Just being able to admit to myself that I was gay, was a huge step in my life, as I was able to put a name on this "thing" that had been haunting me. I remember reading the stories of gay college kids, and thinking, wow, I really feel the same way here. Maybe being gay wasn't a choice after all. I knew in my heart of hearts I did not and would never have chosen it. I tried for years helplessly trying to pray and fast my nature away, only to be left feeling resentful and distrustful of a God that has promised love and justice. However, the freedom I experienced was very short lived.
It is thought that gay people will use and twist the Bible to embrace their sexuality. They need to feel justified in their heinous life, so they will do all that it takes. I assure you, I do no such thing. In fact, the only time I ever used the Bible for justification was when I was trying not to be gay.
I remember the tears in the eyes of my family and some close friends as I told them I could no longer subject myself to a belief system that was destroying me. It was a turbulent time for my family. It was as if I was beginning a new life that was unknown. I was only a year or so out of college, and my life was about to drastically change a second time. So why did I do it? Well, people in my life had their minds made up as to why I decided to embrace my homosexuality. They attributed it to:
Weakness: for not being able to withstand the temptations luring me into the gay community. For not being able to withstand my own internal pressures to interact physically with a man.
Deception: For being duped by people who use trickery and side logic in order to convince others to follow in their sinful and self-destructive ways.
Lacking Faith: For not praying hard enough, for not making Jesus the center of my life, and for not believing that even if I was going to be deprived from the male intimacy I craved, that Jesus would just be enough for me.
Why else would anyone want to give into their gay feelings?
Wrong. Dead wrong. Except no one wanted to hear me. If there were reasons that were virtuous in comparison to the above, then somehow their belief systems would fall apart. I had someone tell me once, that if homosexuality is OK, then everything they believed about God and the church must be false. How ridiculous is that! Why would the truth about one of the greatest love stories ever told, i.e. the gospel of Jesus Christ, hinge upon the morality of a sexual orientation? When on earth did this issue or subject become the focal point of one's faith?
Understanding this question is what began to lead me to a place where I no longer fought this. I could not by any means justify the life I was living. I tried. I tried using the Bible, I tried through prayer, and I just could not. It became the single thing that defined me, and I was defined by what I was NOT. I was NOT gay. That was my sexual identity: NOT gay. The church has created an idol out of this issue. It is a subtle but extreme version of idolatry that puts the issue of homosexuality over the gospel. It is idolatry that says: because you are gay, you cannot call yourself a Christian. It is fear and culture that demands such a statement, not the gospel, and definitely not our Father. In a world where illness, suffering, deceit, and chaos rule. In a world where financial status determines worth; in a world and in a church where the first shall be first and the last shall be last; In a system that is so antithetical to the way Jesus lived and taught, where the very core, and most important commandments given by Jesus are outrightly ignored and brushed aside because "we are not Jesus." In a religious community that spends most of its energy keeping cultural traditions alive rather than teaching its members how to be light and salt for the earth. Given all these dysfunctions that are very much acceptable by the Coptic Church, to say that homosexuality is the non-negotiable issue of our time, is a joke, and a mockery of everything Jesus lived and died for, and everything our forefathers fought for. And I was living proof of what this idolatry was doing to my soul. I was dying inside, and I was about to die on the outside.
There was no room for God to be God in my life, because all this intense energy was being spent struggling with something that was not going anywhere. I was telling God who I wanted Him to make me. The church and ex-gay programs put me through mental gymnastics trying to explain away every single thought I was having. Every desire for intimacy was labelled as sickness, and every attraction I had was merely a symptom of a disease inflicted on me by an unfortunate childhood, combined with possible genetic predispositions. After years and years of reinforcing this belief, my mind became poisoned, and my self esteem plummeted, and there was nothing that the church or anyone could have done to repair this, as long as the message was being reinforced, that in addition to all the issues I have in my life, the very thing that God gave me in order to experience His love in partnership, my desire for connection and intimacy, both emotional, physical and sexual, was cursed. What can a person do with such a toxic belief system? Where is the redemption?
But I did not have these realizations then. All this was not apparent at the time, as hindsight is 20/20 (or better). All I knew at the time was that one day, my life almost ended, and it was that night, I was saved. I had been asking myself for years: "What if homosexuality was a sin? Then I would truly go to hell if I embraced this identity." I finally had the guts to ask the question: "What if homosexuality in and of itself was NOT a sin?"
It was in that moment where I almost lost my life, that I no longer had to answer to my family, to my church, to my culture, to my community. The only person I cared to answer to was God, and myself. Because at the end of the day, when it came to survival, all the obligations I had to the above checklist became null and void. And I had to look at myself, and I had to look to God, and I had to ask the question as to what was to become of me. When the pressures of all the external things dissolved into ether, the question was no longer scary, and I saw myself clear as day.
What did I see? I did not have this overwhelming change of mind that "Being gay is OK, yay, gay!" No. I did not see that. What I did see was an ever-loving and patient God, who never left my side from the day I was born. I decided to take a chance and have FAITH in this God. I prayed and asked God for the strength to walk forward and to live according to what I did know, as opposed to all the things I didn't know.
I truly believed many things I had learned growing up were true, but as for the rest, I was not so sure. I decided I was no longer going to live according to what I didn't believe, or what I was not sure I believed, but rather to focus on what I actually did believe in my heart of hearts. I decided to live according to what little I did believe and see what happened from there, and maybe my faith GROW naturally. So I put away a belief system that had lead me to the brink of my own destruction, and to the destruction of many.
In that first step, I acknowledged that I did not know if homosexuality was OK or not, but I was to trust that this God who never left my side would continue to stand beside me and live within me. That he was going to show me the way through all the confusion. This was the simple faith I finally found in my life, and for the first time in I don't know how many years, I saw the world vibrant and fresh. You could say I was born again, a thing that I always thought looked a certain way based on testimonies of many, however this was my story.
But it was a risk, and I trusted God with that risk.
Life is bigger than this issue, and I started experiencing life again. I put my energies into the things that mattered, and lived according to what was at the time, just a theory, that my sexuality was as moral as any heterosexual's, and that I was not going to be judged by my sexuality but rather what I did with it. Needless to say, I felt normal for the first time in my life. And check this out: I felt equal with other men. That was a huge shock to me, but it was true. And most of all, I felt peace. It was this peace that carried me through a time of healing, where the pain I had felt from this ex-gay past was being washed away by grace. It was that peace that got me through the difficult tasks of being myself in a world that I thought was going to reject me. I was pleasantly surprised how much love and support I received from friends and some family members. Still, my immediate family and some friends attributed my new found zeal and passion for life, and peace with my sexuality with the afore mentioned reasons of weakness, deception, and faithlessness: all reasons that they needed to believe, not because it was true, but because the implications of seeing this issue in a different light was too great to deal with.
It has been several years, and in these several years since I made that first step, I have not had a single reason to go backwards. There were times of joy and times of deep sorrow. There were times of purity and times where sin got the best of me. Doesn't that sound like every other person on the planet who ever lived? In fact, my sexuality is just no longer an issue. It's just a small part of the many things that make up who I am. But through living this life, I am learning, ever so clearly, that I can have a relationship with God and an intimacy with Jesus and still be a gay man. I am learning that just because I am gay, it does not mean, that the concept of sin, or rather, things that separate me from God and myself, do not exist. In fact, this act of just being myself has allowed me to experience real and true grace that I had missed out on for so many years.
And this was the real kicker: I learned that I can be in a romantic relationship with another like-minded man, following the standards set before us, and have this relationship blessed by God. Yes, I have experienced a God centered gay relationship. And frankly it looks no different than straight relationships. You think being gay is all about sex? False. Especially not if you choose it to be. I learned that the gay world seen in the media is just a fraction, just as the straight world represented by MTV is just a fraction, and that people are just people, and it's as simple as that. We are given a command to love. It doesn't take a rocket-scientist to know what love looks like, or what it does not look like. In this command of Love, all other commands, debates, and fears just pale in comparison.