Allan’s Story Part 3 – The Painful Freedom of Honesty
This is the third of a multi-part blog that chronicles Allan Edward’s journey from discovering his same-sex attraction to how he responded, and what his faith in Christ meant for him all along the way. Check out Allan’s interview on NPR, which was a catalyst for this series of blog posts: http://www.npr.org/2015/01/04/374857829/a-pastor-moves-past-his-attraction-to-men-and-so-does-his-wife)
When I’ve talked to older guys about their struggles with pornography, they often tell me that it was different, harder, in the old days to get a hold of pornography. I came of age in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and the Internet was brand new. Getting online meant surfing through chat rooms within AOL. But it wasn’t long before I was able to start finding pictures of guys in bathing suits, wrestlers, and the like. But it was the early days of the Internet, and covering my tracks hadn’t occurred to me.
I remember sitting down with my parents on the good furniture, in the nice living room, one afternoon when I was in tenth grade or so. Apparently my little brother had found some awkward (read: inappropriate) pictures on the computer, and they wanted to ask me about it. I broke down right then and there. My attempt to hide my secret pleasure from my parents was over. After two years of keeping this secret, I’d been found out, and the image I’d worked to create and maintain collapsed. I’d lost my parents trust, which—more importantly, to me at the time—meant that I’d lost my free pass to pornography.
It wasn’t until years later that I began to synthesize the pain of this experience. At the time the crushing weight of shame seemed unbearable. But the more I reflect back on this experience, I’m so thankful for it. Living life in the shadows and constantly hiding how you feel is a psychological weight that I now realize I couldn’t have borne much longer. But at the time, having to sit there and talk with my parents about sexual attraction was possibly the worst experience my seventeen-year-old self could imagine.
Today, when I think about that moment, it makes me think of peroxide. I have no idea what parents do to treat kid’s wounds today, but whenever I fell off my bike and skinned my knee as a kid, the pain of the fall was a shadow of the pain I would feel later when my mom or dad would open up a bottle of peroxide and pour the disinfecting stream onto my bloody knee. While it certainly hurt, I knew the pain was for a purpose: the bubbling, stinging peroxide would keep my scrape from becoming an infected and festering wound.
That’s how honesty is, even when it comes to issues of sexuality. When the truth comes out, you might lose something, the way I lost some access to my secret pleasures. But you gain something too; you gain authenticity.
When I had this conversation with my parents, it felt like finally being known after living a long time in the shadows. Sadly, many youth who struggle with same-sex attraction come to believe that it means that they have a particular identity—that they are gay, bisexual, or queer. So, when they have this kind of “coming out” conversation with family, they are declaring an identity. I think coming out conversations are really hard for Christian families. For me and my parents, I wasn’t coming out in the sense that I was declaring a new identity; I was coming out of hiding and asking for help.
If you or someone you know struggles with same-sex attraction, and believes that embracing a gay identity is not an option for their life, then know that it can be just as hard for them to talk about it as for someone who comes out and declares a gay identity. But, on the other hand, if your child or a friend comes out to you, declaring a gay identity, I’d urge you to react to that news with patience, grace, and understanding. Even and especially if you hold to orthodox Christian beliefs about sexuality.
My parents, as confused and probably hurt as they were, showed me kindness and patience. It was probably easier for them to do so, as I wasn’t taking on a new identity. But parents who have children who do declare themselves LGBT need to have even more grace and patience as they walk with their child through this, and, along the way, lovingly point them to the truth of God’s word.