The P.E. teacher told everyone to form a line and face forward. Oh my god, I thought to myself. Not again. How these two alpha-preadolescent-boys were chosen to stand before me, I had no idea; but they always emerged from the near identical genetic pool. Whereas, I must have been the result of some birth defect. Unlike most of the others boys, I couldn’t throw a ball or run very fast. If a round, hard projectile hurtled towards me, I didn’t reach out for it; instead, I recoiled. I almost permanently exhibited the continence of a mourner; I never raised my head. Deep inside I thought I was different, but I thought it was my secret. However, I started to wonder if everyone knew. The boys never chose me to be on their teams; they would pick the smallest girl before me. I felt as if God had cursed me.
I never found my place among boys; much less among men. Although my life seemed like a series of torments, put-downs, and schoolyard bullying sessions, my desire to belong never ceased. In fact, the more I experienced rejection – the more desperate I became. Some could sense this. During my freshman year in high-school, I had a throbbing crush on a senior-boy. He was everything I wasn’t; athletic, confident, and handsome. I thought of myself as discreet, but he must have noticed my intermittent staring in his direction. One day, he signaled for me to come over to him; I almost died. At first, he spoke to me in the kindest possible manner; and then several of his friends joined us and surrounded me. Before he eventually shoved me into a crowded girl’s restroom, he started to call me a faggot and laugh – they all joined in.
The following year, a Catholic priest took a special liking to me. Literally starving for any form of male affirmation – I was overjoyed. In a strange attempt to get him to pay even more attention to me, I told him that I was thinking about becoming a priest; in reality, I had absolutely no interest in the priesthood.
After helping him at the parish, following some evening event in the church, he volunteered to drive me home. I was elated. When I got into his car, I became immediately nervous. I had rarely been alone and this close to a man before. For a few seconds, I wished I hadn’t accepted his offer. But I didn’t care – he wanted to be with me. And that meant the world to me.
Beforehand, he told me that “God made me gay.”
What he said, and what he did, confirmed everything I thought about myself – and it also verified what the boys at school had said about me since I was kid: I was gay.
In hindsight, there are certain lifetime moments that prove pivotal. But oftentimes it’s not the particular incident that had the greatest impact upon us – it is the late ramifications which affected almost everything that happened later. I think I could have managed to survive the sexual encounter, but what that priest said to me changed the course of my life. A little over two years later, during the height of the AIDS epidemic, I’d be seated at a gay bar in the Castro District of San Francisco.
There, I was subjected to an eerily similar sort of line-up. A form of natural selection took place amongst gay men – I took my position on an empty barstool. In the exclusive-company of men, I bowed forward towards the supplicant head-position. I could not raise my eyes off a drink. Within a couple of minutes, I felt a hand squeeze my shoulder and I simultaneously flinched and dissolved. Someone wanted me.
The priest was right. This is where I belonged. Yet, the parting advice he offered, kept reverberating through my skull: Try to a find a long-term partner, in the meantime – practice safe-sex. In my mind, I had a conversation with this priest: I am not looking for a long-term partner, or any partner; I am too scared of contracting AIDS to even shake someone’s hand, let alone have sex; I only want a friend.
That same year, the movie “When Harry Met Sally,” posed the question: Can a man and a woman just be friends?
Could I stop the sexual advances of someone older, more confident and aggressive, and physically larger than me? I couldn’t – neither did I want to. If a man showed me compassion, I would almost follow him off a precipice. I would do almost anything.
During my decade long enlistment in the gay male community, I subconsciously tried to recreate every abuse and degradation inflicted upon me as a child and a teenager. From countless encounters with older men in parked cars to kneeling on a concrete floor, surrounded by a pack of men, while begging them to verbally abuse me. These new incidents of self-degradation never heal the memory in the past, they only suppress them even further into the psyche until you reach a point when pleasure and pain are indistinguishable from one another.
When I eventually went AWOL, no one really noticed that I was missing; because a new, younger, and fresh group of recruits had already arrived to replace me. I didn’t know why I left; I didn’t have a plan. I was half-dead; except I suddenly had this inexplicable yearning to be alive. The day before, I was obsessed with dying.
Up until then, my perspective was continually dominated by the seemingly ever-present grey that comprised the lingering fog of San Francisco; the horizon was only ever punctuated by a flash of the rainbow flag with the spectrum of colors momentarily brightening the dullness that saw no differentiation between shadow and light. Moving ever closer to my eternal nightfall forced me to recognize that stark contrast.
Resembling a guilt-ridden soldier who fled the heat of battle, I returned to the Castro as if I were trying to make restitution to my dead comrades. I walked into a nearby Catholic parish that always gave the odd impression of a wartime mortuary; they buried our dead – the diseased and the disfigured that many didn’t want to touch. One of my long-departed friends was quite devoted to the place; towards the end of our friendship, I found him to be a drag because he started questioning some of our most sacred shared precepts – that we all belonged here together. At that parish, he was handed a book by Jesuit John J. McNeill entitled “The Church and the Homosexual.” Inside, he learned that God did make us that way. Subsequently, his incessant doubt and self-introspection ceased. Later, he died of AIDS.
I returned. Hoping that the ghosts of the departed could guide me. But when I sat in front of a Catholic priest, inside a church with a rainbow flag blowing outside in the wind, I wondered if demons had impersonated the specters of the dead. Sitting on my prolapse, he had nothing to offer me. In his estimation, I should take comfort in that fact that – God made me gay. They were the eunuch philosophers, but I was the real-world victim of this theory when it was put into practice. He wanted me to go back. I probably still believed that I was “born gay, although my believe in a God, that created me with an anus that couldn’t accommodate the penis in the same way as a vagina, was pretty nebulous. But I wasn’t 16 years old anymore; I was no longer fully committed to anything I used to consider an absolute certainty; like my dead friend – I had doubt.
Over 20 years later, the doubt remains. Not about myself or who I am; instead, the mistrust is directed towards a Church which pushed an abused boy into accepting that he was gay; and not that I merely had a preference for men as sexual partners, but that God made me this way. Unquestionably, in the 1970s and 80s, there were forces within Catholicism that preyed upon vulnerable boys and young men, sexually abusing many of them in the process, and then (although my evidence is largely anecdotal) convincing these same boys that they were homosexuals. In the gay male community, I heard countless stories from ex-Catholic men about their childhood; ranging from creepy and overly friendly religious brothers to predatory and sadistic priests who molested them. What is incontrovertible: a near majority of gay men experienced same-sex molestation when they were children.
I wasn’t groomed into homosexuality by gay men from San Francisco, but by Catholic priests. Back then, the manipulation was more subversive. Today, there are clerics, religious, Catholic educators, and lay ministers who openly promote not only the “born gay” theory, but the theology of heaven-sent homosexuality. I have read their books, studied their treatises, and listened to their presentations, and I have never once seen any discussion concerning the dangers of encouraging an LGBT identity upon a minor; one priest went as far as arguing that 7-years-olds know if they are LGBT – and the adults around these children should be wholly supportive. In an institution with a history of homosexual molestation and the systematic cover-up of those crimes, during these conversations, to never address the issue of same-sex attraction and childhood abuse – is abuse.
Like me, the Church is offering nowhere for these young people to go – except to gay.