"Do you really think you can change," my sister-in-law asked, sitting across from me in a small living room in the Bronx the summer of 2011 when I made the decision to live with her and my brother.
It was a question I had asked myself on and off in the two years since I transferred to a Christian university and had begun conversion therapy.
Some days, I found the words of Dr. Phil, my conversion therapist, as well as the words of my Christian brothers and sisters comforting. I could do it. I could stop being gay. Yet in the days when I would walk back to my dorm room after a secret Craigslist hookup on Palm Beach Island, I would find myself crying, feeling ashamed that I was failing those people, myself, and God.
In Matthew 5:37 in the Christian Bible, there is a verse that says, "Let your 'yes' be 'yes' and your 'no' be 'no.'" The verse is a staple in the Christian community and strips away the gray area in terms of decision making. But, when it came to answering that one question, it was all fifty shades of gray.
My sister-in-law, on the other hand, had never been conflicted about her thoughts on anything. A Dominican woman, raised in the Heights with a resemblance to (though she hates to admit) Rosario Dawson, my sister-in-law has always carried herself with a tough-as-nails attitude. "When you walk down the street in New York, walk with confidence and stare straight, right through people," she once told me when I first joined her in New York. "Otherwise, people can smell fear."
When I first came out, she was one of the first people to reach out in support and pushed my brother to show his support for me. Yet, when I opted to join the church and undergo conversion therapy, she wasn't necessarily the loudest skeptic but, if her eye rolls could've talked, they'd be Wendy Williams.
The night I felt like confronting her about her thoughts about my faith was the night she asked me the question about change in her bitterly cold, signature Princess Elsa delivery. That night, however, as much as I wanted to deflect answering, she would not let it go.
"Well..." she pressed.
I could feel my tears welling up. Of course, one of the things I hated more than anything in the world was losing a battle of words with my sister-in-law. I was angry, but the emotion was coming from years of my "yeses" being "maybes" and my "noes" being "kindas" reaching a boiling point.
In a weird way, I wanted someone, beside myself, to confront me. Up until then, I had been a master player of people's perceptions of my ability to change, but, with one pointed question, my sister-in-law was pulling back my emerald city curtain, my Christianity. Behind it wasn't a bold, take no prisoners evangelist. It was a scared, self-loathing gay twenty-something.
"No," I said.
Our eyes met and silence filled the room. It was a moment broken by the sound of my brother walking through the door.
"Is everything okay," he asked.
"Yes," my sister-in-law said. "Just talking."
I didn't say anything to my brother. I walked out the door. It wasn't until I had felt the warm air of a late May in New York City that the tears that were building broke through the floodgates of my eyes. I wandered in a zombie like state to the subway stop on Buhre Ave. There, I had two thoughts in my head while my feet balanced on the ledge close to the tracks. The first one was to jump. The second: to call my younger sister.
"Hello," she answered in her signature alto.
"Tell me you love me," I said, as tears rolled down my face.
"I love you," she said.
I honestly can't remember the rest of the conversation, but it was enough to get me to make the trek back to the apartment. When I returned, my brother and his wife were settled in their room for the night. Walking into my room, I turned toward a small black mirror that hung crooked on the wall. As I stared into the mirror, the first thing that popped into my mind wasn't a clichéd moment of introspection. All I could muster after crying so much were the words, "Wow. You look like shit."
So, I showered. Afterward, I got changed and returned to the subway stop, this time to actually board the train. I rode the six train down to Union Square and found myself walking toward the first gay club to pop up on Google after typing "gay clubs in NYC": Splash.
It was my first gay club experience since undergoing conversion therapy. The last time I stepped into a club, I was being escorted out of Legends in North Carolina after drinking underage in 2009, throwing up on the dance floor and trying to hide in the girl's bathroom.
At Splash, I tipped the gorgeous dancers dancing along the wet walls, took my own shirt off to get a free shot from Dougie Meyer, and twirled underneath the disco ball as DJ Steve Sidewalk played tracks from Gaga's Born This Way.
As Gaga's "Hair" filled the room, I thought about the lyric, "I just want to be myself, and I want you to love me for who I am." That night saying "yes" to going to the club after saying "no" to my sister-in-law's question was one of the first night's I felt pride. It was a decision to not have my "no" be associated with shame but to have it be accompanied with celebration. It was a step toward self-acceptance, telling myself to love myself for who I am. That night, I put a hold on Christian apologetics to be unapologetically me, and, five years later, though you won't find me at Splash (may she rest in peace), I'm still twirling.