Kalevi Chen

Kalevi Chen.jpg

One of my earliest memories is from kindergarten or 1st grade, when my dad, in the caring way he always talked to me about life and its challenges, told me in Mandarin, “You’ll run into people who you like, like I like your mother, and it’s fine if you want to eventually get closer to them. But the only thing is that you can’t get close to other boys that way.” I took that in at face value, because he was right about so many things he’d told me before, and I had no reason to question what I was told. He meant all the best for me, of course, but I think he still hasn’t realized just what that interaction foretold for me and my life.

It took me a while to realize I liked other boys. Perhaps I should’ve picked it up earlier, when I was much more interested in learning about my reproductive system in school than I was in the other one. Maybe I should have noticed when, over the many lectures on resisting lust that we got in my church’s youth group, I always thought, “Gee, why do people think it’s so hard to not think about women lustfully? I never do that!” Perhaps halfway through middle school is when I started to get the idea that something wasn’t quite right. It would be years before I realized that my self-conception was what wasn’t right, but at the time, I was stuck on the slow realization that I was very, very interested in other boys.

What followed was a long depressive episode, one that had me in depths I’ve yet to sink to again. I felt like I had somehow been cursed to be mired in an unshakable sin, and I just couldn’t break free of it. I remember having become so withdrawn and bitter that some of my teachers seemed concerned about me. Even my dad, who I, in my teen angst, was convinced didn’t know me at all, remarked to me once “You used to be so happy, but now you aren’t. Is something wrong?” I had no answer for him, because I didn’t even have one for myself. On my very lowest night, I just remember pleading with God to just set me free. I hated living like I was, walking through the valley of the shadow of death, very afraid of the evil I was convinced had taken hold of me. I fell asleep in the middle of my begging, and then woke up to the morning sun without all the weight I had been bearing. I still don’t know what happened there, but I can only think that I had been granted freedom from despair that night. I didn’t have answers, but I suddenly had lots of hope.

I was so hopeful–but still so unaware–as I got into high school. This is when I finally started to knowingly encounter other people who weren’t straight in my music classes and in drama. I even became friends with them. As I became more familiar with the idea of not being straight, I stopped being able to totally deny myself. This eventually led to a moment at a youth conference with my youth group, in which I finally let something slip, and I stated I was bisexual.

I said that in front of the whole group and actually didn’t face judgment or condemnation for it, at least none that I can remember. But I couldn’t help feeling judgment for myself; even though I wasn’t totally aware of it at the time, what I had confessed to wasn’t true. (And now, I wish I had done this differently and not contributed to the stereotype of “bisexual is only a stepping stone on the way to gay”. But, as they say, hindsight is 20/20.) I think I subconsciously thought that if I left it open to “well, at least he still likes girls”, then I could still skid by without being deemed unacceptable. I had even had a girlfriend for a short while in 7th or 8th grade, so that must’ve entered my thinking. 

I stuck with what I said up until I moved on to    Moscow, Idaho, to start my undergrad music degree. At that point, I was intimidated by all the new people, even though several of my high school band friends also went to Idaho with me, and I tried to walk back and hide my orientation again. I suddenly felt ashamed, feeling like I wanted to present what I thought was the very best of myself. This carried through the two relationships with girls I’ve had since. 

It was another strong bout of angst that brought me out of what I’d been chained to. You see, I had been grilling myself on why even holding hands with my girlfriend was anxiety-inducing, let alone the idea of doing anything more physically intimate than that. I was holed up in a practice room with one of my instruments, taking a break while I was pondering this thought that wouldn’t leave me alone. Suddenly, another thought entered my mind, and shattered the very floor I was standing on:

“What if you haven’t told anyone the truth yet? What if you haven’t even told yourself the truth yet?”

It took me a few moments to make any sense of that thought. I repeated it a few times. I savored it for some time, while another idea paraded into my thoughts:

“Do you really think God has made such a grave error?”

This is the moment my sight became totally clear and I saw the gayness I was so desperately fleeing. I mulled it just a short bit longer and realized I was right: I am gay, God has always known this, and he has not stricken this from the record despite my continued pleas. And I could not go on refusing to acknowledge this. I knew that I was unfairly using my romantic relationship to try to “fix” myself, and that that couldn’t continue. My first instinct, after ending that part of my relationship, was to shout this from the metaphorical rooftop of my Facebook profile, which my family could not see at the time. I did just that, and I was met with a level of support I never even thought I could receive.

After that euphoria wore off, I was confronted with a new loneliness: I had always been part of a church community before I moved away from home, but I hadn’t been anywhere ever since, and I missed it sorely. I had always said it was because there was no Christian and Missionary Alliance church (my original home) in Moscow, but I think I was also subconsciously protecting myself. Once I knew I was missing a solid community in my life, I went looking. I wasn’t expecting to find any affirming churches in North Idaho, but a quick search online turned up two places in town. After my initial shock, I decided to first visit the Lutheran church, part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).

I thought I would just go there one week and then visit the other place the next, but I received such an insistent, warm, and genuine welcome (“Oh, you’re a music student? You play oboe and bassoon? Come meet Janet, she’d love to have you play during service sometime!”) that I just couldn’t go anywhere else. In that round sanctuary at Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Moscow, Idaho, in my green polo, during normal time in the summer–that is the precise spot that my life began all over again. As I became a member of that community and our Lutheran Campus Ministry community, found a new home in the ELCA, and finally felt liberated enough to fully join my Cinnamon Waffles community in what was then the Gay Christian Network (GCN). I learned to look at my faith and the world in a totally different way than I had grown up with, and I was able to be free of the last of the burdens I was still carrying.

Nine years, two moves (one cross-country to Minneapolis, then one more to my current home of Des Moines, Iowa), many tears, and many unchained laughing fits (as my fiancé would tell you!) later, here I am. I don’t think the frightened and confused child I was before everything started over would even recognize the man I am today. A lot of things aren’t how I originally imagined they would be; I don’t have a lovely and strong wife, I’m not a band teacher, and I don’t live anywhere near my beginnings in Eastern Washington. But that’s all fine, because I’m here now with what I have now, including the most wonderful man I could ever imagine marrying, and I think it’s far, far better than I ever could have conceived with the constraints I had in my previous life.