Originally posted 9/28/12 at The Body is Many
The house was silent, my five siblings had been sent out by my mother to play in the backyard unknowing of the reason why and ignorant of the scene about to take place. A fire crackled in our only source of heat, the old wood stove behind the beaten white wicker love-seat with tattered handmade floral cushions.
A painting of Christ hung slightly crooked upon the wall with the a ghostly silhouette of God the father hovering behind him while a dove protruded from them both. Christ's arms were stretched open, welcoming, beckoning to anyone who gazed up its blue, practically whitewashed, canvas framed in gold. At least it seemed that way, although that was a version of Jesus I had yet to meet, so far the only Jesus I knew wanted me to change at every turn. My heart was racing uncontrollably. Almost heart attack material, I'd swear to that, if such were possible for a sophomore in a private Christian high school. It had been this way since receiving a phone call at school around noon that day: heart beating, thumping, aching, horrified at what would happen when I arrived home. My face was flush, my knees weak, and my head spinning with the thought of who I was. Would Jesus embrace me as he was painted or would he point to the fires of hell for who I was.
She entered, my mother that is, her lips pressed together and eyes looking deathly serious, red and swollen. The look eyes carry when one has been mourning the death of something all day long. Her worn, earth-stained, dry hands clasped together perhaps in prayer, perhaps not. As most days, her clothes were clean and simple serving the purpose of her life: to keep home, raise children while tending extensive gardens, and feeding the chickens which provided the eggs we had scrambled that morning.
I loved this woman, she loved me, she loved us all. Perhaps even more she loved her Lord Jesus, the version she knew anyway, and her Bible. She cherished each of the numerous hard bound copies of the sixty-six books found stacked in corners around the house. These two-thousand and some pages were considered the very infallible, the very literal word of God dropped to us from heaven. Complete with the misinterpreted story of Sodom and Gomorrah and the Old Testament Mosaic laws concerning clothing, seafood and sexuality. Although we rarely, if ever, considered the clothing and dietary restrictions. There was no room for critical thought which questioned the content - that would be blasphemy at best. She motioned for me to sit down in the equally worn wicker chair across from the love-seat where she took her position as matriarch and judge. I sat down grasping the arms of the chair for support, attempting to be calm, cool, and collected. "After all, we all make mistakes, we all sin, this was just a bump, a pebble, on the road of life," I thought to myself in an attempt to not pass out. The problem was deeper still I knew this bump was no road bump but who I was. We sat, I cringed, whispering to God to not hate me.
She opened her mouth. "Greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world," were the words that broke the silence that had lasted an emotional eternity even if literally just a few moments. Yes, the words of a man from two thousand years ago, a man supposedly named John writing a letter to a local early Christian community broke the silence. Not a word of understanding, nor a word of love, or even a motherly greeting but rather a sermon contained within a single verse of Scripture.
No explanation of the passage was needed for me; the conversation could have ended there and then. Who was the 'he that is greater,' you might ask and what is the 'world' referred to? The 'he' is God, Jesus, the Holy Ghost, basically whatever seemed most applicable at the moment. The 'world' was the Devil, the evil I was surrounded by on earth of which we prayed escape from in either death or Divine end-time rapture.
More accurately the 'world' this time was referring to the computer printout my mother had found in my pants upper pocket that morning while doing a load of laundry. A print out of a photo showing two men, embraced in lust or love, of which I cannot presume to know, becoming one in the act of sexual intercourse. A photo which had aroused and excited me, the night before, now devastated my mother as if she were the literal towers of Sodom & Gomorrah being brought down by hail and brimstone. In one foul swoop I had brought to fruition her greatest fear of bringing children into this world: bearing a gay child. Her hands gripped together more tightly now as she began to shower me with words of disappointment, lack of acceptance, fear for my soul, and downright disgust at the sight of such a sinfully unnatural photograph.
"God is bigger than this sin, this unnatural desire you are craving. You are not gay, there is no such thing, and this is not natural for two men to do such disgusting things." Her words continued to echo as my heart began to break, my soul became darkened with self-hatred, my spirit crushed. I had often heard being homosexual would darken a soul but in this moment it was the Scriptural interpretation and belief that did the damage. My heart which had been racing, thumping, beating out of my chest was now slow and timid, heavy with the realization that no words of understanding would be shared this day.
There was no possibility for me to come out of the closet as a result of this horrifying and embarrassing situation. Instead the closet door was only to be reinforced, as if with steel bars fashioned by God's own hand at my mother's command, lest I lose my salvation. "I understand the desire to look at sexual things," she continued, "but not of the same sex, that can never be understood and even the first is still a sin." What was a brief glimmer of hope, her revealing she understood the desire to be a sexual creature, was eradicated by the continuing onslaught of words which aimed directly at my existence.
She paused from the supposed Biblical edicts briefly to tell me of the time she picked up a pornographic magazine, and while wrong, it was at least a Playgirl magazine with photographs of men, that was natural for a woman. How my insides screamed in horror and desire wishing to explain to her that the Playgirls magazine was natural for her son, as well. How could I explain that what she was convinced was natural for me actually caused me to be physically ill at the very thought of it? I knew it would make no difference how eloquently, logically, or heart-felt I explained my sexual desires, not even sexual desires, just my true heart's honest telling of who I was to my mother. It would be denied, the Bible demanded this and therefore God demanded it, end of story.
"You must fight this, you must not allow Satan to control you and fall for this, you can never be happy if you even humor this type of lifestyle...there is no such thing as a gay person that is happy or truly healthy. There is no future or family for this sin." The words continued for what seemed to be another eternity, this eternity nervousness had passed. I was now living in a private hell where Jesus' arms were closed unless I changed. A hell where my mother was physically sick and disgusted at the very thought of her son even possibly being a homosexual. A hell where I would have to live a lifetime of lies in order to be the person I had to be for her, my father, the church, and for Jesus. I opened my mouth weakly, pathetically, as one beaten into submission, echoing words which were untrue but necessary. Words I had been trained to give my entire life.
"I know Mom, I will fight this! Satan will not win over me." I responded using the faux enthusiastic dribble anyone brought up in hyper fundamentalist faith knows all too well. My words were powerful, sure, begging for forgiveness of her and God, reassuring of my absolute decision to keep on the path laid out for me. "I am going to be strong in my prayer life and the reading of Scriptures, I am going to go to my room and become clean right now in Jesus' name! He that is in me IS stronger than he that is in the world and I will not allow this sickening material to control my relationship with God!" I spoke with such authority as I began to rise from the wicker chair, as if resurrected with power from on high, but honestly with a viscous battle raging inside. Her face showed little emotion listening to my words, perhaps a glimmer of peace at the aspect I would not fight against her sermon and decrees.
Part of me believed the words I had just echoed, how could I not? Such dogma had been force fed into my spirit and mind since my earliest years at home, church, and school. However, lower still, deeper inside me, where the heart is truly found I knew I was still a scared gay young man rising from a chair about to resume living a lie in the name of God. It seemed there was no other choice. I left the room, the painting of Jesus, my mother and went to my bedroom to do as I promised. It would take me another thirteen years to realize I did have a choice. To come to the understanding that Jesus' arms were open to all of me including my sexuality. Thirteen years to accept: I could be gay, happy, healthy, and a family man. But thirteen years is no brief time, at least not for someone barely thirty years old. That decade plus would contain many more moments such as the one which took place with a daunting painting of Christ hanging over my head and my mother enthroned in authority before me.
One day I would break the steel bars of a closet of hatred with the help of the very same God who I naively believed fashioned those bars.
But this was not that day.
Image: via the Flickr photostream of tkksummers.
Rev. Daniel C. Storrs is a progressive Christian cleric active in ministry for over 13 years focusing on critical theology & human equality. He has a background in Charismatic Evangelical & Eastern Orthodox Churches and currently ministers within the North American Old Catholic Church. Daniel resides in Bloomington, IN with his spouse Andrew and their son. His personal blog can be found at thebodyismany.blogspot.com. Follow Daniel on Twitter: @rev_dcs