Two lovers. That's how I got here. Two lovers caught up in a moment set my life spinning in motion. You know the story, cells divide and life explodes. But before my fingernails took shape and before the first thud of contracting muscle sent blood flowing through my veins, something else occurred; something beautiful and terrifying for the future of this still forming child. We'll get to that in a bit.
After nine months of complete darkness I traveled through the canal of life and into the blinding light of my future. My eyes stung as they adjusted to being used for the first time. What a curious and amazing sight, all these blurry shapes scurrying about. I was confused and frightened, but understanding will come in time. Little did I know that I had been birthed into the eye of a storm.
I remained unaware as I sat safely in the calm center. This lasts for quite a few years. As my cognitive skills develop, the "something else" that occurred in utero begins to blossom. By puberty I become fully aware of what exactly it is and am terrified. I had heard of it before, this terrible disease. I am told it is the manifestation of Satan himself -- pure evil growing within me. Innocence departs and my environment begins to shift as I come to realize that my life up until this point was just the calm before the storm. I hear a rumble in the distance; sounds reverberating from the Adam's apples of men much wiser than I, or so I thought.
Adolescence is in full swing and I hear other boys my age talking about girls, but I feel as though I cannot relate. The religious rhetoric imprinted in my brain continually reminds me of how sick I really must be. It starts with a gust of wind but soon becomes a gale, tousling the delicate strands of my psyche into a confused and tangled mess. As the years pass the turbulence grows. The tectonic plates of my mental, spiritual and emotional faculties collide and grind into each-other with great force, chiseling away at my self-identity. What is left is a worldview that finds me hating who I am along with many others that I will never meet. This is where the lies began: "No one is born this way," and "homosexuals are sinners and they will burn in hell." I am told that it is a matter of spiritual warfare and that two opposing forces are fighting for the fate of the souls of these depraved individuals.
I had been socialized to see these lies as truth, and I did. I wanted to remain true to my religious faith and to the societal norms that I was expected to fit into. I wielded guilt and shame like a hammer trying to repress my feelings with every swing -- all the while trying to maintain the masquerade of "normality." It was an arduous and exhausting task. I often crumpled to the floor like a pile of dirty laundry crying out to the God of my youth, begging for him to take away this curse. "Why?!" I would scream. No matter how hard I tried to change or how devoted to God I was, these obscene attractions persisted. I lived in a constant state of fear and turmoil, believing that if I died I was destined to eternal damnation. This cyclone of pain was tearing its way through my inner self at dizzying speed. I made a decision. The only way to stay this impending evil was to deny that it even existed and move forward with my life and start a family. I was sure this was the snake oil that I was looking for. I assumed that if I found a woman and fell in love that these desires would fade away and be replaced with "right thinking."
* * *
I remember the night I stole glances at Nadia from across the bonfire at a Bible study being held in a friend's back yard. I was taken aback by her beauty and grace -- I still am. In a short time we fell in love and I knew that she was the one with whom I wanted to start building a life. We decided to remain abstinent from each-other until our wedding night (not a difficult challenge for me, obviously). About a year later we were married in an idyllic ceremony under an oak tree on my parents' property, complete with fireworks. Two young lovers -- it was perfect. As we stood under that majestic tree, I looked up and admired its branches stretching heavenward and then outward in a wide sphere around us. It felt like a holy umbrella, and for a moment I felt safe. The storm was silent. As the night was winding down and guests were thinning I knew that the time was coming for us to head out to our first home together and consummate our marriage. My nerves were electric, yet desire was absent. I remember her asking me to unzip her wedding gown, but as I did I nervously glanced away from her. I tried to buy time by suggesting we open gifts first, she looked confused but complied and offered some wine to lighten the mood. I downed a couple of glasses and relaxed a bit before heading into the bedroom. Nadia would tell you now that she knew something was clearly wrong when on the third night after our wedding I informed her that we need not make love every night and suggested we read or watch a movie instead. This was the awkward start to our marriage, yet we didn't overanalyze anything at this point. Weeks later Nadia was expecting our first child. Come summer we were in the throes of parenthood.
Flash forward seven years and we are the perfect family. On the surface we are happy and contented with three beautiful children; two daughters and one son. Dig deeper and you would fall into the vast nothingness where passion and intimacy would normally reside in a healthy relationship. (Let me be clear, our happiness was genuine and real, yet lacking a vital component needed for perfection.) Over the course of our marriage the reality settled in and I realized that these feelings from my youth were not changing nor fleeting. This family we had created was supposed to be like a well-constructed shelter, keeping my dark secret safely out of sight and out of mind. But the rumbling outside persisted and the metal doors were beginning to rattle from the squall. As I stare up from the bottom of the stairwell I hear the percussive ting of hail beating down in a mockery of a chant. "You fool!" they seem to say repeatedly, echoing like a clanging symbol. My hands reach up and cover my ears as I turn away to face the interior of the room thinking I can ignore the persistent sound. My eyes adjust to the light of this sheltered space and I see small cracks beginning to form on the walls, slowly advancing and expanding until they become large enough to slip into. The sound of concrete separating and breaking apart was deafening. Debris covers the floor. I frantically grab chunks of concrete and try to fit them into the gaps on the walls, hoping no one sees me. But they are like a thousand puzzle pieces and none are fitting together. I am overcome with a sense of helplessness. This is not how things were supposed to be. Marriage and a family were supposed to change me; set things aright.
For years I had believed that the feelings I struggled with were wrong and sinful. I did not ask for them, yet they remained ever-present. What was I to do? I love my wife and my children. I love our life together; its ups and downs have challenged me to be a better man. Aside from our intimacy issues, Nadia and I have a steadfast bond. I love her like I've loved none other. She is an incredible woman and an amazing mother. We love parenting our children together. We love spending time together. But life is like a river and time a current that always flows forward. The further we drifted downstream the more apparent it was that Nadia was suffering. No matter how hard I tried, I could not love her the way a straight man could. She never understood why, and always thought that something was wrong with her, despite my insisting otherwise. Her self-confidence was crumbling and what was left was an insecure shell of a woman who was living a life in which her own husband did not have the innate desire to be with his lover. Like my storm shelter, she too was breaking apart. I wanted to want her intimately, but in all of my efforts the inauthenticity was obvious to both of us. I wanted to heal her hurts, but stitches and gauze only go so far. These temporary fixes were losing their effect and we were both in need of a cure.
* * *
It wasn't until about six years into our marriage that after much theological study I came to the place where I saw no conflict between homosexuality and Christianity. Six months after that I found myself analyzing the very core of my spiritual beliefs. After much reflection I arrived at the conclusion that the idea of God is much broader than I had ever imagined. Christianity became a distant memory and I was seeing the world through new eyes. I began to see how all of humanity is interconnected and our religions and faiths are just expressions of how we relate to the idea of something bigger than ourselves. Love replaced religion in my lifeb and I was developing a personal moral and ethical philosophy in which empathy and compassion were paramount. During this journey I was learning to love others more fully and in turn I began to acknowledge who I truly was. The self-hatred started to fade away and for the first time in my life I accepted myself as a gay man. With eyes wide open I recognized the "something else" that happened while I was still in the shelter of my mother's womb. I no longer saw it as a disease, but a beautiful and perfect part of my very identity. Now I found myself facing the most difficult decision of my life: continue to hide and preserve my marriage, or be honest with myself and to my family and face the coming aftershocks? I wrestled with this decision over the course of a couple of weeks. Up until now I had been willing to deny my true identity to keep our family together, but after seeing how much this was hurting Nadia the choice became obvious. I knew it was the only honorable choice to make, but I was afraid that she would be justifiably angry and was terrified for the future of our children.
The summer sun burned brightly as Nadia plucked weeds from the garden. I stood, leaning against the fence, watching and conversing. Soon we were arguing about our relationship and why there seemed to be this broadening disconnect. She wanted to know where my passions lie and why, no matter how hard she tried, I did not appreciate her in the way a husband should appreciate his wife. My chest was on fire with anxiety. The words to offer explanations to all of this were on my lips, but I glanced over at our daughter running around with a chicken tucked lovingly under her arm and could not will them out. "Something is wrong with me and I need to figure it out," I blurted. I remained silent from that point forward and we continued our nightly routine of dinner, bathing the kids and tucking them into bed in quiet tension. After the little ones were asleep we convened on the couch as usual. I try to avoid the awkwardness by putting a movie on. Before the menu screen comes up Nadia says, "You don't have anything else to say about our conversation today?" I stammer out generic phrases about needing time to figure out what is going on with me. She persists. I feel caught off guard as I was not prepared to come out to her yet and had no idea how to say it. "It seems like you have something you want to say." I am staring blankly forward, seemingly emotionless, yet my insides are twisting into knots as I feel the floor beneath my feet shake and hear the windows rattle in a panic as the storm begins to build. "Just say it," she says with her hand on my shoulder. I continue to stare forward as my head shakes a constant "no." The room is pulsing with flashes of lighting accompanied by violent crashes of thunder. The velocity is reaching a peak as I say, "You don't understand. This will change everything." The wind outside howls fiercely as she insists, "You have to say it. You have to." Time stands still for a moment as the roof detaches from the frame of our home and is lifted up into the darkness. My lips slowly part open and the words spill out. Before I can even finish I feel her arms embracing me. I bury my weeping eyes into the collar bone of my best friend in the most honest moment of my life. She weeps with me. She weeps for me. We weep for our family.
* * *
The storm has lifted and the stars are glinting above us in the clear night sky. We are looking up, for the first time in years we are able to see their beauty. We talk for hours. She expresses anger and frustration toward the environment that made me feel unworthy and degenerate my entire life. Her compassion wraps itself around me and mine around her as we begin to heal. We grieve the loss of our dreams together, but we know our children will grow up with parents who are honest about who they are. Our children will always know that they are free to be exactly who they are and that they will be met with love and complete acceptance. My children will never have to live their lives fostering a secret about their identity. My children will be immersed in an atmosphere that will encourage them to develop into confident, strong, empathic and loving people. They will blossom; free from the shackles of fundamentalist religion and devoid of hateful bigotry.
Homophobia has ravaged its way through my life like a tempest. It has buried its teeth so deep that I can feel its venom lingering in the nucleus of every cell in my body. It runs rampant in our society like a virus spreading its sickness in every sanctuary and spawning hate with every foolish word spat from the pulpit. It is a force that no longer has any power over me. It is a force that must be addressed, resisted and rooted out wherever it tries to spread. We must protect our children from such evil.
This could have destroyed us, yet we stand amid the wreckage stronger than ever before. The burden of darkness has been lifted and the lightness of liberation shines forth. We look ahead at the future together, us five. The dynamics of our family unit may be shifting, but we will always be a family -- we will just be adding a couple more members in the future. We know the road ahead will be a precarious one, but we have love ... and that is enough.
Follow Christopher Sofolo on Twitter: www.twitter.com/csofolo