I believe that growing up as a gay kid in a non-gay environment helped me see life with a more open perspective than most kids, often questioning societal "truths" that others took for granted. By age eight, I knew I was different from people around me, even from my own family.
But being gay wasn't the only reason.
From age two, I accompanied my parents on long summer trips around the world. By age eight, I had visited more countries than most people visit in a lifetime. Members of my extended family lived in Asia, Europe, the South Pacific and the Americas, and came from a range of philosophical traditions including Protestantism, Catholicism, Judaism, and Buddhism, giving me a keen awareness that there are many ways to view the same thing. What some cultures cherish, others banish; and what some languages expressed, others had no words.
In my eighth summer, I had my first experience with day camp, which was sponsored by a beautiful little church near a good friend's home. He went to this camp every day and invited me along. It sounded fun, so I went. The first day, in the middle of arts and crafts, we were told it was time to pray. We were directed to the church hall where a man on stage instructed us to kneel. I had never knelt for anyone, and although people were polite about it, I instinctively felt we were being treated like trained animals. I remained standing.
My friend, embarrassed by my lack of compliance, begged me to kneel, and some nice lady asked me to kneel as well.
"No, thank you," I politely responded. "I don't pray that way."
"Why?" she asked.
All I could think to say was, "I'm Jewish."
To my surprise, this seemed to placate everyone, so I held on to that cure-all answer for the rest of my summer camp career, which only lasted to the end of that day. The longest day of my eight-year-old life.
I remember as time dragged on, each activity was sandwiched between some sort of Bible study or prayer circle or rote memorization of somebody else's ideas about God.
Was this like the brainwashing my grandpa had told me about in his old war stories? These poor kids, I thought. As in Grandpa's stories, I wondered who would be brave enough to break out of this prison camp -- I mean, day camp -- with me.
As the last hour of the day passed ever-so-slowly, a man recited to us a bunch of things that God had supposedly told him, not based on a personal discussion but on an ancient book, which he assured us God had actually written.
Finally, my mom arrived to take me home. Saved! Yes, I truly felt saved, although not in the way the camp counselors intended. I never returned.
That experience sparked some of my earliest revelations about other people's understanding of the spiritual realm. I was shocked to understand that some rely on others to explain God to them. Don't you know God from your own heart? I wondered. And I was disturbed to witness people instruct others how they should act, how they should feel, how they should think, all based on ancient superstitions.
I was also sad to see my friends willingly give up their power to others who claimed to know God better than us. It was both an enlightening and a bewildering experience.
As the new school year began, my class was asked to draw a picture of the place we came from and write the place name across the top of our drawing. I drew a beautiful planet near some celestial formations and above it wrote a long word containing a complicated mix of consonants.
Teacher: What is this?
Me: The place I come from.
Teacher: And what do all these letters spell?
Me: That's the closest I could get to its pronunciation.
Teacher: Where is this place?
Me: Same place Jesus came from.
Teacher: So it's somewhere in Israel.
Me: No, it's in another part of the Universe.
End of conversation.
That wasn't the first or the last such interaction I had with adults on that topic. I always wondered why people behaved oddly when I said I came from the same place Jesus came from. Everyone either laughed it off as a child's fantasy or acted like I was the spawn of Satan for speaking such blasphemy.
On the contrary, even though I was just shy of turning nine, I wondered, How could these so-called adults have such childish views about God? How could they rely on others to know God?
I thought to myself, I know God. I didn't need a book. God isn't confined in paper. I didn't need a rabbi or pastor or pope. God isn't partial to titles or robes. I didn't need one word from outside my own heart, for God's truth expresses itself directly.
Thanks to such revelations by my eight-year-old self, I came to view God as the whole of life, the entirety of the vast Universe. We are all a piece of God.
And that's why, with me being gay, I knew a piece of God is gay, too.