Thoughts from a gay Christian

Hugs

I love hugs.

The power of a good hug was something I began to realise in my late teens and early 20’s, when my sexuality consumed me and I found myself in a new church where I discovered what real friendship actually looked like.

In various talks I’ve heard in churches over the years, hugs are something that come up and are addressed in such a way as to suggest a certain contention about their appropriateness, almost always in reference to a friendship shared between a gay man and a straight man. The matter is raised as a concern can be manifest in the straight man that engaging in a hug could be anything from potentially unhelpful for the gay man, all the way to the horrendous response of “Whoa! Dude, I’m not gay!”

With such fears in mind, a gay man in the church often feels compelled to allay such fears by proclaiming that “A hug is just a hug.” Whilst I fully understand the motivation behind such a proclamation, it’s something that I cannot help but feel that at some level, is manifestly untrue.

If we are to refer to the potential sexual/physical arousal (real or imagined) that may be a potential consequence of a hug then yes, despite the potential for that to be a possibility, the fact will likely be that this is not the intention, nor the desire and would best be thought of as a very painful reaction that the gay man desperately wishes was not present. However, such circumstances aside where the adverb of “just” is legitimate, to reduce hugs to a level of superficiality that’s barely above a handshake is a massive disservice to what hugs represent and mean.

In terms of common physical expressions of affection, anything beyond a hug almost always has a sexual component and is often shared between people whom have such a dimension to their relationship. Hugs have an enormity of meaning and tenderness inherent in them that I think is missed by many. People don’t return home from overseas and greet friends and family with a handshake. Instead the arrival (or departure) of a loved one is a moment of often intense emotion that is on display in any airport you care to mention, heralded by two primary expressions: tears and hugs.

A hug can be used to welcome a friend home, to greet a relative, or to provide a safe space for emotional expression ranging from elated to devastated. A hug expresses an emotional bond and intimacy that words cannot hope to compare with and crucially, thankfully, is not the exclusive domain of marriage. A hug is an intimacy that is universally shared and is unencumbered with inherent romance or sexuality. It speaks volumes about the human desire for physical contact, right from conception. Talking to someone on the phone or even over a video call is nice, but as anyone with experience in maintaining a long-distance relationship of any kind will tell you, it’s just not the same.

Hugs bring a certain existential reality to the relationship in which they’re shared. You can feel the other person’s touch, their warmth, as though their emotional affection has become physically animated and can be felt physically by the body, as well as emotionally by the heart. When Will was in Shaun’s office in Good Will Hunting and the years of abuse finally came pouring out in a flood of tears, Shaun didn’t shake Will’s hand and say “Congratulations. This is great progress.” No – he hugged him and held him because words weren’t enough.

Good hugs seem to be a bit more of a problem for men. Whilst some may say that they’re just not into them, that’s not something I entirely buy. I cannot help but think that “not being into them” is at some level grounded in a level of insecurity about one’s sexuality. It’s not that the guy just doesn’t like hugs – more that he’s afraid his mates will think he’s gay and so whatever enjoyment and enrichment might be found in a hug with another man is sabotaged in the name of vacuous and superficial commandments put forward by a society that doesn’t really understand men very well at all.

When you hug a friend or relative, no matter how casual or deliberate it may be, there’s a beautiful exchange that’s taking place that is often deeply rewarding and comforting and I’d encourage you to pause in that moment and be reminded of what’s being silently said.

A hug is not just a hug.

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There’s an old adage that goes “God gave you two ears and one mouth and you should use them proportionately”. Sadly, it is one not often heard these days and after two recent experiences with friends, it is a lamentable fact.

Over the years, one of the most common things I’ve been asked by those whom don’t struggle with same-sex attraction is “What should I say?” and my response is always the same: “Nothing.” This often draws a mix of surprise and disappointment, the cause of both, I suspect, being the lack of a more thorough response.
Given the immense weight of the subject at hand, I would feel similarly disenchanted with such an answer if that was all that was said. Of course it should be given in the context of greater information, but why would it be the first piece of advice that I would give?

Wikipedia and Google have made everyone experts and when married with an ever-increasing sense of self-entitlement and narcissism, unsolicited “advice” is rampant and often unhelpful. The expectation to be heard (or, to be fair, an intense desire to help) often succeeds thoughtfulness and the results can be less than ideal.
Unfortunately this can be exasperated by those within the church as they seek to provide the clearest of objections to secular views on sexuality and voice Scripture’s very plain references to such. This is not helpful.
Whilst I agree that faithful Christians should seek to uphold and promote faithful and biblical teaching, like all things in life it needs to be tempered by love and timing. The former is especially poignant as my experiences have shown that one person’s concept of “love” in this context is often radically different to another’s, even when understood exclusively within a Christian community.

In a recent catch-up with a friend from a former church, the conversation – punctuated by the enjoyment of a good beer – turned to the subject of my church attendance. This is a touchy subject for me as some previous encounters within church have been extremely hurtful and painful. Now this friend is a good, godly guy and has known life outside of his current Christian faith, so has some worldly wisdom that brings a measure of humility and understanding sometimes lacking in those who’ve never been outside of the church. However when my lack of current church attendance was explained as being borne out of previous hurts, my speech was cut short with a swift refusal of my friend to accept my reasons. He felt that my objections with the church were “just not the case” based on what he had experienced in the church.

This was the reaction of a friend whom had never struggled with same-sex attraction, is married and has been in only one church and for then only a few years. At the time I just moved on with the conversation, taken aback by the veracity of his response. As I left our social time together and thought about our little disagreement, I began to understand that the response of my friend was actually something I found quite hurtful. A friend and brother with a very different existence sought fit to reject my experience (a lifetime struggling with being gay and Christian) because his experience (no same-sex attraction) was different.

Not long after this, an encounter with a minister friend rubbed salt into this wound. This was a meeting arranged by me to specifically call this man out on the deeply hurtful manner he had recently engaged with a gay, non-Christian friend of his around the subject of gay marriage. After watching the argument over Facebook degenerate to a very hurtful level, I decided my minister friend could do with some perspective that wasn’t found in his life of privilege and the ideal wife and children.

With an unfortunate familiarity, I found my words to my minister friend were often swiftly cut off before my sentences were even finished. This is a man who knew me to have been raised in the same faith as himself, but such was his fetishistic obsession with making sure my theology was right, that he made the same fundamental mistake – rejecting my words and experiences as a gay man within the church, despite it being a perspective he had absolutely no personal experience with. Peppered throughout our conversation were consistent reminders from me that I was not asking him to abandon faithful teaching, only that his methodology was very poor and often divisive and destructive. He behaved in a way I found objectionable and typically Anglican – the theology of the mind is what matters and the feelings of the heart don’t.

Which leads me back to love (and the steamroller). For my minister friend, this was not the first time he’d approached the LGBT issue – and thus me personally – in a way that was deeply hurtful and arrogant. Leaving that conversation mired in disappointment and anger, I found myself picturing him in the seat of that steamroller. The manner in which he deals with LGBT issues is that of a man who takes Scripture, wraps it around the rollers and then drives straight over people whilst shouting “Proverbs 27:6! Tough love!”. People already in pain were the subject of greater damage inflicted by a mix of ignorance and hubris, with their cries of objection seemingly dismissed as though their only source was to be found in clinging to sin, rather than a genuine case of hurt.

When I tell people that they should say nothing, I don’t mean that they should remain forever silent on the subject. Someone who’s willing to open themselves up in such a vulnerable way is hoping for love and acceptance, not indifference. What I am saying is that by keeping your thoughts and opinions to yourself until there has been time to carefully and prayerfully consider what will be achieved by airing them, you could save a lot of hurt.

Don’t start quoting 1 Cor 6:9 or Lev 18:22 simply because you think they need to hear it. Trust me, they have an interest in such passages far beyond what you will ever experience. Don’t tell them “I understand” because you don’t. Indeed, unless you’re actually in a pair of rainbow shoes yourself, you can’t understand! Don’t feel the need to draw on your own struggles in an attempt to minimise theirs, as this can be interpreted as you not giving due weight to how they feel.

Someone who’s struggling with being attracted to their own sex is likely someone who is – or has been – in great emotional turmoil and coming out (pardon the pun) with your views as a straight person may not be helpful or even wanted. Being truly heard is a huge component to being truly accepted and faced with a herculean struggle such as being a LGBT Christian, this is often what is being sought.

Exercise your ears before exercising your vocal chords.

Gay Humour

It took quite a few years before I could enjoy some humour that was gay-themed, but I got there. I don’t intend to offend with these videos, nor do the authors of them intend to do so either. Most of these gave me a good laugh and some I nearly fell off my chair over. There is a little bit of language so if you’re easily offended you can skip by but for me they were a bit of light-hearted fun.

Masculine Halloween Costumes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1taC3JjIOkM

Greg from Curb Your Enthusiasm: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qYVK_OqyUzk 

Harry Enfield, Son’s Boyfriend (1): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f-II284PnJo

Harry Enfield, Son’s Boyfriend (2): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8cTj–MjC7k

He’s a Gay Man Now: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ifUQq5p5i2g

Gay Men Will Marry Your Girlfriends: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X-YCdcnf_P8

Gay vs. Black: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1_wWJ-_4uSY

 

“Bigot!”

Rarely is another accusation so pervasive in the lexicon of the pro-LGBT movement.

It’s an ally in the fight against the ignorant/scared/insecure/whatever to the point of cliche. Like a silver bullet in the argumentitive gun, it’s permanently cocked and loaded, ready to be fired between the eyes of anyone who isn’t wholly supportive of any and all gay-rights agendas.

Up until the (let’s be honest here – forced) resignation of Brendan Eich and several senior staff members at Mozilla in April 2014, I hadn’t given the use of the word much thought. Like many things that are screeched out by people with little to say and much time to say it, I tend to switch off pretty quickly and continue on with my day doing things more worth my time – like enjoying a cup of English Breakfast. But as the situation with Eich received more coverage I couldn’t help but investigate what all the fuss was about and the further I read the more I began to shake my head for several reasons, none of which were due to his views on gay marriage. Instead, it was due to the rabid and unthinking outpouring of fury that rapidly followed the exposition of Eich’s previous, personal activities. For those interested, throw Mr Eich into google and have a bit of a read to see what I mean.

Whilst I’m sure the situation with Eich is not an isolated one, it throws an outstanding spotlight onto the problem we’ve got with the word “bigot” in modern western parlance. Here was a professional person with personal views that were quite apart from his professional ones, yet was thrown under the bus almost immediately. Like the opening scene from The Scarlet Pimpernel, it’s off with their heads to throngs of cheers from the gathered public; so it is with anyone whose views bear any resemblance to Mr Eich.

It is not without a remarkable level of irony that those that fire the bigot bullet have themselves become just as intolerant in their attacks as those whom they claim are perpetrators of the very same intolerance. The growing anger toward anyone who doesn’t support LGBT rights has served to close the ears and minds of those who seek said rights. Such people ostensibly operate with the mantra: “I don’t care what the reasons are. Whatever they are, they can never be good enough because your views aren’t mine! They’re not love so they are simply hate, however you try to justify them.” So the person who isn’t pro-LGBT rights – for whatever reason – is shouted down by a bunch of screeching and chanting that would honour any student protester.

In that most sweeping of statements “Love is love”, the sum total of the pro-gay rights movement could arguably be summarised. If you’re not completely pro-gay rights then that means you’re not pro-love, which means you’re pro-hate, which means you’re a bigot. What more needs to be said?

Slight problem here. Whilst I deeply and personally feel the emotional pangs that drive such rhetoric, it is inescapable to me that in dragging out the b-word at the drop of a hat, far more helpful, intelligent and constructive discourse is the price that is being exacted.

If every time someone who is not pro-LGBT immediately shut someone of an opposing view down with: “I don’t care what your reasons are” before a complete sentence was even uttered, how would those on the rainbow side of the fence feel? Irrespective of one’s sexual orientation or views of it, we are all people who like to be heard, validated and (hopefully) educated. Some may argue that views of LGBT rights that aren’t 100% agreement are – inescapably – views of hatred and thus deserve no expression and ought to be shouted down. I’ll put it right out there and say that to use this paintbrush universally makes the pro-LGBT crowd just as bad as the ones they’re attacking.

Ultimately one of the primary goals of pro-LGBT rights is inclusion – harmonising relationships between people of all races, colours and orientations. Shutting down someone whose views differ from your own without even giving them the chance to elaborate? What exactly has been achieved in such a scenario? Perhaps some believe that crushing dissenting opinion is the only way forward. Setting aside much history that testifies to the outcome of such an approach, I would wager that crushing (hateful) speech is far more counter-productive than allowing others to express their views and the reasons why (loving). If you slam someone’s views into the ground by screaming “Bigot!” at them the moment the sentiment has left their mouths and denying them a chance to elaborate then you’re more likely to generate two angry people who’ve gained nothing and learnt nothing.

So if you are indeed the person who shouts this word with hair-trigger sensitivity, I would encourage you to stop, take a deep breath and think about what has been said and respond rather than react. Asking someone to justify their position on a given issue challenges them. To say you do or don’t support gay marriage (or any other LGBT issue) is really easy; to give reasons why, less so. The person against may trot out something as inane as “God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve” and in such instances I would probably reach for my English Breakfast. But someone else with the same view on the surface may have very good reasons for their perspective and giving them a chance to express their thoughts may open a constructive dialogue where two people don’t get angry and do walk away with having learnt something they didn’t know before. Granted, you both may still completely disagree, but at least you will both understand why.

Needless to say, those of my brothers and sisters that screech and shout at those supporting gay marriage are in no way afforded a licence to not give audience to pro-gay perspectives. If you want to love others you will almost certainly fail if you don’t listen and try to understand why someone may be pro gay marriage.

Drive a screeching wedge further by screaming “bigot!”, or, opening a dialogue that helps two people to understand? The choice is yours.

Homosexuality is one of the most poorly-understood subjects among Christians (and non-Christians alike, but that’s for another time).

Christians know the following things about homosexuality: Leviticus 18:22 and 1 Timothy 1:10. Some go further and reference to Genesis 1:27. That’s what they know, that’s what Scripture says – what is there to discuss?

Sound harsh and simplistic? Welcome to my world.

Some of the most painful words I’ve ever heard have come from the mouths of my heterosexual brethren. Their knowledge of homosexuality really often is limited to knowing what the traditional interpretation of the Bible’s stance on it is, leading to a conclusion of “It’s wrong” or variations of that theme. So, when they’re confronted by someone in this situation, the very first springboard the heteronormative orthodox Christian will launch from is that this is an extremely unfortunate situation and a symbol of the fallen, sinful world. From the ivory tower of heterosexual existence, they are safely removed from the reality that many a gay Christian lives with, day in, day out; year after year. From this isolated position they are free to comment without any of the existential, psychological, spiritual or emotional trauma that comes with being a gay Christian.

So let me try and fill in the picture for the ever-straights among you to help you understand that what you say and what we hear are often very different things:

You say: “With God, anything is possible.”
We hear: “So remember there is always the chance that God will straighten you out and hopefully you can get married to someone of the opposite sex someday.”

You say: “Scripture is very clear on homosexuality. Just look at Lev 18:22!”
We hear: “So the prospect of finding a partner of the same sex is simply out of the question. Obedience is paramount. This ‘love is love’ nonsense is just that – nonsense. You may want love, companionship, children, a shoulder, someone to snuggle with, someone to hold your hand, romance, sexual intimacy, someone you can spend your life with, someone who chooses you over any other, someone to laugh and cry with, someone who’ll be by your side through everything and someone whom you can love with all that you are, but this is completely unacceptable unless you straighten out and find an opposite-sex partner.”

You say: “Masturbation is a form of homosexuality.”
We hear: “And if you’re a God-fearing person the LAST thing you want to be is someone like that!

You say: “Smile for me.”
We hear: “Because I don’t like it when you’re down and if you smile I’ll feel better.”

You say: “What do you mean ‘What about you’?”
We hear: “Selfishness is not a Christian trait and you’re being very selfish right now. I don’t care what you’re going through – there is no excuse for being selfish!”

You say: “Being gay is a sin.”
We hear: “Your unnatural sexuality is sinful and needs to be changed. The bible says so.”

You say: “God’s grace is sufficient for you.”
We hear: “So if you don’t end up being married then don’t worry – God is with you and that’s all you should need. The fact I’m married and would never want to be without my spouse is totally irrelevant.”

Those of you who are straight haven’t got a clue what you’ve been blessed with. I’m not talking about your partner here – I’m talking about the unimpeded path to having one. If you fancy someone and they fancy you in return then all other things being equal, you can proceed. It’s just not like that on the gay side of the sexuality fence. You need to understand the incredible gift you have (and please, do NOT insist on finding something we should feel to be blessed to have in the same breath in an attempt to reduce the impact of our sexuality). From what I’ve seen, getting married, having kids, enjoying sex, having an intimate relationship where you feel like one being, someone to live your life with, someone who chooses you over any other and vice versa are things that you likely take for granted. Oh you no doubt thank God for these things, but you never had to consider the prospect that not only will you never have them, but if someone shows interest in you then no matter what, you have no choice but to say “I’m sorry, but I can’t.”

That whole thing where your heart skips a beat? Sorry, but you’re pretty much out of luck. If you’re gay and a woman fancies you then you have to be honest and tell her you’re not physically attracted to her. I’ve actually had a few women that fancied me, one of whom I actually fancied in return (somewhat). She was a wonderful Christian woman and we enjoyed each other’s company and in a way, we were kind of unofficially dating. But whilst I could recognise that she was a physically attractive woman, the fact of the matter was I wasn’t drawn to her physically in the slightest. There was a whole line of guys at that church that wanted to date her, but she wanted to date me. It reached a point where she and I went for a long walk in which I told her I was gay. She ended up asking me if I could pray for her at her wedding, that she would be a godly wife to the guy she ended up marrying. I couldn’t think of a good enough reason to say no, so I prayed that prayer for the one woman I had been emotionally and relationally fond of.

As if that’s not enough, if a guy fancies you and you fancy him and you have a church saying it’s sinful, then you have to tell him that you can’t go there. You don’t have the freedom to date someone you feel naturally drawn to and want to develop a relationship with. Where the heterosexual crowd is surrounded by people encouraging and supporting and rejoicing, if you’re gay then you will likely get the complete opposite. It’s not “Congratulations! That’s amazing news! I’m so happy for you!” It’s much more likely there will be an awkward silence, followed by “Well, I’m afraid that according to Scripture…”

Compare this to what I’ve seen over the years: countless people just somehow manage to meet Mr or Mrs Right at church, at a camp, a campus group or a church conference. They date and grow in their love and they announce their engagement to throngs of celebration from those around them, which is then amplified ten-fold on the wedding day, as they’re welcomed into that long, godly tradition of heterosexual marriage and surrounded by those that went before them to guide them on their way and enjoy many social events and friendships built around things straight people have in common – everything that goes with marriage and parenthood.

And you never really had any doubt about it.

 

For some, the title of this post alone will be sufficient to raise ire and protest. It seems that on the rare occasion that the genuine concerns of men are raised there is no choice but to have the apparently greater and more important concerns of the feminine of the species to be brought along with it and quickly assume prominence. So, let me reassure those concerned that this post is in no way intended to dismiss or diminish the very real and consequential issues that women face.

Instead, I wish to express some thoughts as a man on issues that many aren’t aware of at best, or at worst are dismissed with an appalling (and incredibly costly) disregard.

The first point of contention is the suggestion that men are simple creatures: food, sleep, sex and we’re good. This fallacy seems to be found in comparison as opposed to objective reality: men are compared to women who are widely regarded to be much more complex than men and instead of drawing a conclusion of: “May not be as complex as women”, instead: “Men are simple.” Questioning if men are as complex as women is something effectively so unthinkable that no-one asks lest the response be measured by the decibel level of laughter and ridicule, but I think it’s an assertion that bears merit if for no other reason than to bring identifiable and considered reasons to long-held presumptions that I would suggest cost men (and therefore everyone) dearly.

The second point contention is that men are inferior. This is one that really isn’t spoken aloud in most instances, but nonetheless is quite obvious in both church settings and the secular world.

First, inside the church.

Having spent most of my life in the Sydney Anglican church, I’ve heard many talks over many years about how God created them male and female. I’ve heard sermons about how each successive step in the creation narrative is “good” but when it comes to humans, it is “very good”. This is all good and theologically sound. However, I have heard the suggestion that whilst man is very good, woman is even better because she was created after Adam and, well, let’s face it – wo(ah)-man! (The next time I hear that supposed reaction of Adam to Eve I think I’ll scream.) Not only is this suggestion heretical, it’s downright offensive. Over the years I’ve heard countless words about how women are all queens and princesses and should be treated as such (it is worth noting that I’ve never heard men referred to as kings and princes). Men are apparently meant to fawn and blush and sacrifice their all for their women and that’s as good as it gets for us guys. Women get to be worshipped (and some of the behaviour I’ve seen among Christian men toward their women is indeed worship) and guys, remember your place as the servants of your women – not kings or princes. Be grateful for what she allows you to do and the fact you found a woman who will put up with you.

Now, I’m not suggesting for a moment that men shouldn’t sacrifice. If we’re to have Jesus as our model then one of His greatest defining characteristics is that of sacrifice. What I am suggesting is that men are far more valuable and noble than creatures who “get” to lavish upon those they love and should be thankful for anything they get in return. It seems for some, what the woman wants, she gets (Happy wife happy life, so I’ve heard at every wedding I’ve ever been to, said in jest but meant with the utmost seriousness). But what the man wants is probably selfish or childish and no he can’t have it. Like a child who wants a toy he’s effectively told: “No! Put that down!” I’ve got a couple of married friends who are often in trouble with their wives and they don’t know why.

Want to know why there are fewer men in church than there are women? I would wager that at least part of it is down to what men are told. Whilst women get to enjoy the adoration and love of the men in their lives, men get to be servants. Grow up, be responsible, get on with it – all that. The flow-on effect of this is that the interests and concerns of men are not really acknowledged and are absolutely NOT treated with the same importance. This is evidenced by the huge slant to be found in gender-specific ministries. Every church I’ve been a part of has considerably more ministries aimed at women than they do at men. It also has to be said that often men’s events are, well, pretty awful. You can’t take a bible study group, replace the women with beer and pizza one night and call it a “Men’s event”. Women love to do things that involve talking – men don’t. Maybe that’s it? Interesting, fun events that appeal to men are just too difficult? Or perhaps men’s needs have just been largely ignored by the church and thus men’s events just aren’t a priority?

Outside the church.

The easiest place to identify how inferior men apparently are is in advertising. Men are the ones who dirty up the just-cleaned house; the ones who can’t work the washing machine; the ones that can’t open the can of food and heat it in the microwave. Thankfully the woman of the house comes to the poor sap’s rescue with a doting smile and an endearing roll of the eyes for the poor fool. Aren’t these scenarios more like actions of a young boy and his mother? There’s even an ad where the simple bloke gets into his girlfriend’s box of sanitary napkins, places them on his body and pretends to be a superhero (believe it). Exactly how far would an advertisement get if the woman was painted as the not-so-bright one and her man comes to the rescue? It wouldn’t even make it to a proposal paper, let alone the airwaves.

Consider that for many men in Western culture there is an unspoken rule that seems to pervaid their life from an extremely young age: you don’t admit defeat, you don’t run and the The Big One – you don’t cry in front of others, especially other men. As a man you’re expected to have a handle on any situation that comes your way and if that means a crippling amount of internalised anxiety, depression or self-doubt then so be it. We even see this unspoken expectation extend itself to men’s physical health. Prostate cancer is one of the largest causes of death amongst men, yet many need the figurative gun held to the back of their head to just get themselves off to their GP.

Whilst it’s true that men genuinely do not talk as much as women on average, it also needs to be understood that a lot of male-male relationship building isn’t spoken. Having said this, however, there’s a difference between not wanting to talk and not feeling like you’re able to. What’s the consequence? Men often feel like they’re failures or weak because they don’t have it all together – never mind that they may feel incredibly isolated, even if they do have a wife/fiance/girlfriend. Sometimes you need your own gender to “get” the issues you’re facing.

Again, what I am asserting here is not that men shouldn’t sacrifice or that women’s issues aren’t very important. What I am asserting without apology is that men are far more valuable, capable and complex than they’ve been written off as and every bit as important and valuable as women.

I don’t see the feminist movement amongst some as simply balancing things out, I see it tipping things the other way and leaving men confused and marginalised about who and what they are meant to be.

But what do others think? Is there something I’m missing? Is it a case as someone once told me that men have had their turn and now it’s the time for women? Or are there others who’ve come to realise that being a man is a truly incredible, valuable thing that needs far more attention and credit than it currently receives?

I suppose before going too far with this blog, it’s appropriate to give you most (not all) of the story of how I got to where I am.

I was born in Sydney, Australia in September 1980 and would end up being the eldest of six kids. My mother was a stay-at-home mum and my dad the breadwinner. One of the things I do remember from those first few years was that I didn’t see much of dad. He was gone by the time I woke up and I was asleep before he got home. My first brother arrived 18 months after me. When I was five my second brother came along and we moved from our little two-bedroom unit to a much bigger house and in 1989 I greeted twin brothers, one of whom sadly died of SIDS 3 weeks and 6 days later – an event I remember with great clarity. My sister came into the world precisely two years after his death, the youngest and the only girl.

It wasn’t long after starting kindergarten before the teasing started. While I did have a handful of friends, the majority of my classmates didn’t like me. To this day I do not know why – there was nothing about me that would be the subject of usual taunts from kids. The treatment I got would vary from being ignored to outright and unrelenting taunts that didn’t stop. Often I’d have to get my own sheets in class because another student handed them out to everyone, except me. The teasing was bad enough, but what compounded that was not understanding why they hated me so much. Most days I ended up in tears and sometimes I’d be at the back gate, considering running home during the school day because I’d had enough. The teasing upset and angered my mother a lot, but she was met with “What do you want us to do? We can’t be everywhere.” from the staff. I don’t recall my father reacting to my experience at school in any way.

High school was not much better. While I was less of a social pariah, the friendships I did have were more casual ones and certainly nothing of any depth or intimacy. I was more the “tag along” type in social groups and would float about. Sport and P.E. were my most dreaded of classes and it was demoralising to not only be the last person picked for any team, but to then hear the protests of the team that “got” me and their requests for them to swap me for someone – anyone – else on the opposing team.

Then, of course, sexuality started to awaken. The boys were noticing the girls and I was noticing the boys. I didn’t know what to think of this as homosexuality was not a subject that was being discussed in school (or church), but it didn’t really bother me – it just was. Having said this, after witnessing the treatment more overtly gay boys received at school, I was nonetheless terrified my peers would find out about my own orientation. It went mostly unnoticed but it became apparent towards the end of high school that some of my peers were catching on that the subject of my attractions was not the same as theirs. Graduation finally came around and I left school (with an incredibly poor mark), worried that I was going to lose friends I had made. At the time the casual I-don’t-hate-you relationships I had formed where the best that I had experienced. In retrospect this would prove to be due to the fact that genuine, loving, caring friendships were something I had yet to discover.

With insufficient friendships to warrant a “schoolies” trip anywhere and with no clue what I was going to do with my life, I accepted a three-week job at a paint warehouse, offered by a neighbour. That job would end up being a permanent role that would last over three years and it afforded me many things like my own computer and more importantly, my first car (1990 Corolla SX Seca with a brilliant little 100kw engine and manual-only transmission, for those interested). Entering the workforce also introduced me to being around a group of people without the daily experience of bullying and rejection.

Permit me to backtrack a little. In the last two years of high school I had been attending a Friday night youth group at the cathedral I grew up in. Playing games and enjoying company with others who didn’t tease me was nice, yet here too I did not find relationships of consequence. The discussion about sex was an interesting one. My same-sex attraction was still not an issue that bothered me, but it was something that I had never discussed with anyone. I don’t remember what the specific words were, but when someone raised the issue of homosexuality the response from one of the leaders sent a cold rush through me the likes of which I had never felt before or since – the suggestion that gay people were hell-bound because of who they were. However I do remember one thing they said in response to the question (from a straight person) “What if I were gay?”

“Then we would need to have a very serious discussion.”

In late June 1998, I felt the need to come out to a leader of that group. Whilst I don’t remember the exact date, I can tell you it was at night, what room it was in, where in the room I was and which direction I was facing. And that I was extremely nervous to let out the biggest secret I had ever kept. It did feel good to get it off my chest and the young woman whom I told was gracious and as understanding as she could be and wrote me a letter a few days later after giving me the book “You Don’t Have To Be Gay”. I didn’t tell anyone else about my orientation for over a year.

In early 1999, I accompanied a friend to a local Anglican church as she was disenchanted with the one we grew up in (it was largely just full of old people with little for youth and little youth at all). I remember telling people who greeted me that I had my own church and I was just visiting to support my friend. It seemed God had different ideas and the relatively large number of people my own age and the far more contemporary music and vitality that was missing from my church quickly grew on me and I decided to stay. I had no idea what was soon to happen. Again, I don’t remember the date, but I do remember the place, the room, where I was facing. I was house-sitting for a bible study leader with two other friends from my old church. They both worked day hours and I was doing shift work so we didn’t really see each other except weekends and so I was effectively living on my own. I was in the middle of my normal morning prayers when without warning, as though God had flicked a switch, my homosexuality hit me like a bomb. The issue which up until that point had factored little in my day-to-day life instantly became the centre of my world. What followed was the most painful time in my life.

For several years I battled with intense depression and confusion. Over time I told more and more people and despite the assurances from them that they didn’t think any less of me, I still very much felt different and “other” to those around me. I had created a special minidisc with songs that made me sad. TLC’s “Unpretty” was right up there as a painful song for me. I was surrounded by a group of peers at church who were all relatively happy and more importantly – all heterosexual (read: normal). I cried myself to sleep every single night listening to that disc, not knowing what was going on. I knew I was gay, that I hated it, and that I would do anything for it to go away and leave me alone. I took to myself with a box cutter on several occasions and also planned how I would commit suicide (and very nearly went through with it). I did not make an attempt at killing myself because with the method planned there would be no failed attempt. What made matters worse was a developing emotional dependency on some of my male friends and as if this wasn’t enough, the pain of watching them begin to date was torture.

I had this image in my head of a beach covered in Seagulls. The beach was my life and the birds were my friends and me. To begin with there were lots of birds and things were good, but over time those birds would pair up and fly away. This would keep on happening until there were only three birds left on my beach and then that last pair of birds got together and flew away. I would start to fly after them but I was chained to the beach by my leg and so despite flapping away furiously, I had no choice but to watch helplessly as the last pair flew away and I was left alone on my beach. That was a fear back then that ultimately proved to be almost completely true – setting aside a small handful of single friends who have yet to marry, without exception those friends that got married quickly departed from my world for good. Efforts to catch up with them proved fruitless and weren’t reciprocated. I also remember being told it was selfish of me to expect to hang out with my married friends – they would be hanging out with other couples and I would just have to go and find some new friends.

It was in the middle of all this that my family hit a very difficult time. Without going into the specifics, my dad cheating on my mother (herself a very kind Christian woman, his wife of 20 years and mother to his six kids).

My father and I were never close. Aside from the fact I didn’t see him during the week he had a lightening temper and the physical strength to go with it. Whilst most parents saw physical discipline as a last resort, for my father it was often the first. Wooden spoons or dowel, or his favourite – his belt. Whilst he would sometimes use his hand, if he hurt himself in dispensing discipline he would get angrier and hit again – harder. Sometimes he would leave bruises but the psychological fear was perhaps the worst part of it all. If you heard him scream after going into his workshop or the garage you shuddered with fear, hoping that whatever was wrong, you weren’t the cause.

Three events between my father and I stand out in my mind. First: I once accidentally knocked a bird’s nest out of a tree I was climbing. My dad got the family together, yelled at me at the top of his voice in front of the family that I was not allowed to take life, then he picked me up and give me six of the hardest hits he could before dropping me and letting me run off in tears. I was 10.

Second: Around the same age I went through a period of being terribly worried if I couldn’t find my siblings, as though I was responsible for them even if my parents were home. One time I couldn’t find my youngest brother and so I ran up to my dad in tears saying as much. My dad ended his phone call to a friend and I ran downstairs to continue my search. A few seconds later he yelled my name and I froze, knowing what was going to happen soon. It turns out I didn’t see my little brother in a study nook in one of the bedrooms. Again my father picked me up, gave me six of his best and dropped me on the ground before walking away.

Third: In what would be a prelude of things to come, one year when I was quite young I really wanted a slot car racing set for Christmas. My wish came true and on that Christmas day we followed standard procedure: open presents; head to church; back home for a bit and then off to grandparent’s for Christmas lunch. We brought my slot car set along and after lunch we set it up in the hallway. Incredibly excited and with the physics understanding of a 10-year-old, dad and I started racing. He racked up lap after lap where as I held the trigger down all the way and kept it there, not understanding why my car kept spinning out on corners. Still, I was incredibly excited and in my excitement I deliberately knocked my dad’s car off the track so I could try and catch up some laps. My dad’s face fell from a smile to anger. He didn’t yell at me and he didn’t hit me. Instead he called me a cheat, dropped his controller and walked away. He didn’t speak to me for the rest of the afternoon and I was left wondering what I had done.

To this day I cannot recall a single time I had an enjoyable experience with my dad and I cannot understand sons who choose to spend time with their fathers. It dawned on me what our relationship was like when I was relieved and glad to see him kicked out for his marital unfaithfulness.

In my mid-twenties the rector of my church introduced me to a support group that had started up. It ran in a course-style format, so unfortunately was not continuously-running. It was a very novel and relieving experience to share a room with someone who was also both gay and Christian. I discovered the brilliant talks of Sy Rogers and then the pieces of what I was started to fall into place. I will stress that this wasn’t a group where you were forced to do anything, let alone somehow straighten up or get kicked out – this was purely a group that offered support, prayer and education in an area that is sadly still misunderstood greatly. It’s also worth pointing out that whilst there was a focus on same-sex attraction, the group quickly expanded to cover all aspects of sexual issues and it soon became a group where same-sex attracted people fell into the minority.

As my mid and late twenties came and went, it had become apparent that I was not really fitting in at my church anymore. Just about all of the friends I had there had gotten married and it seemed that once this had taken place, sitting together in church, talking at supper after church or doing anything social through church became a couples-only or a singles-only affair. Since just about all my friends had gotten married I had found myself in a very lonely place and it very much felt like I had over-stayed my welcome. When I ceased going for a month and not one person called, emailed or asked where I had been, I got my confirmation that as far as that church and my friends were concerned, my usefulness and relevance had expired. I didn’t go back. So I started to attend the church where the leaders of the support group attended. Whilst it wasn’t a “special” church that was aimed at LGBT Christians, it was nonetheless nice to – for the first time ever – sit in a church and know I wasn’t the only gay person there. I spent a year there before realising that I wasn’t getting much out of church, or building relationships with those there. After a short stint at another church where I once spoke (apparently quite well) on homosexuality, I reached the point I’ve been at for the last couple of years – that for now, church is not the place for me.

This is not to suggest that I’m not a Christian; not at all. Unfortunately my experience of church has not been a great one. Whilst it hasn’t been the outrageous and ungodly hostility that others have unfortunately been subjected to, it has represented a group of largely insular people who live and breathe marriage and have little concept of life outside of that framework. Oh Scripture may talk about how marriage and singleness are both just as good as each other, but it is certainly not the reality that those in the Sydney Anglican church demonstrate.

I have had the blessing of a couple of absolutely incredible friends. They have stuck by me through the best and worst of the struggles I have faced and there is very little I wouldn’t do for them. Unfortunately they live in the US and the UK – a long and expensive way from here in Sydney. Whilst their friendship has been like nothing I’ve ever had before, I still live with the fear that they too will get married and that beach will once again only have one Seagull in chains.