In the summer of 2015, I made a decision that changed the topography of my life: I spoke three of the most difficult words I have ever uttered to my mother and father — "I am gay."
If young closeted gay people are lucky, such an admittance is returned with reassurances of unconditional love, the fact that parents "already knew," or the knowledge that such a fact about their child's sexual orientation will not change anything. But for a vast majority closeted LGBT youth, this is not the case. Those three words are usually accompanied with grief, disbelief, sadness, anger, and so on. With all of that, one or more emotions compounded my parents' reaction, namely confusion. Why confusion? Because I was, am, and always will be a Christian man whose personal savior is Jesus Christ.
On Christmas Day of 2005, at the age of 12, I was baptized, publicly declaring the commitment I made to Jesus Christ a few weeks earlier. From that point on, I have worked to serve the Lord. I sought fellowship with church members, valued Christian friends and mentors. I used my musical skills to worship God in choir and special offertories. I went to conferences specifically designed to teach and condition men to go out into the world and spread the good news of Jesus' great gift of salvation.
And, when I was old enough to start learning about sex and, subsequently, sexual orientation, I joined with my parents and church members in denouncing the "choice" of being gay. But there was one problem: for as long as I can remember, I knew I was attracted to boys, and I definitely did not choose to be that way.
But my salvation will change this, I thought. If I pray hard enough, I can be attracted to girls and get married and never have to worry about this again.
Of course, as history showed, that didn't happen. After nearly a decade of being saved and being active in doing God's work, I was still as gay as could be. It was torture for me to be around some of my close male friends, especially the ones I was attracted to and, as it turns out, in love with. I knew the whole time that I could lose them forever if my secret was ever discovered.
Because I had no one with whom to share these issue, I internalized everything. I was constantly stressed, and for all intents and purposes, I hated myself. It got to the point where I developed a severe form of acid reflux and stomach cramps with pain that was paralyzing at times. I was weak. I was alone. Or so I thought.
The great irony of my life-long struggle with being gay was that, while I was ashamed that my sexual orientation would be a disgrace to God, it was God within me that kept me sane. Motivated. Willing to wake up, work hard, and pursue my dreams. My love for Him never diminished, and why would it? Why would I spite the God who provided for me, died for me, and watched over me daily? Between the counsel of a wise gastroenterologist and the comfort of a close friend, I came to the realization that I would not internalize this any longer.
Fast forward to the beginning of fall 2016, my senior year of college: I came out to my friends in a Facebook post. It was honest, thorough, and direct. I said that, while I am a firm believer in Jesus Christ, I also know that I am gay and I cannot change that. I'm not making myself sick and ruining my life anymore. The outcome was the exact opposite of what I expected: comments, texts, and phone calls all poured in with people's love and support. And besides the turnout within my own family, everything was sunshine and gum drops.
I pre-gamed my "First Year of Gayhood" with an impulsive relationship that ended up being horrible (which, as my friends told me later, is to be expected). Not exactly starting off on the right foot. Regardless, I pushed forward. I started serial dating, which is difficult to do in upstate New York. Nothing lasting came of it, and I continued to think I may as well have stayed in the closet, seeing as I was destined to be a bachelor.
Then I got an internship in New York City: a cornucopia of gay men and "Gay Culture." The city helped me grow in more ways than just being gay. I met friends that I believe I will have for the rest of my life, enjoyed new experiences and sights, and went to more musicals than I ever thought I could attend in one summer.
But I also met guys from walks of life different than my own, with different experiences, ages, personalities, and quirks. I saw both extremes of the dating life: those who are in it for the quick fling, the momentary rush, and those who are genuine and want to build something lasting and, as it turns out, love God too. I felt the feeling (if only temporarily) of joy when hearing another man say to me, "I like you; I think you're beautiful; I want to be with you," which I never thought I would hear in my life. It gave me hope for the future that I never thought I could, or should, have.
As it has been told to me by close friends, I have, since coming out, been more energetic. Driven. Passionate. Even for a guy who did musical theatre all his life and still reads comic books. I am open to new things and new adventures. I no longer harbor the fear of fitting a mold; God, as with all people, created me in His image, as something unique. So instead of rejecting that uniqueness, I embrace it. Needless to say, I continue to go to church and praise God for His tremendous blessings in my life, and for keeping His promise of never forsaking me.
So the quick lesson for the Christian queer kids? God wants us to serve Him, yes, but He also wants us to love our neighbors as ourselves. If you hate yourself, how can you be a light for others? And if you hate others, how can you love yourself? Hatred, pointed inward or outward, does not do anyone good. Life is short for a reason; God wants us to appreciate and enjoy His creation while spreading the good news to others. Be open about your faith and about yourself, and know that a commitment to Christ cannot be taken away by anything or anyone.
"Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble... for the Lord your God is the one who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you."
-Deuteronomy 31:6 (NASB)