Gay adolescence is not an easy thing. As it turns out, neither is gay adulthood. Certainly, things do get better -- things are getting better. But, gay teen suicide still exists. Workplace discrimination still exists. I was never driven to suicide, though I remember my shame and guilt being strong enough to nearly send me there. I have, however, experienced workplace discrimination. You may have read in June about the Cincinnati music teacher being offered a job at a prestigious Christian prep school, only to be asked about his sexuality and told the school had a policy against hiring gays, despite his Christian beliefs. That was me. The event was painful and stirred up memories of the shame and guilt from my youth. As I have always done in times of difficulty, however, I turned to music. This time, in a way that I never had before. This act of discrimination was a catalyst for musical creativity.
As a child in a fundamentalist Christian household, I was encouraged to develop my God-given talents. It was clear early on that my talents were musical. I loved music -- I still do. I love to listen to music, to sing, to play, to get lost in music. As an early teen, when I started to realize my sexuality was different than it was "supposed" to be, music provided a much needed distraction. It was in developing my God given musical talents that I could be faithful to Him. My sexuality didn't matter in my music making. So I delved in. In middle school and high school I played in every band I could, sang in every choir, and performed in every musical. I was heavily involved in my church music ministry. In undergrad and graduate school, I majored in music education and performance. Music was my refuge.
Of course, my sexuality, though suppressed, was still there. My guilt and shame, though prayed away every night, was still there. Music, though a distraction and refuge, wasn't a cure for ignorance. Eventually, thanks to a progression in my own thinking and to supportive and loving people in my life, I came to realize that being gay is not a reason to feel guilt or shame. I was created in God's image just as much as any straight person. Finally, I had peace. The guilt and shame left me. My love for music did not.
I have lived happily as an openly gay man for the last several years. I have a partner of almost five years. I have surrounded myself with loving people who validate me as a person, as a musician, as a performer, as a teacher, and even as a Christian. I have found a community that not only values my musicianship but also my sexuality as a gift from God. Perhaps it was because of my loving community and my perception of remarkable societal progress regarding LGBT equality that I was blindsided by the Christian prep school's blatant discrimination towards me. Suddenly, I was filled with anger and pain and disappointment. For an instant, I was taken back to that time in my life of tremendous guilt and shame. This time, however, I knew that it wasn't my ignorance to blame.
So again I turned to music. For the first time, however, I turned to writing and recording my own music. Maybe I can reach others who are filled with shame and guilt because of their sexuality, as I was, thanks to a so called "Christian" environment. Maybe the many people even within Christian circles who know that being gay is just as beautiful and valid as being straight in God's eyes will speak out with me. There is much still to be done. Much still to be said. Persecution and discrimination in the name of God is wrong, ignorant, and far too prevalent. If I, in my journey, can help other LGBT individuals rid themselves of shame and guilt, then my experience of discrimination is worth it.
Many have already taken a stand on my behalf. Many have spoken out. My hope is that all who read this or hear my music will join us.
Please listen. Please share. Writing this music has been cathartic for me. Maybe it will inspire others to deal with pain through their own creativity.
"The time is now. Going to build a better space. To get us out of this small-minded place. The time is now to show the world a better face. With love there's room for all to partake." -- From the title song on my upcoming album Through These DoorsListen to Jonathan's song, "Through These Doors," below:
To learn more about my project and hear my music, please visit www.facebook.com/TheJonathanZ or follow me on Twitter: @The_JonathanZ
Follow Jonathan Zeng on Twitter: www.twitter.com/The_JonathanZ