Matt Stolhandske

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I used to check my symptoms regularly. As a kid, I was sure I was dying of Ebola. Every time my stomach hurt, I would frantically look for signs of organ failure, take my temperature, and think through my 10 year old eulogy. Somewhere along the way I’d get distracted and forget about it altogether or realize that perhaps I was being just a touch dramatic... until the next disease outbreak where I’d once again self-diagnose.

Once middle school started, that type of hypochondria-fueled symptom checking had largely subsided. But, in its place, I found a new, perhaps even more loathsome personal obsession. Some of the “quirks” that my family had grown to love and embrace in me began to raise eyebrows amongst certain groups of my peers. My football buddies, the popular crowd on the student council…

Initially, I chalked up these feelings to pre-teen angst. Surely everyone felt some of these things, right? But then it would happen again; an out of place look, an awkward moment while changing in the locker room. Was my happy demeanor a touch too glad for the world around me? Was my singing in the choir eliciting jokes from my fellow linemen? Was the way I talked about girls not lewd or demeaning enough for straight-dude banter?

High school found my gay lymph nodes swelling even further. I remember feeling more interested in the pictures of the shirtless athletes in my brother’s Sports Illustrated magazines than the centerfolds my friends obsessed over in the Swimsuit Edition. The only way I could justify my feelings was to tell myself that I didn’t desire those men, but rather, I desired to be those men. I was often desperate, paranoid, sad and alone as the stains of my inner secrets were beginning to show outwardly. And, in my despair, I was covering my gay spots daily with countless coats of very masculine make-up.

Then came college and fake girlfriends. Fraternities, ranch trips, and every way I could possibly think to distance myself from my sexuality. By that point, the repulsive things I felt about myself on the inside were beyond stains, they were beginning to bleed through my skin and starting to show. So I would just cover my gay spots with more “dude concealer” and pray that no one would notice.

Then came my first big foray into the professional world. Weekend Vegas trips, office hook ups between my fellow employees… and miserable me trying with all my might to keep adding layers to the façade.

The day I left that first job, I got in my truck and wept as I drove to the seminary. The years I had spent hiding my symptoms were nearly over, I told myself. I enrolled full time, and I was going to rip off the Band-Aid and let God seep into my now VERY deep gay wounds to heal me from the inside out.

But even there, in that place that was supposed to be my straight hospital, I couldn’t find a cure for my “sickness”. Stigma still surrounded every conversation about sexuality–being gay still felt more disgusting than every other sin. And though the Spirit of God was then and still is now alive and well in my heart, His antiviral powers seem to be utterly ineffective against my homo-citis.

So, again I buried my struggle and went on with my “real man” make-up. Two more years of grad school were ahead of me, and I was hanging onto hope by the smallest thread and the prayer that Christ would rain down, answer 15 years of pleading and wash away my “evil sexuality” with a deluge of righteousness.

That downpour never came. It was when I broke up with my last girlfriend that I abandoned all hope of effective treatment and resigned myself to a life of unhappiness and solitude.

Depressed and alone, the most unlikely of circumstances found me in the strangest of places. An IT consultant working as a contractor at my graduate program invited me to a meeting to give him feedback on a program he was designing. The meeting lead to lunch. And then lunch became dinner. My body was in full-blown gay tremors as he reached across the table and grabbed my hand. “Wait…”, I asked. “Is this a date?” I was too terrified of the answer to even look at his face.

“If you want it to be,” he said.

I wanted it to be. But I was also falling apart. “I’m sorry. Something’s wrong with me,” I mumbled. My symptoms had spiraled out of control. Not even the world’s best concealer can cover up holding another man’s hand in public over a romantic dinner. But he tightened his grip and reassured me, “Matthew, there’s nothing wrong with you. I think you’re perfect just how God made you.”

And all at once, I had my answer. Jesus can’t heal a disease I don’t have. The church and the world around me may have done their best to convince me that my sexuality is a sickness that I must somehow cure or change, but as the truth streamed down my face one tear at a time, I could feel the Holy Spirit reassuring me of what I always knew deep down: from the moment of my creation, gay sexuality has always been part of my person-hood exactly as God designed it. 

God calls me to love others as I love myself, so failing to love myself was inhibiting my ability to fully love others. I realized in that moment that my sin for all of those years wasn’t being gay–it was the pride that forbade me from telling the truth. Now in the light, I could feel the shame lifting and washing away. That night I wept in great praise that God had been so faithful to me through all of it–His mighty grip had never let me go.

Today, I’m married to a wonderful man with whom I daily work to find the beauty and joy of fully loving myself and extending that love to a partner in the institution of Christian marriage. I’ve finally found the strength to proclaim that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with me or my marriage. I am not a diseased or asterisked Christian. My husband and I are beloved children of God. Our lives grow and change every day with Christ as our rock. But as for our sexualities, those are happily #unchangedlgbtq.