I sat across the table from Michael and Manuel at my first ever gay Meetup. The Meetup had just been started by Jack, who recently moved into the Sacramento area from Atlanta, GA. His southern charm put me at ease. After months of self-talk, I decided to step out and meet other gay people. I grew up in a conservative, evangelical christian home and my life, for nearly 25 years, had revolved around church. Needless to say, I felt out of place. It was about to get worse.
It was 2008 and the town of Sacramento was all abuzz with Proposition 8, the now infamous proposition that overturned the ban on gay marriage.
“Did any of you have a chance to help out at the gay and lesbian center on prop 8,” asked Jack?
Michael put down his fork and politely wiped his mouth, “I went there as often as I could,” he said. Manuel nodded in agreement. The conversation continued on for a few minutes about the evils of Prop 8 and who was behind it. My stomach turned. I had nothing to add to the conversation. In fact, I had voted yes on Proposition 8. It wasn’t about gay marriage for me, it was about the ability of a judge to overturn the vote of the people that was of most concern.
I managed to dodge the question altogether, but meeting other gay people didn’t help me exactly “find my peeps.” If ever there was diversity, it was me: a gay, American-Indian, conservative who sang black-gospel music. My children should have no problem getting into any college they want.
Dinner was soon over and as we got up to leave Jack said, “Before we go, let’s get a picture.”
I wasn’t sure how to gracefully decline so I smiled and said,”Sure! Why not?!” I knew why not. I had been substitute teaching at a private Christian school. If they found out I was gay, I would never be able to teach there again. I contacted Jack that night after I got home and asked that he not post my picture on the website. Graciously, he agreed.
I recently learned that those of us who carry shame have a difficult time “fitting in.” If we don’t accept ourselves it is impossible to accept others. We will always feel like we don’t belong. After leaving the ex-gay ministry I didn’t feel I belonged anywhere. What does a person do who spends 25 years of his life as a minister and then suddenly doesn’t believe it anymore? He flounders. He searches for purpose and meaning, while trying to avoid the people in his past who could help him find it. So much irony in it all.
Now I’m reaching out to those in my past with my partner’s great advice:
Don’t assume people will reject you simply because you reject you. Give people a chance to show you who they are.
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