"Just as I am, without one plea," goes an old Baptist Hymn. The irony was lost on my 17-year-old self when I earnestly sang those words in church. Eyes closed. Hands raised. Early-morning-stained-glass light dancing across the pews. It was the early '90s. Southern Indiana. My entire world revolved around Jesus, and I was hiding the darkest secret.
"I'm gay." I remember scribbling those words into my cheap, paperback journal. It was a messy book filled with now embarrassing teen-angst musings and terrible poetry. That's what teenagers do. They make their first attempts at expression, but overshoot. As a teen, I would dramatically riff on the heaviest of subjects -- perhaps while listening to The Prayer Chain, an acceptable Christian version of secular and heathen bands like Jane's Addiction or The Smashing Pumpkins. I would write about the dire state of mankind teetering on the precipice of damnation; how I would selflessly devote my life to saving them from their sinful ways. But seeing this new, terrifying phrase in my own handwriting was too much. Today, there's a missing page from that old journal. I tore it out as soon as I wrote it. "I'm gay" was a truth I wasn't yet willing to confront.
Of course eventually I did confront it, but not before painful and embarrassing talks with my pastor, ridiculous prayers of sexual remorse and a bout with now defunct Exodus Ministries -- the original "pray away the gay" organization. I really wanted to be somebody else, anything but "Just as I am," and it took my entire youth to reconcile. Moreover, my entire youth was taken.
Going away to college saved my life. That's common for many LGBTQ people from small-town America. I left that backward bubble and landed in the middle of a whole new, liberal world. To top it off, I majored in musical theatre. I suddenly felt as though I were rollerblading down the hallways in daisy dukes, waving glow sticks and listening to Labouche. It hadn't even occurred to me that there were people who wouldn't care about my sexuality. A whole new world indeed.
Mark Twain said, "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness..." The essence of this is what happened to me. I could only believe the absurd things that the fundamentalists told me about homosexuals while in an insular community. The moment I was exposed to an alternate view, I was free of their ignorance. There can only be "those people" when you don't know any of "those people."
Later in the '90s, I remember the strange relief I felt when my mother chose to watch Will & Grace each week. It seems silly now, but at the time it was earth-shattering in how it represented a shift in world view.
When the internet came to be, humans began to share ideas in real time. This unprecedented communication is correlated to marriage equality sweeping our country. Prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness can only thrive when we aren't talking to each other.
Simply, this is how my conflict was resolved. It's how the conflict is resolved for kids still going through the same struggle that I did. It's how most of our conflicts are resolved -- when we talk to one another. Just as I am. Just as you are, without one plea.