The Spiral: 1 Samuel 18 – 31

The Spiral began the morning after.

The light in the room felt unusually bright, and then I remembered – the blizzard that had holed us up. I rolled out of the guest room bed and approached the frosty window. The streets were clear – the blizzard turned out to be merely a dusting, so my parents would not be stuck in Boston for much longer. It needed to end anyhow, like these things do. Time to return to the normal swing of things, to enter my room and get Dan to leave, to let things be silent for a suitable amount of time, and then finally, to tell him I am just not interested in guys. The plan would work if I stuck to the script. The snow began melting as the heat cranked up from the day’s sun, and soon it would be gone completely.

Time to go Dan. And let’s never discuss this again.

It took less than a day for Dan to ask to discuss it. He messaged me that night on AOL Instant Messenger well into the evening, almost 24 hours from the initiation. I gave him the updates – slept most of the day, parents got back, hid any evidence – but he cut straight to the chase. This shouldn’t be the last time we hang out like this. I let the comment stand before he said We could be boyfriends.

I said No. The exact words… I cannot remember. There was some dancing around, some sidestepping. I know I told him I was straight (or perhaps I said, I am not gay). Whatever I said, he got the point. Our friendship ended that night, despite the promises to “stay friends,” to “stay normal.” Closet cases cannot recover from such experiences. We cannot face ourselves much less anyone else. And those with our secret… they need to go. It is self-preservation, as primal as the fight-or-flight instinct. Because make no mistake, to be gay is death.

It took a year before I took a second lap around the Spiral. My theater club in college, aptly named No Refund Theatre because all our shows were free, hosted a party every weekend to coincide with our weekly performances. When I joined the club my second day of Freshman year, I believed whole heartedly that I had met a group of people passionate about theater. In fact, they were most interested in drinking, and theater was the excuse. I had not drank since that night with Dan a year earlier, but that did not stop me from going to the cast parties to watch everyone drink.

I did not know Oliver, but I knew of him through a fellow No Refund Thespian. Oliver partook in the booze provided at the parties and insinuated himself around, gliding on sure feet and a swimmer’s demeanor. His voice hovered in a register between distinguishable ages, and his eyes changed color on a daily basis from varied contact lenses. I did not like him right away, and that was his intention. This was Freshman year at a college 50,000 students deep – he did not need to make the life-long friends yet, just the acquaintances to keep him entertained. He had a way of talking to someone just long enough to make an impression and escaping before the real connection was made. And his strategy seemed clear to me from the get go: clipped, broad conversation and repeated physical touch.I think he enjoyed keeping people at arm’s length. Be a myth, not a man. And it worked: Everyone knew of him, but no one knew him.

The party thinned until Oliver and I could not be separated any longer. We waited in line for the bathroom when he told me that he was glad to have met me.

But we didn’t really meet. I said. His eyes were blue that night.

“Well we’re meeting now!” He exclaimed, throwing his voice up a notch and back a few years. We talked for a few minutes while waiting for the bathroom, about theater and friends, college and change. He told me he danced, and I said I had no interest, but I admired it. He leaned against the wall and slid down it to the floor – drunk. He told me to join him down there, but I helped him back to his feet instead. He called me a gentleman and continued to hold my hand even after regaining his footing.

And then he hugged me. He hugged me for about three seconds too long.

Two weeks later while eating brunch – the gayest meal of the day – I sat across from Oliver and stared into his eyes, freshly turned hazel. I told him simply, We could be boyfriends.

And he said No.

Intuitively, you think a rejection might stop the Spiral, but actually it does the opposite. It launches you around at twice the pace as before.

And the moment he said no, off I went for another loop.

A New Boy: Joshua 1 – 6

The Promised Land. Prep. Rahab – The Prostitute and the Spies. Into the Jordan. Murmurs of the Coming God. Fall of Jericho.

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.

Joshua 1:9b (NIV)

Very few people encouraged me to come out as queer. Not that most people opposed it per se, but the majority of my friends and family just seemed neutral on the topic. A few family members feared it for me – why risk altering the public’s perception of me? Some friends respected my right to privacy – my sexual desire rarely popped up in my conversations anyway, so why bring it into focus? But the older I got, the more my need to make an open declaration grew until it became absolutely essential. In high school, being outed was my worst nightmare. After my first homosexual interaction with my friend Dan, I panicked he would start spouting it off to everyone in our high school. But he didn’t. After all, he was a closet case as well. Thank God for that.

But my worries proved to be completely unfounded. No lost friendships or clients. Most congratulated me on “being honest,” and only one replied “Oh yeah I knew all along!” After a few days of my freshly minted life, I could not even recall the reasons behind my initial trepidation. Such wasted angst – energy lost. And the spoils of being out started piling up immediately. Old friends pledged their support, and fellow closeted friends reached out. It was like I pressed a reset button on my life and got to start en media res. And this time, I would have full control over my own discourse.

A fresh start. How rare.

The Israelites get their own rebirth, and it just goes great. God installs Joshua as leader, and immediately, things take a more positive swing. He instructs the Israelites to be “strong and courageous” as God is on their side, and all of their enemies begin trembling in fear. Joshua sends spies off ahead, which are housed and protected by the prostitute-with-a-heart-of-gold Rahab. They successfully infiltrate the city of Jericho, but the officials respond to the threat by closing their doors. How will the Israelities get into the – ?

Pshaw! Joshua carries the Ark of the Covenant across the Jordan River, whose raging water dry up at the presence of God. He marches his men around the walls of the fortressed city for six days and on the seventh, down the barricades fall. They overtake their foes, celebrate the loyalty of Rahab, and celebrate.

Things are coming up roses for the Israelites, aren’t they? Nowhere is the devastation of the desert mentioned or the hard times recalled. God’s people even manage to get through a chapter without begging for their enslaved lives back in Egypt!

Where is this renewed energy coming from?

The phase of anxiety is over. There is no more anticipation. Joshua and the Israelites have crossed the Jordan and into the Promised Land, and there is no more waiting. No more speculation. It is done.

Now on to the rest of it.

As a little addendum, I highly encourage anyone who is “in the closet” to step out into the rainbow-drenched sunlight. Unless you are in a dangerous home situation or there is a threat of a violent reaction, I promise that you will be far happier on the other side. There is nothing quite like living a life without illusion.

Do it. You won’t regret it.

Gay is Bad (Jesse Interprets the Law: Pt 5.2)

(This is the second part of a two-part entry. Check out the first part here)

If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.

Leviticus 20:13 (NIV)

No desire goes unpunished. Enter my headspace at 16-years-old, and recall that my worst nightmare was being queer in any way. What I wanted more than anything was to marry a woman and start a homegrown life. The normalcy of it all attracted me. The predictability of knowing the ins and outs of the suburban life – the 9 to 5+, weekends off, vacation weeks piling up. I dreamt of being a tenured college professor or a mathematician slowly uncovering the sheets of Chaos. But nothing too fancy. Just a life to live out with the warmth of companionship and the love of legacy – meaning children and lots of them. I wanted just that and nothing more; my dreams were altogether unselfish. Desire was never really part of the picture, because I had no concept of what it meant. I draw a heavy distinction between these two driving forces: want and desire. To want is to consciously decide where you would like to go and what you would like to have. To desire is something much more primal. It is to yearn for something in an uncontrollable, animalistic way; to become drawn to something like your life depends on it. I wanted a woman and all that it meant. But I desired something else. And from an early age, before I had the language for queerness, I knew that my want and my desire did not match up. And I started fighting to correct it.

Dan suggested it. It will be perfect: the nor’easter, the snowstorm, parents stuck in Boston. We’ll drink to keep us warm and watch shitty TV. He was right – it all appeared to be working out perfectly. He trudged over as the snow began, with a saddlebag filled with gin and a base supply of snacks. He arrived just as the weather started to get bad, so he stripped off his soaked outer layer and retreated with me to my house’s affectionately named “play room.”

Teenage seduction is either rigid and painful or loose and drunk. We chose the latter, because the former would require weeks of slow build up to achieve. This needed to happen, and most of all, it needed to happen tonight. Time for a shortcut. Let the gin flow. My memory gets fuzzy around then. We watched some tv show, we drank gin or maybe whiskey or vodka or scotch or skunked wine, we moved in on one another at sunset or 8 pm or after the TV fell asleep or as the snowfall crusted from the wind. I don’t know.

The language of sexuality is spoken completely in subtext. And even after we transitioned from drunken friends to stumbling quasi-lovers, we still could not muster the strength to speak the words out loud. Instead, we thought it and looked at each other until the shame knocked our glances off kilter. And by the end of the night, when we had spent all our energy in making this feel right, we acquiesced and passed out.

I struggle to recall the details of that night: what we watched, who touched whom first, and how we ended up from the bottom floor to the bedroom. But I do remember the desire. And I remember the cost.

The cost: no wife, no kids, no stability. I could forget all the want, because now I was a rebel. Instead I had my desire, and it was something I could not avoid for long. But the cost, the cost, the weight of ditching one dream in hopes of a tangible reality (the reality of life as a queer man), that cost. The cost of life was an eternal death and societal castration, that cost. The neon lights pointing me towards freedom also put me on a conveyer belt straight into damnation, that cost. The cost of touch, the cost of desire, that cost.

It was 100% worth it.

Today is a light day when it comes to new laws, as we have only added 30 odd statutes. The majority of today’s reading, which ended at Leviticus 24, outlined the punishments for some of the laws previously mentioned. Not surprisingly, most involved death by stoning or burning, but some only required banishment. My only astonishment came from a law forbidding anyone with a disability from entering holy places. Talk about a condition that is incontrollable…

Gay is Bad (Jesse Interprets the Law: Pt 5)

Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.

Leviticus 18:22 (NIV)

Everyone wants to know when I realized that I was queer. This question is sometimes misstated as “When did you decide to be gay?” and I do my best not to choke when I hear it. While some may be fishing for trauma or an entertaining coming out story, I think that most people are merely curious about what makes us different. Queer sexual orientation is an interesting form of otherness, as those within its parameters can often “go undetected” in the general population. No mother ever gives birth, holds her newborn child, and exclaims angrily, “Oh my goodness, it’s gay?!” If only it worked like that – that queer boys and girls were born with a birthmark or a symbol so that everyone knew right away. Then, we wouldn’t have so much explaining to do later on it life when it becomes more obvious. And then maybe some of the more incredulous people wouldn’t have such a hard time believing it. Some people think that it is a choice, and that is just fine. I know what the real statement is hidden underneath. Some people think that acting on homosexual desires is a choice, and they are right. I spent many years willfully abstaining from romantic contact with a male, and it was absolutely my choice. It was just a bad one.

I knew I was queer when I looked at another male romantically and knew that it was wrong. This was a different moment than the first time I felt attracted to another male – that happened much earlier – but I will save that story for another time.

I mentioned in my opening essay a story about a Jewish boy and me, but I left most of the details on the cutting room floor. See, I met Dan at the start of my junior year of high school. Despite being in the grade below me, we were the same age, and we took to each other pretty much immediately. Actually, there was a third person in our group, Jamie, and the three of us kept together during the weekends. We would either take over Jamie’s Dad’s apartment and camp out in the living room, or set up in Dan’s loft bedroom, which overlooked the valley of the main line. We never spent time at my house, because my house wasn’t really a “hang out” house. Too many rules, I guess. I never designated that, but it just wasn’t really good for sleepovers. The house was small, so voices carried easily, so that meant we had to be quiet. It just wasn’t a “hang out” house.

So in Jamie’s apartment or Dan’s loft, it did not matter. I only drank a handful of times in high school, and every time was with them. I liked drinking with them, but not really for the effect of the alcohol. In those moments, as we passed around the pilfered whiskey bottle, I felt a romance with a lifestyle wholly different than mine. This was what “high school” looked like in movies, and while I never explicitly asked for it, I wanted it all the same. It was the same with sex. I scoffed at the idea of premarital sex, because frankly, I never really had the opportunity, or rather, the opportunity never seemed appealing to me. Until one day, it did.

I thought Jamie was an alcoholic, because he used to sneak in a flask to school. He developed these drunk eyes that hung low and back in his head. Before long, Jamie wanted everything we did to be enhanced with booze, and it just wasn’t my scene. One drinking session lingered on for a month or so, and I never went back before I was ready. Dan noticed the shift in Jamie as well, so we decided to go off on our own.

But maybe it wasn’t that. Maybe we split off for more reasons than just Jamie’s creeping depression. Though, to be honest, Dan and I did not have much in common. Sure, we both liked theater, but neither of us could sing, so we didn’t take it seriously. We liked most “normal adolescent” things just okay: sports, pop music, The O. C., among other conversation topics. Also as I mentioned, we were in different grades, so we had no homework chit-chat and inter-personal gossip that might pique our collective interest. No, there was something between us altogether different. And it wasn’t tangible.

More tomorrow…

As a complete side note, the context in which the infamous homosexuality rule is mentioned is particularly hilarious – one that speaks to the concerns of the “time” and the continued relevancy of the Law. Immediately prior to forbidding sexual contact between two men, we are told to resist the following temptation:

Do not give any of your children to be sacrificed to Molek…

Leviticus 18:21 

That is a modern dilemma I think we all constantly find ourselves in.

The number of laws is growing exponentially as we wrap up another densely littered section of the Law (there was even one verse with four separate laws!). We also added so many clean v. unclean laws that it has spawned a whole new section called Health. Finally, our much anticipated Sexuality & Relationships finally added some rules, including the aforementioned law against homosexuality.