When I returned to the Church of my ineffectual, 1970s, guitar-strumming, hand-holding around the altar youth – I was an ex-porn actor and Satanist; I was half-dead and half of my backside was hanging-out; I had tried everything – prayed to everything – except Jesus Christ. I had one last chance before I finally barfed out my soul – I wasn’t the pretty boy any more, and everyone around me was either dead from AIDS or tired of throwing my unconscious stinking carcass into the backseat of a car.
What I thought would be the last night of my life, I hated this body that had once been my only source of pleasure; in the basement of a rundown bathhouse – I knelt in the darkness and my flesh stiffened into the pink porcelain of a human toilet. When I stumbled out into the alleyway, rubbing the stinging urine from my eyes, the only guy still standing around was Jesus. Like my first night in the Castro, as an 18 year old idiot, and I walked away with the first person to ask – except now, no one was asking.
Christ stretched out His hand – and I took it.
He gave me a Bible and a Catechism.
My parents, who always looked frightened or worried when they saw me, took the prodigal son in. I collapsed in my old bedroom and read.
For days I did nothing, but looked over a few words –
“Neither will I condemn you. Go, and now sin no more.”
“…homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.”
I ate very little, but drank a lot of water and swallowed laxatives – for my greatest fear was that I would prolapse again and my shame revealed for everyone to see.
At night, I ran to the bathroom – I couldn’t sit, so I stood in the shower and looked down as the entrails spilled out. I survived only to wake up in hell.
I am stitched up with cord. Everything breaks apart.
The emergency room – I can’t hold it anymore. There is no bedpan. I am alone, and I can’t fasten the gown. I leave droplets of blood across the shiny white floor as I go by. I have nothing left to hide. What’s pride?
When I was well enough to walk again, I found a Church. I talked to a priest – his face was blotchy. He was too happy.
“You were born gay.”
“Try to meet someone.”
When I got back home, I discovered a hug stain on my pants from the suppositories that leaked out.
I met some other priests: one asked me out on a date; the Bishop in my home diocese resigned after money went missing and it turned up with his priest boyfriend. I ran away from the Golden Gate – I never wanted to see California and the end of the rainbow.
I hid in the forests – some priests gave me job and I was safe for awhile.
Father is looking at me strangely – I know those non-verbal cues; I saw them a thousand times across the gay bar. Man, I am sick. Stop thinking that! He wants to talk to me. I am teenager, someone grabs my waist as I danced, blinded by the strobing lights, he leads me into the public lavatory. I never know his name.
A year later, I am testifying in a priest sex abuse case – a boy was molested. The diocese settles.
A new young priest is giving a talk about the occult. I show up late. I waited for everyone to leave.
“Father, I used to be involved in the occult.”
He says little, walks like a soldier, but when his stole touches my shoulder it feels like the first ray of sunlight breaking through the early-April clouds.
Over the next few weeks, I levitate with my feet on the floor.
I disappear for a few years – my friends are all sickly ex-gay exiles – we live on the periphery of the Emerald City, watching out for each other, and going to doctors. Most of us pay little attention to the endless line of new boys skipping towards San Francisco. But I can’t turn away.
One day, I go back to the city I damned. I walk by the places I once lived; I look for old friends. I end up in the cemetery. My fingernails are soon dirty from scrapping away the leaves and the dried mud. An old woman walks by and takes pity – she hands me a half-filled bottle of water and I pour it over the headstones. I can read the names.
Father recommended that you read John J. McNeill, S.J. – you bought me a copy.
“…under certain conditions a Catholic homosexual can enter into an active homosexual relationship and still receive the sacraments and live a life of sexual love which does not necessarily separate him or her from the love of God in Christ.”
I found it with the spine unbroken in a forgotten cardboard box right after you died.
Where is the Truth?
I buy some cheap Bibles with paper-thin pages, a few bracelets – WWJD, and I walk up and down Castro Street. I smile and say Jesus loves you. Some never look up from their phones, some spit. A few stop and hold out their hand. We talk. I tell my story in a few seconds:
“Your brother was dead and is come to life again; he was lost, and is found.”
He is still listening. He hasn’t walked away.
“You mean you don’t have sex?” “You don’t masturbate?” “Nothing?”
My handful of forgotten porn films mean nothing. Jesus has made me the only curiosity in a world of limitless extremes.
Further down the street:
“That’s not what the Father tells me.”
“We don’t have to be chaste.”
I am thinking – that guy must be dead or retired by now: “Who tells you these things?
Everyone is gay: the secretary, the parish council, the second-in-command.
“You can’t be here.”
Dear Your Excellency….
The response which took years: “Patience.”
It’s been over two decades, and the dead still wait.
This must be peculiar only to hyper-liberal San Francisco; but they are reading McNeill at a Catholic parish in Manhattan.
A mother from Texas: “Dear Joseph…I sent my confused son to a Catholic LGBT ministry and now he tells me he’s gay.”
I think about leaving.
I always loved icons. The beauty of the Eastern Liturgy. Sometimes they drink too much, but there is no Orthodox priest at gay Pride.
I continue with my ministry.
The Folsom Sex Fair – everyone is naked except me. Jesus loves you.
I see the spot – where I licked the gutter. Where I was alone. Except…
The hand of Christ with what looks like a bullet wound through his palm.
The Bible and the Catechism.
I am not going anywhere.