At first, I was sure that I would have to speak about my Southern Baptist upbringing and being raised in a rural town where my dad is the pastor of the biggest church in the area. "That'd be entertaining," I assured myself as I considered witty stories and zingers to include. It's certainly an interesting facet of my life that I don't get to speak about at length very often.
Then my mind jumped to my college experience, specifically my trouble transitioning from feeling trapped in an ultra-conservative Bible belt town to finding freedom at a larger university (The University of Virginia) where I was able to be myself. However, that wouldn't be the whole story, and it's truly just skimming the surface of some of the issues that many religious homosexuals face. It wouldn't be fair to take one of the "easier" roads.
So I've decided to confront arguably the biggest enemy in my ongoing journey to being comfortable with myself, both as a gay man and as a Christian...myself.
It's no secret, coming out is rough. For every smooth announcement, there seem to be ten horror stories of abandonment and anger or hurt. Families, especially those where religion is emphasized and valued, can be the worst environments to open up a conversation on sexuality. Parents and siblings, aunts and uncles, grandparents, and cousins can all quickly change perspectives when they're informed one of their own is gay.
Friends and acquaintances, sadly enough, can be much the same. The pressure to come out and the fear of doing so can be debilitating for many.
My personal experience has taught me that we may be our own worst enemy when it comes to acceptance.
I remember when a guy I had been interested in for months finally had the nerve to ask me if I was interested in other young men. I was in ninth grade and I had known for years that it was indeed true, but this was the first time that anyone had forced me to truly consider it. I remember staring blankly ahead for what seemed like years and finally shakily admitting that I was gay. I knew in that moment that my life would never be the same, and I could never go back to my life before I admitted it to myself.
I refused to tell any friends or family members for years after because I hoped that it would eventually change and I would be straight. Sometimes I pushed it to the back of mind and sometimes it dominated my thoughts, but I would pray weekly that God would relieve me of my "issue" (the term that my parents and many still use to describe it to me) and to restore me to where He wanted me.
Since then, I've tried to make progress with myself. I require my own acceptance more than anyone else's approval, and I can honestly say that I make progress every day. It's difficult, there's no doubt about it, but it's a sort of daily reward.
I wish I could say for sure that the story has a happy ending, and I believe that eventually it will, but I'm still trying to find personal acceptance 7 years later. And 7 years is nothing compared to some of the personal stories that I have heard of men and women who spent a lifetime trying to deny aspects of themselves, either the gay or the religious, who never found much satisfaction in either facet of their lives.
As cliche as it may sound, the first step toward acceptance from anyone else has to start within. The good and the bad news is that we're harder on ourselves than others may be.
So, open question to anyone...how have you worked toward personal acceptance? How has this journey with yourself affected other relationships in your life? What progress have you made and where have you struggled?
Thanks for the opportunity to put something out there!