I had been working in a small town in Illinois for about four or five years when things started to change again in my life. As I said before, I had finally admitted to someone that I could possibly be bisexual. But also, there was a social worker who just started at the place where I worked and I developed a huge crush on her. She was about as close to an ideal as anyone could come and still be a woman. She had a quirky sense of humor and an off-the-wall way of looking at life. And although I wouldn’t admit it then, she was safe. She had a fiancée. So, I could be close to her without having to worry about things moving toword the possibility of sex. It was great!
Even though I had a new beard, I still felt alone. I needed to do something so I started to look at going back to school.
I thought about going into pastoral counseling, ostensibly because I felt psychology worked better with a “higher power” that 12-Step programs make such good use of. In actuality, pastoral counseling was, in my opinion, as close as you could come to being a “man of the cloth” without actually having to go through the whole ordination process. Of course, I found that to go into pastoral counseling, one had to be a pastor first.
Actually, the whole priest/pastor thing had been a part of my entire life. Being raised Roman Catholic; my mother wanted one of her sons to become a priest. I am not sure how I got selected for that honor, but I was. So I grew up knowing that nothing would make my mother more proud than to have me become a priest. So while being a spiritual type of person, I avoided becoming a member of the clergy because I was afraid that it was just my mother’s prodding and not actually something I wanted to do. Now I was being told that if I wanted to go into pastoral counseling, I would have to become a pastor also.
So I started to go through the discernment process to become a pastor. I wasn’t going to go to a Roman Catholic seminary, no, I was going through the Lutherans so I could get married! (I still believed God would take the “Evil Gay” away from me.) And if God didn’t find the right girl for me, then maybe being a pastor would be enough for God to give me the strength to be celibate.
I struggled the whole time I was in seminary. What even made things harder was that I had gotten the Internet while I was in seminary. Now I could access gay porn in my apartment and no one would have to know. I could now look at with ease that which was previously forbidden and difficult to obtain. With just a click of the mouse I could be viewing men doing all kinds of abominations. And although I tried to stop myself from going there, I would click and start looking. And although I tried to force my feelings down, I would usually end up having an orgasm while looking at the pictures. Then after the orgasm, I would kneel at the side of my bed and literally cry for forgiveness. I knew that what I was doing was wrong, but I couldn’t help myself. I would plead and bargain with God to take these feeling from me, but in a few days I was back at the computer.
I guess you might say that I have a porn addiction, but I would question that. Or, maybe that I would even question it just points to the fact that I do have an addiction. I don’t know. All that I do know is that in a world that would deny your very being, porn became a type of community. Porn, for me, at least acknowledged that other also felt the way I was feeling. Some have referred to gay porn as “Instructional Videos;” maybe, in fact, they are just that. I am not advocating for porn, but until there is something else that is provided to those who are learning about their sexuality in the way of role models, I think porn will be present and, to an extent, useful.
Eventually, in my seminary career, I went on internship. I went off to internship with the usual expectations and trepidations. The thought of spending a year with a group of people I didn’t know was scary. What if I didn’t like my supervisor? What if I find that I don’t like being in the church? What if I fail miserably? All of these things kept running through my head. But scared or not, I was off.
I drove into town and met my supervisor. He was a swimmer, runner, and cyclist and had that triathlete body. He was tall, thin, streamline, with a touch of red in his hair and in his moustache. Just like the swimmer from high school, I felt special just to be in his presence.
Leaving my internship site was very difficult though. Looking back, I now recognize that I had definitely had a crush on my supervisor and was crushed to have to leave. As alive as I had felt while on internship, I now felt as dead. I think it was feeling of loss that pushed me to again try to find a “nice girl.” Again I would pray and plead to find the right person. Again I would beg God to take my homosexual feelings away. Again I would cry for forgiveness after clicking on the Internet.
It was also during this time that the church started to have its struggle with gay clergy. Well, the struggle had been going for a while but in a more quiet form. But it was in my senior year of seminary that the big battle was to begin.
It was during this year that I really began to study the, so-called, “clobber passages.” We studied the meaning of words in Greek and Hebrew. We studied various interpretations for passages that were really quite ambiguous. And we had panel discussions.
I watched all of this with some detachment. I was thinking that this may impact my friends, but it really didn’t impact me because God was going to change me. I really wasn’t gay; I just needed to wait for the miracle. I could not let my faith waiver.
I also tried to convince myself that I was in pursuit of a girl friend but that classes and homework were getting in the way. I couldn’t be expected to start a new relationship with hundreds of pages to read. And besides, school was going to be over and we would all be going our separate. There really wasn’t enough time to start a relationship. (Or so I told myself.)
I received my first call to a congregation that was located in the northern part of Michigan. It was a small congregation in a small town, the kind of place where everyone knew each other and even after being there for 20 years, you were still considered a “new comer.” This really wasn’t my idea of an ideal first call, but I was willing to give it a shot. I figured God must have something in the works for me.
Also by this time my defenses were starting to crumble. I remember thinking, “How can a gay pastor survive in a town of 1500 people?” That kind of scared me and of course, I immediately repressed the thought because it was still too difficult to face the truth. But what I didn’t expect to find in such a small town and in such a small congregation was an older, very well balanced, lesbian.
Although I had a living example of a mature homosexual, I still fought.
There was a former seminary classmate who lived in a city nearby. We started to hang out together and I fell into the comfortable pattern of hinting that there might be something more, but never quite following through. We would go out to movies together and often have lunch together. But I always had to head home so it never went any farther.
We continued this way until we tried to move things along to the “next level.” We had a really torturous two-day “date.” (No, nothing happened.) And as is my style, I found something petty to get into an argument about. Therefore, we effectively stopped “seeing” each other. I had my illusion of my heterosexuality intact. I could lament my status of not having a girlfriend. I could question why God has not brought love into my life. And most importantly, I could still hide my homosexuality.
Even when I was part of the pattern, I didn’t notice the pattern: I would find some woman who was not going to make a demand on me. These women were very kind people, but they were not going to ask something more of me than companionship. And although I mae have led the woman to believe that there was going to be romance in the future, I would hide behind the banner of protecting the woman’s virtue. This way, I could convince myself, oops, I mean the world, that I was indeed heterosexual. And for how transparent it appears in writing, this is the pattern I had used for over twenty years. And for those twenty years, it provided me with a place where I didn’t need to be truthful with myself or the world.
It was also during this time that I was up north that I started to see a therapist. I was beginning to go deeper and deeper into depression. Although it did not affect the face I showed to the congregation, I would often pray that God would take me away in the middle of the night. Once I went so far as to clean the house so when people found me dead in a couple of days, the house would have some semblance of neatness. Although the congregation didn’t know, I was depressed to the point of just packing up the car and driving away.
While seeing this therapist, I again toyed with the idea of telling someone that I thought I might be gay. I explained to the therapist that I have this attraction to men but I don’t think it is a healthy thing. I told him that I wanted to have a man protect me and care for me. I said that I thought this would only lead to an unhealthy situation where I would allow someone to take advantage of me just so I could feel safe.
My therapist was complicit with my charade and never much pursued this topic any farther. I am not saying that my therapist was a bad person or a bad therapist, for he was neither, but I do think the topic may have been a bit too uncomfortable for him to handle. Hey, he’s human too! So even though I again broached the subject, it really didn’t go anywhere.
The other fun thing I got to deal with in the congregation were all the well wishers who tried to set me up. I don’t know why people feel the need to do the matchmaker thing, but they are out there. Somebody knows someone who has a friend… What I have often (but have never) wanted to say to people is: “I am in my 40’s and don’t have a wife or girlfriend. The whole time you have known me I have not had a wife or girlfriend. Let’s think about this; either I am a social fuck up or I am gay. Either way, do you really want to know?”
But trying to dodge the bullet of the well-meaning congregant is difficult. I had one member of the congregation go so far as to say, “What gives? I have suggested some very nice ladies from my office and you never seem to respond?” What was I going to say? I still couldn’t even say it to myself.
I eventually left that call and took some time off before I got another call. During this time I lived at my parents house and did some temporary work. I had the basement as a makeshift apartment and things were pretty good.
I also had the Internet while at my parents’ home. I wasn’t too worried about my parents finding anything on the computer; both of them are computer illiterate. What I didn’t count on is my nephews going back into history and finding the various links I had visited. But then again, maybe I wanted someone to find the links. I don’t know. I may have been getting sloppy just in the hopes that someone would call me on it.
And someone did call me on it. My sister asked about the “g-porn” that her kids found on my computer. I did a song and dance about being intrigued by gay porn but that I wasn’t gay. I also told her that I was just never in one place long enough to really get to meet any women and when you work in the church, most people you know are members of the congregation and it wouldn’t be good to date a congregant now would it? She gave me a “yeah, sure” look and let the situation drop. Later she did apologize to me about bringing it up. She said that it was none of her business what I looked at and that she didn’t care, she still loved me.
My house of cards was starting to fall apart. I knew I was not “happily heterosexual” but I was not yet ready to admit that I was gay. Now I moved to the idea that “Dad really couldn’t handle it if I were gay.” Or, “Mom would be wrecked.” Or the all time zinger, “What would the rest of the family say?” I knew I wasn’t ever going to marry a woman, but how could I be with a man?
Another thing that factors into this whole mix is what is lovingly referred to in the seminary community as “Page 13.” Page 13 is from a book that lists what expectations held for ELCA clergy. On page 13, it states that clergy that feel themselves to be gay are to refrain from participating in homosexual activity. Pretty much, the rational is that only people who are married should be having sex and you are not married so no sex for you. A person can be as gay as they want and remain a member of the clergy, they just cannot do anything about it. Once they do something about it, then they can be brought up for disciplinary action.
When I was ordained, I said that I would uphold these expectations, including page 13. I may have known that I wasn’t going to be with a woman, but I couldn’t remain a pastor and be with a man. It was a no win situation. I either had to find a “good woman” who didn’t mind that her husband was turned on by guys or I had to spend my life alone. At this point, I figured I was going to spend my life alone.