On The Ricki Lake Show's "Coming Out" episode, which aired recently, we met some strong, brave men and women. Since the episode aired, the response has been powerful, inspiring many to share their own personal stories, including me. This is the conclusion to my last piece, "Coming Into Coming Out."
Sitting in my car, in the dark of night, during a 15-minute break from work, I was at one of the lowest places in my life. As I think of it, I'm nearly certain it was raining, but I don't know if it was rain from the heavens or if I was raining -- sadness, confusion and immeasurable frustration pouring out from within. It had been the hardest few weeks of my life: I'd started to question everything I'd been taught, who I was, who I was to be, where I was going, where I'd ultimately go. Coming out had brought up so much more than being attracted to men, and now I couldn't stand the thought of feeling this horrible way another day. To make matters worse, I had to get back to making Iced White Mochas in just a few minutes.
I'd prayed to God so many times before about being gay. I'd begged, I'd asked, I'd suggested, I'd implied, I'd approached God in every way I could with the certainty that at some point I'd be able overcome this burden. I'd been told, and more importantly I believed, that all I had to do was just be delivered. All it took for deliverance was asking God, believing and wanting it, and it would be done. Well, at 19 years old, a few weeks out of the closet and still as gay as Christmas at Bloomingdales, there was something wrong. There must have been something wrong with me, or worse, something wrong with God. While sitting in my car, feeling the rain, I knew God wasn't wrong, and I started feeling like maybe I wasn't, either.
With only a few minutes to collect myself before going back to work, it dawned on me: God didn't put me here, make me this way, and bring me to this place in my life on my own accord. I wasn't given life so that I would be downtrodden and depressed. I was pretty certain that this wasn't why I'd been birthed. As certain as I was that coming out was the right thing to do, I was just as certain that feeling awful had to end today. So I gave up.
A few years earlier, I remembered, I'd heard a minister tell us to give up to God those things we knew we couldn't handle. He also told us that we were often mistaken to take on some of the things we thought we could handle. So, sitting in my car, I said a simple prayer that literally released my whole life. I felt like Simba returning to Pride Rock: The grass became green again, the dried riverbed flowed again, and the clouds broke, allowing sunshine to touch my face once again.
I said to God, "I know this isn't what you have for me. I know that I have no control over being gay, straight, or otherwise. You know that I've been here before you many times, asking that you take it away, dial it down, get rid of it, and we both know that you've not." I told God, as if God were unaware, that I couldn't correct this within myself, if it were something that even needed "correcting." And if it were to be that I was supposed to be heterosexual at some point, I trusted God enough to know that it would be done when it was supposed to be, and not when I felt it should. I let it go.
Before I was able to release my pain, there was a significant event that catalyzed my slipping into this emotional space in the first place. At the time that I came out, my father and I weren't speaking; we were in the midst of a hard falling out that had resulted in my moving out of his house. I lived with my mother while I was in school, and in the grand tradition of my mom's side of the family, there was a family meeting about me being gay. There for the meeting were my mother, my stepfather, and my grandfather. I remember being just shy of mortified that these people were sitting at our kitchen table in this moment, because it must have meant that they also were aware of what I'd revealed to my mother only days before, in a letter written months earlier. This was not going to be a good night.
To be honest, much of that night remains a blur for me. I seem to remember there being a Bible, much discussion of my need for the desire of deliverance, and then its ultimate arrival. The hardest part of being told such hard things to hear? I agreed. It was all I'd ever known: "Being gay is bad! You go to Hell!" The idea that Hell was worse than this should have scared me straight, pun very much intended, but it didn't.
My grandfather and I exchanged opinions, his voice raised, and probably mine, as well. Although words are so hard to recall, there are eight words, angrily shouted at me while he walked out of the room, that stuck with me: "There's nothing two men can do for God!" And then silence. Maybe then no one was speaking; maybe I couldn't hear them. In that moment there was definitely stillness.
My relationship with my grandfather has never been the same since that night and that moment. I blame it on various other things, outwardly, but that night changed us.
After that family meeting, I was hurt. My grandfather's words, my mom's plea that I go to God with prayers that I be fixed, my stepfather's Switzerland-like neutrality between them -- it was all so much to try to digest as I went to bed that night. If you can imagine, it felt like my body was a pillow being stuffed, and stuffed, and stuffed, and stuffed. At some point it would have to be enough, but it felt like the stuffing machine just kept going, and the worst part was that I was part of the process that was about to make me burst.
It took a few weeks for me to arrive at that moment in my car, sitting in the rain, giving God my burden. And it took years for my mom to understand, to feel like she saw me. She tried, and I appreciated her tug of war, as I could hear it in her voice, see it in her face, and feel it in her embrace. She hated this thing, but she loved me.
Later that year, I moved to Atlanta for school, and we would talk on the phone. I distinctly remember a conversation we had one evening in which she said, "I just don't understand." The four words resonated with me, probably because I didn't understand, either. I told her, as I had in my letter, what I'd figured out (at least up to that point). Whether or not I had told her I was gay, I'd still be gay. Whether or not I'd chosen to date women, I'd still be gay. If I'd gotten married, started a family, and lived the life she dreamed I would, I'd still be gay within that existence. The truth is the truth and always would be, but now we had to figure out what to do with it. I know it made sense to her, but it would take more time.
A little while later, when I was going through a tough spot in a romantic relationship, I started thinking of my friends and how they'd always talked to their parents, cried to them, and related to them what was happening with their boyfriends or girlfriends. I was jealous that they'd gotten advice from their parents. I didn't have that, at all. The subject of being gay was so touchy that the idea of talking about my dating life was light years away, but that was unacceptable to me.
I called my mom and told her I didn't think it was fair to not be able to seek her advice in these important and formative moments in my life. I told her that she was my mom, and that her job was to help me and love me. I told her that I was going to tell her what I was going though, and that she was going to be there for me and give me advice. There was an epic pause on the other end of the phone.
"Um, well...." She collected her words. "Oh... OK...?"
That day, years after the letter, many conversations after the kitchen table, and many tears later (though I still say I'm not a crier), we turned a corner. I don't think either of us knew it at the time, but that was the beginning of the next chapter in our relationship. Now, don't get me wrong, she's not running for election as the head of PFLAG, but she's my mom, she loves me, and she cares about my happiness. As her "perfect" son reminded her, it's her job to help me and love me.
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