I first put the pieces together during my senior spring at Wheaton College. There had been a lot of pieces I'd been thoroughly ignoring because I had been maliciously identified as "the gay kid" in middle school well before I was ready to embrace being different. The other boys had essentially said "Peter is different from us, therefore he is gay, therefore he is worthless", so I made it my mission to prove they were wrong.
Of course, they were wrong, but not about the gay part. They were wrong about the worthless part. I'd gotten it in my head that if I ever turned out to be gay, I would then be worthless, so I subconsciously made it my mission to prove that I was straight.
Fast–forward to my fall semester at Wheaton: I spent literally any free time I had with my best friend. He and I did everything together–I would even ditch out on fun plans with other friends to go over to his place and watch him play video games. It became somewhat co-dependent. My roommates and I would always joke with each other that he was like my boyfriend, but I'd always laugh it off because, in that Evangelical college environment, I earnestly thought I was in contention to win the prize for "most intentional and loyal friend of all time". I'm pretty sure that's how he saw our relationship, too. Over Christmas break between the semesters, a couple of days before the spring semester began, he told me circumstances had changed and he wouldn't be returning to school that semester.
My heart dropped. I was gutted. The entire first month of my spring semester, I rarely left the house. All I wanted was to see him again, to just be with him. It was such a bizarre feeling I'd never experienced before... or so I'd thought. Never in my "relationships" with women did I experience the kind of gutting that happened when my friend didn't return to school. But I knew I'd felt heartache before. I thought back on other "intense male friendships" I'd had and I actually had four prior "intense friendships" since middle school where I had this weird, gutted feeling when our relationship drifted apart and he wasn't able to be the sort of relationship I desired (because, to my knowledge, all of these guys were straight and saw it only as a friendship). I started putting the pieces together and I realized, oh–I've been gay this whole time. And then the puzzle started to take shape, and I finally started to make sense.
Ironically, I was raised with affirming theology. My dad has an out gay brother who came out in the '80s, and the dust from his coming out had been settled about 10 years before I was born. He is still very much a loved member of the family and I've seen him as a positive role model all my life. My dad also has a gay couple he's remained close friends with from grad school and those two men have been positive role models, as well. My family attended a PCUSA church, and I was never told by my family or my church that "the gays" were the enemy in any way, shape, or form.
Unfortunately, in high school and into early college, I adopted a fervent conservative Evangelicalism with a biblical literalist lens on my own volition. I was heavily influenced by a camp that I attended (and later counseled at) and became consumed with embodying "strong biblical manhood", which I internalized to mean God was only glorified if I fully reflected the male image of God (heavily inspired by a certain Eldredge book) and became a "husband/father/pastor" with a "smoking hot wife" and had "at least 4 kids". Conversely, those who "struggled with same-sex attraction" had to adopt celibacy or be cast into the flames of hell.
I took a Gender and Communication class my sophomore fall at Wheaton that changed everything. In fact, I look at my life as being pre-Gender and Communication and post-Gender and Communication. The class was taught by an unmarried woman in her 40s who never had children and nonetheless commanded my utmost respect. Learning her story as a woman in a largely male faculty at an Evangelical college opened my eyes to realize how little I understood given my status as a white cisgender (passing for) straight man.
She taught us the Standpoint Theory of Communication, which according to our textbook, boils down to the following thesis: "Different locations within the social hierarchy affect what is seen. The standpoints of marginalized people provide less false views of the world than do the privileged perspectives of the powerful. Strong objectivity requires that scientific research start from the lives of women, the poor, the LGBTQ community, and racial minorities.”
From this theory, I was willing to start listening and observing and softening my barriers. My view of God grew bigger the more I listened and observed, which led me to embrace affirmation of LGBTQ Christians (and eventually, myself as a gay Christian man).
I came to adopt affirming theology far sooner than I began to own that I am gay. As I realized the Bible is meant to be taken in its own time and place, and that it was written specifically to certain audiences and has been translated into English from ancient documents, it opened the door to realize as well that there was a very specific white western male reading that I had of the Bible, and that view informed my beliefs on women, minorities, and the LGBTQ community. The biggest thing that changed was realizing there is no objective reading of Scripture–everything is taken through the time and place of the person reading it.
My views softened to embrace more of "I don't know for sure and nobody does, but if I'm going to err, I will err on the side of love". I am convicted, however, that the Bible makes no provisions condemning queer people, equal same-sex relationships, or women in leadership positions. I've also come to realize my position in society in the 21st century as a white, cisgender, Christian man born in the upper-middle class looks more like the Romans or the Pharisees than Jesus' Disciples when I read the Gospels.
I'm finally at peace with the man God made me to be. I always felt like I was racing to try to make sure I looked and sounded and acted the way a guy should–doing all the right things, having all the right interests, making sure I dated plenty of girls. It was exhausting. I don't really believe people change who they are so much as, when they try to be somebody or something they are not, they dilute their own selves to the point their appearance passes for the dimmest hue of that other shade they want to be. Like it passes, but only sort of. I've embraced the color God made me and I feel full. It no longer hurts to be Peter Fenton. There's plenty of challenges in my life, but the act of being is no longer a worry of mine.
With that worry over being "man enough" or being "straight enough" out of the way, I've reconnected with God, completely unchanged. My relationships are more authentic. My faith is more authentic. My writing is measurably better, and it's seeing publication and production. Figuring out who I am and owning it has been the single greatest thing to happen to me. In a bitingly ironic turn of events for high school Peter, it's only been now in my life, after letting go of that desire to fit the "husband/father/pastor" image of manhood, I feel like I finally found the masculine image of God in my own heart.
I am a man, first and foremost. I'm a Christian man. I'm a gay Christian man.