It's Hop against Homophobia time! This is such an amazing idea and Robin and I feel so lucky to have a chance to bring a focus to this issue. Obviously, we both feel so strongly about the idea of combating homophobia with information, knowledge, and patient education, so we think the idea of getting several hundred of us together to talk about it is incredible.
Here's how we thought we'd do things. I decided the only way we could really talk about homophobia and what that means to us now is to share my personal story. As I told Robin the other day, it's pretty much the most generic 'Gay Person in the Midwest' story in the world, but I think sometimes, sharing something like that is the most important thing you can do. Not because it's extraordinary - nothing about my life has really been that - but because it's not. Because there are so many people, I know, who have grown up like I have, who have faced the same things I did. I wish I'd known that, when I was younger. Maybe this will be our own little Oprah moment, a way to all sit on the couch and have a drink and talk.
Of course, we also want to give some stuff away. Everything's better with a give away! Leave us your thoughts in the comments below, share your own experiences, ask questions, just say hi. Make sure to include some way to get a hold of you, and you are entered to win this awesome prize pack.
Included are: A signed paperback of Blood Howl (just in time to read before the sequel, Blood in the Sand, gets a release date announced), your very own whistle necklace (so you'll never get lost), and a dog tag and cling sticker from one of my favorite non-profit groups, the Human Rights Campaign. (The profits from buying those, just like everything else from the HRC store, goes straight back to the organization.)
We're so incredibly grateful to the organizers of the Hop against Homophobia. This is a fantastic idea, and we look forward to seeing what other members of the m/m fiction community have to say. Writing gay fiction, for Robin and I, is one of the most rewarding experiences we could hope to have. Not only do we get to do what we've always wanted to do - write - but we get to develop characters we believe in and stories we love. Really, we have it pretty damn good.
There are moments, instances, seconds, that change everything. Our entire lives come down to those, to the before and after. To the known past and the fog-shrouded road ahead. The tale of the world is the history painted across someone’s face, the experiences caught in their eyes, the sound of their laugh echoing through the years, the drip of their tears wearing down who they were and who they might be.
A week ago, we were poised on the precipice of one of those times. As a nation we watched, breathless, as North Carolina voted on a measure that would take away the last shred of legally recognized dignity gay couples were allowed. Forget marriage, this was etching pure hatred into the words of the state constitution. Not content with simply denying gay relationships the legal protections and benefits of marriage, lawmakers in North Carolina crafted an amendment that would take away civil unions, domestic partnerships, any kind of equality for anyone who wasn’t straight and legally married. It was a stunning act of bigotry.
And it passed. With an overwhelming majority.
Now, neither my partner, Robin, nor I live in North Carolina. Our state has its own share of homophobic laws on the books, but we aren’t affected by this one. So in order to understand why that moment affected me so deeply, I suppose I have to explain where I’m coming from.
I grew up in the Midwest, in a small town, part of a deeply religious family. My parents love me, and they raised me to believe in God, in His word, in His plan for my life. They taught me that respecting and loving others is the highest calling we had.
Except, of course, if you were gay.
It’s not that God didn’t love homosexuals, you see. It’s just that their choices were a sin. Their lives condemned them to hell. They were promiscuous, more likely to be deeply depressed, and secretly unhappy with their lifestyle. It was a sad thing, to think you were gay, and God couldn’t bless you. My father once described it as being an alcoholic – you might be born with this sick tendency in your brain, but the true sin was indulging. It was a destructive, perverted path and one that could never lead to good things.
Over and over, in small ways, I was taught that the only normal was a heterosexual relationship. Being gay was so deeply unnatural that even speaking about it would cause my mother to grimace. Portrayals of homosexual people on television or in the movies meant we’d change the channel or leave the theatre. It was treated with a level of disgust that was entirely unique. I heard pastors preach love and God’s acceptance one day, then rant about the evil homosexual agenda the next.
It meant one thing to me – God couldn’t love a gay person. Or, rather, he simply didn’t. They were so far outside of what was right that even God couldn’t reach them.
I always knew I was different. My only exposure to gay people, though, was through the lens of my church and my family, so I didn’t realize that’s what all my discomfort around the opposite sex or my actual fear and disgust of straight sex meant. I thought I was broken. In many ways, I still do. That hatred and distaste towards gay people I saw all around me I turned around onto myself. Like a rusted sword I plunged it in deep, I let it fester, the infection spreading as the years went on. As I tried so desperately to be normal. I forced crushes on the opposite gender, I said all the right words, and yet the few times I could have had a relationship, I found excuses to back away. It felt so wrong to me, to do what everyone else was, and I couldn’t understand why.
When I was seventeen, I put the barrel of my father’s hunting rifle in my mouth and I pulled the trigger. Thankfully, I didn’t know how to load it properly and when nothing happened, I slunk back into the house and repressed that overwhelming despair even further. The word ‘gay’ was never said aloud by me. I had gay friends – I was in theatre, of course I did – but that didn’t relate to me. I loved them, I envied them so much it was a constant ache, but I couldn’t be them. Whatever I was, I wasn’t gay. God couldn’t love me if I was. My parents wouldn’t love me if I was. So, I wasn’t.
I went to a very conservative Christian college, working towards a degree in youth ministry. I thought if I dedicated myself to full time ministry, I could pray the gay away. I saw a psychologist for my depression, but I stopped going after a few sessions. I was overwhelmed with the fear that she’d find out. That she would know. Every time I stepped into a church, into a chapel service, I was struck with a deep sense of shame. God knew. If he was omnipotent, if he truly knew everything, then he knew my secret. Surely someone else would find out, too, and then I’d be one of those people I’d been warned about, cast away from the embrace of their faith because of their sin.
Eventually, I couldn’t handle the lying and the secrets. I couldn’t take pretending. I dropped out of college after hiding in my dorm for the better part of a semester, failing my classes and losing every friendship I’d formed. I had developed feelings towards my best friend, and that terrified me. I was certain everyone would find out; disconnecting was the only way I knew how to deal.
I moved away after a year of barely leaving my parents’ house. I picked a new state and I started over. No one there knew me, and I could pretend again. I could be straight. Failing that, I could be celibate. If I never had any relationships at all, no one would ever find out. The thought of taking a straight partner and having to reveal that secret side of myself was terrifying – much better to be alone.
For the first time, I tentatively identified myself as bisexual. Only to myself, only in my head, but at the ripe age of 21 I acknowledged that I was something other than confused. There are many bisexual people in the world, people who truly can have attraction to both sexes. I am not one of them. What I was, though, was afraid, and bisexual seemed to me to be the furthest I was willing to go. For me, it was a compromise between who I was and all of my own fears.
In this new place, in this new life, for a little while, I was fine. And then, one night, while out with my roommate, I looked over at them and realized that I didn’t want to just go see a movie with them. I didn’t want to talk about nothing. I wanted all of that, yes, but I wanted to touch them. I wanted a kiss, I wanted so much more than a kiss. I’d run across the country but I hadn’t escaped that secret.
A few months later, I moved home.
I couldn’t outrun my feelings, either. For months, I missed my friend. I missed the sound of their voice, I missed how they’d smile, I missed all the daydreams I’d had of a place where we just could be together. Where that secret wouldn’t matter so much. It took a year, but I gathered up every ounce of courage I had and told my friend the reason I’d left. I told them that they amazed me, that they had made my life better. I was afraid, yes, but I also thought I was in love, and I was willing to risk everything on that chance. I might have been raised on homophobia but I also had a healthy collection of fairy tales and Disney movies. Love, I believed, was worth jumping off a cliff for.
After I’d poured out my heart, in return my friend told me that people like me disgusted them. That the idea that someone they’d been friends with would have feelings like that was deeply disturbing. What I’d hoped would be something good, something positive, my first coming out to anyone I knew, turned into every nightmare I’d had.
God couldn’t love me. The people in my life wouldn’t. Being gay was not only a sin, it was something I would be punished for in every aspect of my life. There was no love, not for me.
I never talked to my friend again. Thinking about this, years later, still hurts. It’s still a pain I carry around, a hesitance I can’t quite get rid of. I still expect love to turn into disgust, for hope to crumble in my hands.
Distraught, I curled in on myself. I hid myself away even further. I lost a job because I couldn’t get out of bed in the morning, I lost friends because I couldn’t make myself care.
What I found, though, was a group of writers. The internet became my escape, writing became my release.
When I was twenty-five, for the first time, I called myself gay. It was in a chat room, talking to those fellow writers, those friends I knew by pen names and pseudonyms . During a discussion of sexuality, one of those late night ‘anything goes’ talks that so often happen with the veil of internet anonymity, I typed in the words.
My heart was in my throat as I hit enter. I felt sick, terrified, and I very nearly turned off the computer and walked away.
No one cared.
Perhaps a straight person can’t truly understand the depths of relief I felt at that moment. It wasn’t pats on the back, it wasn’t congratulations – I wanted none of that. What I wanted is what I got. Utter acceptance. Normalcy. It wasn’t that people were okay with me being gay. It was that it didn’t matter. There were other gay people, a few who identified as bisexual, a ton of straights, and none of it meant a damn thing. I couldn’t write better because I was gay. My personality didn’t change. I simply was who I was, I was Alex, and no one really cared beyond the initial question what my sexuality was.
It was the first moment I could remember thinking that maybe life was wider than what I’d know. That, perhaps, the history I knew, the experiences I’d had, didn’t make up the whole.
We have those moments. Those instances that divide our lives into the before and after. That was one for me. It wasn’t the most important, though. No, the most important came out of that. There was an author in that group, a person whose writing I admired, who made me laugh, who I had never actually met. Their name was Robin and they lived in Australia.
Still running, still so uncomfortable with myself, I decided for my 26th birthday I wanted to go out of the country. London was kicked around as a possibility until I saw some documentary on Australia. Impulsive, I booked a trip to Melbourne, only to find that was the town Robin lived in. Gracious as always, despite the risk of one or both of us being an axe murderer, Robin offered to meet me at the airport and make sure I found my hostel all right.
I still remember getting off the plane and seeing Robin smiling at me, holding up a sign with a silly inside joke, waiting for me.
I was in Melbourne for two weeks. We didn’t spend a moment apart. I never made it to my hostel.
Robin showed me Melbourne, we wrote together, we walked the city streets, the museums, the markets. We were gay, both of us, and Robin seemed so at home in it. I couldn’t help but follow along.
Perhaps I’m a romantic at heart. We did nothing but talk, we never even broached the subject of romance, but standing on a bridge overlooking the Yarra river, talking about absolutely nothing at all, I realized I was in love. Really, truly, deep and scary kind of love. This was the person I’d been waiting for my whole life.
Everything I could want, everything I’d never dared to hope for, Robin was. It wasn’t just big things, either, it wasn’t some grand epic romance. It was the fact we hadn’t run out of things to talk about in two weeks, or how I’d never felt like a stranger. It was that we both liked the same nerdy shows. That when Robin laughed the whole world lit up. That the way Robin drank tea – milk, sugar, pinky stuck out as hands wrapped around the mug – made me smile every damn time.
I loved Robin. In all the ways that I’d been told only happened between a man and a woman, I did.
And I was terrified.
I said nothing. I did nothing. I went home and I pretended nothing had changed.
Months passed and missing Robin was more than an ache. It was like a part of me had been ripped out, like sometimes I forgot how to breathe. In two weeks I’d woken up, I’d come alive, and missing that again was agony.
So one night I pulled together whatever bravery I had left, and I told Robin how I felt. I was fully prepared to be rejected. I knew that I would lose the friendship over this. What else could I do, though? Hiding, pretending, that terrible secret – I was already so deeply in the closet that it was painful, sometimes, to go through the day. One more lie was more than I could handle.
That was my moment. My big, life changing, earth shattering moment.
Before, I was so afraid of myself. Of who I was. I hated what I’d been born into. Dressing it up in different names, accepting a life alone, I’d done everything I could to wish it away.
That was my night. My fear, my self-loathing, that was my darkness. And in the middle of it came Robin. My after. Into my sorrow, came joy.
Four years ago this August, I told the most incredible person I’ve ever known that I’d fallen for them. The miracle is, they felt the same. The truly amazing thing is that they looked into my eyes, into my soul, they knew every part of me and they still felt the same. Since the moment I stepped off the plane in Melbourne I can count on one hand the number of days Robin and I have gone without talking. We still haven’t run out of things to say. This is the person I was born to love, that I was destined to meet.
Robin is my morning.
One night a week ago, we as a nation went to sleep in the middle of the darkness. One more state had decided to uphold hatred, to carve into law a narrow-minded view of the world. They underscored everything I’d ever been taught – God cannot love you, the people in your life won’t love you. Being gay is something shameful.
The morning, however, dawned with the first time a sitting President had ever vocalized undeniable support for gay couples to have the same rights and privileges as straight couples.
What was sorrow, what was darkness, became joy.
It’s a long road ahead. This moment, this before and after is not an ending. It’s simply a step. But for the first time, we can look to the highest office in our nation and know that the man standing there thinks that we’re worth love.
Here’s what I’ve discovered in the four years I’ve been out of the closet.
God still loves me. My faith tells me that any God worth my devotion has to be bigger than our petty religions, has to be greater than our narrow views. God loves me because that’s who He is. He can’t stop loving me any more than I can be straight. It’s simply who we are.
My parents love me. They don’t agree with me. They still refuse to meet the most important person in my life. But they love me. Sometimes things are messy and complicated and overwhelming – life gets like that. Things we think we’ll never have to deal with have a way of slapping us in the face. But my parents love me. And I’m fortunate in ways I never expected.
And being gay doesn’t mean you’re doomed. It also doesn’t mean you’re so different that you have no hope. What I have with Robin is a perfectly normal relationship. We go grocery shopping, we draw straws for who’s going to do dishes, we sit around on weekends in our pajamas and watch television. We worry about the future, we plan vacations, we pay bills. We dream. We are a family. Just like yours. We are no different, no more special, and no less important than anyone else.
I am gay. We are gay. But that doesn’t make us any less human.
Someday, I am going to marry my best friend. We are going to get dressed up, we’re going to have cake and presents and flowers. Most importantly, we’re going to stand up and publicly commit our lives to each other. And even if our state, like North Carolina, thinks that’s not worth recognizing, we know differently.
We are in a time of sorrow. This is our night.
But joy comes with the morning.