By Bryn Marlow
Did I grow up hearing the word “gay” mostly on Saturday mornings while watching cartoons as in,
When you're with the Flintstones
Have a yabba-dabba-doo time
A dabba-doo time
You'll have a gay old time
and notice that a gay old time week in and week out involved a grown man getting locked out of his own house and hammering at the door to be let back in?
Did I make my way through the world compliant and quiet, the middle child, a people-pleaser who valued appearances because they helped keep the peace and make folks happy?
Did I embrace the Bible thumping tenets of my family with a fervor all my own, label my same-sex attraction sinful temptation fanned by the flames of hell, plead with God to remove from me the stubborn desire to lust after other boys, promise to read my Bible two hours every day, never backtalk my mother and become a missionary when I grew up, if only I could be cured?
Did I hear whispered that homosexuals are monsters, child molesters with horns and red eyes who lisp and can’t hit a baseball, and know for a fact I wasn’t one of those even though the part about the baseball fit?
Did I lean on my reputation as the shy studious type to avoid dating women in high school and college as much as possible?
Did I learn to live in my body as in a house divided, keep at arm’s length the despicable part of me that lusted after men, assure myself this wasn’t the real me, and succeed so well that as a college senior I could find excuses to bathe whenever our floor’s resident Greek god padded his way down the hall to the group showers wrapped only in a towel, and envy the towel, yet banish from consciousness the idea I might be gay?
Did I marry a hard-headed woman in the sincere belief I was doing what was right, honorable and holy, and in the hope she would save me from myself only to learn she did not have the power to change me?
Did I become father to three sons, change diapers, read stories, play Robin Hood, sing songs, make funny voices and discover that parenthood, while demanding, did not lessen my attraction to men nor its accompanying self-hatred?
Did I finally devise a way to kill myself and test it on several small animals to make sure it worked?
I did all this and more. And although I peered into the void, I did not follow through with my planned suicide. After I composed my final farewell, I made a small choice for life, postponed my death for an hour, then a day, a week. (At such times grace may be measured in minutes.)
Even as I believed hope was gone and all was finished, a whole new world was waiting to be born—a world I had never dared imagine, never heard described in positive terms, never believed would receive, bless and nurture the likes of me. A world in which I am acceptable as I am, loved without having to change, remake or undo myself. Nowadays I often see it reflected in my gay friends and chosen family, in our shared laughter, warm embraces, genuine regard.
Here’s the thing: this world had been there all along. It had been and was and is within me. Within each one of us. The path is uncharted, the way perilous, the door hidden, the night dark. Yet life endures, cloaks itself even in catastrophe, calls to us ever and anon, in tones loud and soft. May we with courage listen, respond, reach deep, take hold the key, unlock and pry open the door, step into All that awaits us there.
Bio: Chickens and other fowl pursuits occupy Bryn Marlow (gayfeather.wordpress.com) on a wooded 1930s farmstead in east central Indiana. His creative nonfiction and personal essays, like this present one (with a nod to Brian Doyle), have appeared in The Sun, Utne Reader, White Crane Journal, and RFD, among others. His first published work of fiction appeared in Flying Island earlier this year.