Flipping the bird to the Big Guy (a downside of being a drama kid)

I’ve always been a bit of a drama queen.

As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, I was quite a precocious child in certain ways. I was loud, obnoxious, and emotional. I was knighted by my second grade teacher as “Sir Talks A Lot,” which I ended up finding annoying, so I threw a fit about it and got my student teacher in trouble.

At one of my friend’s sleepover birthday parties, his father was trying to get us all to quiet down and go to sleep. He warned that the next boy to talk would be forced to wear a sparkly red dress he pulled out of the closet. I, of course, being the snot that I was, screamed. His father handed me the dress, but I defiantly refused. He backed off. Then I rushed forward, grabbed it from his hands, and went to the bathroom to change.

Like I said, dramatic.

When I was a wee tot, I played baby Jesus during a church nativity play. Obviously my path forward would include acting in plays and musicals in school. I was attracted to the limelight, and I had a narcissistic joy when I was the focus of attention. I liked being in charge, and I liked being bold, which led to the crowning role of drama club president my senior year of high school.

This part of me was tempered, to a degree, by my parents’ upbringing: to be kind to others, to take responsibility for my actions, and to love God.

Church was a large part of my life up until high school. I mostly attended because of my parents’ beliefs and their rules, but that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it. We attended a megachurch in Akron, Ohio called “The Chapel” for about the first half of my childhood. From what I remember, The Chapel was a huge building with many, many hallways and rooms that one could get lost in. My mother sang in the choir. My oldest brother and father attended many missions trips, from Greece to Mexico. I attended Camp Carl, a summer Christian camp that the church runs, and I also did vacation bible school.

Because of the longer commute and some organizational changes, my parents eventually decided to switch churches, opting for a sister branch of The Chapel called Riverwood Community Chapel in Kent, Ohio. Riverwood is much smaller than its “sister,” but my parents quickly became involved–my mom in the Sunday school classes and my dad in the youth ministry. I made many friends there, several of whom were also my schoolmates. As I moved up to junior high, I attended youth group and went on two missions trips to Memphis, Tennessee.

calvary-rescue
Me, giving testimony at Calvary Rescue Mission in Memphis, TN ca. 2008

On my first trip to Memphis, I had a “born again” experience in Christ. I talked briefly about this in my last post, but it’s hard for me to fully remember and grasp what that experience was. I can analyze it over and over, and come to quick conclusions such as it was just me “fooling myself,” “playing into it,” or “doing what my parents’ would want.” However, those would be shallow interpretations. During that moment, the “born again” moment, I felt something moving in me, and calling me to something “higher.” It was not my usual dramatic flair. It was a grounded feeling, a feeling of understanding, but also–joy.

Coupled with this elation, I was constantly battling my attraction to men. This manifested itself as a deep shame that I kept shoving further and further inside myself. I told one of my youth group counselors that I “felt sad a lot,” and that I was “falling away from Christ.” This led to my spiritual re-commitment on the second Memphis trip one year later. Perhaps I thought I could bury my desire so far down that the Holy Spirit couldn’t sense it?

My sense for grand, bombastic, life-or-death scenarios got the better of me during freshman year of high school. While on the one hand I felt this natural, strong connection to God, on the other, I felt the pulling of my equally-natural and equally-strong desire for men. I tended to see the forces as black-and-white–one was evil, one was good. I felt a decision had to be made between the two. Whether this was imposed on me or self-inflicted, I cannot say for sure (more on that in future posts), but without a doubt my Drama Queen-ness forced me to choose one over the other.

While I would like to avoid too many details, there came a day when my parents discovered a boy I was hanging out with identified as gay, and they confronted me about it. They were wary of his intentions. In the heat of the moment, my emotions got the better of me and I half-coherently blurted out “What if I was gay!?” and stormed off. My parents, stunned, went to the back porch to deliberate, and I slammed my bedroom door, looked up at the ceiling with tears streaming down my face, and said “Fuck you” to the Big Guy in the Sky.

Again: dramatic.

I haven’t attended church regularly since that time. For the past eight years most of my focus has been spent on school, work, and my relationships. While the experience I had in Memphis never left me, I have not felt fully balanced in a long time. I think that is where this desire, this yearning comes from. I am only fully myself when all parts of me are given attention to and fed, and this imposed dichotomy of sexuality-vs-belief that has separated me from my faith has hindered me in innumerable ways. Frankly, I’m quite tired of it.

I think it’s time to make another bold move and tear down the “dichotomy” all together.

Something personal, something cosmic (an introduction)

Blog world! Hello! How are you? I hope… you are well?

Sorry, I’m not so good at this. I’ve never been the best at blogging, or keeping a diary/journal. However, as a person who considers himself a writer, I think there is value to these endeavors. You can work out problems by writing through thought processes, you can update loved ones on the daily grind, and you can use your writing as a platform, among many other reasons. So, why haven’t I committed to it before? …I’m not sure. I surely keep myself busy. My four years at Baldwin Wallace and the four years of high school before that have been filled with classes, shows, part-time jobs, summer jobs, a social life, etc. And these are all valid ways to spend one’s time, but I can’t help but feel like I’m making excuses for myself. Maybe it’s laziness. Maybe it’s a lack of focus. Or maybe I’m being too hard on myself? Ugh.

Welcome to me: a Midwestern-born-and-raised, indecisive millennial perfectionist, born from fiscally conservative Evangelical parents with three older brothers. I have a very large extended family; on my maternal side thanks to five uncles and one aunt who have had children (and their children have had children), and on my paternal side thanks to my grandmother’s large Catholic-Italian smorgasbord of a family. I have been raised with strongly-held religious beliefs on both sides (which are at odds, sometimes, but mostly cohesive), and not only am I the youngest child in my intermediate family, I am the youngest grandchild on both sides of my extended one as well. Also, I’m gay.

The combination of being a perfectionist, Evangelical (maybe), gay man is a complicated one. It also doesn’t help my indecisive personality, which is often susceptible to anxiety and tension. Throw in my choice to pursue a career as stereotypically-unstable as the arts, and you have one hot-mess-express. Perfectionist Type As are highly ambitious, organized and desire acceptance, Evangelicals typically value family and stability, gay people value openness and non-conformity, and artists reject prejudice, inequity, and bigotry. I’ve spent a large part of the last eight years sifting through these values and I’ve had one hell of a time reconciling seemingly utterly-contradictory systems of morality and belief. At times, I’ve felt extraordinary joy. At other times, I’ve felt suffocating hopelessness. Some days I outright reject my upbringing altogether, writing off that value system as hateful and hypocritical. Other days, I fear what people in my family will think of me if we talked openly about my personal life. And even still, I have moments of regret, feelings of shame and dishonesty when I begin to think with the logic I’ve been taught before: that my feelings are pure temptation and nothing more.

I don’t want to be a person who makes excuses for himself. When I do something, I want to do it honestly, purely, and right. So, do I fully commit to the Christian way of life and logic-lens that I was raised with? Or do I reject it completely for the culture that legitimizes the attractions and feelings that have risen naturally in me as early as the age of 12? Can I have both?

I doubt myself; we all do. But my particular inclination to indecision, self-deprecation, and tireless commitment has made my 8-year-long process of coming out to myself, my friends, my coworkers, and (most delicately) my family, sometimes more difficult than it needs to be. And I mentioned the seemingly-endless barrage of school, theater, work, and so on before to make it clear that in addition to the normal busy life of a growing type-A young man in the twenty-first century, I and the many, many individuals among my tribe (the LGBT community) have a whole ‘nother life on top of that filled with self hatred, self doubt, and being forced to grow up too early, forced to greet the black underbelly of human prejudice before most others. And the darkness is deeper when it comes from those you love most.

But there is hope. And I’m a lucky guy who has always had friends to build him up and offer support. Also, while my family may not understand me, they most certainly love me (and never let me forget it). Reading also helps. There are men and women, scholars, theologians, who are critical of the Church-versus-gays debate, who advocate that one doesn’t have to choose one over the other. I read and follow Matthew Vines, author of God and the Gay Christian and founder of The Reformation Project, an organization seeking inclusion of LGBT members in mainstream Christian churches. When I read his book, it opened up a whole new way of looking at things, backed by hard evidence and analysis I could logically understand and respect. With that, I’m dating a man that identifies as a gay Christian, and I have devout Christian friends that are pro-gay.

Also, the art and philosophy of seminal works such as Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, and the opinion and views of gay journalist Nicholas Benton collected in the compilation Extraordinary Hearts: Reclaiming Gay Sensibility’s Central Role in the Progress of Civilization, offer an eclectic vision that links being gay to something cosmic, natural, and essential to human life. These works offer something I’ve never heard of before: that being gay is about more than who you have sex with, it’s about more than AIDS and prejudice. Being gay is a gift that gives an individual an alternative viewpoint on life, one that allows the ability to think creatively and outside of the paradigm of the simple, dominant binary of male-female-reproduction-survival. LGBT individuals have an important role to help humankind towards progress and advancement. We are messengers of change, and at the center of our way of loving is pure empathy. I am proud to be who I am.

Eight years after my initial decision to act on suppressed feelings, I feel wholly and unapologetically myself. And I want to share my thoughts with you, blog world. So, dammit, there’s no more time to question myself and be afraid. I’m excited to delve into the large questions that come at the intersection of belief, sexuality, and artistry. I have many topics I want to talk about and quests I want to take on. I hope you join me.

Much love,
Josh