I grew up in a Christian home. I heard a lot of truth from the Bible, both at home and in church. We were pretty much there whenever the doors were open. In my experience, truth was not met with love in equal measure—or much measure at all. As a result, it didn’t feel safe to be honest about deep struggles, feelings or hurts, particularly sexual struggles.
I was introduced to hard-core porn at the age of five or six by some older neighborhood boys, which resulted in some sexual behavior between them. I don’t remember if anything was done to me or
not, but I was present. I lost my innocence that day and something profound changed inside of me. Shame became my covering and my identity, driving me to isolation and loneliness.
Shyness and timidity made me an easy target for every bully at school. The locker room and gym class were a nightmare. Everywhere I turned, toward my father or three older brothers or boys in the neighborhood or school or church, males were either detached or abusive. I found that the only safe and interesting connections were with females. Until my thirties and forties there had never been any bonding or attachment with my father. My mother remained my primary attachment and she represented “safe and open.”
I learned to be afraid of men and boys. I expected to be shamed, rejected or beaten up, but at the same time I desperately wanted to be a part of that world. I wanted to be accepted and to just be one of them.
At puberty, I was horrified to realize that my desire to be accepted was also mixed with attraction. I began to notice the bodies of men and boys in a different way. I became adept at stealing pornography and couldn’t get enough of it. There was no denying that my draw was toward men rather than women.
I learned to hide in the church. I moved forward spiritually, in a sense, but didn’t realize how stuck I was emotionally or how dormant my masculinity had become. In my stunted condition as a boy becoming a man, I now clearly see that I was craving sexual experiences with other boys and men to “repair” what I wasn’t getting. What I really needed was a solid sense of wholeness about who I was becoming as a man. These sexual unions were powerful counterfeits for what I truly needed: the blessing, acceptance and love from my own gender, particularly from my father.
With all my confusion and hidden attractions and sin, I still longed to be close to God. I wanted to serve Him and be useful in His kingdom. I went to Bible college, finished three semesters and quit, returned, quit again, returned and was asked to leave because there was concern that I might be suicidal.
It was all catching up to me, all the unresolved mess. I was so angry with the school and with God that I basically said, “To hell with it.” I stumbled upon a gay bar that I didn’t know existed in a nearby town and felt like I had finally found my people. I finally felt like I had found “home,” so I began to believe that this was my identity and I just needed to accept it.
After several years of looking for “Mr. Right,” being used and learning to use others, I finally had enough. Like the prodigal who came to his senses, I remembered the truth and knew that my mother was praying earnestly for me. I never admitted it outwardly, but her prayers were the only thread of hope I had that maybe someday God would make a way out of this for me.
One day, on a New Jersey highway, the weight of all the loss, the sin, the separation from God and His body, the church, was too much for me to bear. I pulled over to the side of the road, weeping, and said, “God, if you want what’s left of me, you can have me.” All the other “sinner’s prayers” I had prayed as a kid and teenager were missing the most important thing: surrender. My true conversion happened on a New Jersey highway in my early twenties.
I was married to a wonderful Christian woman a couple of years later. She knew my history, and we both thought it was just that, my history. But later I realized that there was still profound brokenness in me. I had not yet begun to grow up in who I was as a man. I didn’t even know that was an issue at the time. My heart was closed and shut down. The truth was, I was terrified of relating to a woman as a man. I was used to relating to women almost as one of their “girlfriends.”
I waited and sought God for healing in my marriage. I believed that our separation would result in a reconciled marriage. After all, had not God done such a necessary work of breaking my heart and opening it up? I believed that I could finally be the husband my wife desired.
Restoration never came, my wife filed for divorce, and our marriage ended only three years after it started. Slowly I began to wither spiritually. I became bitter, accusing and angry with God. I went back into homosexuality, off and on, for several more years. It was the most miserable time of my life. I felt addictively drawn to men but desired even more to break free again and follow Christ.
Desperate to find help, I relocated to Binghamton, New York, and began attending the church where I now work as one of the pastors. Much healing has come from my involvement with Living Waters and from the men in my church. They loved me just as I was; they affirmed me and accepted me. For the first time ever I began to be feel and know what it was like to be a man among men—to be one of them—and it was good.
This healing is ongoing, but my growing gender wholeness has been an essential part of the next major shift in my core. I now relate differently to women, especially to my wife, Melissa, whom God entrusted to me as I grew in wholeness. I no longer find comfort in being some version of a “girlfriend” to women and no longer “hide” because I feel paralyzed to know how to stand in who I am as a man. I am finding a clearer and clearer sense of my place as a man in relationship to my wife and other women. I have a covering to offer, a solid point of security and a desire to bless who she is in her beautiful femininity.
I’m just beginning to experience God’s amazing intention for relating to women in a way that is complementary: to become a good gift and to receive her as a good gift. In the absence of what we need growing up, God has other means of securing us in the good of our primary gender. He does this through His body, through imperfect men and women who journey with us. As we offer ourselves to each other, even in weakness, God imparts new life into the undeveloped parts of ourselves.