Aaron Taylor wrote a recent two-part piece (part 1 and part 2), discussing pastoral responses to same-sex attracted youth. Eve Tushnet has suggested that several of us continue that discussion by reflecting what it was like to be that teenager ourselves, and I would like to do that here by discussing my life early in my teen years. In this piece, I will discuss that part of my life, and in a follow-up piece, I will offer some reflections on what would have been helpful. Before I get to the teen years, though, I want to discuss more about my environment leading up to that time.
I grew up in a Christian home, in a stable family. Although it’s not like everything was perfect all the time, I had very good and healthy relationships with both of my parents. I first learned about sex and sexuality from having “the talk” with my dad. I was given the expectation that as I hit puberty, I’d really start to have a “hunger” for girls, and that the ultimate end for that was to be married to a woman and to have sex within that context. I was taught that my sexuality would ultimately be a good thing, but that I would face struggles with lust and sexual purity.
Homosexuality was never on the radar during these discussions. There were other times when it came up, though, like when some LGBT-related news item came up on the radio. I was basically taught that some people rebel against God’s plan by choosing to become sexually active with others of the same sex. It was clear that these people were basically the enemies of Christians. There wasn’t any discussion of the possibility that someone like me could simply find himself attracted to other guys. And within my public school peer group, it was clear that being gay was something to be made fun of and disdained.
As I hit puberty, while I did find myself being attracted to particular women and often desiring sexual intimacy with them, I was also blindsided by finding myself massively attracted to certain other boys. I had no categories to process the idea of a Christian kid growing up in a stable home being gay or bisexual. That was basically just taken to be something that never happened. As a result, my initial reaction was one of staunch denial, even to myself. I didn’t really have a good explanation for what I was feeling, but I was certain it just couldn’t be that.
I was about fourteen when the denial came to an end and I really started to realize that I wasn’t straight. I came to recognize too readily that I was indeed having significant crushes on particular guys. I recall the question often popping into my head – “Why is he so sexy?” My emotional reaction to that was one of deep shame. I believed a lot of what I was told about LGBT people, which meant that something must be horribly wrong with me. I tried to seek out some Christian responses to homosexuality from what I had on hand (this being before I had any reasonably private Internet access), and all I was finding was about how it was against God’s plan. I didn’t feel safe talking to anyone at all about what I was going through. In fact, I lived in constant fear of anyone ever finding out. For example, I tried to be keen on making sure I never got caught staring at another guy, much as I often wanted to stare. I feared that people would shun me if they actually knew about my sexual attractions.
Some things made it difficult for me to process my sexuality in light of my faith. I knew that I had not chosen to be attracted to other guys, but in fact I was. There was a lot of fear in Christian media about homosexuality being “normalized” – did that mean I was a freak? Were there others going through the same thing, or was I somehow uniquely awful? Was I uniquely incapable of sexual purity, as a lot of Christian discourse seemed to indicate I was? I didn’t really have any role models for what life as a same-sex attracted Christian could look like.
I can’t blame my parents for all this, though. They had simply accepted the messages that broader Christian culture was sending about homosexuality. My parents were not equipped with the knowledge that one of their sons might not be straight. They were doing the best they could, given the flawed information they had to work with.
In a follow-up piece, I will discuss some practical insights about how my experience can inform our response to today’s kids.
Jeremy Erickson is a Ph.D. student in Computer Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He previously studied Mathematics and Computer Science at Taylor University in Upland, IN.