15 year old me would be terrified of 25 year old me: and I couldn’t be happier about it.
When I was 15, I thought there was something wrong with me. I would often find myself daydreaming about boys in the way I heard all my friends talking about girls, even though I couldn’t fully process those feelings. I knew that gay people existed, but every influence in my life told me that they were immoral sinners, destined for an eternity in hell. I felt dirty, broken, and unloveable. Because of this, I refused to even acknowledge my feelings, and put on a facade so complete that it became who I was to everyone in my life.
This started to change when a family moved in to the house next door who had a son my age, who also happened to be gay. He came out to me that summer and told me that he liked me; I had to admit the feeling was mutual. But even as my understanding of myself was blossoming, so too was my repression of those feelings. I experienced so much cognitive dissonance that I would explore my sexuality during the week, then fully compartmentalize that exploration while at church on Sunday. I would revel in the knowledge I had gained about myself while simultaneously loathing what I had discovered.
This exploration temporarily came to a halt when I was outed as gay to my parents. They found out about my neighbor’s sexuality, and immediately searched through my phone and found what they were afraid of: some incriminating text messages. Someone looking at the situation from an outside perspective might call their actions reasonable, but their response was nothing short of an overreaction. They forbid me from having contact with anyone outside my church for that whole summer, and I was explicitly forbidden from seeing my neighbor ever again. Because of how ingrained my parents’ way of thinking was, I couldn’t help but try even harder to repress my sexuality now that it was known by others. This caused immense psychological harm that took years to heal.
My journey to understanding myself resumed in earnest the summer before I left for Cedarville, all thanks to Carder. Although I still felt intense shame and guilt about my attraction to him, my feelings for him eventually overpowered my indoctrination, and he finally convinced me to make him my first boyfriend. Even though we had to keep our relationship a secret from my family and friends, he was refreshingly candid about himself to everyone in his life. Feeling for the first time that my sexual orientation was not something to be ashamed of, but was something that should be accepted and embraced, was a feeling I’ll be forever grateful for.
I have many fond memories of my time at Cedarville. From playing hide and seek in the buildings at night, to my various scan-and-scrams, to peaceful nighttime walks around the lake. But the best memory of my time on campus was getting connected to a group of fellow LGBTQ+ students through Cedarville Out. By becoming friends with them, I was exposed to a version of Christianity that lacked all the malice and exclusion that had plagued the version of it I had been taught.
Another way in which I fared better during my time at Cedarville than many LGBTQ+ students was leaving the main campus after two years. I was enrolled in the Industrial Design major, which spends the second half of the program at a satellite campus in Columbus. Living in a diverse and populous area for the first time offered me a myriad of opportunities to live authentically without fear of being outed and expelled from school. That, coupled with the fact that students in the humanities majors at Cedarville are stereotypically far more open-minded than the rest of the student body, finally allowed me to accept myself completely.
The reason I write all this is to tell anyone who can relate to my story one thing: it will get better. 15 year old me was a terrified kid with no expectation that he could ever be truly happy. He thought that he was broken, surrounded by people who only loved a version of him that didn’t actually exist. Today, when the man I love puts his arm around my shoulders and I’m surrounded by people who love the real me, I think back on those days and realize just how wrong I was.
25 year old me couldn’t be happier.