A Peek Inside the Closet Growing up Gay in Conservative America
by Rick James
Oct 6, 2008
For someone who has not lived this life, it is impossible for that person to fully understand. I am sitting here trying to think of some other current condition in life to which closeted homosexuality can be compared - I cannot think of one other condition that comes close.
Nevertheless, I tried to put some things down on paper because I wanted to help you understand to some small degree what life is like for people like myself, people who because of the position of society, their family, and the Church feel they have to hide their true nature.
What follows is not intended to be a comprehensive list. If I wanted to be comprehensive, I would have to write volumes, and it would likely be a project that would take years. As the title suggests, this is just to give you a small idea of what growing up gay is like in our society, conservative religious context, and in a family that views homosexuality as a deviation from God's plan. Believe me when I say this barely scratches the surface of what it's like growing up gay, homophobic, and in the closet.
Age 7 to 8 years - the gay boy knows he is different than the other boys, although he cannot necessarily decipher why, or what the condition is
- The gay boy knows instinctively that he identifies more with his female friends/relatives, but all the while does not understand why
- The gay boy desires greatly to identify with his "straight" male peers/relatives, but for some unknown reason is inhibited
- The gay boy fears that his parents (especially his Father) thinks less of him because of some perceived inferiority
- The gay boy wonders and fears in the back of his mind what mom and dad think about his desire to have an "action figure" that resembles a Barbie-doll more than anything else
- The gay boy likes going across the street and playing with the neighbor-girl's dollhouse, knowing that this activity would be frowned upon by many, but he fears most the reaction of his parents
Early School Years
- The gay boy gains an interest in playing sports (soccer, to be precise), not because he has much affection for the sport itself, but because he wants to be close to one very cute player with whom he is enthralled
- While others seem to have very little issue, the gay boy avoids the gym shower (and even PE altogether) for fear that while in the shower with his peers, his bodily reaction to their naked form will give him away
- The gay boy cannot turn to his parents for support or guidance because he knows by the comments they've made about "those homosexuals" and the AIDS epidemic that his revelation to them will only bring condemnation, judgment, shame, and pain
- The parents have made it clear to the gay boy, because of their statements/reactions towards a gay relative, that it is an emotionally charged and unsafe topic
- The gay boy wants so badly to please his parents, but feels trapped between his desires and theirs
Going to Church
- While others at the "24 Hour Famine" are fasting and praying for the hungry/needy in less fortunate countries, the gay boy is fasting and praying that his deepest longings will be purged from him
- While others are going to the altar for typical prayer needs (i.e. health, prosperity, spiritual needs for self and others), the gay boy's trips to the prayer bench are a desperate plea to become like everyone else...or to die, whichever comes first
- The gay boy learns quickly that bearing false witness (i.e. lying) is the "right thing to do" if he wants to survive life in his conservative church - what he does not realize is that this will produce a life-long pattern of dishonesty and deceit - something that is not easily shed
- The gay boy avoids reading scriptures that appear to condemn him, rendering him completely incapable of reconciling his faith and his sexuality
- The gay boy listens to respected church officials demonizing people exactly like himself - he is now certain there is no one at church to whom he can speak about his condition
- The gay boy constantly feels like he is a failure in God's eyes, in his own eyes, and will soon be in the eyes of his family and friends if he cannot free himself of the "problem"
- The gay boy cannot stand that he is considered an "abomination" for something over which he had no choice - he doesn't understand why God would hate him for wanting to express love to those whom his affection is "hardwired"
- The gay boy is surrounded by girl-friends... somehow they sense that he is different, he is not likely to try to take advantage of them in an undesired way - what they do not realize is that it is this very characteristic that precludes them from intimacy with him - nevertheless, some try
- The gay boy listens to and agrees/disagrees with his female friend's statements about certain other boys, but is not able to voice his opinions or affections
- The gay boy realizes (whether consciously or subconsciously) that his feminine liaisons are his support group, yet he is often frustrated and jealous of them because they are free to express their emotional longings for the objects of their desire (which happen to be the same as his), while the gay boy is bound to silence
- The touch of a gay boy's "best friend" sends chills up and down his spine and puts a hollow feeling in the pit of his stomach
- The gay boy knows instinctively that the object of his affection will more than likely not reciprocate his sentiment - in fact, the knowledge of it will almost certainly end the friendship
- The gay boy on a sleep-over, in the same bed with his "best friend," lies there petrified and unable to go to sleep because of what he feels, but upon which he dare not act
High School and Teenage Years
- The young gay teenager, as he has now gone through the bodily changes that mark the beginning of manhood, begins to realize how he is different - because of his culture, religious context and upbringing he instinctively knows he must hide
- The two emotions that dominate the gay boy's life are fear and isolation; fear of what family and friends would think if they knew the truth, and isolation because there is no one to whom he can turn - only later will he realize how very psychologically damaging these two sentiments will be
- The gay teen buys his clothing/tennis shoes with trepidation that some may think his choice to be a bit too feminine, thus blowing his heterosexual façade
- The young gay teenager begins to modify and practice the way he pronounces his "S's", making them a bit more harsh, more masculine sounding, not as soft as his more effeminate counterpart
- The young gay teenager modifies and practices the way he points, making sure that the palm faces down rather than up, which seems to be the more natural to him
- The young gay teenager upon dressing up as a girl for Halloween, and unexpectedly turning some guys heads, causes within him elation and horror at the same time
Sexuality and Attraction
- For the straight boy or girl feelings of attraction are reinforced and applauded by family, society, culture, and religion from the earliest age. For the gay boy and girl, even before they are fully aware of their same-gender feelings of attraction, they generally know that what they are feeling is not how things are "supposed to be"
- Straight kids have no problems sharing with peers their crushes on a friend, a rock-star, or their favorite actor/actress... gay kids must hide it
- The gay youth, having kissed the girls and not having understood why his male peers seem to think it "all the rage," kisses another boy ...and roman candles are set ablaze
- The gay youth has a series of sexual encounters with another boy he loves, but he is terrified that he will be discovered by parents, and yet thrilled that his expression of affection is mutual
- The gay youth discovers that he feels no shame in that expression of love - this too, he does not understand if it is supposed to be so wrong
- The young gay man seeks help and counsel from a "trained mental health professional" at his conservative Christian college and is told he is a "likely candidate for basket case" - he decides at an early point in his college career not to return for more emotional abuse
- The young gay man comes up with excuses as to why he does not date the girls - his studies, his relationship with God, his (false) interest in someone back home... more lies? You got it!
- The young gay man, when he does try to date a young girl, ends up hurting that precious soul after a few weeks, yet is unable to explain to her why - more excuses, more lies
- The young gay man once again forms close bonds with the objects of his desire (his best male friends), but is unable to express the deep affection, in turn leading him to despair and to depression
- The young gay man tries to show his affection through actions like doing his best friends laundry, or cleaning his friends desk, or even giving a foot massage, but it always ends with the young gay man's physical and emotional frustration
- The young gay man takes to unhealthy behaviors, like spying on his best friend - even while in the shower - hoping to make some sort of emotional connection that he knows will ultimately not happen
Hetero-Marriage and Sex
- The gay fiancé decides, devoid of passion and the intense affection associated with marriage, that it is best for himself, his family, his church, and society that he marry... all the while trying anxiously to convince himself that he has made the right decision, and yet never assured of that - he does not realize that his calculated decision has the potential to destroy lives, leaving much unwanted and unnecessary wreckage
- Once married, after the "newness" has worn thin, the gay husband cannot inform his wife of the mental gymnastics he has to go through in order to perform sexually with her
- The gay husband sometimes sits on the edge of the bed before sex, massaging himself, worried, and hoping that soon his erection will become firm enough to begin the sometimes dreaded act
- The gay husband cannot tell his wife that he sometimes looks at gay porn to fuel his hetero-sex-life
- The gay husband cannot tell his wife that certain feminine bodily odors turn him off
- The gay husband must quickly fabricate an answer when asked during the sex act, "What are you thinking (fantasizing) about?" He can never tell his wife that it is not her
- The gay husband is constantly afraid that his wife will notice him doing something he does not intend to do, but nevertheless of which he often catches himself in the act - watching the good-looking guys at the mall, or the supermarket
- The gay man cannot explain to the wife's satisfaction why his libido is not as strong as one might think for his age, so she looks for possible reasons - low testosterone? side-effects from medications? All the while, he knows, but dares not disclose, that his sexual appetite is as strong as it could possibly be
- The gay father fears what his child will think of him if she finds out that much of the society in which she's been raised considers her daddy to be a "fag"
- The gay father fears what his child will pick up subconsciously, while the extended family is unaware of what they are inadvertently communicating by their body language, the things they say (or don't say), by everything they do
Ticking Time Bomb / Do Not Shake - Contents Under Pressure
- The gay man has a crisis experience in which everything that he has sought to repress, deny, beat down, hold at bay, forget about, overcome, pray away, and sublimate, comes rushing to the surface...like a sleeping volcano that suddenly comes to life - the gay man, while married to a dear friend, is thrust speedily back to his natural inclination/orientation simply because a handsome young man asks him to kiss him
- The gay man, remembering the incredible exhilaration and passion of that kiss with another boy (as teenagers), and so completely exhausted from trying to suppress reality in favor of a false reality, cannot resist, knowing that once that closet door is opened it will more than likely never be closed again
X-Gay Life-style / Witch-Hunting Mentality
- The gay man tries (in vain) to figure out why he is this way, which of life's events could have caused such an atrocity because that is what the religious right touts; sexual molestation? But the gay man remembers everything from childhood; no memory is lost or blocked. Bad parenting? Both mother and father where loving, nurturing, and responsible parents. A broken relationship with a same-sex family member? But the gay man cannot justify this either as his same-sex attraction predates any such brokenness - the theories just do not stand up - Furthermore, the gay man discovers through extensive study that such theories were dismissed by the mainstream scientific/medical world over 40 years ago, and that the only groups that still follow such out-dated ideas are ultra-conservative religious groups that base their science on the Bible, a book that was never intended to be a science book, or a book on sexuality for that matter
- The gay man begins to realize that a life-time of prayer, devotion to God, self-denial, self-deception, repression, and avoidance, has made no difference whatsoever with regard to his sexual orientation - he is still gay and will be so until the day he dies - if God Himself did not change him after so many years of endless pleading, why should he entertain the idea that an ex-gay ministry could? He then hears of the hundreds of thousands who have spent numerous years in, and thousands of dollars on, reparative therapy, and yet who have not changed anything accept their behavior, and even that is often suspect
- The gay man reads about the shockingly large number of ex-gay ministry founders who now renounce those ministries, and have now come forward to apologize for the psychological harm they did to countless individuals from within those ministries
- The gay man also reads about the untold scandals between the religious leaders (both ex-gay and straight) and people that his family trust and rely on for the "truth" that they proliferate, knowing, and yet unable to convince his family that they are being misled
- The gay man does not understand why the majority of the population cannot see they discriminate when the use terms like "practicing homosexual" ...no one has ever spoken the words "practicing heterosexual" because they realize that heterosexuality is not just about sex - why they cannot see that homosexuality is no different is beyond him
- The gay man is now so exhausted with life in the closet, but he also fears what life must be like as a celibate, never knowing true love nor passion - the gay man knows that neither condition would his straight counterpart ever dream of taking part in, and yet he/she expects it of the gay man
- The gay man begins to read from sources that say he is "gay and ok" in God's eyes - he finally begins to see a light at the end of the once endless closet - could it really be that God never intended for him to change into something he is not? Could it be that God never intended for His gay children to spend any amount of time in that dark hole? Some very intelligent gay and straight biblical scholars and theologians, as well as the majority of the scientific and medical authorities, people much smarter and far more studied than the gay man, seem to be saying so - is it really possible for the gay man to reconcile his faith and his sexuality?
- The gay man, as he continues to study, begins to experience something he never dreamed was possible - hope and inner-peace
- The gay man must now make the choice of a life-time - keep living a life of futility that is sure to put him in an early grave, or do the unthinkable - exit the closet for good, knowing that many of his friends and most of his family will think him hell-bound. What they do not realize is that he was already there.
I'm going to be forthright with you. You have asked me to be patient with you. I have done that, at least I've tried to very hard, but I need to ask you, "For what exactly am I being patient?" Am I being patient for you just to keep listening to the sources you rely on, not giving any consideration to any other voice? Am I being patient for you to remain in the position you've always held? Or am I being patient with you as you take an honest, truly open-minded look at what a quickly growing number of conservative (as well as liberal) biblical scholars are saying about faith and homosexuality?
Do you really believe that God wants His gay children to live as I have described above?
I need to let you know that I am not planning to send anymore study materials, unless you ask me to do so, as I have grown increasingly weary of something that gives the impression of fruitlessness. I guess that what I am ultimately saying is that I need to move on.
If you would like to look at any of the materials that I have on the subject and that have helped inform my views on homosexuality and faith issues, I am providing a list of resources below. As I read more, I will add more, but here is a good amount of the works I have read to date:
What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality (Daniel A. Helminiak, Ph.D.)
Is It a Choice? (Eric Marcus)
Virtually Normal (Andrew Sullivan)
Stranger at the Gate: To Be Gay and Christian in America (Rev. Dr. Mel White)
Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality (Rev. Jack Rogers)
Homosexuality and Christian Faith: Questions of Conscience for the Churches (edited by Walter Wink)
The New Testament and Homosexuality (Rev. Robin Scroggs)
Anything But Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth (Wayne R. Besen)
What God Has Joined Together?: A Christian Case for Gay Marriage (David G. Meyers and Leitha Dawson Scanzoni)
The Church and Homosexuality (John J. McNeill)
Taking a Chance on God (John J. McNeill)
What the Science Says - and Doesn't Say - About Homosexuality (Jeff Lutes, MS, LPC)
What the Bible Says - and Doesn't Say - About Homosexuality (by Rev. Dr. Mel White)
A False Focus on My Family (Jeff Lutes, MS, LPC)
In addition to these I have visited many websites that also have numerous resources. Here are a few:
Soulforce: Freedom from Oppression Through Nonviolent Resistance
As I have mentioned to you before, I believe that one day the Church will view homosexuality differently. I believe that one day, just as the Church has done time and again, It will change yet again - this time Its position towards God's gay and lesbian children. Furthermore, I believe that the Church will again find it necessary to issue a formal apology for sins committed (i.e. oppression, discrimination, defamation, etc.) against a percentage (be it ever so small) of the world's population.
My hope and prayer in writing this, in trying to help you understand, is that you will be ahead of the Church. It may seem unthinkable to you now, but perhaps you would even become a member of the small, yet ever-growing, body of voices that will help guide It to Its certain and final, affirming position.
In any case, I will always love you and be grateful for a life-time of nurture and care.
Yours, and His,
"God is clearly more comfortable with diversity than we are, and God's final goal and objective are much simpler. God and the entire cosmos are about two things: differentiation and communion. The whole creation cannot be lying." ~ Father Richard Rohr ~
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