While my mind went its way through intellectual labyrinths, there was also a horrible secret inside me. I kept it as secret as I could -- notwithstanding a few people's accidental discoveries of it.
I had been anticipating adolescence for years before it arrived. I was excited at the prospect of falling in love, getting married, raising a family; I wanted a lot of kids. The pageantry of the wedding was an exciting thought, too; which might have tipped me off, if I hadn't been so generally odd anyway.* But when adolescence did arrive, my interest in girls was minimal even at its highest ebb, and even then it was emotional, not sexual -- indeed, when I learned about sex, and when I looked at girls as a teenager, I was nonplussed that other guys were apparently so thrilled about this. Good for them, I supposed, though not without twinges of jealousy that they were in on a secret I couldn't understand. What happened to me was a slowly flowering interest, one that abruptly burst into an overpowering, intoxicating bloom, in those other guys. I didn't grasp what it was at first; for a brief period I wondered whether it was a private idiosyncrasy -- perhaps it was rather funny. Perhaps it was quite innocent.
But it wasn't long before I had learned -- without deliberately revealing my quirk to anyone -- that it was a dangerous, horrible, wicked thing. Something to be disgusted at and ashamed of. Something punishable, in the Scriptures, by death.
So I shut that monstrosity in a dungeon, deep in the recesses of my heart. It was very accessible; I visited the monster daily, fascinated as I was by its appearance. Fascinated, too, by why it was a monster, which I didn't understand. But I was the only one with the keys. I unlocked it for visitors, on a very few occasions; but the monster was to be kept out of sight, while I sent my intellect as a knight-errant to find some way of breaking the spell that was, evidently, upon it, to turn it back into a person. God only knows how ferociously I searched for a cure. I was in counseling for that very purpose (among others) for three years; I read every book I could lay my hands on, which wasn't very many, and those were remarkably poor. Once I got to college, I dabbled in Exodus, the famous ex-gay ministry** run by Alan Chambers; I attended seminars at retreats; I immersed myself in prayer and the Scriptures and accountability groups and devotionals.
Changing from gay to straight didn't happen. What did happen was an increasing, devouring hatred of myself. A lot of people told me that the problem was "identifying as gay," but it wasn't. Mere vocabulary was not what was making me scared to be alone, because I might fall; what was making my face hot with shame and self-disgust, whenever I saw a guy who was even moderately attractive; what made me take a knife to my flesh, because I was such a repulsive thing; what made me hope that God would kill me in my sleep.
And then I would wake up, morning after morning. Still me. Still gay. And I'd swallow the bitter disappointment of being alive, and brace myself for the restless anguish that the next eighteen hours were going to be. All that before even getting out of bed.
No, it wasn't because I was using the word gay. It was because of the church.
Note that I say church, not Church: the latter I use specifically of the Catholic Church, and I don't hold her peculiarly responsible. Note also that I say church, not doctrine: I don't know that my difficulties stemmed from the mere belief that gay sex is wrong. But the actual conduct of Christians -- I don't even know what was worst. The universal assumption that everybody either was, or could become, straight, and that the only fate anybody needed preparation for was marriage? The vitriol, repeated in every magazine, every pamphlet, every conversation it sometimes seemed, directed at The Gays And Lesbians? The categorical (and, to me, still baffling) hostility to coming out of the closet, up to and including punishing us when we did -- bizarrely combined with an almost technical pity applied to homosexuals, within or without the church? They're so brave to leave The Lifestyle, someone might say; and then, almost in the same breath, Can't Those People see how disgusting it is? And then the stereotypes of masculinity and effeminacy, the AIDS statistic scare tactics, the arguments linking homosexuality to drug abuse and pedophilia and suicide. Was any of that supposed to be helpful? With all that piled on them -- that's what people like you are like -- who wouldn't daydream about working up the nerve to swallow a bottle of sleeping pills, or cut their flesh because the physical pain was a welcome and relieving distraction from the incessant psychic pain of being a pervert?
Why couldn't You just leave us alone? I thought, over and over; at times I think so still. We aren't hurting anybody. We just want to be left alone.
The church fell down on the job. What should be one of the safest places in the world for a hurting, scared teenager to simply tell the truth, has become the one of the most terrifying, and everyone knows exactly why. Or if they don't, they should.
What has any of this got to do with my conversion to Catholicism -- and not only that, but my predilection for traditionalism? Well, a wise priest I know has pointed out that the superabundance of damask and lace at traditional Masses could hardly be expected only to attract heterosexuals.
Nothing fabulous about this.
Yet there is more to it. As usual, I will go into more detail later. But for the present, the chief thing is that this is the person God is working upon. And, I'm sorry, a person's sexuality is inseparable from who they are. It doesn't constitute their identity, true; but to treat it as though it were an extraneous quality is not just insulting, it's deeply damaging. It implies that their most powerful passions and affections are at once filthy and insignificant. Bad or good or indifferent, the one thing that gayness can't be is unimportant. You can say our hearts need fixing; but this is still how they beat.
*Besides, I dare say a lot more heterosexual men than would care to admit it are excited to have the wedding they've been dreaming about ever since they were little girls.
**Famous, or at any rate notorious. I did not know at that time that Michael Bussee and Gary Cooper, two of the ministry's founding members, had left the group (and their wives) to be with each other only three years after Exodus was founded; nor that John Paulk, another once-prominent member, was caught at a gay bar in 2000. Paulk has recently made a public apology for his involvement in ex-gay programs; Cooper and Bussee have also become decades-long critics of Exodus since their departure. Chambers himself has shown a marked withdrawal from orthodox ex-gay thought in recent years, even drawing fire from other prominent figures in the ex-gay movement, such as Anne Paulk, Joe Dallas, Andy Comiskey, and Dr. Robert Gagnon.