I was one of the lucky ones. I was able to hide it, I was never outed. But is that really a good thing? To hide who you are for so long that you quite literally forget who you were? I don't think it is a good thing. It was a defense mechanism, I was young and didn't understand. The world I lived in was not friendly to people who were different, especially gay people, and so I hide the truth even from myself. I also did anything I could to convince myself that the religion I was told to believe was true, because the world I lived in would have been extremely hostile to me otherwise. At least that is what I told myself. I tried so hard to convince myself that I forgot what I really believed in my heart, I completely forgot who I was. I excused myself by saying it was a defense mechanism, but in actuality I was a coward. I didn't have the strength to come out and face the truth to others, I didn't even have the strength to come out to myself. I try not to judge myself too harshly, my circumstances were not conducive to admitting such things about myself. But I do know that I cannot live a lie any longer, over the past couple years I slowly remembered who I was, and began telling those closest to me, who I was. It was very scary at first, even though I am no longer a teenager, an adult able to make my own decisions. I was nervous, I didn't know how people would react. But even though most reactions have not been negative, it was still a trying experience, I almost felt embarrassed to tell the truth. Ashamed, almost like I was admitting to wrongdoing. It is the culture I grew up in. But mostly it was liberating, and I feel like I can finally be who I am. This is my story.
My family was Catholic, or to put it better, we were Traditional Roman Catholic. That is to say, my family was from a radical group within the church that believed that the changes in Vatican II had made the church a sinful place and the modern mass was not valid, or subversive, or some other such nonsense. None of them could agree on how sinful it was, or what exactly were the particulars of what made it bad, but they all agreed that it was. They are quasi-schismatics, some of them openly so. But then we moved to Kentucky from California when I was five, and we joined a group called The Society of St. Pius X. The group was created by an Archbishop Lefebvre. When the changes in the church began, he started his own sect that continued to serve the traditional Latin mass, without the changes from Vatican II. He appointed several bishops for his new order without the blessing of Rome and began his new splinter group. The bishops were excommunicated. The Society never openly declared themselves separated from Rome, however, many of them were Sedevacants. For those who do not know, those are people who believe, for one reason or another, that the seat of Rome is vacant. That is, that the line of popes has been broken and the current pope has no authority. To explain the relevance of this, I was growing up surrounded by a group that was much conservative, to put it lightly, in terms of social issues, than even most Novus Ordo Catholic churches (the mainstream church). And by this, I mean their tolerance level for anything different was very low. They believed that non-traditional Catholics were going to hell, gay people were going to hell, and were all perverts (this was a common theme). Atheists would burn, you name it. Anyone who wasn't them and didn't follow the extremely narrow doctrine they believed in would burn for all eternity. Real Catholic doctrine talks about invincible ignorance, about baptism of desire and of blood. Traditional Catholics disregard such concepts, just like they disregard the authority of the church they claim to be a member of. To bring the point home, perhaps some of you have heard of a man named Bishop Williamson? Shortly after the current pope Benedict the XVI lifted the excommunication on the bishops from the society, and welcome them back to the fold, Bishop Williamson was heard speaking of how the holocaust was a myth. I could tell all sorts of stories about Williamson, such as his obsession with women wearing pants, and how it caused men to have lustful thoughts, but thats a story for another time. Suffice it to say, this man was one of the top few leaders in the society, and that should give you some idea the sort of leadership that we dealt with.
Luckily for me my family was not quite as radical as some in the group, and did not entirely agree with all of the nonsense. But they agreed enough to not leave, to continue taking us their the entire time we grew up. I believe it did untold damage to the entire family. But worse, I was home-schooled. For those of you who were, not all who are home-schooled are done so for bad reasons, and many turn out great, or get a great education. In the case of my family, we were home-schooled because my parents did not want us being taught evil things like the Theory of Evolution. They believed that the public schools would teach us all sorts of evil lies about science and sexuality, and liberal versions of history. Now my mother taught us, and in some respects she didn't do a horrible job. Aside from a deficiency with math that I have struggled with in college because I did not have a good foundation, I have done well in a college environment. My reading comprehension skills on the SAT were good, my writing passable, my mathematics dismal. But my qualm with this teaching was that in an effort to avoid me learning lies, I was taught the real lies, and it took years to shake off the effects of the indoctrination. It also caused me to rarely spend time around anyone who was not in a similar situation to me. This caused an echo chamber effect and made it hard for me to find questioning viewpoints so as to fight the lies I was being fed. I am a logical person, but with no conflicting viewpoints I couldn't see past the indoctrination.
This is the world I grew up in. In the Northern Kentucky Cincinnati Area, hardly a liberal area. Hardly a progressive area. There is a quote often attributed to Mark Twain, though it's origins are not verified "If the world comes to an end, I want to be in Cincinnati. Everything comes there ten years later." A world where people lived in the past, summed up the area perfectly. Though ten years is being generous, I would say fifty. In this environment admitting who I was would have been disastrous. At least that's what I told myself. Everyone believed that gays were evil, perverts. That they preyed on children, that what they did was a sick thing, that they were an abomination. Any mention of anything gay, and someone brought up Sodom and Gomorrah. We needed to be obliterated, God said so in the bible and that was final. Problematically for me, for as long as I could remember I liked boys. When I was very young, I wasn't interested in girls but I really liked boys. I knew I did, I knew it was the truth. But I was afraid, it was such a taboo thing to be. My friends would have disliked me, I would have been shunned, people most likely would have not me I was not really gay. They would have told me I needed to have the gay cured from me. I cannot even imagine what that would have done to me psychologically. I was the type of person who always told myself that I was okay with who I was, that I was myself and if people didn't like me they weren't worth it. For a person like me, being told by so many that who I was, was evil, perhaps would have destroyed me. For that reason I hid who I was from myself, I knew and I forgot. I can't even describe what a horrid period my teenage years were. I had fantasies about guys, I told myself I liked them as friends. I felt guilty, dirty. I thought I was going to hell. If I masturbated I thought I was going to hell. I was so scared all the time, thinking I was an abomination in the eyes of God. Sleepless nights, crying, beating myself to atone for my sins. I am painfully ashamed to admit I did that, but I believed I was so evil. The fear and guilt nearly consumed me. I was resilient, but I was ALONE. If I could not even admit it to myself, how could I admit it to others? My thoughts were evil, masturbating was evil, I was sinful and going to hell. And for years I believed it, I agonized over it. I believed the devil would take me in my sleep and recited prayers and held crucifixes and icons trying to pray away the evil inside me. But I still hid from myself who I was. I wouldn't admit it.
A few years ago my family moved to Maryland. They went to a different traditional Catholic church, I was barely eighteen years old. It was no longer St. Pius X. I thought it might be better, at first it was. Then an old priest there starting preaching the same hate I was used to. And I left, went to a local Novus Ordo mass, much to my fathers dismay. I tried so hard to be Catholic, to convince myself that I believed in God. But you see I was starting to have doubts. The internet had been my savior, I had met people there on discussion forums and blogs who had argued with me, and being a logical person I started to realize that what I believed might not actually be correct. I already believed that the Theory of Evolution was probably true, and I was starting to question whether gay people were really that bad, though I still made fun of them sometimes. But I just couldn't' be Catholic, I tried so hard to convince myself that I was. I came up with so many logical justifications for God being real, but I personally could not bring myself to believe it. I could not be Catholic, I was trying to force myself to believe a religion that was never truly mine, but something forced on me. To make matters worse I was never a real Catholic in any sense, since I had grown up in a quasi-Catholic-cult. I left the church, explaining this to my parents was, hard. I called myself agnostic to soften the blow, even though I felt closer to atheist. I am honestly still not sure at this point. I believe in being tolerant of others beliefs. But I must be honest with myself, I will not again force myself to believe something that is not true. And one more wall fell. And I was finally discovering who I was.
I had already begun to become a progressive, reading Daily Kos, too afraid to comment or write a diary. For many years I never signed up for an account. For the longest time after that, I never participated at all beyond lurking. But I eagerly soaked up everything. I read people's stories, about their struggles with coming out, and slowly, very slowly I started to wake up. When I saw the truth about myself that I had hid away for so long I was scared, but it felt good somehow. Like discovering an old friend I hadn't seen for a long time. I felt whole again. I came out to one of my brothers first. Then slowly I came out to the rest of my siblings. I knew my brother wouldn't judge me. I had to take it slow, I was scared to admit it to myself. But I got it out there. I was afraid if I didn't tell someone, several people, I would try to hide it from myself again, and lose who I was. I was dreadfully afraid of that. So I started telling my siblings, and finally my mother. My dad doesn't know yet, I have not got up the courage to tell him. I am in my twenties, a college student, moving out soon. It is not so much that I am afraid, well partly, more that I feel he will be disappointed and blame himself. I'm not sure I can handle that right now. But I finally came to understand who I am, I don't have a boyfriend yet. But at least I have stopped living a lie, and it feels so much better. I am studying Buddhism and I love it. And life feels so much better.
But did it really have to be so painful? I don't know. Should I have really hid the truth from myself for so long? Did it do more harm than good? I will never know. But what I do know, is that if you are in the closet, please come out. Not for others but for yourself. You are worth it, you are a great, unique person no matter what anyone says. Do no ever let yourself feel guilty for being who you are. Do not ever let anyone tell you who to be, or what to do. Only you know what is best for you. But if you remember anything, remember this. What they say in the campaign is true, it gets better. It will always get better. People's reactions may not be great, you may face some bullying, but do not give up. Though the sky may seem dark, and it may look to stretch as far as the eye can see, the winds of change are blowing. Your life will get better, and the lives of all LGBT people will get better. The wind is at our backs and the tide is turning.
Peace and love to you all.
P.S. I am sorry for making this so long. It is quite a long story and I am not good at summaries.