Thirty years ago, during a bull-riding practice session, I met a handsome steer wrestler from Wyoming. Buck was taller than I was. Furry, blond, and beefy. He was sexy as hell. We travelled around the intercollegiate rodeo circuit and saved money by sharing a hotel room with other college cowboys, shacking up four cowboys to a room, two in each bed. More than once, when left alone in our hotel room, Buck tackled me on the bed to wrestle naked.
I was not a willing participant. I was as homophobic as they come. Not only was I verbally homophobic, but my life was still absorbed by religious indoctrination and guilt. Words like "fag" and "queer" came easy to me in the company of others. In the privacy of my unspoken mind, I characterized my secret homosexual desires as "gay," a much gentler term for the desires that I didn't want, and a stark contrast to the epithets I used in public discussions of other homosexuals. Everything I believed about homosexuality had been learned from my father and my religious upbringing with the Jehovah's Witnesses, and none of it was nice.
Two years prior to meeting Buck, I had run away from home and unintentionally abandoned the Witness religion in the process. I was 18 when I met him, but I still carried most of my religious intolerance with me. At that time, I was convinced that all gay men, except for me, wore drag. Gay men often sported earrings in their left ears, I had been told. Or maybe it was their right ears. I don't remember the specifics. I was clueless. I knew I was a homosexual, but there was no chance I would ever act on those desires, even when confronted by another cowboy named Buck who wanted to wrestle naked. Buck couldn't possibly be gay, I thought. More than once on those rodeo road trips, while he was in the shower, I jerked off and fantasized about him, but there was no way in hell that I would ever act on where I speculated his naked wrestling attempts were intended to take me. Religious guilt wouldn't allow me to go there. My religion had assured me that God hated homosexuals.
So here I am, 30 years later, and I know that most organized religions still don't like me. Most people who go to church on Sunday tend to think less of me. They know nothing about my years of prayer, when I believed that God would cure me if only I prayed a little harder, and they have convinced themselves that my homosexuality is an activity, not an identity. It's an alternative lifestyle, they say. Homosexuality is simply a choice, they think, kind of like waking up in the morning and choosing between corn flakes or Lucky Charms. Personally, I like Lucky Charms, but I could just as easily eat corn flakes if I had to. The same can't be said for my sexuality. I did not choose to be gay. I fought it. For years, I prayed to God and asked Him to cure me.
Some Christians believe that I didn't pray hard enough. That's why it didn't work, they think. I didn't pray in the right way, they say. What do they know? I gave prayer everything I had. Prayer did not fix what I hoped it would take care of. Prayer did not cure me of my desire to wrestle naked with Buck.
Today, I no longer feel a need to be cured. I tend to think that God doesn't exist, and if He does, He sure as hell doesn't give a damn about my sexuality. It's also clear to me that He doesn't give a damn about starving children in Africa, either, which leads me to believe that He does not exist.
A couple of years ago, I attended a conference for LGBT ex-Jehovah's Witnesses. Yes, I know. That sounds weird. Who would have thought that LGBT ex-Jehovah's Witnesses would want to hang out together? Turns out, there are many such groups. There are social gatherings for LGBT ex-Catholics, LGBT ex-Mormons, LGBT ex-Jehovah's Witnesses. Heck, there are even social gatherings for ex-ex-gay Christians -- people who once claimed to have been cured of their sexuality by prayer, and then came to realize differently.
At that conference two years ago, I asked a question during a workshop: How many people had moved on to another religion after leaving the Jehovah's Witnesses? How many of the participants were currently attending another church? Out of 25 people in that room, two raised their hands. Only two. That's significant, I think. At one time, 100 percent of the people in that room believed that faith and prayer would cure them of their homosexuality. Today, less than 10 percent still hang on to some form of organized religion. You can say what you want about that, but I think it's healthy to not feel a need for an organized church to bring you to God. Perhaps there are churches out there that preach about love and inclusion and the wide and welcoming arms of God, but I'm not interested in joining them. I don't want to get swallowed up by another church. If God exists, I'm not convinced that He expects us to "worship" him. I'm not convinced that I will find Him in any church. My history with fundamentalism has given me an oversized suspicion of religion. Religious preaching all sounds the same to me today, and I no longer think that God or righteousness is found in a church. I just don't.
So knowing what I know today, and being free of even a smidge of self-hatred for being gay, would I go back to my rodeo years, if I could, and explore what Buck was offering to me back then? Would I wrestle naked with him? Hell yeah.