A couple of summers ago I received an email from an author who wanted me to review his book. It wasn’t an unusual request. I had spent a couple of years building up my presence on Amazon.com as a top book reviewer and parlayed my status into a job with a Christian web company. I loved getting paid to review new literature and fiction. I also stopped accepting a lot of the freebie work, for Christian authors, even through books kept showing up on my doorstep each week from writers and publishers.
When Bryan asked me to review, Hiding From Myself, I was honest with him that my reviewing queue was long and full. To this day I still have a couple shelves full of books and manuscripts I never got to. However, what I didn’t tell Bryan is that other things he shared in his letter intrigued me. It was my review of “Love Is An Orientation” by Andrew Marin that caught his attention. As I reread that review the other day I can see how it could have given him the hope that I could be an open-minded, maybe even open-hearted reviewer with his story.
Reading [Love Is An Orientation] was personally painful. I recognized many attitudes and actions in my life that have been anything but loving. I recognized how I was good at trying to prove a point, but I didn’t have much to show for being “right.” I recognized that I was better at burning bridges than building them. I recognized my desire to fix people has kept me from genuine friendships. I also recognized that my heart was built for love and was tired of expressing anything less.
This isn’t much of a book review. It’s more of an endorsement. I feel people need to read this book, including those who think they’ve been righteously homophobic, those who have been compassionate to the GLBT community but want to be better at building bridges, and those who have put their head in the stand thinking that this issue doesn’t affect them at all.
And now, because of that statement that encouraged everyone to read Marin’s book, I have an author asking me to read his biography. Bryan hooked me. I clicked on his link, downloaded his book to my Kindle, and moved it to the front of my queue.
That weekend I went camping with my family and several friends along Idaho’s gorgeous Snake River. Even though it was a time to get away from it all I brought my Kindle along so I could continue reading Bryan’s book. What I read captivated me; Bryan could have been me. We were born around the same time. We both were raised in Christian families. We had similar church backgrounds. We were both in Christian organizations, attended the same Christian events (Promise Keepers the same years; different locations), both believed the same ways, held to the same truths, and kept the same faith.
Yet Bryan and I had different responses to our first glances at Playboy. I certainly felt that Schwing while Bryan didn’t feel a thing. I solidified my hetorosexuality while Bryan had to question his. While I went on to adopt gay slurs, Bryan went on to inwardly wince at them.
While I had no problems integrating my spirituality and sexuality as a Christian, Bryan found himself conflicted. I could focus my energy on finding the right woman to marry (and trying to keep myself pure in the meantime) while Bryan found himself willing to forgo the purity requirements of his belief system in relationships with women in order just to prove to himself, and to God, that he wasn’t gay, believing that was point of demarcation of entrance into God’s kingdom.
This hit me really hard.
If we have created an environment where a Christian feels it is somehow more acceptable to “sin” in order to not have a same-sex orientation, then we ourselves have gone astray. We have attempted to fix our LGBT brothers and sisters (as if broken), heal (as if sick), exorcise (as in demon possessed), and convert (as if lost). When I read that Bryan would think that God would cheer, or at least look the other way if he had sex with a woman, just in order to prove that he was not gay, I literally cried.
It was this reality that shook me from my staunch homophobia a few years before I read Bryan’s book the first time. I had a young, college-aged, gay man entrust me with his eternal soul. He asked me to get him ‘straight’ on the straight-and-narrow. He then began experimenting with relationships with women. While I fully wanted to validate his newfound heterosexuality it was painfully obvious to me that he was only using these women to try to prove something to himself, to God, or at least the god that he thought needed this sort of sacrifice. Though I desired him to be “normal,” if only for his own sake, I began to despise his use (and abuse) of other people that I also cared about in his attempt to make this transition.
When I finished Bryan’s book that weekend on my camping trip I drove back to my home so I could call him without the roaming charges. We talked a couple of hours about his book and about our lives. Now Bryan has recently published the book and I just finished reading it for the second time, cover to cover. It again has challenged and impacted me.
His story covers a decade of his life fully committed to purge himself of his apparent sexual orientation. He even manages to get a job at the Playboy Mansion, working his ways into the holy of holies – Hugh’s bedroom. “I am in Hugh Hefner’s closet, drowning in a sea of silk pajamas.” And I wonder what Bryan’s next sentence, his reality, will mean to the mainstream, Christian mindset at all: “My objective at the Playboy Mansion: to be tempted and to stumble would be a miracle.”
When your religion pushes you to the place where you think that humping like a bunny, with a Bunny would be a God-given miracle, well, then you know that your religion has led you astray. So then what? Bryan presses forward with the hope of a 180° turn, now with the help of a professional counselor, but has to admit, “Psychology would point to my theology as the root of my pathology.” (This makes those of us with ministry credentials squirm, thinking of the young, gay men who have sought us out for counsel, guidance, and above all, change. I wonder if we have helped or hindered them. My fear is the later.)
In the words of Bryan’s Jewish counselor, “You are a case study of what happens when we cut ourselves off from feeling our true feelings. As I’ve said many times before, the judgement of your innate impulse and the way you punish yourself for not being able to live up to the expectations of your family, friends, and church are leaving scars. And until you learn to accept yourself, and all the parts, without this awful judgment you attach, you will continue to suffer and self destruct…”
Seriously, how screwed up is it that we, in our religious efforts to ‘help’ someone, have actually been leading them to where they are self-destructing? In Bryan’s life it led him to the point of suicide. His quote is one that I’ve heard from several people and read in too many news headlines: “[I have a] head full of questions all pointing to a fundamental truth: I’d rather die than be gay.”
I, for one, am done with this practice. I don’t want to sacrifice the lives of my LGBT friends who find that they are ready to end it all just because they don’t want, desire, or practice the same sort of sex as me. I am also done with seeing my heterosexual friends being emotionally and physically used to try and alter my LGBT friends’ sexual orientations.
In Hiding From Myself, Bryan shares a decade of his life, starting in college, feverishly jumping through all the straight hoops available to him. It is impossible, for me, not to see myself in this story. I could have been his best friend, college roommate, accountability prayer partner, Promise Keeper buddy, professional counselor, personal pastor, or his co-worker. I am left to wonder where he would have written about me and what difference I would have made.
There are those of us who would ask Bryan to just choose something different, as if his same-sex attraction was something that he willingly and knowingly opted for. Bryan writes, “What’s disturbing is this stupid assumption that a person is ‘choosing a homosexual lifestyle.’ Do you know how ridiculous that is? If it’s as simple as ‘choosing a heterosexual lifestyle,’ do you really think I’d be sitting here across from you in a mental ward?”
So here is what I am left with. Bryan and I are two boys who grew up the same. He is the one who prayed for a miracle and yet I am the one that God chose to heal.
Here is why I would like all my friends, especially my Christian ones to read “Hiding From Myself.” Bryan doesn’t attempt to fix anyone’s theology. He doesn’t come across as angry and he doesn’t have an axe to grind. He simply paints a very real picture of what life was like for him struggling with his sexual identity in the context of his Christian world and worldview. His experience and his perspective is valid and important. And for those of us who are heterosexual and followers of Jesus we’ve been tasked to love – which means authentic empathy – which may mean that sometimes we need to shut our mouths, still our hearts, and really listen.
For those of my friends who don’t have a religious background, reading Bryan’s book will help you understand what it is like for a kid who fears they are gay to grow up in the typical, Christian experience of the past couple of decades. It may help you have more compassion for their journey.
While “Love Is An Orientation” is a great book from the outside-looking-in to the LGBT world, Bryan has offered a personal story that encompasses what life looks like from inside the Christian world when you fear that you are gay. He is honest, real, and raw (as well as a damn good writer). He has captivated me both times I have read his story and I am a better man, and a better Christian, having read his biography.
Finally, Bryan’s testimony begs an audience of those of us who have made sexuality one of our political and religious platforms. We have many Christian brothers and sisters who identify in the LGBT realities. If we aren’t loving enough to really get intimate with their stories than it is we who are hiding from ourselves.