The winter of 2004, I was sitting somewhere in the vast Pennsylvania wilderness for my school's annual "snow camp" - a period of time where several fundamentalist Baptist schools came together to bring spiritual revival into the lives of their students. The particular session which I found myself in was led by a passionate preacher who was trying to explain how one becomes a "real" man to his awkward, gangly audience of teenage boys. As he whipped his audience into a frenzy of righteous zeal by decrying worldly influences such as cologne and hair products, he came to the climax of his message. "You know what the greatest danger to masculinity is in America today? Those homosexuals. Unless we get some real men to rise up and take our country back, those prancing fairies are going to flood our streets with their perversions."
All around me, the audience erupted in cheers. Outwardly, I mimicked my peers. Inwardly, it felt like another piece of my spirit had died. For a year, ever since the wave of hormones that marks the beginning of puberty had arrived, I had known that I was not attracted to women as I felt I should be. Instead, while my male friends discussed the intricacies of female anatomy, I found myself becoming more and more drawn to the broad shoulders and the rough faces of the men around me.
My whole life had been within the walls of the church, and I knew what they had to say about what I was experiencing. Men who were attracted to other men were evil, degenerate and bound directly to hell. Fearing the reactions of my family and friends, I buried my feelings of same-sex attraction hoping that if I ignored them they would eventually dissipate. They didn't.
For five years, I lived like this; hiding my inner thoughts and feelings while pretending to be the good, Christian little boy which those around me had always known. This double life completely wrecked my mental, emotional and spiritual health. By the time I was a freshman at Cedarville, I was a self-identified agnostic who was starting to exhibit signs of depression and anxiety disorders. Some days I would be unable to sleep for extended periods of time. I would wander around town early in the predawn morning experiencing moments of sheer panic as I thought about what would happen if people figured out my secret. Other days, I couldn't get myself out of bed. I would lie there missing classes and other social obligations as I tried to gather up the strength to make myself move.
Fortunately, I was able to find friends at Cedarville and beyond with whom I was able to share my hurt and pain. They did not judge me, but instead offered listening ears as I poured out years of pent up fears and anger. Through the help of this community, the many broken parts of my spirit and psyche began to heal.
Now, almost a decade later, as I sit in my Philadelphia apartment right by the gayborhood, within walking distance of the hospital where I am privileged to provide (what I hope is) non-judgmental, compassionate, empathetic medical care to people from all backgrounds and walks of life, I am so thankful for the people in my own life who have been there to bind up and stitch together the wounds left by people like that fundamentalist preacher. While the scars still remain, they now serve as a reminder to do my own part to heal not only the physical hurts of my patients, but also the mental, emotional, and spiritual ones as well.
Feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you need a listening ear.