The past few days have been unreal. My folks felt so blessed when they read all of the encouraging comments on http://rachelheldevans.com/church-stories-forgive-them-father, and on my own blog. I love you guys.
As my story was being shared on the web, I was sharing a drink with the closest of friends… and I couldn’t tell them anything. The void that always existed between us felt bigger that night than ever before. With every weekly “high” and “low” that was uttered, I struggled to think of something significant besides the replies. I wanted to tell them about it. I wanted to say, “Here’s my story, it has a purpose! Check out what it meant to so and so!” But there I sat. As they chuckled about work stories, I stole glances at the screen of my phone, taking in every empathetic word with quiet gratitude.
Being locked up in the closet is nothing new for me. Prior to cracking open the door, my life was lived in isolation. I felt invisible. One friend of mine, the author of the previous post, described our predicament as being stranded on an island just off a coastal town.
You sit on the beach looking across the water, watching families and friends have picnics and build bon fires. You sit and watch, all alone, day in and day out. You call out to them, exchange shallow conversations over roaring waves, but that is it. They couldn’t possibly get a glimpse at your gashes, and even if they could, you know they would reject your repulsiveness and expose you as alien. So you stick to superficial bonds and embrace the safety of the island.
But, as I found out, the island can’t save you from yourself.
I tried compartmentalizing this part of me, considered it a thorn to be covered. I tried therapy, thinking confidential chats would stop the broken record. I tried crying out to Christ for a miracle, for my sexual orientation to be “healed”. I tried church then tried praying on my knees. Tried to seek out scripture. Tried to pretend everything was okay. Tried to help more people. Tried to drink away my demons. Tried to smile more. Tried to befriend myself.
And then I tried to suicide.
Obviously and thankfully, I wasn’t successful, even though I was walking within distance of death.
The following morning was a miserable one. The conversation that I knew had to happen was one that I had avoided for my whole life. It was the moment where I had to choose whether I would die on the island or swim towards the uncertain. With each baby step up to my parents’ bedroom, I felt waves beating me back. I anticipated anger. I expected disgust. I felt only fear.
But then, I washed ashore.
They asked why I waited so long.
“I thought you’d be grossed out by me,” weeping.
“Son, you have been lied to. We could never love you less.”
“So you’re not afraid of me?” sniffling.
“Of course not” they whispered, and they pulled me into a pile of hugs.
My fear of what was beyond the water’s edge kept me on a nightmarish island for over a decade. Where I only saw gashes in the flesh, they saw diamonds in the rough. I felt alien, they told me I was family. I hated me, they loved me.
But the story isn’t over yet.
Unfortunately, I still take many trips back to the island. When I am with friends and many extended family members, I return to the old distant fellow they all know. I keep my temper in check with every fleeting political or religious slur. I keep my hopes at bay when I hear someone call them out.
What I have learned is,
in some settings, the island is safer
in others, it’s unnecessary.
So here I am, playing hop-scotch in-and-out of the closet. Riding in on the waves when I reach my front door and hitting the water again when I walk out. It’s a stressful place to stand, but it’s where I am right now.
Even though my fears have yet to be realized, I still worry about those on the other side of that conversation. I worry about love lost and friendships flushed. I worry about rejection and gossip. I worry about what they’ll do.
But I still have hope.
I have hope that when I bring forth those same fears of before.
When I tell them I am afraid they will hate me.
I’ll hear them whisper back.