It took me long time to accept who I was. Most of my life, in fact. When I was in my late teens, I had a relationship with a young man the same age as myself. This was illegal at the time as the age of homosexual consent in the UK was 21, remaining so until the late 1990s when it became 18. (In 2004 it was finally made the same as heterosexual consent: 16.) We didn’t care. We had a lovely time and I for one was very happy. I think Sam was too. We lost touch eventually as life took us down different paths.
Not long after, I fell in among Christians. A friend – let’s call him Simon – thought it would be a good idea if we started going to the YMCA. This was long before the organisation became synonymous with the Village People and hangin’ out with all the boys. The YMCA I encountered was markedly evangelical. Once we’d visited a few times we were ‘invited’ to one of their young people’s meetings. I can’t remember what snappy title these meetings went by, but essentially they were a mixture of worship, bible reading and ‘teaching’. Sometimes there’d be a guest speaker who would tell us all about their relationship with Jesus, which, in case we had any doubts, was just marvellous. Before long I was giving my life to Jesus too, though in the long run it turned out to be only a temporary loan.
Occasionally, one of these guest speakers would talk about relationships, those with other human beings, and sex. From them I learnt that sex was almost always wrong: sex before marriage, sex outside marriage, sex with yourself – all of them were sinful. Even imagining sex and fancying someone (which qualified as lust) were wrong too. Who knew? But the most sinful, wicked and sordid sex of all was sex with someone of the same sex.
It didn’t seem it to me. The encounters I’d had with Sam were far from sordid and not at all evil. On the contrary, they were a lot of fun! But these people, these Christians, seemed to know what they were talking about. And hadn’t I given my life to Jesus? He detested homosexuality, or God did anyway, so Jesus must’ve felt the same way (actually this was all in the present tense, Jesus being alive and monitoring us from Heaven and all; Jesus detests homosexuality, they’d tell us.) Sometimes they’d read verses from the bible that proved it.
And so I started to suppress my feelings. They’d kinda got me in trouble anyway, when my body betrayed me in the showers after gym at school. Other boys would torment me about it. I wasn’t actually ‘out’, as we’d say today, and terms like ‘queer’ and ‘poof’ (the British equivalent of ‘fag’) were bandied around as general insults – they didn’t necessarily mean anyone actually thought you were gay. Nonetheless, they came a little too close to comfort. All things considered, a retreat to the back of the closet (not that I knew this terminology then either) seemed the best option. It was what Jesus wanted, or so I thought. I started to deny myself for him, as he insists his followers do, and began a life of self-deception.
Which would’ve been fine, except it’s impossible to live a lie in isolation. Others invariably become involved.
Religion has a way of making everything sinful and making people feel ashamed of who they are. I once read a response on a Christian forum from a pastor talking about nocturnal emissions. A person asked if there was something wrong with them or if the body’s natural action was in some way sinful. The pastor said that because it happened, there must have been some underlying lust in the person’s life causing them to sin in their sleep without even knowing it. That’s a horrible thing to teach people. Being born a certain way or having your body do what it does naturally should not be condemned or used as a way to guilt someone into confirming to religion.
It’s sad how many young people hide their true selves or do harm to themselves out of fear and guilt. It seems that the world is changing for the better, but it’s still not easy and it will take more time still.
Christianity has always had such hang-ups about the body and about sex. So much of it is about controlling other people, particularly but not exclusively those who are non-conformist. What has it to do with pastors, evangelists and ministers what our bodies do and what we choose to do with them?
When I’m judged by the self-righteous to be the worst kind of sinner because of how they assume I do sex, I tell them that provided I treat others as I myself would wish to be treated, then I’m being entirely moral (not to mention ‘Christian’.) Needless to say, they invariably disagree because somewhere or other the bible says blah, blah blah…
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