I once had a hard conversation with a friend. The day had been dark, my feelings already hurt, and there was no way things could get any worse. I sat down with my friend, and I asked him one question. One question that has forever given me more regret than I could ever imagine.
After a deep breath, I asked it: “Do you think I’m gay?” My friend looked at me squarely and then went on to tell me some of the most painful words I have ever had to hear. People had told him what they thought of me: they thought I was gay because of my voice, because of the way I acted, the way I wrote, the types of music I listened to. The painful list went on, each thing he told me scraped deeper into the scar forming upon my heart.
I couldn’t stand to hear any more. I told him I needed to go and blow my nose for a moment. I went into the bathroom, locked the door, and sank down against the wall, tears streaking my face. In the silence of that awful bathroom, I sobbed. I cried so hard it hurt. And that’s when the questions began. I clenched my teeth and bitterly asked, “God, why did You make me like this?”
As I began to wonder if living was worth it any longer, a gentle voice called out asking if it was okay for him to come in. I leaned over and unlocked the door. A man I respect very much walked inside. He sat beside me and patiently listened as I told him about my pain, my fear of never being able to be myself again because someone might think I was gay.
While we were talking he reminded me of something very important I had completely forgotten about: God created me this way. God doesn’t create people gay. He creates a guy to love a girl, and a girl to love a guy. God created me with this voice. God created me with this personality. God didn’t create me gay.
I realized that day how painful it was to be made the object of someone’s “joke”. It might seem funny to some, but to others it stings; it wounds more fully than a dagger run through the heart. “Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows, and death, so is the man who deceives his neighbor, and says, ‘Was I not only joking?’” (Proverbs 26:18). I felt the firebrands; I felt the arrows, and I wanted so much to feel death right there.
It hurts when people whisper about you, when people poke “fun”, when they hurl those painful words at you. I’ve had people tell me, “Get over it. Deal with it. Suck it up.” It’s so easy to say those things to someone who’s hurting, and never really understand where the other person is coming from. I understand. I’ve been to the point of wanting to commit suicide because the words hurt so much. That’s why I’ve made it a firm conviction in my life to always try and stick up for people. To reach down to the underdog, to help the hurting, and stop the bullying.
I know I’ve hurt others in the past, and so right here, right now, I am saying sorry. I am sorry for the pain I may have caused you. I’m sorry for the sleepless nights, the tear-stained pillows, the pain deep inside that my words or actions have caused. And I want you to know, I am working on this area of my life.
Call it what you want. Teasing, bullying, “joking”, put-downs, it’s all the same. It all hurts. And every single person in the world has been part of it in some way. Either intentionally or unintentionally, they hurt people. I have the problem. You have the problem. And it’s time we fessed up to it. Jesus said, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 19:19). Isn’t it time to make that not just a belief, but an action? Isn’t it time to stop fooling ourselves and love one another?
I see it almost every day in different places, different settings. Monday nights, when we’re gathered together for youth group, I see it: some kids pushed away into a corner by the others who don’t want to have anything to do with them. I know how those people feel. I’ve been there. I remember nights at Vision when I went and hid, trying to just stay away from everyone, because I didn’t think they wanted to be around me. And if you really think about it, that’s the message you send if you ignore someone: I don’t care about how you feel; I don’t want to be with you.
People are more influential on others than they think. Why do you think a girl goes anorexic when one guy even mentions her name and the word “fat” in the same sentence? Why do you think teenagers are driven to take up weapons and gun down classmates, teachers, and even parents? Call someone a dork too many times and they’ll start believing it. I know I did. I was called “feminine”, “gay”, “girly”, and I started to believe it. I’ve had nights when I’ve laid awake, hurting, wondering if those things were true.
In the same way, however, we can have a positive influence on others. If you take time out of your busy schedule to stop and listen to someone who’s having a tough day, you show them you care. If you leave your closed circle of friends and invite someone who’s lonely into the conversation, you’re showing them love.
Where this conviction might lead me in life, I’m not sure. But I know one thing: if I’m ever put into a situation where I’m in authority, as a teacher, as a manager, or even as a father, everyone else might be doing the wrong thing, but I’m going to do my best to stand for the Lord, and encourage the faint-hearted.
I don’t know about you, but for me, this is a conviction: to always love my neighbor and stick up for him. It’s a conviction I try my best to live out in my daily life. I know I may fail sometimes, but with the Holy Spirit’s help, everything is possible.
Wow, Shaun, powerfully written. A couple of things come to mind: 1) It's no accident that you are experiencing this difficult thing and are so articulate. I'm convinced that in this time of moral confusion, many kids need to hear this coming from someone who has lived it (and be shown both sides, the side of the persecuted and the side of the persecutor - as you have so ably done it). 2) As a piece of writing, I would consider dropping the first two paragraphs. No doubt they were useful scaffolding to get you into your story, but your essay really gets interesting in P.3 ~ Keep the faith, Shaun.