moment for me.

The other man never married, but maintained a close relationship with a single Holiness preacher. Apparently they traveled around the country together and often slept in the same bed. Maybe they were in love, maybe they weren’t. It was a long time ago and doesn’t really matter anymore since they have both passed away.

So, what does that verse in Corinthians really mean? I don’t know. Some newer translations have changed it to “men who have sex with men,” but I think that’s a bit of a stretch. Perhaps the Apostle Paul just had a problem with women, and by extension, men who looked or acted like women.

Misogynistic, if you ask me.

My exciting little life

Someone recently told me I have led an exciting life. After a few moments of denial, I admitted that my life has been pretty interesting.

A few examples…

  1. Growing up in a very strict household where I couldn’t watch television, wear short sleeves, or attend my school’s basketball games
  2. Coming out to my family at twenty years of age
  3. Creating a Michael Jackson fan site that became the catalyst for a trip to Germany in 2001
  4. Getting to see Michael Jackson in concert on 9/10/01
  5. Being in New York City on 9/11/01
  6. Meeting my partner of 9 years on the internet
  7. Getting to see some of the best performers on earth live in concert
  8. Traveling to various parts of the country
  9. Becoming a business owner earlier this year
  10. Having a scan of my Michael Jackson concert ticket included in an upcoming special on National Geographic

Even though I am typically scared of my own shadow, I am glad I have been willing to put myself out there on multiple occasions. Those are typically the moments that have been the most rewarding.