Growing Up Gay is the thread here at Gay-Nerds where members can share about how dealing with their sexuality during adolescence and beyond has affected their outlook on life and various aspects of their personalities. The second thread highlight comes from one of our newer members, parchita.
It should have been pretty obvious from when I was little that I was gay. When I was 3, my Halloween costume was the Fairy Godmother from Cinderella. In fact, I know it was obvious because my mother once wrote my uncle a letter saying that she was concerned because, “When all the kids were playing cops and robbers on the playground, he’s always the damsel in distress.” And it’s true. Personally, I would have been proud that my 5 year old kid knew what a damsel in distress was.
So it was just me and my mom until I was six, when she married my stepfather. He is the oldest of 13 kids and quite the control freak. They ended up having 5 kids together, making me the oldest of 6. The second oldest was born when I was 8 and the youngest was born when I was 20. But things went on for a while, until puberty really. We all lived in fear of my stepfather, but that was just life.
Once high school rolled around, I stopped attending public school and instead went to the all boys Catholic high school in the area. Being surrounded by boys all day… well… I started to figure some stuff out. I spent my freshman year basically curious about my new discovery. After that year, my family moved to a small town in Ohio and the only Catholic school there was co-ed. But still, same basic principle. I spent part of my sophmore year curious and crushing on boys… but then guilt started to set in.
My family was all very conservative, very religious. So, naturally, some doubt really started to settle in on me. I spent the second half of my sophmore year praying a lot, trying to figure stuff out. In the mean time, I settled into a very, very deep depression. Partly because of my confusion, partly because I hated my stepfather so much and the way he treated me.
Well, naturally, my confusion didn’t go away through prayer. So I call my junior year the one where I tried to pray the gay away. I figured if Catholicism wasn’t doing anything, then being Catholic must be wrong. So I became a crazy Fundamentalist. I started reading the Bible religiously, reading books by crazy Fundamentalist authors, punishing myself for being gay, and punishing myself for being forced to go to Catholic school. I never was a cutter, but I probably could have been. I whipped myself often, usually using rosary beads. Some of my teachers saw how desperate I was getting and one of them reached out. He was my religion teacher, and although he was a total duffer, he was a good guy. He convinced my parents to let me go to a Christian summer camp that year.
I did a lot of thinking at that camp and I remember listening to some of the talks they had, although I cannot really tell you right now what those talks were about. It’s escaped me. But the point is that, at this camp, in nature, I figured out how to forgive myself and how to start loving who I was. Granted, it took me a long time to come to love myself, but I knew that there was nothing wrong with me. So I gave up hating myself, trying to change myself, and ultimately, I gave up my faith in God. I’m not necessarily saying that giving up my faith was the right thing to do, but I gave up trusting the organized religion in which I had placed all my trust.
My goal for my senior year was to just survive. I had great grades and some pretty cool colleges were after me. I got into Tulane with early acceptance and SMU gave me a full ride plus spending money. That’s when it fell apart. I had a computer in my room that wasn’t hooked up to the Internet, but I figured out that all I had to do was get a phone cord and plug it in to get online. In the middle of the night, I was going online and making gay friends from all over the world. Nothing more. I wasn’t looking at porn, I wasn’t doing anything bad. Just making friends.
Well, one night, I got caught by the stepfather. I came home from school the next day and my computer was gone. That’s when I knew I was done for. I knew he would be coming down to talk to me, so I prepared a speech on note cards where I came out to him. When the time came, I found the courage, and gave him the speech. (My stepfather is a very physically intimidating person. He was a bodybuilder who used to compete… and often win. He’s also extremely intelligent. He’s a professional radio talk show host who has been national a few times. He’s been a guest on Bill O’Reilly a number of times and has filled in for Rush Limbaugh on occasion. It’s scary.)
After my speech, he told me not to call myself gay because “gay” brings along a whole set of political alliances that I do not want to get messed up in. Instead, I was to say that I had a homosexual affliction. After this, he said that he needed to go tell my mother. I begged him not to, but he said he would be remiss in his duty to keep this from her. (My room was in the basement.) I remember him walking upstairs and listening to my mother do the dishes. Then everything went quiet and a plate crashed to the floor, shattering. My mother didn’t speak to me for a week after that.
A few days after my coming out to him, he decided to have another talk with me. He told me that I was going to be getting ex-gay therapy to save my soul. I, naturally, wasn’t immediately receptive to this and that’s when he said, “James, I look at this family like it’s a pride of lions and I am the head of that pride. Right now, you are a threat to this pride. Do you know what the head of a pride does to anything that threatens its family?” I looked at him in a quiet voice and said, “It kills it.” I wish I’d had the balls to then say, “When a new head of a pride takes over, it also kills any of the cubs which aren’t his.”
Anyway, time for college came, and he pulled some strings to get me into the local, very conservative, very Catholic college so that I could get my ex-gay therapy. I had to give up my full ride to SMU. He told me that if I went anyway, he would refuse to give me the info that I needed for the FAFSA for my remaining 3 years of college. I tried everything I could to be declared independant… including almost getting married. But in the end I gave in.
I decided in college to be an asshole to all of the conservative Catholics around me. I came out and was out and proud on campus. It wasn’t easy, I got a lot of abuse. The college paper wrote an editorial about me, encouraging students to “drive this evil from the campus.” But I found a good group of friends through the theatre department and they were my support, even if they didn’t all fully agree with my being gay. A lot of them were confused. Thankfully, I opened most of their eyes.
Meanwhile, my stepfather found an ex-gay therapist for me. This guy was such a joke. He owned an antiques shop and we would meet together in his backroom. Shady as fuck. The guy had no idea what he was talking about and the entire thing was ludicrous. I’m just thankful that I wasn’t sent off to one of those places that tortures people.
Fast forward two years of college later and I decide to drop out because the school is just killing me. As I do this, I tell my parents that I’m not going to ex-gay therapy anymore either. That’s when they disowned me. That was six years ago now. I haven’t talked to them in six years, haven’t seen my siblings since then. I don’t even know the youngest one.
My story is not an easy one, especially for kids who are confused and worried about how their families are going to treat them. It took me a long time, but I finally learned that family is not always the people that you were born into… it’s the people that you choose. I have a great family now, some blood relatives, some people who have come into my life. But more importantly, I have learned how important it is to be honestly true to yourself. When you really believe with your whole soul that who you are is fundamentally wrong, you are giving yourself a slow and agonizing death. But that’s pointless. If God really is love, why would he create something so hateful? Once I learned to love myself, my life truly began.
To read parchita’s full account or leave your own, join the forum and check out the Growing Up Gay thread.