I was emotionally tortured as a teenager. I'm sure people who knew me in those days would be shocked to hear me proclaim that. Honestly, it shocks me now that I look back as a decently well-adjusted adult and realize the cruelty that I experienced. In light of the recent attacks on LGBT people in Orlando compared to the almost near silence of many religious people, I need to speak out to them and say, "this is the moment where you do not remain silent."
In my small Southern Indiana hometown in the late 80s and early 90s, church was the center for many young people's social lives. It certainly was mine. Unfortunately, I was the church golden boy with a dark secret. I was gay, and in that culture there could almost be nothing worse.
The homophobic atmosphere was already in place before puberty kicked in. As a child I sat through numerous sermons about the evils of homosexuality while people around me quietly said "amen." I remember once someone spotted a very brave same sex couple holding hands at the mall. It was quite the Sunday morning gossip, and we prayed for those depraved men. My church was "progressive" and some men were growing out their hair and getting an ear pierced, but certainly not the ear that signified you were gay. The right side was the correct side, I think. Maybe it was the left -- which ever side George Michael's ear wasn't pierced.
So when the hormones hit me, and the realization was undeniable, I knew I was in very grave trouble. I hid it at first, but the guilt was too great. Eventually, I confessed to a few, and this set in motion a series of years where a handful of locally well-respected men "counseled" me. Or, as I now see it, tortured me.
Perhaps it's a hard story to swallow. I was a good-looking and gregarious kid. I grew up in a nice house with nice clothes. Eventually, I packed my car and drove off to college (an event I now believe saved my life) and everything seemed just fine. Torture?
As I was becoming who I was going to be, there were multiple authority figures whom I trusted completely sitting me down on a regular basis over the course of years essentially telling me I was innately perverted and that if I couldn't somehow figure it out, I would literally burn in a pit of fire forever. I really believed that for a while. In a desperate attempt to rid myself of...well...myself, I started attending Exodus Ministries meetings, a now defunct "pray away the gay" organization. There the mental abuse continued. I was usually all smiles while in church, but no one ever saw me sitting in my car weeping, which happened a lot. I'd just sat through a torture session, after all.
A lot of time has passed. I'm sure those people's memories of the things they said to me are no big deal. I would guess people still in that community all these years later oppose same sex marriage and freely vocalize it. I'm sure their language about LGBT people has been modernized a bit, but they still openly oppose the "lifestyle choice" and feel fine about their own "sincerely held beliefs." In other words, they are still maintaining that atmosphere ripe for the same subtle torture I was put through. Whether they know it or not, it's an atmosphere that also gives birth to Omar Mateens. Even though he was an Islamic extremist, all homophobic words and actions feed this fire and are complicit in the Orlando shootings.
Over the past few days I've been watching the social media feeds of the religious people from my past, waiting for one of them to mention the Orlando tragedy against the gay community and recognize it as such. Unfortunately I've barely seen a mention, and the silence is deafening.