The hardest part is getting started.
A couple years ago, three 16-year-old students and I went on a week-long backpacking trip to summit Mt. Albert in Canada. It was the first mountain climbing experience each of us had ever had, so we didn’t know what to expect. The morning of our first day, a boat dropped us off at the trail head, where we strapped on our sixty pound packs and began hiking up a steep, rocky trail. I was huffing along, questioning every decision in my life that had led me to this point and wondering if I could make it. The weight of the pack and the rugged terrain caused an uncomfortable shock that eventually subsided. By the second day, we were used to it able to hike much more comfortably. If you’ve never climbed a mountain, I’d recommend adding it to your buck list; there’s nothing like the satisfaction of reaching the summit to look down at where you started and realize how far you’ve come despite the adversity you faced on the way up.
When I began the journey of addressing my sexuality eight months ago, it was a lot like the first day of that mountain climbing trip. The hardest part was getting started.
When I started counseling last February, I was expecting to learn new ways to manage the stress and anxiety I had been experiencing from a particularly busy work season. I didn’t expect to address the topic of sexuality, but it turned out that a lot of my stress and anxiety was caused by much more than the obvious triggers. Over time, I began to understand that the depression and other health issues weighing on me could never be properly dealt with until I addressed the deep internal struggle I had been avoiding and denying for as long as I could remember.
It’s hard for anyone to confront their sexuality if it’s outside the norm of the expected heterosexuality. Males are told from day one that being gay is unacceptable, weird, disgusting, feminine and shameful. From the playground to the locker room, young males are constantly pressured to conform to the mold of what society says it means to be a man. The pressure to fit in and be accepted is enough to make anyone suppress any part of their personality that they fear would make them different. If you add the pressure of the Christian community, which uses The Bible to denounce homosexuality even further than popular culture, it is even easier to understand why someone in my position would have a hard time beginning to address the issue for themselves.
So that’s where I was. My whole life I had been told that being gay was wrong. When I became a Christian at 15, I didn’t even have to be told that Christians don’t accept homosexuality; everyone knows that. When I committed my life to ministry and majored in Pastoral Ministry and Biblical Studies, I knew being gay was out of the question, and I was ok with that because I didn’t know I was gay and certainly didn’t want to be.
Starting the journey was the hardest part. I think it started when my counselor suggested that maybe life would be easier with a partner. The word “partner” caught me off guard, because I knew that was a term used in same-sex relationships. I had told him that one of my biggest goals in life was to be a great dad, but I didn’t want to get married and was looking into adoption and surrogacy as avenues of starting a family. I had been sharing this with close friends for years because I knew I just didn’t have the same drive other men have to pursue women. I haven’t had a girlfriend since my freshman year of high school, and although I had tried with a few girls throughout college I had been on maybe two dates since graduating five years earlier. I just didn’t care to date women and could never imagine myself marrying one, but I still didn’t know I was gay. But yeah, having a partner would be nice.
I don’t want it to sound like I’m gay because my counselor suggested it, or because it would just be nice and convenient to have a male partner. I’m just saying that was the start of the process that enabled me to begin unpacking and addressing a lifetime of questioning, wondering about, suppressing and denying my sexuality. It’s hard to share openly without sharing too much, but for the first time I was able to look back over my life and see that I had always been attracted to males rather than females. It’s probably similar to the way straight people can look back over their lives and see they’ve always liked the opposite sex- they didn’t do anything to create the attraction, but it’s much easier to accept an orientation that society accepts as “normal” than it is to accept a sexual orientation that’s associated with a myriad of stereotypes, prejudice and shamefulness.
Realizing you’re attracted the same gender and accepting that you’re gay are two different things. Even after coming to terms with my orientation, I still couldn’t accept that I was gay because of what that would mean for my life. To start, I had a lot of misconceptions about what it meant to be gay. I had never spent time with an openly gay person, so all I knew, unfortunately, were the commonly held stereotypes that not even just many straight people but many Evangelical Christians hold.
I thought being gay meant being feminine, immoral, promiscuous, strange, outcast. Even more prohibitive was my deeply ingrained belief that being gay meant being separated from a relationship with God to live a life of sin and self-indulgence.
No matter what scientific or psychological research my counselor presented to convince me that human sexuality is natural, biological and unchangeable, I wasn’t buying it. Because he is a Christian psychologist, I was shocked that he would take this approach rather than trying to counsel me into being straight. It wasn’t until I began an in-depth study of The Bible and the passages that address sexuality that I was able to understand that what I had been told my whole life about the way The Bible addresses the topic had been wrong. I plan to go into that a lot further in future posts, so for now let’s just leave it as an important milestone in the start of the journey.
Coming to terms with my sexual orientation was hard, and coming to the understanding that God would continue to love and accept me as a gay Christian was an equally difficult process. However, coming to that realization was like reaching the camp site on the first day of our grueling mountain climbing trip. There’s nothing like being able to take off that heavy pack and kick off those boots for dinner and some rest. Getting started is the hardest part; the rest of the journey is easier, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.