Running from Grief

The room is dark except for the blaring stage lights going off during the concert, and mostly everyone has moved down to the ground floor to get a better view of the singer. She’s a young, African-American alto who vaguely reminds me of Jamie Grace, though I know it can’t be her. Among the few remaining in the balcony seats are me and another boy; and since neither of us appreciates crowds, we’re happy to enjoy the performance in relative solitude.

We’ve been good friends for a while, so it isn’t particularly strange that I’ve nestled my head in the crook of his neck. I feel comfortable and secure, enjoying the brotherly affection I can openly share with my friend, until he slips one hand into mine and lays his other on my thigh. Suddenly the contact doesn’t feel so brotherly, and I freeze up, unsure of what to do. Part of me craves the warmth of his hand in mine, longs for more human touch than I’ve previously allowed. The other part of me panics at the boundaries he’s just crossed, but doesn’t want to damage our existing relationship by drawing back. We need to have a discussion.

Talking over the deafening music would be nearly impossible, so I walk him out of the concert hall, never breaking the hold between our hands — something I desperately want to last, yet at the same time want to end immediately. While we walk in the dim light of the hallway, I get a good look at his face: short, sandy blonde hair; bright eyes I can’t quite tell are blue, green, or grey; and a well-defined but delicate jawline. He’s deathly cute, and the way he locks eyes with me and smiles nervously only enforces that.

For some reason I think the bathroom would be a better place to talk. We’ve finally let go of each others’ hands, and my friend is leaning against the wall, rifling through his pockets for something. I try to settle my thoughts as they whirl around in my brain, but I every time I try to speak, I can’t manage to get past the first few words.

“I … I don’t–” I begin.

A long pause. I try again. “Umm. We …”

He’s finished searching his pockets and breathes a disappointed sigh. “Damn, I forgot it.”

It takes me a second to register that “it” means “protection.” I’d brought him to a bathroom after he tried to make a pass at me, and he’s under the impression that we’re going to hook up. I push down my queasiness and try to let him down easy. “I’m sorry, but even if you found it, I would have had to say no.”

The look on his face starts to go from nervous to confused.

“Look, I really like you, but I don’t feel comfortable pursuing a relationship with another guy. I’m still wrestling with the theology, and I don’t know exactly what to think. But right now, I don’t think it’s something I can or should do.”

He’s visibly downcast at this point. He doesn’t need to say anything to convey that he really wants this relationship. As far as we can tell, we’re perfect for each other. We both like each other. The only thing standing in the way is my faith.

There are tears in both our eyes as we hug. Unsure if it’s brotherly, or romantic, or a strained combination of the two, I enjoy it as best as I can — because I want it to mean more, but at the same time desperately want it to mean nothing.

That’s when I wake up.

At the very least, I know that I still hold the same convictions even in my dreams. I suppose that’s something to be happy about. But I also think that dreams are sometimes the subconscious’s way of dealing with our issues, and I have good reason to believe that I have some big issues.

Perhaps I haven’t quite come to terms with my sexuality just yet. Maybe I’m still bitter about being prohibited from finding romance and raising a family. It’s possible I’m jealous of my straight or Side A friends who have that option available to them, and I’m still afraid of being alone for the rest of my life.

recent post on Spiritual Friendship made me realize that it’s common for people like me to grieve over lost hope. The difference is that I don’t allow myself to grieve.

I’m not sure if this is obvious to people who know me, but I’m very good at lying to myself. Intellectualization is my top psychological defense mechanism — to the point where I’d immersed myself in math and science because there would only be one acceptable answer. In order to deal with complications, my mind is hardwired to turn situations into solvable problems by rationalizing them.

In this case, my way of coping has been to distance myself from my own sexuality by codifying it; i.e. assigning terms, categorizing, and offering explanations for. This is what I do best — as a linguistic thinker, I naturally create handles on concepts for language to grab onto. In some sense, I try my best to tame ideas (though it’s impossible to do that completely).

But life is messier than that.

My experience as a gay Christian is more complicated than parsing out a number of factors that contribute to homophobia, or solidifying a list of terms that allow me to communicate LGBT+ concepts, or identifying a theological misinterpretation that clears up my doctrine. It involves a storm of emotion that doesn’t always warrant explanation. My grief doesn’t always have to involve a checklist of things I mourn over. Sometimes it’s just about me recognizing that sadness is normal — even necessary (y’all, if you haven’t seen Inside Out yet, go see it now).

Sometimes it’s just about being honest with myself. Because, yes, I want a boyfriend. Yes, I want to get married. Yes, I want to raise a family. And yes, I feel inexplicably dirty for saying so.

I could blame the Church all day for idolizing marriage and teaching me to hate my gayness. But that’s not what this is about anymore, and honestly, I’m tired of caring. I’m tired of viewing myself as inherently lesser because of my sexuality, and I’m tired of fearing honesty.

Honestly, I want someone to come home to after a long day of work. I want someone to talk about nothing in particular with as we make dinner together. I want to wake up next to my best friend every morning and listen to him breathe peacefully. I want to write sappy songs for him and watch him get embarrassed as I serenade him in public. I want to pretend to forget his birthday and surprise him with a party I invited all his closest friends to. I want to make him chicken noodle soup when he’s sick in bed. I want to bring his mother flowers on her 60th birthday and chat about philosophy with his father. I want to hug him at random moments of the day and simply be there whenever he needs me.

I want to bicker about what to name the girl we’d adopt. I want to name her Janice or Esther and dedicate her at our church. I want to teach her advanced mathematics at a young age and watch my partner struggle with it himself. I want to teach both of them Chinese and witness our daughter become more fluent than me. I want to make a bigger deal out of junior high graduation than any parent should. I want to be pretentious and protective when she gets her first boyfriend (and judge her taste in men when I don’t think he’s cute). I want to splurge on her wedding gifts and cry when she walks down the aisle. I want to joke with her husband at parties and spoil her children whenever I get the chance. I want to see her smile as she does whatever she loves to do.

I want to be able to admit that out loud without feeling like a total travesty. I want to stop living in fear of rejection over my very real human desires. I want to stop running just for one second and rest in God’s peace, because I am so, so tired of being somebody’s, anybody’s gay Christian icon.

I keep telling myself that I’m almost there — I’m almost out to everyone I know, I’m almost free to be me. But that freedom comes with a heavy price: a microscope pressed to my soul, and an armistice on the condition that I don’t change my mind.

Maybe I’ve been running from my grief because I simply hadn’t been given the space to do so — the luxury we call time. Maybe it’s because I subconsciously think denial will keep me in my place, and allowing myself to consider other possibilities will draw me away from orthodoxy. Maybe I hate myself so much that I really believe my hunger will drive me to the punishment I feel like I deserve.

Then there’s the possibility that I simply don’t have enough faith in the traditional sexual ethic. I keep hearing that it’s good, it’s beautiful, it’s God’s great plan for humanity, and celibate gay Christians have a home in this community. I keep hearing that there’s hope.

But as much as I’d like to believe it, I honestly don’t see it happening. I have amazing friends who I’d love to spend the rest of my life with, but year after year I see how fragile friendship is to the wear and tear of time. In some cases, distance makes the heart grow fonder. Other times, distance makes the heart grow cold. After we all graduate and go our separate ways, I can’t help but feel that I’ll be left alone again. That as much as I try to hold on to my “gift,” it will always end up feeling like a consolation prize: congratulations, you’re gay; now don’t get married, don’t have sex, don’t do anything — but God still loves you.

I want to believe there’s life after college, because it’s been done before and I know for a fact that marriage is not a requirement of life. But this culture, especially the Church, has bought into the lie that singleness is a curse — despite whatever we might try to preach, our practice says otherwise — and not even the most mature Christians have an inkling of how to deal with celibacy in the Church, apart from monasticism. In evangelical circles, there are no readily recognizable frameworks for perpetually-single-by-choice Christians by which I can live.

If I’m to be honest, I’m incapable of running from my grief any longer. But as I confront it, I also know that I can’t afford to be consumed by despair. I know God knows what He’s doing (whatever it is), and I know His plans are good. My faith is so small, and I can barely see what’s ahead of me in this journey. The hardest part is not knowing if I’ll survive this ordeal, not having hope of any semblance of rest before Christ returns. Not knowing if in the next step I could be shot at by someone who claims to be a loving brother or sister. Not knowing if my pain is completely invisible to everyone I meet, because my disgusting brand of love blinds them to all else.

I’m tired of it all. I believe in the mission of Side B, in the traditional interpretation of Scripture. I can’t bring myself to forsake that, not even in my dreams. But there has to be a better reason to adhere to my beliefs than “maybe, just maybe you’ll be not-so-bad eventually.” Or I’m not so sure that this is really the kind of freedom God has called me to.

Honestly.

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