Ethics was a required course in my first year. The subject of homosexuality had occasionally been discussed in other classes. Even then I would start to sweat and squirm, terrified that my secret would be forced out of me, but the mention was usually brief, and I got through it. An entire three-hour class devoted to the topic would be unbearable, however. The mere announcement in the previous week's lecture immediately set my pulse racing and my mind turning over possible ways I could avoid attending.
I settled on pulling a sickie. I told my roommate I was feeling ill, and I holed up in my room, dreading a knock on the door. I spent three hours in turmoil. I couldn't stay inside forever, so I emerged from hiding later that day. The prospect of questions about my absence had me literally shaking as I prepared to face my friends. They did remark on my absence, but I doubt it truly raised any suspicions. Life in the closet had made me paranoid, constantly afraid that the slightest wrong move would give me away, crippled by the fear that people were analyzing every word and mannerism for evidence of homosexuality. Skipping class that day was an epic emotional event; it was a couple of weeks before I felt the air had cleared.
Another time, a Pentecostal pastor who claimed to be "ex-gay" visited the college to run a weekend men's workshop/renewal event, focused on male sexual issues. The scenario was the same: My anxiety increased as the day approached; I invented an excuse to avoid it; I trembled in the aftermath as I fought off the possibility of exposure. If anything, I suppose it was worse this time. Missing a lecture on homosexuality was mildly suspicious, but surely dodging another gay-related session was proof positive that I was in the closet?
There were times when the struggle became particularly fierce. There were emotional attachments and crushes. One passing infatuation led to such unconstrained lust that I became convinced a night of sickness was God's way of disciplining me. I laid on my bed in an intense, fever-fuelled delirium that actually made me wonder if I were experiencing the kind of delirium that makes people want to die. The following day, I reasoned that God had been punishing me, and I determined to learn my lesson.
I eventually decided I should confide in someone. I had only ever "come out" to three people. One was an anonymous counsellor at a Christian camp. Another was a newly converted Christian friend who had admitted to me quite candidly that he was gay. The third was my own pastor, who told me it was a passing phase and never mentioned it again.
I chose the right person to come out to. He was a tutor with a reputation as somewhat progressive compared to rank-and-file conservative Pentecostals. It took me a few minutes to get the words out, but he was patient. I portrayed my plight as being mostly straight but with some gay issues. We met several times. I'm certain he was wise enough to recognize that I was likely gay and going to remain that way; he expressed no surprise when, several years later, I wrote him to say, "I'm openly gay now, and I'm content." But when I first laid bare my orientation to him, he didn't suggest I get counselling or therapy. He didn't mention the possibility of change. I don't even remember him giving me advice, as such. Instead, he just listened to me each time and then prayed.
I'm not sure any of my tutors would have suggested reparative therapy -- psychiatric or psychological help intended to change sexual orientation -- though some might have referred me to a counsellor or Christian ministry and made a much bigger issue of my confession. Thankfully, I had a shrewd confidant and never found myself pushed into more formal attempts at fixing myself, as many in the ex-gay movement have.
In part two, I'll write about what happened when one of my closest college friends found out his brother -- a husband, father and long-time Pentecostal elder -- was leaving his family and coming out gay.