No More Closets: Psalms 51 – 60

Surely I was sinful at birth,
    sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Psalms 51:5 (NIV)

I spent actual time in front of an actual mirror practicing the following:

NEW FRIEND: I have this awesome girl I want to set you up with.
ME: As long as she’s cool with the fact that I also date guys.

Or:

NEW FRIEND: I was wondering… Are you gay or straight or -?
ME: I don’t like labels.

Or:

NEW FRIEND: What are you gay or something?
ME: No. [clears throat] I AM A BISEXUAL.

I had just moved to Georgia, fresh off my separation from Nicole, with the knowledge that I am queer – down to the literal definition of that word. I was different – uncomfortable with the label of gay as I knew I had a true love for Nicole. But a traditional heterosexual relationship – the dates, the courting, the normalcy – was out of the question.

So I needed to start this new journey off with the right language for identifying myself. Closet cases tend to dig themselves into a hole of ambiguity with gender neutral language (“I dated this person”), casually homophobic jokes (“And I was like, dude, why are you hugging me so long?”) and the occasional comment to throw suspicious listeners off kilter (“Oh my God, Rachel McAdams is my dream girl. #wcw). Then, coming out requires so much energy that it slowly becomes insurmountable.

I was doing it right this time. I was starting off this new state with no confusion. When someone asked, I would tell him or her. Simple. My honesty would be staggering, my confidence blinding.

A week into my residence in Georgia, I found myself at a theater party mingling with strangers that I hoped would become my new best friends. I had scored a job as a stage manager for a community theater on my second day in town and had not yet broached the subject of my sexuality with anyone. I figured, “Let it come up naturally, and then deal with it appropriately,” just like in one of my previously practiced scenarios. I holed myself in the kitchen as everyone moved about, sitting in the corner – noticeable, but comfortable. A bottle of cheap family-sized wine sat out on the table, so I poured myself a glass. As soon as I replugged the cork, a boisterous young woman snapped to attention in front of me.

“Are you drinking my wine?” She demanded.
I looked down into my cup.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t realize it was yours. I thought it was for every-“
She interrupted me.
“Are you gay or what?”
I blinked a couple times, took a deep breath, and:
“Umm… Sort of.”
Damn it! You practiced!
“Ugh,” she said and then walked away. And by the way, I did not mean to imply onomatopoeia with the word “ugh.” She did not sigh aggressively. She verbally said, “ugh” and then walked away.

A week into my new life, and already, this whole “pure honesty” thing was proving to be more elusive than I thought. Why was this so difficult?

And why, in that moment, was I so sure that this would keep happening?

The Lifestyle

Every Christian leader has their gay person story. Most Christian books have a gay person chapter. Every Christian teen has their gay person friend speech prepared.

There is a strategy. Relate to the gay person difficulties – make the thoughts and behaviors congruous with the straight person mindset without encouraging the deviance. Say something like “we all have our own issues” – compare yours broadly without implying you are also having gay person difficulties. Try to make it like every other sin. Wait, don’t say “sin.” Try “challenge” instead. Or “struggle.” Give them a peak into your struggles, too – your “thought life” (lusting) and “impure actions” (masturbating). Tell them they are more than just a “person with homosexuality.” They are so much more. It is possible to come out of the lifestyle.

My brother (yes, my gay brother – go back and catch up) once told me that he hates going to straight bars. I quipped back, “It’s not like a segregated bathroom, bro. They let the gays in.” He said I didn’t get it, and he was right. Why do gay people like hanging out in gay bars? That’s not the right question. Rather, why do gay people insist on hanging out in gay bars? Because, there is less risk. Because, the lifestyle.

I have always resented that euphemism – the “lifestyle.” First of all, it reinforces the idea of sexual identity being a choice. But secondly, it is an instantly alienating term. When people say it, it is because they are softening the blow of the word “gay” or “homosexual.” It is meant to subtly remind us that our identities are so dangerous, that to even say the word out loud is traumatic. It’s the “Voldemort” of the Christian community. It sends shudders down the spines of pastors and parents alike.

There is an all too common storyline for gay Christians – about bouncing in and out of the lifestyle. A gay person comes to an understanding about their sexual identity and resents it. But then, the resentment becomes too much to handle, so they go off and find a same sex partner. Then, when the guilt comes back, they repent and head back into the closet, now with a compelling story about their experiences in the lifestyle. Sometimes, they get an opposite sex partner. Other times, they stay completely celibate. Sometimes, they get married.

But then, they get sucked back into the lifestyle, much to the dismay of their friends and families. Like a heroin addict tossing their 90-day chip into the gutter, the gay person gives in to his or her addiction and falters. Some praise their self-honesty. Some mourn their weakness. The stories tend to diverge there towards varied endgames.

I fell in love with a woman named Nicole, and so opened the doors to the possibility of living as a heterosexual (with a dirtied past). Now, I want to talk about living in the homosexual lifestyle – all filtered through the advice of Psalms 51 – 100.

It’s going to be a gay person week.

 

A Suitable Woman: Psalms 41 – 50

(This is the final part of a multi-part entry. Read the first, second, third, and fourth entries here)

Awake, Lord! Why do you sleep?
Psalms 44:23a (NIV)

I loved Nicole in spite of myself, and she knew it. And so – like proper competitive dancers navigating a crowded floor – we circled the topic rather than nailing it on the head. Frankly, we had tried the whole dating thing before, and it all ended with a curt conversation on an overcast day. Now here we were, with all the cause in the world to strike up a relationship and trot into the sunset, and we insisted on balking. I worried I could not maintain my newly minted heterosexual desire – a sure and honest love for Nicole – and she did not trust me to follow through on it.

So where could we go from there?

We maintained. No labels, and if we felt like “tryst-ing” around with others, then we could. But we didn’t really. Monogamy became a choice for us rather than some sort of entry fee to a relationship. How incredibly millennial of us.

I remember leaving Nicole. My parents drove in with my sister for my graduation, and on the eve beforehand, they all wanted to go out to dinner with “my girlfriend” – my deception, not their delusion – I had always described Nicole as my girlfriend. We sat at dinner, and Nicole dazzled them with her kindness and empathy – her round features eased worries, uncovered a future – her conversation settled it. That night, while walking my parents back to their cars, with the anxiety of my final day at school squishing my guts, my mother told me simply: “Keep her.”

We made no plans. I was moving, and she was staying. Me, to Georgia – her, right there. We never had a label, so why make a plan? We left it without fanfare: no crying or wringing of the hands. Just “goodbye” and “see you soon.”

But now my mind was reeling.

For years, I had convinced myself, through the basics of trial and error, that I could not hold the feelings for women as I generally did for men. It was obvious. I bolted from every woman who showed the least bit of interest in me – I wouldn’t even consider it. But now, I had proof – sure, an outlier, but still proof. If I could do it with Nicole, then why wouldn’t it be possible for other women? So I made a plan.

Generalize this experience.

Lower the bar. Take the pressure off. Find someone understanding and empathetic. Friends first. Build trust. Tell her with everything. Find someone up to the challenge.

And then, jump in. It was possible.

Sure, others would call me a hypocrite, but they would not understand. They would fear for any woman who ended up with me, but we wouldn’t need their approval. They would announce quite openly that my life was a sham, but I would not care.

Because I will have won by then. I will have overcome.

If I could resolve my nature with the threats of an angry God, why wouldn’t I shun the queer part of myself in order to stand blameless before Him?

And so, with Nicole behind me and Georgia on the horizon, I began my search for a suitable woman.

A Better Deal: Psalms 31 – 40

(This is the fourth part of a multi-part entry. Check out the first, second, and third entries)

Blessed is the one
    whose sin the Lord does not count against them
    and in whose spirit is no deceit.
Psalms 32:2 (NIV)

Nicole kept her promises, just as she said she would. Happy couples tend to make plans and never account for the possibility that a break up might upend them. And so after our conversation on the concrete bench on that Autumn day, we decided to make good on all our plans – all the rehearsals and the classes together – out of both stubbornness and loyalty. She showed up ready to work at our first rehearsal of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and never made it awkward. We attended ballroom dance class together and fell for it – decided to join the competitive team on campus as partners. Our class together that semester – a “Science of the Oceans” class meant only for the poets and athletes at the university – kept us actively in each other’s lives. And it was all great. It was almost as if we had never broken up.

It was better actually.

She was my confidante during rehearsals – someone to complain and commiserate with.
She was my partner in ballroom – connected, focused, and motivated.
She was my sleeping-in friend in our science class – that’s what we called it when we both slept through the class and then grabbed lunch at Chick-fil-A instead.

We were such better friends than romantic partners.

She started coming to my apartment between classes – it was either that or trudge back to hers on the other side of campus. We watched The Office while finishing homework – laughing at the reruns like it was the first time. Ballroom competitions became a regular occurrence – which meant weekend trips and long car rides to cities all over the Northeast – Birmingham, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Boston. Rooms were sparse so – sure we could split one if it helps. And rehearsals stretched far into the night; who wouldn’t carpool in that circumstance? It just made sense.

Yeah, we went to everyone’s plays together. Sure I saw her opening night in Steel Magnolias – and every night after that. I don’t remember exactly when she started sleeping over, but you understand why, with all the classes together, and the weekend trips, and the hang outs with mutual friends, and – what would you have had us do? Travel separately and do it all alone… together?

Nicole knew about my “dabbling” – a not-so-clever title for my queer trysts – but it never bothered her. In fact, it was a piece of my personality that she enjoyed thoroughly – it provided her a slightly different perspective from those of all the straight dudes around her. It lowered her inhibitions. Without the prospect of a romantic relationship, we suddenly focused on things far deeper.

No, we are not boyfriend and girlfriend… Why does everyone keep asking us that?

One afternoon, between science class and ballroom practice, we sat on my couch, each completing respective assignments. I was leisurely writing a short story due for my workshop later that week – she was preparing a speech for her public speaker seminar. Neither was due tomorrow, or even the next day – no urgency. We sat in complete silence; there was no need to entertain one another. Content in each other’s presence alone…

And that’s when I realized I had a girlfriend.

An Out: Psalms 21 – 30

(This is the third part of a multi-part entry. Check out the first and second entries)

Yet you brought me out of the womb;
    you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast.
From birth I was cast on you;
    from my mother’s womb you have been my God.
Psalms 22:9-10 (NIV)

Campus was situated between a pair of small mountain ranges that gave the weather an evasive quality. Storms – rain or snow in nature – always lurked as a possibility, ready to threaten any outdoor plans. Late in Fall, a stable layer of clouds descended onto the valley and held on until mid Spring, creating a gray haze that enveloped the school. I had asked Nicole to meet me by the concrete benches outside our theater club’s venue, and the Seattle-like weather hung above me as I waited. It seemed too early for the perma-clouds – it was only September after all. Early winter, I thought. Couldn’t stop it.

We had made plans together. I was slated to direct Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? near Christmas, and she had signed on to be my assistant director. We also had classes together, including a new ballroom dance venture – an easy way to get gym credits. We had plans as soon as that evening – a cast party for a play put on by our mutual friends. Everyone would notice if we came separately or not at all. Six months had passed since the laundry room night, a few less since we had made it “official.” But I could not do it anymore, so it needed to end.

She sauntered into view from around the building, and I stood to meet her. During her fifty-yard walk up, the justifications began to rattle through my brain like a Rolodex. The reasons, hidden and pronounced – not my type, too needy and overbearing, I needed space, I needed to focus on me, bad timing, bad communication, bad chemistry – I had not picked a reason yet – stay friends, take a break, pick up later, take a step back – I had not decided on an exit strategy. This was odd behavior for me; I was a “planner.” But I could not tolerate the self-analysis that such thought would uncover. I knew better than that.

She knew and said it immediately. My gaze fell to the ground – relief and more pressure. How did she know that I wanted to break up? Was I so transparent? I offered her an out if it was too awkward. She could back out of the assistant director gig with no hard feelings – I could late drop the ballroom dance class if she wanted space – I could skip the cast party that night. Nicole narrowed her eyes and smiled. “I don’t need an out,” she said with a cool defiance. “But you can take it if you need it.”

The idea of seeing her on a near daily basis, between rehearsals and classes… it felt insurmountable. Facing the failed experiment, the attempt to overcome, the loss of my own sexual holy war. And here she was saying, “You can take the out if you need it.” It was a dare.

I needed it, I needed it. I would not ask for it.

“Then I’ll see you at the cast party tonight.” She patted my thigh. We hugged loosely. She walked away, leaving me to my concrete bench.

But I would never make it to the party that night, I already knew for certain. Sure, I had indicated to her that I would man up and attend, that I would not let the awkwardness of a fresh break up impede our social plans – but silent no-showing was always the plot. Sure, everyone would notice. Sure, our friends would ask questions of her. Of course, they would build an opinion against me. But I would not witness any of it, so it would be just as easy to pretend otherwise.

Besides, I had other plans that night to keep me busy.

My phone buzzed. A text from Oliver. We hadn’t seen each other in a few months – had been warming back up to each other via texts, e-mails, Facebook messages.

He asked if I still wanted to hang out that night.
I said sure.
He asked where.
I said wherever.
He said it looked like it might rain, with the hovering perma-clouds and all.
I agreed.
He suggested his apartment.
I said I would be right over.

A Happy Hypocrite: Psalms 11 – 20

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

The fool says in his heart,
    “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, their deeds are vile;
    there is no one who does good.
Psalms 14:1 (NIV)

Everything started in the laundry room. It remained entirely innocent – we jogged through the deadened campus streets into my dorm building. We had options – a quiet cuddle fest in my room, but my soundly sleeping roommate posed an issue there; a continuing stroll around campus, but the temperatures were dropping fast; or some conversation in a random place in my building. After some analysis and going through sub-options – ping pong room, tv lounge, that darkened gap under the stairwell – we landed on the laundry room. It was dank and smelled mostly of rust, but it had a door that locked.

Not that we did anything to warrant such security. We chatted mostly. I asked question after question about her current boyfriend Patrick, wondering how things got like this. Nicole blamed college – transitioning from a 500-person high school to a big time university meant diversifying their experiences.

“We need to meet new people.”
I empathized.
“It’s just such a change from high school.”
I agreed.
“I love him, but I don’t know.”
I nodded and went hmmm.

We discussed Christianity. I brought it up with clear intentions. I did not care about a philosophical alignment of ideals – I wanted to check off the box. God did not come up – not the belief or the faith or even the concept – we left that for better, less spastic days. I needed to know if she was a Christian or not, not whether or not she cared about Christ. The latter meant little to me in that moment.

“Yeah, I’m a Methodist,” she admitted, and I pushed it no further. Next topic.

The door handle jiggled suddenly, rocketing me up to my feet. We were caught, and I secretly delighted in it, picturing the walk of shame out of the room. What could two underclassmen possibly be doing behind a locked door? Imagine the scenario – I could take all the credit for shenanigans without any of the responsibility. I could give the air of maturity while still maintaining my virginity – a happy hypocrite.

My eyes found hers and said, let’s give up and unlock the door. But before hers could respond, I heard the intruder out in the hall sigh and then walk away. No such luck. We sat down and talked until morning, when our phones began chirping with emails and texts and alarms.

She dropped Patrick soon thereafter and committed to me – fully. I would not accept this open-style relationship – I could explain away my feverish participation in an affair, but not in welcoming one. I could balance a life as a moral freelancer, adapting to every situation, but only without drawing attention to it. So much can be communicated by relying on the assumptions of others. All I had to do was keep my mouth shut and skate along.

And things were so simple for so long.

A Home-Spun Girl: Psalms 1 – 10

Bring to an end the violence of the wicked
    and make the righteous secure…
Psalms 7:9 (NIV)

Strike all my enemies on the jaw;
    break the teeth of the wicked.
Psalms 3:7 (NIV)

The pedals broke off of my bike midway through sophomore year at college. It wasn’t a surprise; my Uncle Frank had gifted it to me during my late middle school years. Bikes don’t live as long as people, so, it was bound to start falling apart at some point. I could still ride it, now with a little extra effort required. Press the barren rods as hard as possible and try not to slide off – both strength and finesse required. The strategy worked, but created holes in my shoes – wide, circular, and straight through. You could look at the bottom of my shoes and see the sky. So I thought, I need new shoes. I never thought, I need new pedals. The shoes were temporal – easily replaced – but the bike was mythological. I adjusted to it, not the other way around.

So I sat knees-to-chin on the musty floor of the black box theater. Everyone was drunk – it was a requirement to attend, but I snuck in by just acting eccentric. It was student-written, student-directed theater-at-midnight – yes, alcohol required. The play was about school shootings. We weren’t in the correct mental headspace for such emotional manipulation and pathos – their fault. I shifted uncomfortably to go indian style and nudged the girl in front of me. She looked back. Yeah. I knew her. Nicole. She looked me down and up.

“There are holes in your shoes,” she whispered.

I know, I replied, but the show started then and she didn’t hear. Solemn actors read statistics about dead students and moved in rhythmic steps, toe-to-heel. There was cello-heavy accompaniment. It ended with a cautious talk back with the audience where no one tried to offend. I looked for Nicole afterwards, but lost her in the shuffle. She had been there with her longtime boyfriend Patrick.

Nicole participated in the same theater group as me, and we knew of one another rather than being acquaintances. She had a perfectly round face with smooth features, but what attracted me was her laugh – like a Charlie Brown character, each chuckle came paired with her head rolled back completely. It was endearing, like the rest of her personality. Blunt but not rude – She told it how it was without making you feel bad about it. When she told me about the hole in my shoes, it was a service, not a complaint. “Did no one else tell you?” I admired it. She was my type.

Type: A home-spun girl, under-the-radar, moralistic, generous. Makings for a good Mom: straight-forward, gentle. Adventurous but not crazy. Fun but not wild. Nicole matched all the criteria.

But she already had a boyfriend.

And like any young man, that made me like her even more. Her unattainability made her the prime candidate for my affection, but it did not make her impossibly alluring – no. No, I wanted her, because there was no possibility I would ever get her. She was marriage-tracked to a boyfriend of four years. She would be a myth for me, a woman, someone to throw my affection towards, both publicly and privately. I did not lust after her… I lusted for the life we would lead together – the life that would never happen. My pursuit of her normalized me at a time when I felt that any defection meant certain death.

I got bold. One night, I convinced her to let me walk her home from a cast party. Our conversation loosened as we transitioned from the townhouses to the campus, as the light grew dimmer with fewer streetlamps. And it was then that Nicole told me the truth – her relationship with Patrick was flailing – and besides that, they had an “agreement.” Monogamy was not a part of their relationship – there was room for me as well.

She liked me. Did I like her back?

I did like her. She smiled. She giggled. Head flown back.

But that’s cheating, I thought but never would have said out loud. I considered the options: take the moral high ground, or jump in. The former afforded me the abstinence I craved to maintain, while the latter was an outright attack against a part of myself I wished to destroy.

But to jump in… that was a sin in its own right. Beyond the “sins of the flesh,” it meant participating in an affair of sorts. It felt inherently mischievous and not ambiguous.

The way I saw it though… Thou shall not kill didn’t always apply. God’s people killed others in any number of circumstances, and it was okay because of the greater good achieved. By going along with it, I was actively participating in the extermination of my darker side. To date a woman and engage with her, I would be taking a pro-active step towards correcting my nature. I was committing a violent, sinful act, yes, but it was a holy violence, a jihad against my sexuality. I sinned to stop a future, much more devastating sin. And thus, I justified it.

I grabbed her hand. We started jogging in no particular direction. We just jogged towards it.

And so, I jumped in.