Once upon a time, I was known almost exclusively on the web for being a gay Christian. I wrote day in, day out, about the experience of homosexuality and faith, and I eventually developed a tidy following for my work. For almost all of my late teens and pretty much all of my twenties, I dedicated my life to sorting out the puzzle of my sexuality, and it consumed my every thought. It kept me up at night, I wept, I cut myself, I plunged into deep depression, I read and prayed and talked, I searched desperately for the love of God. And, all along the way, I wrote untold thousands of words in poetry, fiction, journal entries, and articles.
“This consumes you, Stephen,” my mother told me once. “I would much rather see you compose symphonies, write great novels, than be so obsessed with this.” Despite our great differences, my mother was right – this consumed me. I slowly came to realize that there was a whole world of other joys and passions that I was missing because of my single minded obsession with the gay Christian debate. I came to realize that I wrote, and thought, and obsessed so much about it because I was ashamed. I was deeply ashamed of my orientation, and I was trying to extract the shame with words, theology, and debate. I was a crazed, wounded dog, trying to gnaw out the pain, cut off the bear trap that was keeping me in torment. Shame looms so huge and makes the world world seem so small; it makes the pain monolithic and the whole world vanish.
Some of the best work I have ever done in my life has been on this topic. Numerous people have reached out to me, expressing their gratitude that I was the one who finally helped them accept themselves as gay, or that I was the one who finally walked them from non-affirming to affirming. I’m proud of my work on this issue, but I’m finally coming to terms with the truth that my work was never, at it’s deepest core, about helping others (though it did, a great deal.) It was about trying to solve the puzzle of my own internalized homophobia and shame.
I don’t regret this. I don’t regret that I had to spend half my teens and nearly all my twenties obsessing over being gay and Christian. I regret that we live in a world where such obsession is necessary; I regret that we live in a world that creates such shame. Being different, and being told you are deeply wrong, creates a pychic splinter that tears you apart with pain, and pain makes your whole world go dark. That splinter – our perceived difference – becomes the object of our obession, until it is fully removed, and we are able to be who we are without shame. I don’t regret my years of obsession – it was only human.
My enormous breakdown of 2014 and 2015 changed all this for me. It was the final birthing of all the shame, it was the psychic heave that manifested all the shame, that forced me to deal with it. Finding my partner was a crucible, where my shame would either burn away into nothing, or destroy our lives together. I chose my partner, and I chose life.
Now, I look at the gay Christian debate with immense weariness. I can’t do it anymore. Instead I have found other, deeper passions: teaching yoga. Reading wonderful, weird fiction. Working at a discount organic grocery store that helps feed hungry people. Shame creates a faux-passion, a mimicry, but once I started to experience the real thing, once I started to experience the genuine rush of joy that only passion itself creates, there was no going back. At first it was awkward – who am I if I’m not full of obsession and shame? – but I’m slowly learning the dance. The ghost of shame is something that will probably always haunt me, but I am learning how to not let the ghost define me.
I will always write about being gay. It is such a monumental part of me, it will always be there, informing my experience of the world. But I am now released to write about other things, too: things that bring me joy. They might not bring in the same pageviews or popularity, but they make me happy, and that is what matters most.
These days, I can live without the looming shadow of shame. I wake up in the morning, kiss my partner, make coffee, and start my day. It never crosses my mind, now, that I must write an apologia for doing so.