The Queer Elder’s Son: George
Trigger warnings: this story contains brief references to molestation.
Hi, I’m George, and I’m a queer man who was homeschooled. And guess what? For me, it wasn’t all that bad. Yes, within the conservative Christian community I was raised in, complete with the requisite Bill Gothard character studies and HSLDA membership, I actually turned out okay. How is this possible? Let’s take a look.
I’ve never attended a public school. I stayed at home and was taught by my mother from a self-created curriculum from kindergarten through senior year of high school. During this period, my family attended a series of churches, trying to find the correct mix of the fundamentalism my mother sought and deism my father was attracted to. Surprisingly, this meant a lot of different churches including one ill-fated and ill-advised attempt at creating our own.
We’ll start with some of the ugly stuff. Like most in my situation, sexuality was always correlated directly with shame. We never, ever spoke of sex. I found out about it when I was ten years old and reading the encyclopedia article on vaginas. The line “insertion of the penis into the vagina” was the most detail I got, later telling my parents who laughed, asked if I had questions, and never spoke of it again. The secrecy and taboo nature of sex led to me being more than slightly obsessed with it. However, the idea of purity had been ground into my mind, and I remember flagellating myself after masturbating for the first time, thinking I had left my purity behind. No God could love someone like me. But the confusion of sex as being ugly — after all, God struck down that man who ejaculated on the ground — and somehow ‘good’ was something my mind was unable to rectify.
I still hesitate when trying to find words for what happened next. The simplest explanation is often the best. While at a Christian summer camp, I was molested by a male counsellor over the course of a three-week session. He was in his late teens and while what occurred between us wasn’t rape, it obviously wasn’t consensual sex either. I came away from the experience with two major problems.
First, my purity was definitely gone now. What I had done with that man meant I was officially damned to hell. It was over. Could I even go to heaven now that I’d lost that part of myself? I figured the answer was no.
Second, I enjoyed it physically. I found myself attracted to him. Him, a man. I was a homeschooled preteen, and thus the idea of homosexuality didn’t even make sense to me. But it was obviously not normal and not something men were meant to feel for men.
For mostly the second reason, I kept it a secret. And the next year? I went back to the same camp, he was still there, and we picked back up where we had been. This move I did regret afterwards, serving myself up to him so obviously.
So that year I decided to tell.
This is probably the lowest point of this tale, the part where things suddenly screech to a halt. My mother told me she did not believe me, it was too ridiculous to think the person I was specifically singling out had done what I was saying. So I slammed it back inside and did not speak of it again for years (this post is around the fourth time I’ve ‘said’ it in the last fifteen years).
Unfortunately this didn’t mean the attraction to boys went away. Which was a problem, especially once I found the terms to label it.
Sitting through long discussions of purity? Of how to remain like Timothy or Titus or some other short book of the Bible? I had already committed the sin of Onan, with another man. How on earth was I supposed to return to a time before that all happened? So I settled for keeping it quiet.
Fast forward a few years, to my first same-age homosexual encounter. In an extremely conservative Christian organization, I attended an annual ‘summit’ of sorts. Boys and girls were kept very separate for propriety’s sake. I am unsure how the organizers didn’t see how this would backfire, as it led to me and several others initiating activity which was just a ‘joke’ and ‘so gay lol’. I do wonder about those men, some of them now married with children being raised in the heart of southern baptist ministries.
This was when I decided to embrace my sexuality. I had only one life. The shame I felt about it? Still present. Always present. Knowing God hated me. But he had hated me since the first moment I had had hands lain on me back at summer camp, so what did it matter any more?
I manifested this choice in several overt ways. I began to dress much more flamboyantly, with bright colors, patterns, and the occasional piece of non-gender-appropriate clothing worn in public, even to church. I started to spend time grooming myself, discussing personal hygiene with ‘the girls’ and loving the camaraderie we shared. My male friends dropped away one by one, until none were left, which was picked up on by the homeschooling community we were a part of. My mother was a leader in it, my father an elder in a church with a few thousand congregants who all paid close attention to his kids.
The son showing up in makeup, flares, and paisley? With a sash?! Yes, it was noticed. The boy who was quickly becoming ‘one of the girls’? Oh, very much noticed.
People whispered. People talked. I wasn’t invited to so many messianic seder celebrations any more, but I could handle it. Because I was already damned to Hell!
But soon the girls weren’t allowed to be my friend either. The more conservative families pulled away entirely, leaving my own siblings without close friends.
Finally my parents had two very different conversations with me.
My father sat me down and requested very plainly that I not come out of the closet. He said if I did, he would cut off ties with me. But otherwise, I was free to live my life. There was no preface at all, it was said during a car ride to get groceries, and I guess my desire to self-destruct had reached a point where he felt it necessary to say something. I told him I was still into girls, and his smirk made me want to prove him wrong.
Within the same week, my mother and I were baking together (yes, a homeschooled son allowed to help prepare family dinner!) when she asked me if I was gay. She quickly followed with “because it seems like you really want people to think you are.” I told her I sort of was and sort of wasn’t. I just liked expressing myself.
My mother, a friend of Michael Farris, worshipper of Francis Schaeffer, former pal of Doug Phillips, said she just wanted me to be happy.
We had Bible studies every morning still. I read about how much Jesus loved those who were as fucked up as me, obviously lacking the belief that this was true. My parents loved me, and still love me.
Shortly, my father was removed from the board of elders of our church. We were still welcome to attend, but not to hold leadership or serve in any particular area of ministry. The hunt for a new church began quickly, settling on a liberal Presbyterian congregation that left me with less of a desire to rub my sexuality in everyone’s face.
Prior to enrolling in college, I dated a Good Christian Girl for a year to make my family happy. We did it all the right way, asking about courtship, allowing her father to have some level of control (my own father terrified of messing up what seemed like the perfect ‘out’ for him with regards to his gay son), and keeping things very chaste. After our breakup, my mother asked if we had ever kissed, and seemed disappointed when I said no. Seemed like that wasn’t the cure, but she had hopes still.
I dated another girl in college, one I got much more physical with, though not to the point of full-on sex, as we were at a conservative Christian school and she wanted to preserve her ‘purity’ for marriage. I was aware mine was gone and didn’t believe in the magic ability to restore virginity, so I broke up with her rather than break her heart with the truth of me.
I remained celibate for the next two years, toning down my flamboyancy and joining a church’s youth ministry where I quickly became a favorite of the kids and a hot item for the single ladies seeking a man to produce a quiver full with. I think perhaps browsing my old Facebook photos was enough for them to know it probably wasn’t going to happen.
The period of celibacy brought great joy to my parents. Perhaps I wouldn’t turn out gay, just maybe. I had dated two girls after all. I was just a bit more…out there than most men.
When I started dating my most recent partner, a black male poet from Brooklyn, I kind of figured it was time to admit something to myself. But my Dad’s words about coming out still rung in my head, and I kept it quiet.
That relationship ended without anyone ever hearing about it.
Shortly thereafter I moved far from my family’s location. Dated a couple other men, a couple other women. Kept it quiet and out of their earshot (except for my mother, who once asked specifically about my ‘special friend’, who she found endearing).
The shame is still there. The desire to hide it is still there. Most of my siblings don’t even know I’ve dated men, much less several men.
I wonder where I’d be had it not been for that summer camp. I wonder if my belief in purity would have resulted in many more years of repression or would have resulted in me being able to maintain a heterosexual relationship?
But those value judgements are for people who desire to make value judgements. I’m past that.
My parents still love me. They are from a different time, a different age, and aren’t quite able to cope with the entire truth. But they know who their son is, and they love him anyway. They love him enough to lose friends, to be removed from a church, to question their own deep biases. Sure, things could be better. But they could also be a lot worse.
Mostly, I worry about those who are less happy than me.
Is my story the picture of perfection? No, not at all.
But I’m finding ways to like myself. Finding ways to believe in something that brings me joy rather than pain.
I’m here, I’m queer, I was homeschooled and I’m not ashamed.
Thanks for taking a (relatively) light-hearted approach to some really brutal subject matter. It sucks your mom didn’t believe what happened to you at camp. What is it with parents just shutting down and burying their heads in the sand when their kids need them most?
You’re obviously very forgiving. If I had had something happen to me as a kid like what happened to you, and my parents did nothing about it, I’m sure I would have thrown it back their faces once I reached adulthood.
Good for you for not hanging onto that resentment and taking your life in a positive direction!
Really a touching story, you are very brave just by telling again what happened. Nevertheless, it concerns me that people usally link this kind of experiences to homeschool when they can happen anywhere to any kid. Children who go to school can be gay too, can feel guilt too and their parents can have trouble coping with this too.