The biggest issues for me growing up was escapism, avoidance, and denial. Yet those very things were my greatest coping mechanisms. They kept me from outing myself when I was not ready to be. They spared me from my father, a Church of Christ preacher, taking action to “cure me” at an early age when I would have had little to no say in what he chose to do. These mechanisms kept my eye moving past that one facet of myself.
I made myself seem straight to the point that I really believed I was. I also romanticized the prospect of straight relationships to the point of being unrealistic. They were fairy tales in my head. Making a relationship unreachable kept me in a happy, safe zone preventing me from actively dating girls. I spent my free time helping my twin deal with her relationships instead. I even found myself giving advice to her friends and other girls I befriended. I could empathize with the female perspective and tell them how I saw other guys think and act. But I didn’t act like them. I was certain I didn’t think like them either.
I was keenly observant as a child. I saw all the “wrong” things to do in life and avoided them. Not only that but I took horror stories into account of people being destroyed by alcohol, smoking, drugs, being in abusive relationships, etc. That, unfortunately, included being gay. Gays die of AIDS. Their “lifestyle” is not only evil but it is always harmful. Gays are promiscuous and it’s all about sex; not love. Being a “practicing” homosexual was a choice and it was a wrong choice. These were things I learned early and I took them to be true.
So when I manifested homosexual feelings toward other boys it first showed in television movies and shows. I liked the male actors around my age more than female ones. They were not just admirable characters. I had romantic attachments to them that I would not recognize at first. I simply thought I wanted to be like them. At some point, I realized what I was actually feeling and became ashamed of it. I pushed it away once I realized I could have such feelings for boys at school.
My observations helped me conclude that Texarkana was not safe for me. I could not trust my family, not even my twin, with this information. I could not trust friends. I could not trust figures in authority, counselors, or psychiatrists. Because, if I were to try, I could only imagine all of the things that could go wrong. If I admitted that I was gay to anyone it couldn’t be taken back. So I didn’t. I couldn’t even admit it to myself. I told myself I wasn’t gay. I was just being tormented by evil thoughts.
I had countless bouts of sadness, anger, longing, and regret at being cursed with homosexuality as my temptation. Many nights spent in anguished tears and cyclical prayer begging God to not see me as disgusting. Somehow… I skirted deep depression. I never once thought of harming myself or taking my life to be free. I rationalized that everyone had something to deal with and was my burden so bad? God was testing me and I could bear it.
But a life lived in this way hurt me. I felt beleaguered. Boxed in by something I could not seem to control. My time living in Texarkana, and a life of going to church, polarized a part of me. It grew separately as a conglomerate of all the things I had to hold back: being an “evil” homosexual, impetuousness, impulsiveness, bravery, and all that wrapped in biting sarcasm. Things that would only show when I felt attacked and I lashed out. I actively blamed living with my twin sister and mom for what made me, I felt, was effeminate. Anytime someone questioned my sexuality I used my observations of them to strike at weaknesses and distract from their accusations.
It was only at 20 years of age, when my partner found me, that I had a hand reach out to me. He took the time to befriend me. Early on he confided in me that he was gay. His effort to befriend me finally brought me to where I told myself that I could handle being around a homosexual regularly. That I could have homosexual friends. As I got to know him he pulled me out of the closet, even though he did not know it himself. He opened the door and I found myself stepping out and seeing the other side of myself that I kept shut out. He helped me open up about everything I kept hidden in shame for so long. And the craziest part is that he is also from Texarkana. Go figure, right?
For much of my life, I gave into fear. And part of that fear came from my roots in my hometown. I had to play it safe else I was certain my life would spin out of control. I had to deny much of myself and who I really was because the place I was born would not have been accepting of all of me. Yes, that is mostly due to being in a Christian household, but much of Texarkana’s overall mentality stems from religious beliefs and the churches within it. I have nothing against the church. I still believe in God.
But my hometown needs to open its eyes and its heart. It needs to not only acknowledge the people who suffer silently as I did, or openly as many dare to do. But it needs to accept them and love them for who they are. If not, people will leave. Either by moving away and finding it necessary to break ties with the people they love or by killing themselves to be free of internal and external oppression. This has to stop.