When it comes to religion, extremists aren't exactly the greatest people to deal with.
They're especially difficult when you're LGBTQ. There are so many arguments these folks make to discredit LGBTQ identity. One of the common ones is that being gay is a choice. I, personally, never understood this argument. Even if one did choose to be gay, how exactly is that doing harm to anyone?
I have to say, though, being gay isn't a choice. As a gay man myself, I can tell you this based on my own experience. I can remember having my first crush on a boy when I was four years old. It was a boy in my kindergarten class.
We'll call him Bill.
Bill had some of the most beautiful eyes I ever saw. But I didn't know exactly what that meant. I didn't know what I was feeling whenever I looked at him. I tried my best to make sense of it.
I innocently asked my mother after school one day, "Is there something wrong with Bill's eyes?"
She said, "No. Why do you ask?"
"Don't his eyes look funny to you?," I answered.
"No," she said. "Don't tell him that, because he'll think you're making fun of him."
I told her I wouldn't say anything. A little while later, my grandmother had a talk with me about it. I'm not sure if this raised suspicions in either one of them.
I also had a big crush on Eric Lloyd, an actor who played the role of Charlie in "The Santa Clause." He was also in another movie I liked called, "Dunston Checks In." I was around 5 at this point.
I remember I had a dream about him one night. I can't remember what happened in the dream. However, I remember telling my mother about the dream the next morning. Again, I was innocently trying to make sense of my feelings. I knew I liked this boy, but I had no concept of why or what that even meant. I don't remember what she said. However, looking back, I wonder if it was another sign for her.
After kindergarten, my family and I moved to a different house in Maspeth. Since we were living in a new area, I went to a new school. We moved to Long Island when I was in fourth grade. In fifth grade, I was surprised when I arrived on my first day of school. My mother and I saw Bill with his mom. He was in another class, though. I wouldn't be in the same class with him until a year later.
Cut to sixth grade. One day, Bill went to the school nurse feeling sick. Apparently, he was in such bad shape, his mother came to pick him up. I remember watching him packing his stuff up in the classroom to go home. He was wearing a New York Mets hat and a red hoodie. He looked so miserable. I felt bad for him. I remember feeling like I just wanted to hug him and make him feel better.
It was at that moment that I realized I was gay.
All of those feelings I remember having in kindergarten began to make sense. I understand that not everyone's memories are this specific. However, I take comfort and pride in my memories. It reassures me that I was, in fact, born this way.
I wasn't choosing to be romantically attracted to Bill or Eric. I just was. I didn't understand what the feelings were and had no concept of others possibly being opposed to it. Hence why I freely and innocently asked my mother about Bill's eyes. It makes me think of other kids who display similar signs but are in homophobic religious households.
I wonder if their parents are in denial and try to make themselves believe their child is somehow choosing this. I feel sad for those children and pray that they're able to be their true selves one day.
The sad part about religion is there will always be extremists. Unfortunately, that aspect of those groups will never completely go away.
What we can do, though, is try to decrease the number of extremists that exist. I hope that by sharing my story, parents will be able to recognize the same signs in their own kids.
Hopefully, this will lead to more understanding that being gay isn't a choice. And I'm hoping that leads to more tolerance and acceptance within religion in general. Thus, making it much easier for LGBTQ kids to come of age without the trauma of conversion therapy.
That's a future I hope I live to see.