I’m not really sure where I should start this story, but in light of the tragic shootings in Orlando, I can no longer be silent. Just like Popeye before he would eat his spinach, I say, “It’s all I can stands cuz I can’t stands no more!”
All of my life I have lived in FEAR…fear of rejection, fear of failure, fear of success, and fear of being outed. I grew up in a small rural village in Northwest Illinois. My parents farmed so I was very isolated as a kid until I went to school. I went to a consolidated school system for the community with grades K-12 all in one building with a gymnasium separating the grade school and junior high rooms from the high school. This also meant that I went to school with many of the same people for all 12 years of my elementary and secondary education.
My recognition of being “different” started with wanting to spend more time with girls and their activities on the playground instead of hanging with the boys. One incident that I remember distinctly is one where the teacher who was responsible for supervising recess that day “forced” me to stop playing with a group of girls and guided me in the direction of the proper group of boys that I was to associate with. Whenever I would play with female cousins or family friends who had children who were female, I would like to play dress up.
As early as first grade I had a close female friend who I would like to play dolls with. Now of course I was labeled early on by my peers as being a “sissy” because I sucked at sports and hated PE with a passion. Attempts were made to be more “boyish” by signing up for little league, basketball, cub scouts, and even boy scouts. Still, it just never made sense why these things were so important and I suffered ridicule by peers in all instances because I just didn’t fit the mold.
From first grade to my senior year of high school there was some type of bullying. But through all of this, it was music that kept me sane and from possibly just giving up. This gift was nurtured as early as preschool in the Reformed Church of my youth with my Sunday School and Catechism teachers during our song times. As I grew up it progressed to the choirs both in church and in school. The gift kept on giving during my four years at Northwestern College.
It was there, however, that I also came face to face with who I really was! During my junior year I started to become more aware of my sexual attraction to men. I even had what I know now was a major crush on one of my fellow classmates. This revelation devastated me and I was an emotional wreck! I tried talking to a trusted professor, and a college dorm supervisor in one of the girls’ dorms (she was from California so I thought she might “get me” better). But what I was told was that it was just a phase and that I wasn’t gay.
So I started dating a girl my senior year whom I thought I was very much in love with. In fact, I wanted to marry her, but am thankful that this never materialized. When this relationship ended, I started experimenting and exploring my sexual feelings for men. I was working for an RCA church as the Director of Youth and Music at the time. I wasn’t able to come out to the pastor, but when I did come out to my parents, he was very instrumental in counseling them that I didn’t chose this lifestyle, and did they really think I’d chose a life of being a social outcast? Yet this didn’t change my mother’s view of homosexuality. She truly believed that I was bound for hell. My father, on the other hand, shared with me that even though I felt that they didn’t support me, he said that he prayed every day for understanding, because he didn’t understand it.
For many years afterward, I have tried to find my place in the gay community. It has been a huge struggle for more than 36 years now. I’ve never had a lasting long term relationship. The rejection and attitude of many gays has added to my low self-esteem issues. So I’ve clung to what I knew which was the church. I did leave the RCA for a while and ventured into the ELCA, PC(USA), and then the CRC. Although some have been open and affirming I still have believed a lie of Satan for many years. That lie was that God could NEVER love me because I was gay! This self-loathing has led to anxiety and depression issues that have been debilitating at times.
It wasn’t until recently that I found a CRC congregation in Northwest Iowa that accepted me as I am. From my very first visits, when the worship team would sing, tears would pour down my cheeks. For the first time in decades I was sensing the Spirit of God in a very powerful way. So when it came time for me to request membership, I was very honest and told them I was gay. Their response was, “It’s not our place to judge; we let God do that. We accept you and welcome you into our fellowship to allow God to work in your life by loving Him and loving others.”
Boy, was that a breath of fresh air! Now, I can’t say that I’ve mastered the self-hatred and self-defeating thoughts and actions, but now at least I have some place of support where I don’t have to be afraid to be me anymore!
I pray that the RCA will come together on LGBTQ inclusion soon. We’re not something to be “feared” but to be embraced! We’re not something that’s going to go away and hope it won’t come back. Please don’t be the force that has led many gays to end their lives because they felt that not even God could love them. It’s time to embrace this and support the members in your congregations who represent a very creative, intelligent, and sensitive group of people who would be a welcome addition to any other social institution!