How I Came to Call Myself Gay
I first posted my story on a newsgroup last year and then put it on the web on another site. The response has been overwhelming. Gay people have written to me, amazed to have found an expression in words of what their experience was like. Straight people have written to me, saying that for the first time they could understand a bit of what it would feel like to be gay. One guy printed my story for his parents to read; he thought it might help them understand what he was going through. I feel very blessed to have made a connection with so many out there. This is not everyone's story, but it is my story, and it is all true.
I wrote this to explain what leads some of us to use the label "gay" to identify ourselves. This is about the beginning of my journey and the internal struggles I faced in trying to deal with something I didn't know how to accept. If this is meaningful to you, please write me or post something in the guestbook.
God bless you.
--Justin (March 20, 1998)
Update (2013): If you find this page helpful and want to know more, I've written a book! It's called TORN: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate, and it explains more of the behind-the-scenes of this story and what happened next.
I was born into a loving Christian family. My parents and grandparents were all very committed Christians, so from the very beginning my parents taught me about God, read me Bible stories, prayed with me, and so on. I was an exceptionally bright child, and at age 7 I prayed to receive Christ. (I have a tape of my profession of faith at my subsequent baptism, and it is clear to me that I knew exactly what I was doing at that young age.) I remember the peace that came over me when I received Christ; I knew that my life had changed and would be different forever.
I grew up mostly in a Baptist church, although my parents believed it was much more important to attend a Bible-believing church than one of a particular denomination. I enjoyed Sunday School, especially when I had teachers who encouraged me to think about old stories in new ways. I wasn't too fond of regular school, though, because I much preferred to work independently without the restrictions my teachers placed on me. I was classified as academically gifted, and when we moved from Raleigh to Baltimore during the summer after my 3rd grade year, I was enrolled in private school where I was able to pursue more advanced math classes, which I enjoyed.
My family life was always wonderful. My parents were loving and supportive of me, and my younger brother and sisters and I got along well (despite occasional sibling rivalry). God was always #1 in our house, and #1 in my life. I considered evangelism to be an important mission of mine, so I was vocal about my faith at school. I was never a very popular kid at school, but I did have friends. Generally, I hung out with the outcasts and tried to make them feel important. I had healthy relationships with both males and females, though I never went through the "girls have cooties" phase that many of my male friends did. To me, the girls were always lots of fun to play with.
I entered puberty around the 5th grade. Suddenly, for the first time, I began having sexual feelings. I was prepared, however. Always the intellectual, I had read up on puberty before it happened to me, so these new feelings didn't throw me for a loop. My first sexual feelings were in the form of curiosity, and so it was natural (to me, anyway) that they were directed at my male friends. This is the age when a lot of kids experiment sexually with each other, but that experimentation is not an indication of lifelong sexual orientation. I never experimented with anyone, but I did some reading and found out that a bit of "sexual confusion" at my age was perfectly normal, and that many boys experienced temporary sexual feelings towards other boys during this curiosity stage, but that within a short period of time those feelings would give way to their natural heterosexual desires. That knowledge comforted me, but I also felt that my sexual feelings were sinful, so I did my best to concentrate on God, schoolwork and other things until this stage passed.
In middle school, my friends all started to notice girls, and although we were very immature as far as relationships went, it was "the thing to do" to confide in your best friend about which girl you "liked." There was a girl in my class who had been really nice to me when I was feeling left out, so she was my immediate pick. I confided in my best friend that I "liked" this girl, but when he asked me if I thought she was pretty, I didn't know what to say. I had never thought of any of the girls in my class (or anywhere else, for that matter) as "pretty." It had just never occurred to me to think of them that way. So I responded, "No, but she's nice, and it's what's on the inside that counts." Still, it made me wonder what it was that made some guys think that certain girls were pretty. I didn't understand it, but I thought that maybe I just needed to wait until I met the "right girl." (Physically, I was an early bloomer, not a late one, but I still thought that maybe I was a little behind my friends somehow.)
Books like Judy Blume's Then Again, Maybe I Won't had prepared me to expect sexual dreams, but when I actually started to have them, I freaked out. My dreams weren't about girls like the books said they would be; they were about boys! I woke up terrified, feeling sick, dirty, and perverted, from dreams about gentle hugs and touches from boys my own age. I had learned how to keep my mind off the attractive guys in my class while I was awake, but what could I do about my dreams? I just had to pray and trust God to take care of it.
For someone who liked to read as much as I did, I was surprisingly sheltered and innocent. I didn't really know much of anything about "gays" at this time. What I did know (or what I thought I knew) was that it was something that involved men doing certain immoral things to each other, things which I found completely revolting. I knew that it was sinful and that the liberal media was trying to impose a wordly viewpoint towards this issue on Christians who were standing for what was right. I never even thought to compare what I was going through to that "gay" thing. In my mind, there was absolutely no connection.
When I was in high school, the issue of homosexuality came up once more, in a more personal way. Some anonymous students at my school had put up a poster ridiculing homosexuals and using derogatory terms. In response, another group of students circulated a pamphlet encouraging "tolerance" and deriding "homophobia." During the controversy that followed, one of these students admitted that he was gay. This student was the older brother of a friend of mine. When I found out, I was shocked. I had never known a gay person before (or so I thought). I didn't actually know the guy, but the fact that he was my friend's brother made it seem like I knew him. I felt sorry for my friend ("how horrible it must be to have a gay brother!" I thought), but at the same time, it made me very uncomfortable. I started to wonder if my friend was gay too. After all, if his brother was, maybe it had rubbed off on him or something.
By this time, I had developed my own theory about homosexuality. I knew that I was still going through this "period of sexual confusion" which I fully expected to grow out of, so it occurred to me that other kids going through a similar phase might be misled by the liberal media into believing that homosexuality is normal and that if they were feeling attractions to people of the same sex, then they must be gay. These kids would wrongly label themselves gay, according to my theory, because they didn't know any better. Once labeled gay, they would proceed to live out "a gay lifestyle," ruining their own lives in the process. I was sure that this was some of Satan's craftiest work, and I wanted to tell my friend's brother that he was taking the wrong path. I never met him, so I never had the chance to warn him, but that didn't stop me from being very outspoken to my friends about the sinfulness of homosexuality. "I don't agree with what those people said on the original poster," I told my friends, "because I think we must respect all people. But I don't believe that we should just abandon morality in favor of just pretending everything's okay. Some things are sinful, and being gay is one of those things." When they accused me of being homophobic or closed-minded, I held my ground. I wanted to be compassionate and yet stand for God's truth.
I dated a couple of girls in high school, one of whom was a wonderful Christian girl named Liz. Liz was a gymnast, a committed Christian, and an overall fun person to be around. We actually met in a local chat room (all the high school kids in the area used to chat on a particular local online service) and met at the mall with some others our age. When we got along really well, we started hanging out together a lot. We would go to church youth events together or just hang out at the mall or at one of our houses. The more we did together, the more I realized that she was everything I wanted in a girl. She was funny, spontaneous, cheerful, honest, and above all, a Christian. We spent so much time together that our friends started to joke that we were going out "by default" since I had never asked her out. So, ever the romantic, I asked her out for the first time on Valentine's Day. Making ourselves officially "a couple" didn't really change our relationship at all, though. I enjoyed the innocent friendship-based relationship we had, and I was in no hurry to move on to anything physical. I did the things that a boyfriend was supposed to do -- holding doors for her, paying for meals, putting my arm around her at the movies -- but there was never any physical aspect to the relationship. I never thought of her as physically attractive, although I knew that she was pretty because other guys drooled over her. It felt kind of awkward to me to cuddle with her, but I did it happily because I loved her very much and I wanted to be a good boyfriend to her. Still, the romantic part of me wanted to save our first kiss for a time when I really felt the urge to kiss her. After months of dating, including the prom, I still hadn't done any more than to kiss her on the cheek.
A major turning point came for me when Liz and I went to see Michael W. Smith and Jars of Clay in concert. It was a wonderful, emotionally charged concert, but the thing I most remember from that evening had nothing to do with the music. As Liz and I sat there, side by side, holding hands and swaying to Smitty's tunes, I happened to catch a glimpse of an attractive guy through the crowd. I only saw this guy's face for an instant, but suddenly I found my thoughts and emotions rushing towards him. It wasn't even a sexual feeling, necessarily, although I recognized that it was tied to my sexuality. Just seeing this guy's face, though, I suddenly wanted to meet him, to talk to him, to hug him. I think I would have been content to just sit near him and stare at him for the rest of the night. He had a face that made me feel good all over, that intrigued me, that tempted me, that attracted me. He wasn't the first guy who had made me feel that way, either. But as that instant of emotion flooded through my system, I suddenly caught myself and realized what I was doing. Here I was, holding hands with the most wonderful girl in the world, a girl whom I loved dearly and who loved me, my girlfriend whom I even would have been willing to marry someday -- and yet the emotions I was feeling were for some strange guy I happened to glimpse in a crowd. What was wrong with me? Why did I feel that way? Wasn't God hearing the urgent prayers I had prayed through tears for so long, asking to not have these horrible, perverted, unwanted feelings for other guys?
Tears trickled down my cheeks, but Liz thought I was just moved by the song. On the way home, however, she noticed that something was wrong. She pushed me to tell her what it was, but I couldn't. How could I tell her that I was secretly attracted to guys?
The other major turning point happened one evening when I was online talking to some of my friends from school and other online buddies. One of the guys in the conversation was someone I had only talked to once or twice online, and only briefly at that. But his and my personalities just clicked, and soon we were in a private chat. We started talking about all sorts of things, and as our chat dragged on into the night, I began to feel butterflies in my stomach. There was something about this guy that I understood, something that was different from the way I related to all of my other friends. I recognized something in him that reminded me of me, and the more we talked, the more I began to have a sense of fear mixed with joy that I knew what our common bond was. He must have sensed it, too, because he stopped talking and asked if there was anything I wanted to know about him. He promised me he would answer any question, but the question that presented itself to my mind was far too horrible to ask. I told him I couldn't think of anything. So he told me anyway. "I'm not gay," he said to me, "but I'm not straight either. I'm somewhere in between; I guess you could say I'm bisexual."
I burst into tears immediately. Emotions I had held back for years were suddenly flooding out of me. I said a silent prayer, and when I had regained my composure, I asked my newfound friend if he would keep a secret for me -- the deepest, darkest secret in the world. And then I told him. Thanks to his revelation, I now had a name for this affliction of mine. I was "bisexual." But to me, that word didn't imply some lifestyle choice or even a permanent state. It was just a label for this condition I had, a condition I was sure must be temporary.
I finally got up the courage to tell Liz that I was bisexual, and she took it amazingly well. She told me that she was still willing to date me if I wanted to continue. I told her that I did, and that I also wanted her to pray for me, that God would take away this affliction quickly. I had faith that He would.
It took me a few months before I finally was able to admit that the more accurate term for my situation was "gay" and not "bisexual." I had chosen the term "bisexual" because "gay" had all kinds of horrible implications for me. I couldn't be gay, because that would be a sin! But I finally had to admit that I had never been attracted to girls at all in a physical way. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't be aroused by the thought of a beautiful woman. I actually found the female form quite unappealing. This revelation forced me to face another fact. I was not being fair to Liz. I was hanging onto her because I wanted to be straight and because I loved being with her, but I really couldn't fully appreciate her as a woman the way someone else could. A mutual friend of ours had been quite infatuated with her for some time, and he was always telling me how lucky I was to have her, and how beautiful and wonderful she was. I grew to realize that he felt something which I didn't. To me, she was a best friend. To him, she was something he couldn't even put into words. Liz and I talked, and we finally agreed to stop dating each other. (She later ended up dating that other guy. I know I did the right thing.)
Even after admitting that I was gay, though, I believed for a long time that I would become straight if I kept praying faithfully and consistently for healing. I didn't abandon that notion until the Holy Spirit began to work on my heart. I had been searching for "success stories" of others who had done it, but I found none that made sense to me in light of my own experience. At that point I stopped telling God what I wanted Him to do and started asking Him to show me what to do. For the first time in my life, I had to admit that I didn't have the answers anymore. I wasn't smart enough or "Christian" enough to figure out what to do. All I could do was humble myself, get on my knees and beg.
God has shown me many things in the time since then. I still have much to learn. My beliefs on a number of issues have changed a great deal, and you may not agree with everything I believe. Some people say that I shouldn't even call myself "gay," that I should say "tempted" or "same-sex attracted" instead. I prefer "gay" for my own reasons. But I know one thing for sure; I am a stronger Christian now than I ever was before. That's true whether or not you call me "gay."
Want to know what happened after I wrote this article and posted it on the internet? Learn more in my book TORN: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate from Jericho Books.