when i knew #17.
by Michael King
“I knew I was gay before I knew what the term gay meant. I can remember having a fascination with my friend Ryan from the first time I met him. I was five. I remember feeling so uncomfortable at the YMCA in the locker room because I was attracted to the bodies I saw around me.
“It took me years to actually say the words I am gay.
“I had a good friend in 8th grade. His name was Elliot and he told me he thought he might be gay. It was the fall of 2001 and I had never met a gay person (that I knew of). Elliot eventually decided that he was not gay, but I knew I was.
“I told my best friend, Taylor, later that fall. She invited me to her evangelical church and I became a member of the youth group. Elliot was an atheist and I became a born-again Christian. I walked away from the friendship as we went off to high school because I thought he was bringing me into sin.
“I remember thinking that I simply couldn’t be gay in this new world, so I decided I wasn’t. I told Taylor not to tell anyone what I had told her. My parents found a note in my pocket while doing laundry and I denied it. I was a good Christian.
“But I wasn’t. I still looked at guys and masturbated to gay pornography. I remember being so, so afraid that someone would find out my secret. I would be left behind. I felt like I was festering and filthy inside.
“I didn’t fit in anywhere because I felt so different than the rest of the world. That church has caused me years of pain, but they did love me and they did give me a home when my own was falling apart because of divorce. At least they loved the version of me I projected. I dedicated my life fully to the church and my god. And more fully to the image of a good, straight life.
“I ran off to college and threw myself into ministry to try to make sense of myself and the world. I was the evangelical poster boy. I took mission trips and led bible studies. To this day, there are people in full time ministry who credit me for introducing them to that way of life. It blows my mind.
“I hit a wall my senior year of college and got drunk and bought a bottle of sleeping pills. I wrote the letter and I sat on my couch in my dorm and wept. I almost took the pills that night. I remember thinking I could never be with a man the way my male friends could be with their girlfriends. It made me so sad.
“During college, I dated an incredible woman and we even talked about getting married (as all good evangelicals do). We broke up for other reasons.
“The first week of my first professional job out of college, I was in the wedding of one of my best friends. I was with him before he walked down the aisle and I saw the love he had with his wife. I knew I would never experience that.
“I was terrified I would end up having some sketchy cruising sex when at last my urges got the best of me. I decided that I had to kill myself before I did that. At least I would go to heaven. Again, I wrote the note. I wept in bed that night in 2011, ten years after I had first told my dark secret to someone. But I didn’t kill myself. I decided I had to move forward and be honest. A god that would care about who I loved was no god at all.
“So I came out. It was slow and then all at once as though I had turned on a bathtub faucet. My friends and family embraced me. They loved me. They loved me as I was.
“But I still struggled. I still held onto that god. I still felt his shame. I still felt the pain of disappointing him, of living in sin. When I finally had sex with a man for the first time, I cried afterward because I couldn’t reconcile in my heart who I had tried to be all those years with who I actually was. The sex was sketchy and exactly what I had feared.
“In a horrible turn of events, the man turned out to be a bit of a stalker and threatened to share our story. So I shared it first. I told my friends and family what had happened so that I was not stripped of my power. And they loved me. And they saw me. And they still loved me.
“But I still didn’t love myself.
“This past February first (the day of the Super Bowl), I took a knife to my left wrist and cut it to the bone in the bathtub. This time, there was no letter. It was a text. It was the saddest text I’ve ever sent. I intended to send it as I passed out. Before I could finish it, I accidentally hit send while trying to hit the letter p. The tub filled with blood and warm water. I remember praying. Begging. Sobbing that I would go to heaven and have peace.
“And then I fell asleep. And I believed I would never wake up.
“A good friend was a few blocks away. So was my sister. He was supposed to be three hours away. She was at a bar watching the big game. He broke down my door and found me in the tub. He put a tourniquet on and called 911. The doctor said I would have died soon. I would have died. I almost died.
“I spent nine days in the hospital and this is what I have decided. I do not want to be straight. I’m still not sure I want to be gay. But I do know I want to be seen. And heard. And most of all, loved. I want to be loved for who I am.
“I still don’t know what I believe about god. My inner demons still speak up and sometimes I listen to them. Sometimes I believe that I am destined to a life of feeling forever out of place. I hope that isn’t the case.
“‘It gets better’ is a popular mantra in the gay community. I hope it does. I’ve now been out for four years. I would never, never take back the decision to come out. I am sure I would be dead by now if I hadn’t. But I still wonder if it gets better than this.
“Because I still struggle. I still struggle to love me. I knew I was gay before the word had entered my world. It was innocent and it wasn’t scary. It only became scary when someone told me it wasn’t normal. It wasn’t okay. I’m going to choose to believe that that is a lie. I have to.”