My Cousin, My Hero: Why Coming Out Matters.
By the time I was 15 years old, I had already had my first boyfriend, kind of. I had begun to accept that I was “gay,” but I had also experienced the sting of being a “fag.” Society, it seemed, disapproved. The disapproval was so great that I’d often be chased home by groups of boys on bicycles throwing rocks at me and calling me “fag.”
I remember walking home from school one day at 12 years old and coming across the one person in that small Arkansas town I thought I could call friend. She was interracial; and like me, she was the “only one in the village.” She was well accepted in a town that was overwhelmingly white and entirely protestant. As her story was told to me, her mother had been raped by a black man, and decided, rather than succumb to the sin of baby murder, to have the child; this interracial child. Because her mother wasn’t willing, the town’s people felt it was “o.k.” to allow a “negro” there.
One day, I walked up to her smiling and laughing about a recent experience in the classroom, she looked at me and screamed, “Get away from me, you faggot.” That was society’s doing. She was taught that I was worthless. I was rejected even by those that were rejected.
I often think of that every time I hear someone say, “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” At 12 years old, I was a virgin, had never kissed another boy and certainly wasn’t ready to do so. I had not sinned, but I was hated.
Go forward again to 15 after I’d escaped back to the “big city” of San Antonio, Texas and you’d find me sitting in my room talking on the phone with various girlfriends. We’d usually be on a three-way call and sometimes four or five people would be on conference together using a pre-determined three-way calling chain. I’d call Jen, who would call Jeremy, who would call Cathy and so forth and so on. What the girls on the call didn’t know is that sometimes Jeremy and I would talk without them on the line. We’d laugh and carry on, flirting mercilessly with one another.
My first “gay” kiss was with Jeremy. He was 2 years my senior and so much wiser. The result was that Jeremy was ready to come out, and decided to take me with him – unbeknownst to me.
Imagine my surprise the next morning at school when I found that my carefully planned disguise/girlfriend, Emily, was now fully aware that I had a “boyfriend.” Imagine my horror to discover that many of my friends had been taught the same way as those in the small town of Arkansas and I was again, “fag.” I cut all ties with Jeremy and hid myself away until finally, my mother advised we were moving. God was smiling down to save me and back to the closet I went, safe from the torment.
I had a bit of a social shut down. At my new school, I dared not attempt to make friends, they would find out. Society hated me. Society was my enemy.
I had been raised around a highly evangelical family. God was invoked for nearly every situation. Whatever it was, it was in his hands. But still, I hadn’t been told anything like, “being gay is a sin.” I was wholly (or holy) unaware that God hated me as well. I found solace in God and heaven and knew I could endure the torment some day, if I just had enough faith in God. I was almost ready to tell the world again; to come out. With Jesus as my companion, I would prevail.
Then I turned on the T.V. one day to see a televangelist smiling down his nose at me. His words spoken, then flashed onto the screen, “If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act; they shall surely be put to death. Their bloodguiltiness is upon them.” As the Bible reference appeared, I went running to my room, devastated. I read the words in Leviticus 18:22 from the perspective of a 15 year old boy whose only true friend was Jesus. My friend, it seemed, had betrayed me. There was no one left to love me because I was gay.
I could go on about the countless nights of tear-stained pillows, the chronic depression and suicidal thoughts carefully hidden away least someone find out why I was so depressed. I could tell you about my prayers where I begged God/Jesus to let me die in my sleep. I dared not commit the sin of taking my own life or live the sin of being a gay man, but that is not the point.
God, the supreme power, the one that we all are told we can turn to when life brings us down, was off-limits to me. Society rejected me and God rejected me. I was out of options — or so I had been taught.
Then I went to visit my extended family. My cousin was a few years older than me and we’d always been fairly close growing up. We went running around the town without a mission or purpose with her girlfriend. I knew she was a lesbian thanks to rumors from the family, but she’d never told me herself. That night she did tell me and I suddenly wasn’t alone.
That’s another one of the many reasons why Harvey Milk was right. We have to come out. We have to tell people. We have to let kids that are in that dark place know that they aren’t alone, that not everyone hates them, that God has not abandoned them and that we will not abandon them. We have to keep them safe.
Thank you, Shirley, for unwittingly saving my life.