I grew up in a small town just west of Indianapolis, Indiana that didn't tolerate differences. I was taught through abuse at school and scripture at church that I was irreparably broken, and that how I was born was inherently "bad" or "wrong." They made my sexuality out to be a thing I was afflicted with instead of a natural aspect of existence, and that disembodied a part of my identity and turned it into something they said could be removed. I wasn’t a gay man, I was sick with homosexuality and Jesus was the cure.
In secret, I tried to pray away my sexuality. I cried myself to sleep regularly, begging God to heal me or at least explain why he was unmoved. I was told that God didn’t answer prayers when someone lacked faith, implicating that I was a bad Christian. I needed to try harder. I also heard that God’s silence could sometimes be the result of living in sin. If that was the case, how could I get Him to answer me when my entire existence was sin regardless of any actual sinful behavior?
Eventually, I even went so far as conversion therapy with a trusted religious leader. If you aren’t familiar, conversion therapy is abuse. Mine was a series of meetings where I was berated for my sexuality, called horrible names like “abomination” and “pervert” as a form of conditioning, and many other incredibly damaging approaches. When that didn’t rid me of my sexuality, I decided that maybe I could earn my way into Heaven if I committed myself to ministry. It was only after 4 years of steep debt for a ministry-specific Christian college that I realized that doesn’t work either. However, the debt was the least of the abuse from my time there.
Throughout my deconstruction from evangelical Christianity, I retained the general themes of community care and loving others. Those two values resonated with me and have stayed true through my professional career in mental health as a crisis interventionist. Seeing humanity at its most vulnerable on a regular basis set the stage for what would eventually become my business, the Empathy Paradigm.
In 2016, I officially came out after my friend was murdered in a hate crime. The days after the mass shooting were filled with uncertainty and terror, but something beautiful was stirring. I saw queer families from around the globe honor the murdered members of our community by coming out in a declaration that they wouldn’t be terrorized into silence or nonexistence, and I joined them. At that moment, I reclaimed my life.
My various inboxes were flooded with support and rebuke, love and hatred. Some even took it upon themselves to call me and leave voicemails of disgust, disavowing our relationship or pleading with me to come back to Jesus. In the midst of the extreme responses, I found comfort in the uncertain ones. There were plenty of comments and messages from people I had met throughout the years that just didn’t know how to respond but wanted me to know that they care about me regardless. There was a certain simplistic beauty to the sentiment; an innocent type of love. Did these people understand me or what they were feeling? Did they truly understand the gravity of what they were witnessing? It didn’t matter. I mattered to them more than their certainty, and I didn’t know it then but coming out committed me to unlearn a lifetime of certainty.
When I was young, I was certain that I was “bad.” I was certain that God was real and that he didn’t like me because I was gay. He loved me, but couldn’t tolerate my sexuality. I was certain that boys liked blue and didn’t wear dresses or makeup. Boys didn’t play with the pink power ranger or sing along to the Spice Girls. I was certain of it all.
As I got older, I was certain that I was unworthy and unlovable. I was stupid and ugly. My femininity made me undesirable, and manhood was defined by overpowering masculinity that I would never possess. I was certain that I would be alone and that would be the only way to get into Heaven. Celibacy or death, but suicide was a sin. I was certain that I was quite literally damned if I lived and damned if I died.
Today, I don’t know if I’m right or wrong. I don’t know if my existence is sinful or if it even matters. I don’t know if anyone who said horrible things to me when I came out knows how badly it hurt. I don’t know if I’m gay or queer or pan, what my gender is, or how I think I might identify a year from now. Today, I don’t have all of the answers. I just exist in the simple uncertainty and love as hard as I can.