The Rest of the (Gay) Story

Posted: August 17, 2013 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

October 19th, 2010

I was recently interviewed by a reporter for the Religion News Service (Gays tell teens ‘it gets better’ despite religion) about my video for the It Gets Better project (Gay Catholic Author says It Gets Better). What always surprises me is that, despite how much information might be communicated in an interview, how little often makes it to the finished product. I appreciate that attention spans are short — and that news must be consise, but to that I say, ‘Thank God for blogs!’

I’ve decided to post my extended responses to the interview questions below. To share the rest of the (gay) story.

Q: What do you think of the IT GETS BETTER project, both generally and in terms of the contributions that have come from faith leaders and people from Mormon/Catholic/Muslim evangelical, etc. backgrounds?

A: I couldn’t be more pleased. You know, this YouTube technology has existed for awhile – but it always takes someone with an idea and conviction to get something started. And it’s so simple! The GLBT community as a whole – present and future – owes a debt of gratitude to Dan Savage for having the courage and the conscience to initiate it.

When I was in grammar school in rural Western NY in the 1970s, homosexuality as a topic really didn’t come up in conversation at the dinner table, or at St. Michael’s School, or among my friends. At the time, I had the vague sense that the word had to do with something dirty or shameful…and certainly sinful.

When I began to recognize feelings within myself of attraction – not to girls, but to other boys – I almost immediately went into secrecy mode. There was NO WAY I was going to be a homosexual. And THAT’s when I started the investigation – all in secret. Back then, I had to rely on the library for human sexuality books, or my parent’s encyclopedia, or my bible from religion class at Catholic school – that’s where I was getting my information.

In my childhood, there were no positive gay role models that I recall. On the contrary, I remember a TV movie of the week with Joan Collins (The Making of a Male Model) and there was a gay side character that was tragically sarcastic – he ended up in a suicide attempt. That was my only image of gay people – being carried away on a gurney.

                       

The messages that I found in my secret investigation – they were so mixed. The encyclopedia talked about theories of angry fathers and overbearing mothers. The human sexuality books said that adolescent feelings of attraction between boys were pretty normal – that it was just a phase; that it would pass. The Bible used words like abomination. So the conclusion from my research was that I WAS NOT GOING TO BE A HOMOSEXUAL. Period. And that I’d just have to wait for the feelings to pass.

If I could have had access to information like the IT GETS BETTER project – holy cow. What that positive and thoughtful, everyday dialogue might have meant to me. Hearing that other people LIKE me had struggled like I was struggling – wow. I know I would have felt less alone. More like I belonged.

Again, the messaging I received from church was very minimal. I recall an article from the newspaper that a boy read in a public speaking class in 6th grade “Church Says No to Gays.” That stuck with me – even now, 30 years later.

The priests and nuns really didn’t mention gays. There were little innuendoes here and there – like the reading of the Sodom and Gomorrah story in 9th grade religion class. But the thing is, I had so successfully convinced myself that I wasn’t gay – I was so successfully hiding my secret, even from MYSELF, that I played along with the subtle homophobia – when kids would use ‘fag’ or ‘queer’ as a derogatory adjective. I’m sure I did some of it myself. Or, on the surface, I didn’t worry about Father Jamison’s raised eyebrows during the Sodom and

Gomorrah story. Because I was banking on the fact that my affection for other boys would pass as I grew older.

Of course, I would have watched IT GETS BETTER videos in total secrecy – but I could have discovered the one thing that I wasn’t finding elsewhere – HOPE.

I’ve observed that there’s a general perception of fear around this subject when the GLBT community proposes talking with grammar or high school kids. My own high school won’t even acknowledge on the alumni achievements’ site that I wrote a gay Catholic memoir. (I requested; they politely refused). They’ve celebrated other books by other alumni…but not mine.

What many adults don’t seem to be able to acknowledge is that kids ARE dealing with these things in grammar school. I experienced my first erection around 5th grade. I looked at my first “dirty magazine” when I was in 7th grade. I had my first masturbation experience and subsequent first sexual encounter in 8th grade.

And through all those early experiences with sexuality – I was so sickened and ashamed – because through all of them, I wasn’t thinking about Farrah Fawcett or Wonder Woman. I was thinking about Superman. And I mistakenly believed that such feelings were NOT OKAY with God.

The IT GETS BETTER project can reach kids who need to hear these messages in a private, powerful way. I know my next example is cliché, but that doesn’t make it any less true. Consider that an African-American adolescent who has been bullied for being black can come home to their African-American parents and potentially receive sympathy and solidarity. A gay kid who has been bullied and can come home and receive sympathy from straight parents – but not the solidarity. In my opinion, IT GETS BETTER can supply that sense of ‘I’ve been there.’

Q: In what way do you think religion has contributed to gay bullying/suicides?

A: In my opinion, the messages from many organized religions – although I’m most familiar with Catholic – ultimately empower the culture of bullying. They don’t condone it, but they do empower it. Don’t get me wrong – my faith has offered a lot of comfort when grappling with difficult subjects throughout my whole life. But the fantastic struggle I had as an adolescent was that God seemed to be sending me two opposing messages: condemning the behavior of two men loving each other – then consoling me in my grief and loneliness. I mean, when I got into high school and did even MORE secret research on gay sexuality, the messages I received at that point were more clear: Catholic gays who were sexually active were not welcome at the altar of Christ; homosexuals were called to live chaste lives (supposedly like all the other single Catholics out there – but nobody EVER seemed to want to point out the simple logic that straight single Catholics had the option to love and to marry. They had HOPE). I learned that, if I was truly gay, I was to link my sacrifice to the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, and endure a solitary life of chaste endurance. Which seemed like a pretty bleak message to a healthy boy of 17.

When you classify someone as “less than” for any reason, you empower others to feel – and act – “better than.” To me, that’s what the negative messages about homosexuality and homosexual behavior from many organized religions ultimately achieve.

Q: What is the responsibility of faith leaders and people of faith here?

A: I think that faith leaders and people of faith need to continue to educate themselves – even more than they are today. Talk to gay people. Watch 100 videos on IT GETS BETTER. Read the bible stories about David and Jonathan or Ruth and Naomi. Pray. Be willing to stretch their faith. Pray some more.

If, after all that, they still hold a belief that a loving, generous God does not celebrate the committed love of man for man or woman for woman, I ask them to consider how they act on that belief. ESPECIALLY if they work with children. Because the next adolescent they encounter might be like I was. A kid grappling with an overwhelming problem in secret. A secret big enough to encourage suicide as a more ‘holy’ solution.

Most of all, they should consider that ‘towing a Catechismal line’ that condemns homosexual behavior – all in the name of faith – can rob devout gay kids of something as equally as important as faith: HOPE.

Gregory Gerard is a gay Catholic author who resides in Rochester NY with his partner of thirteen years. His memoir, In Jupiter’s Shadow, explores the importance of emerging from the ‘shadow’ of others’ expectations and how people can often work to hide important truths from the most important person in their lives: themselves.

For fun, I post my stuff at www.GregoryGerard.net.
For serious, I post my stuff at
www.JupitersShadow.com.
I invite you to visit my stuff.

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