As it is waking up to anything, I believe we come into our awareness of ourselves—and of anything else—gradually, and in stages. Some part of our sleeping minds might take note of the first dawn rays that break through the cracks in the curtains we've drawn to keep the sun out. Maybe some inner rhythms prompt us to wake, or a gentle and loving voice tries to rouse us, or an alarm snaps us jarringly into consciousness. And even then—even after our eyes open—there's still a great deal of waking up to do. Maybe the lingering ghosts of dreams or nightmares from which we've come still cloud our minds. Maybe, once we pull ourselves from our beds, our morning routines shepherd us so automatically through the early parts of our days that we don't feel compelled to conjure a real thought until we step out of the front door. Awareness, it seems, isn't a state of being, but a state of becoming, and my own becoming has been slow and stubborn. My journey into awareness involved black-out curtains, sleep masks, and a compulsive obsession with the snooze button.
Even so, the morning light has many ways of reaching us. It warmed my room in the middle school football locker room, where I learned to precisely tune my body, my language, and my gaze to mirror my brothers there. It stirred the morning birdsong outside my window the moment I told my first wife, to both our surprises, that I didn't believe I was attracted to women. And it beat hot against the skin on my face in the years that followed—the divorce, the failed stint in conversion therapy, the coffee meetings with my pastors, their encouragement to marry again. Every welcome I received ridden with fine print was another alarm, and as trusted voices said from one side of their mouths: "you are loved as you are," while saying out of the other side, "a woman's love will fix you," a softer, quieter inner rhythm whispered: wake up, beloved.
So I did. But I am still awaking. I am more aware than I was a year ago, and less than I will be a year from now.
I converted to Christianity at thirteen, thoroughly annoying my atheist parents. The first secret inklings that I was attracted to men came to my conscious awareness around this time as well, and my immediate conviction was that these two new facets of my identity couldn’t possibly co-exist. Conversion seemed like it was going to mean a little bit more for me. I couldn't at all conceive then that LGBTQ+ Christians might exist.
Many of my earliest memories are colored by a hunger for meaning, for mystery, and for spirituality. It started so early, I often wonder if it was something I was born with. Regardless, that desire found few outlets in a home void of religion, but eventually, when I became a teenager, it led me through the doors of a Baptist church. After surviving my initiatory years of Evangelical Christianity, I moved across the country to college and felt drawn to the Reformed tradition. There, I learned to use my mind as the arbiter for my faith, constructing and memorizing elaborate theological frameworks to keep myself secure, to explain away my depression through seemingly-spiritual platitudes, and to keep my sexuality repressed. This was my life for nearly ten years—my house, built on sand. A few months before my 30th birthday, it began crumbling.
It was then that God began to draw me out from my commitment to mutilating my own soul by trying to change my sexuality. While doing so, God was also calling me away from a religion in which the Divine smile hinged on my level of certainty about what I hoped was right and proper theology. I realized that while I’d been rooting my faith in the endeavor to acquire the right answers about God, I was failing to trust in the mysterious, loving person of God.
That trust was one of the easiest things to find and to practice. In a sense, it was one of the very first things I ever learned. It was muscle memory. I found myself returning to the child-like wonder with which I beheld the mystery of God in my earliest memories. I’m no longer certain of much, and there’s more faith in that, and less fear in me.
Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin has haunted me since I first read it nearly three years ago. "People can't, unhappily, invent their mooring posts, their lovers and their friends, anymore than they can invent their parents. Life gives these and also takes them away and the great difficulty is to say Yes to life." Boy Erased by Garrard Conley and “Moonlight” (the film) by Tarell Alvin McCraney and Barry Jenkins moved my heart, which was my main obstacle.
The following moved my mind: Bible, Gender, Sexuality by James V. Brownson, Scripture, Ethics, and the Possibility of Same-Sex Relationships by Karen Keen, Walking the Bridgeless Canyon by Kathy Baldock, Inspired by Rachel Held Evans, The Sin Of Certainty by Peter Enns, and The History of Sexuality by Michael Foucault.
The process of coming out wasn't easy for me. I, as well as so many others in my life, had grown committed to the lovable self I projected to the world in order to survive in it. For thirty years, this effort produced its desired effect—outer peace—but at a cost. Inside, there was chaos. Coming out as gay meant doing what I'd always tried to avoid: bringing that inner chaos into my outer world.
I lost communities, friends, clients, jobs, money, and reputation. There has been slander, defamation, and false accusations arising from a simple decision to say, "I can't change, and I'm not going to try to anymore." But for the first time, there is peace inside. The fruit of the spirit that had always seemed so difficult to hold onto comes to me easily now. And as time goes on, and the waves from yesterday and the ripples from today eventually settle into glass around me, my inside and my outside will finally look the same.