I’ve taken an unofficial vow of transparency in starting this project. So far, it has allowed healing for myself, given moments of understanding to those that came from where I did, and has gotten me into trouble. Today, I’m not hoping for the latter.
I first realized my attraction to other guys when I was a 14-year-old conservative Southern Baptist and leader in my youth group. I was told that gay people are perverts and only love themselves. My culture taught that homosexuals and non-Christians don’t really know what love is because they only burn with lust. Gays were labeled with sterile, impersonal titles like “those struggling with same-sex attraction” and also not-so-sterile labels like “faggot” or “those dirty Sodomites.” They were so evil that even God gave up on them according to the letters of St. Paul.
Yahoo Chat rooms were a thing when I was junior high and high school. People from all around the world could chat on their keyboards or even via webcams in very specific chat rooms. There were rooms for singles in their 20’s, survivors of cancer, and gay youth. I spend hours meeting and talking to other guys like me in the gay rooms. I could finally let my guard down and express a side of me that would never have seen the light of day otherwise. When I found myself attracted to another guy, shame replaced the blood in my veins. Even though I told myself that I would never have feelings for a guy (because my feelings were not real), I developed a few friendships that would last only until I caved in, came clean, and, honest-to-God, tried to convert them to my faith after months of online dishonesty. My mind justified what I did by saying that I was only lusting, and I believed my feelings were fake. I told myself that I was just going through a phase and my “struggles” would fade later. Brady, you’re not gay; you just enjoy seeing other guys’ bodies. I had no peace with this “sin.”
I started to discipline myself by not eating for most of the day after I caught myself “lusting” after another guy. I wore rubber bands and would snap my wrists when the temptation arose. I prayed regularly to have it taken away and made up reasons of why God didn’t answer to cover for him for years. I was convinced God might give me AIDS just for masturbating; Hell, I remember telling myself that I would deserve the disease for my actions and thoughts because I should have known better. There are four journals in my basement that I call my “Shame Journals” because the pages are filled with prayers asking God for help and countless pleas for forgiveness of my “disgusting thoughts”. I grew to hate who I was and kept my secret at all costs until my biggest fear became a reality one day after high school.
I walked into my bedroom at my Dad’s house, and every website I had visited was spread across my computer monitor. I was caught. Luckily, the spread also involved straight porn as I would force myself to look at it to “fix” myself. But sprinkled in there was the forbidden fruit of man-on-man action. My dad walked in behind me and cleared his throat; this was all part of his plan, and I was humiliated. Next, came a lecture from the same guy that cheated on his wife about how I should be ashamed of myself (granted, I accidentally walked in on him looking at porn a couple days later, but the irony didn’t go unnoticed). In that lecture, I was told that I was gay for one of two reasons. First, gay people can become “that way” if they have an overbearing mother. Second, it could have been because I had an inactive father. Frankly, in a lot of ways, I had both. In typical behavior, he shifted the blame on my mom, but deep down, I thought he was right, and concluded I was a hopeless case because of my family.
Luckily, I was attracted to a few women, and I told myself that I could live a “normal life” if married someone I didn’t have to fake it with. So I did just that. My ex-wife knew before our first date that I was attracted to guys. But my difficulties navigating the sexual world were far from over.
I didn’t learn about sex from my family. Porn and youth group did that for me. Southern Baptist youth group was a difficult place to talk about sex. It was the breeding ground of “purity culture,” the practice of saving oneself sexually for marriage. I followed the rules and did what I was supposed to do. I got married as a virgin, but that is one of my biggest regrets ever when I found out on my wedding night that I really, really sucked at sex. All of the built-up pressure combined with my lack of experience made for a shit-show sandwich. I was embarrassed. I believed my church leaders promised me a good sex life if I saved myself, and it was all disappointing.
Eventually, my marriage failed; she cheated on me. I fought for her and took her back over and over, but nevertheless, she filed for divorce. My church wanted me to apologize for anything I could have done to make her want to cheat on me, but I refused, knowing one of the reasons was my poor sexual performance created by waiting until marriage. Nothing was adding up.
Another theory of how I “became gay” arose around this time. After getting some much-needed time away from oppressive churches, I was getting tired of following my belief system. In a moment of bravery, I told my mom I was attracted to men, but she responded by asking five or six times if I had been molested and was refusing to admit it. I hadn’t, but it became clear that in her mind, “normal” people became gay in response to trauma. She soon voiced concern for the safety of my son while at my house, and came up with a plan where I wouldn’t have my sons overnight because “if I didn’t molest or rape him, one of my friends might.” Months later, on a homophobic rant on my Facebook wall, she said that my depression and anxiety diagnosis was because of my sexuality (we soon reconciled, but the past isn’t forgotten).
At that point, I knew her beliefs and concerns were inexcusably misplaced, and I started to write my own history. I let my voice be important. I wasn’t gay in response to my parents or abuse. It wasn’t a choice. And most importantly, I wasn’t a danger to others, namely my own son.
After leaving the church, I downloaded gay dating apps. Gathering my courage, I met up with a guy for my first gay sexual experience. The shame journals haunted me, and I was terrified of what I would think of myself afterward. Would I hate myself? Would I ever be able to look at anyone in the eyes again?
The next morning, I went to the bathroom, and spied my own eyes in the mirror. After a prolonged stare, a smile broke across my face. In addition to loving every second of that night, I loved myself. I respected myself more than before because I was triumphant and free over the lies I was told for years about “people like me.” They tried to control me with fear, but I wasn’t scared anymore. They tried to convince me I was a fake and that my feelings were just misunderstandings, a phase, or a result of sin, but my experience showed me I was real. They would say I chose to be how I am, but I accepted me for me. When fear gives way to experience, the real personal truth is revealed.
Granted, my sexual performance was shaky for a long time after. I was often embarrassed, but eventually I found my footing. No progress is overnight. I had to learn that I was worthy and capable of being in a committed, loving relationship with a man. My first time feeling honestly loved and accepted was with my first boyfriend, proving wrong my insecurities that said I couldn’t have feelings for a man. Moments arise when the lies of my previous life arise, but now I know how to combat them with experience, science, and truth. I will no longer allow years of my life to slip away in shame and unhappiness.
I strongly believe in consensual, emotional-expectation-communicated sex between adults now; a view I never expected from myself as I grew up. I enjoy figuring out what I like and what’s in important to me in a man now. There is no more shame, self-hating journal entries, purity talks, rubber bands, unanswered prayers, excuses for God’s silence, hunger-strike punishments, surprise computer history attacks, nonsense lectures, or internalized homophobia.
I am me now; and damnit, I like that.
Founder of The *Life After