From my earliest childhood memories, I felt defective and uncovered. Instead of the carefree existence that one would hope young children experience, my childhood was marked by a pervasive sense of isolation, alienation and a fear of rejection. I rarely experienced an environment where I felt safe or that I belonged.
At school and in public, the fear of being hurt or misunderstood compelled me to hide inside a shy, introverted shell entered only by the most sincere, gentle people. Further solidifying my isolation, I lacked a strong connection with my “boyness.” I saw other boys as wild and aggressive. In contrast, I was gentle, artistic and studious.
I couldn’t imagine entering into the world of my peers. At an early age I believed the lie that something was deeply wrong with me. I felt like an alien creature—biologically a boy, but in reality neither a boy nor a girl. My isolation made me an easy target for taunting and name-calling, which compelled me to turn inward even more.
At home, I was unable to connect to my parents. They were young and well meaning, but my father was emotionally unavailable and my mother projected her neediness onto me in a way that made me push away from her emotionally. My alienation was deepened by the absence of a healthy father/son bond and my choice to reject a bond with my mother. I recognized in my mom many of the more feminine qualities in me: creativity, a love for the arts and the appreciation of beauty. And it was those qualities that I believed kept me from being a regular boy. As I rejected those qualities in myself, I also rejected them in my mom. My broken response to the brokenness in my mom and my dad relegated me to a lonely existence where at core I mistrusted everyone, even my parents.
Detaching emotionally from my parents and others cut me off from any objective, affirming voice that might speak love and acceptance to this little boy that I had rejected. Without that objective voice, all experiences and relational connections were filtered through a grid of rejection. My inner tape ran something like this: “I’m unable to love myself, others must experience me as unlovable, therefore who I am is unlovable.”
Out of the crucible of self-rejection, starved for love, I quickly learned to put on a good face. I became the good little boy, performing for love and attention, diving into all that I found success in and shunning what didn’t come easily. I became the good, successful, smart, churchgoing, school-loving, artistic, musical, overachieving, teacher’s dream of a kid. I truly enjoyed these things, but my motivation more often came from a longing for love. I learned to perform for that love “fix” and bought the lie that I was loved only for what I did.
My deception continued into adolescence as I learned to hone my looks and drop subtle hints about achievements and material wealth to gain acceptance. Emerging homosexual feelings during this time threatened my carefully cultivated image. Fearing these feelings were yet another magnet for rejection, I stuffed them and monitored the tone of my voice and the way I moved. I dated women hoping that normal heterosexual feelings might emerge, and as a deceptive front to hide my gender confusion.
I became adept at what Leanne Payne calls, “walking alongside myself.” Fearing other’s rejection if they knew the true me, I split into two people—a false, constructed self projecting a monitored and perfected image, and a true self that lay deeply hidden and protected behind the constructed one. I rejected the good identity that God created in favor of a false self that I determined to be acceptable and worthy of love.
But God, in His faithfulness, didn’t leave me there. About the same time that my homosexual feelings were peaking, God led me into a loving church community that emphasized being real about our wounds and weakness and the power of God to heal them. In this safe environment I began to be real with God. Through His perfect love He proved Himself worthy of trust, and I began inviting Him into areas of brokenness and wounding that I had never been willing to acknowledge before, even to God. Yet, while my relationship with God strengthened, I remained unwilling to allow others to know me.
Ultimately the homosexual feelings that I so feared exposing became too powerful for me to suppress, and my constructed identity began to crack. I fell into a relationship that opened my eyes to a path that on one hand I hungered for but on the other I could see led to death. As I stared the gay lifestyle in the face I knew that God was calling me to something better.
But choosing God’s way meant dying to the only way of being and feeling that I knew. It also meant dying to the protective cover of the false self and allowing Him and others to know the true one. Both choices terrified me. I didn’t have any idea what would be left if God healed me, nor did I have a concept or vision for a new way. I was left grasping hold of the only truth I knew at that point—that God is good and God has good things for me. In that time, God imparted the faith to ask Him for healing, and in so doing my desire to be healed became stronger than my fear of rejection.
I began pressing into my church community and in small baby steps chose to become known. God continued to bring understanding and healing in the areas of narcissism and gender confusion through journaling, individual quiet times and moves of His spirit. But the most significant healing came as I chose to be real with others in my church community and allow God to love me through them. This opening up began with a stammering confession to my church home group leader. It continued with the choice to be real about my struggle with homosexuality in an otherwise straight men’s group and allow the men in the group to love me despite my brokenness.
As God brought further healing, I frequently gave my testimony in church and Living Waters leadership roles, exposing my history and struggles to other church members. Ultimately, the most profound unveiling of my true self has been in the context of marriage, choosing to be fully known by my incredible wife.
In trusting God and obeying His promptings to press into community, I risked becoming known. By laying down the false self I allowed others the opportunity to love the true identity. Instead of the rejection that I feared, I experienced redemption and love.