This next chapter of my life, my middle school years of 11 to 13, was one of the most difficult times I have ever faced.
First, my father had to work longer hours and I rarely saw him. For some reason, I also started feeling emotionally isolated from my mother, brother, and sister. As a natural introvert, I tended to spend a lot of time alone anyway, but now I just didn’t feel like I had support from anyone even if I wanted to be more social. On top of all this, my parents had an argument with the leaders of our church; our family left, not going to any other church for years.
Amid this backdrop of isolation, I started to notice other guys. At first I just craved male friendship, but soon I felt a desire to look at the masculine features of the guys I saw.
I became obsessed. I would think about them constantly when I was not focused on school work, even fantasizing about becoming romantically intimate with them. I heard other guys talking about the sexual attraction they felt for girls, and then it hit me. I felt the same way toward guys that they felt toward girls.
Did that mean I was…gay…?
This realization of my first gay feelings brought a cascade of horrible, fearful, disappointing thoughts hitting me like a ton of bricks. All my hopes and dreams came crashing down in an instant.
I was not like other guys. I would never have the normal life, wife, and family I had dreamed about. Where I grew up, the worst possible bullying was reserved for gays. If anyone figured out my sexual feelings, I would be a constant target of the worst verbal abuse and possibly physical violence. I knew these first gay feelings would have to be kept totally secret or else I would suffer the most dreaded kinds of abuse from bullies.
I determined that I could trust no one with my gay issues. I had to work through my conflicted first gay feelings all on my own so there could be no possibility of a bully finding out.
Not only would I have to keep my mouth shut, I would have to go to great lengths to hide my feelings. I would force myself to look away from guys. I couldn’t be caught staring! I did whatever I could, taking great effort to appear masculine in the way I talked, walked, dressed, and gestured.
Probably the most painful part of this experience was the persistent fear that followed me around, the fear that I would somehow slip and do or say something that would reveal my shameful secret. The constant dread, vigilance, hiding, and deceiving required enormous emotional energy, and it took its toll.
I began to hate life and sunk into a tormented, depressed state. But I couldn’t go to anyone for support for fear that they would slip and reveal my secret. I understand now how gay teens can get so depressed that they attempt suicide.
Along with all these painful things was my same-sex attractions, which kept increasing. I greatly enjoyed my sexual fantasies and my quick glances at male bodies, I couldn’t imagine giving these up. I should have called out to God for help at this point, but I did not.
I believed the Bible clearly taught that gay sex was a sin, so I would be required to reject gay sex if I turned toward God. Instead, I put God out of my mind and tried to forget about Him, the Bible, and anything else Christian.
I determined that I so wanted a gay sexual relationship that I would go after it whenever I was free from my current circumstances. I craved a man to hold me, love me, and have sex with me. It became more important to me than anything else. I dreamed of growing up and moving to San Francisco or New York, somewhere I could be openly gay and go after a gay life.
In fact, that hope for future homosexual pleasure is what kept me from letting my depression sink to the level of self-harm.
As long as I had hope that I would one day permanently escape the “hell” of bullies and reach the “heaven” of a sexual relationship with another guy, I did not need to think about suicide or other self-harm.
Yes, I said it: hope for a future gay sexual relationship was keeping me from suicidal thoughts.
Do you remember experiencing your first gay feelings? Have you ever put your hope in the pleasure of a gay relationship? Did it satisfy you or disappoint you? Did you give into it or give up on it?
* Photo courtesy Lee Morley, Creative Commons.
I loved reading this because you wrote it with such a clarity of expression and made your experience so real.
I never remember having such dread about my feelings for guys, but I guess they must have been there because of how I hid them and refused to acknowledge them either to myself or to others. I dismissed them as a phase I must be going through that must be common to others even though no one ever talked about it. But your description of hungering after glimpses of masculine bodies and the deep longing of a relationship with a guy did evoke memories for me. Thoughts of suicide never ever entered my mind at that stage of my life. I think for me I had this expectation that somehow I would grow out of this phase and would desire and pursue a relationship with a girl.
I don’t know exactly why, but I felt like I would never “grow out of it.” I was depressed because I was using all my energy to avoid bullying. That depression could have led to suicidal thoughts, but my false hope of a gay relationship kept me from those thoughts.
I think God can use our worst thoughts and ideas for our benefit. For me it was pride, I was raised with the attitude that being right logically, politically, or religiously was the most important thing, we would constantly criticize non believers and even other churches for their beliefs because we knew better than them. It was this horrific arrogant self righteousness that kept me from sin and suicide many times because even when I was angry with God, even when I hated him, I wasn’t going to be one of “those people” that turned away or gave up, and even if God wasn’t good and didn’t love me I would serve him because I had to be right. It was a miserable little cell I built, part of a family prison complex, but it kept me safe until I let God begin teaching me grace and humility.
My fascination with male bodies, specifically chests, began maybe when I was three or four. My first crushes began when I was twelve. I thought it was just a desire to be friends with those people until I was sixteen. Then a straight friend remarked that he was in love for the first time, with a particular girl; and he was glad because he had begun to be afraid something was wrong with him. It was in that oment that I realized my feelings toward certain guys were what other guys felt toward girls.
I wasn’t afraid of bullying, but like you, I lived in fear of being found out. I knew I would remain celibate, unless I could be cured. I tried counseling in college and psychiatry later, without success. So life came to involve constantly being on my guard to avoid saying anything that would reveal my feelings. Although I would have liked to have a close friendship, I never thought a sexual relationship would be good.
You were wise to see that a sexual relationship would not meet your needs. I saw that later, but not in my early teens.
Thank you for being so vulnerable, Marshall. I can relate to your story- especially the fear of being discovered and ridiculed for your fleshly desires. I’m thankful your lifewas spared however it was done. Looking forward to more of your story!
Yes, I do believe my life was spared by God’s mercy. I will tell more about that later. The fear of bullying if I was found out was probably the main reason for my emotional pain during that time in my life.
My elementary attractions started with writing friendship/adventure stories about other boys, gradually escalating to more gratuitous fantasy as puberty hit. But even then, my fixations seemed more emotional than physical. Like, yeah, there were physical attractions, but it was more the elusive aspect of close friendship that drew me. I’m one of those (rare?) ones who has never really been tempted to pursue a gay relationship because, to be frank, I know it’s not what I really want. It wouldn’t get to the root of my heart…which is brotherhood.
As I grew up I also realized that what I really wanted was meaningful brotherly love and loyal friendship. Eventually I saw that a gay relationship would only provide a fake, destructive substitute for the real thing.
Marshall, you write so vividly and from your heart. Thank you.
Yes, I had strong sexual attractions towards boys (neighbors) starting around age 11. And twice acted on them (naively) by seducing two friends (performing oral). The second time the boy blabbed about in school – thus your fear became my reality starting in sixth grade.
I went completely into my shell (I was virtually alone as my father had left when I was 10, and mother alcholic/depressed and at best neglectful toward me and my sister.
I was also non-athletic, sensitive but intelligent. Yet intelligence scored negative points in junior high social pecking. I was very vulnerable and one of the worst bullies befriended me – and then secretly began abusing me in all ways. Like I was his own personal sex slave. I finally stood up and said “no more” and he violently assaulted me one last time – and I froze. The next day I confronted him at school, we briefly fought and he ended up getting expelled. I didn’t see him again until college – after I had come out as gay.
Once puberty hit my desires were magnified 10 times, but because of the ridicule and assault I suppressed everything and really really hated myself for being all the horrible things they called me. And at 13 I turned to drugs and often dreamed of suicide.
I had almost no religious upbringing. To me life itself seemed like hell. But two things kept me going, I was into science fiction and the books/movies about the future allowed me to believe that my future could be different. And I liked pop/rock music . And many of the songs expressed emotions that were churning in me. I felt “connected” to the songs and who sang them.
Finally at age 16 my father got custody of my sister and me. I saw counselors about my drug addictions and suicidal thoughts. One was himself gay – and encouraged me to “explore” the gay community. At age 19 I came “out” as gay and was finally “free” to be promiscuous and have relationships. But after four years and three “serious” boyfriends, I was still miserable. And at age 23 I left the “lifestyle” for good. I married at age 31.
Today I still feel cursed by my past and its impact on my ability to be intimate and open. I still wonder about the goodness of God (for me) and why I had to go through all that torment. I make better choices now – but in the end I’m still very much isolated as I was at age 13.
Thanks for sharing so openly, Jim. Sad about what you had to go through and sorry that you are still isolated. Did your marriage work out at all?
My marriage was a life-saver and a God-send, but it never cured my SSA, so that I eventually separated from my wife, who remained my best friend until her death nearly two years ago.
Thanks Jeremy. (oh my! I wrote book this morning – sorry to hijack your thread Marshall!)
We’ve been married nearly 24 years, and still together. I am fully committed to the marriage, and our children (17 and 22) are great kids (though ultra ultra liberal….).
I met my wife 7 years after leaving the “lifestyle.” Seven painful years of trying to “date” women. I am attracted to females, but had so much emotional baggage from my childhood I had to resort to dating services. Which is how I met my wife. I didn’t expect marriage to “cure” me of my insidious SSA (more on that later if you want more details), but I did expect to feel “connected” and part of a family. A cure for my loneliness? Maybe?
I didn’t share any of my past with my “soon to be” wife. It seemed counter to the goal of getting married (what woman would WANT me if she knew my true past??). And it had been years since my “gay days”, so “ancient history” in that respect. It was also maybe the stupidest thing I ever did. But I didn’t realize that until many many years later.
For the most part our marriage was very good for me. Being a father was great. It wasn’t until 2001 that things started falling apart, and I fell back into my “despair”. This included her two bouts with breast cancer, the death of her father and the whole fear/economic issues after 9/11. I joined her church in 2003, and tried to connect with other Christian men. But for the most part I had to shoulder it all myself, make sure the bills were paid and my wife/kids cared for.
It was though this anxiety which lead me to “hardcore” Internet porn and later chat/webcam rooms. Almost all of which nasty SSA related (clearly tied back to my childhood. I eventually started counseling again and tried to keep it all from my wife (who is very TYPE A, and controlling by nature). Almost like a “bully”. Eventually we locked horns over parenting methods, and I just couldn’t step down from protecting our kids. During this period she threatened more than once to leave me, and once to even have me arrested.
The chemo and surgery she went through ended our sex life. So now my only options are “self pleasure” or celibacy if I wish to remain faithful (which I physically have for all these years). But of course I get TEMPTED to meet with others – which would be all bad. Her anger and control issues trigger me bad. And I use the “online” stuff as an escape – and of course my brain is perfectly wired for it…
I can’t help (at times) to think that God set me up for all this. This is the “despair pit” as I just don’t get how badly my relationships turn out. The conclusion that “I suck at relationships” is easy to believe. That I was meant to be alone. Why should I expect any different?
In the meantime I work hard to support everyone. Fortunately I have been blessed with that. But ….. what if I lose my job tomorrow? Then what am I really worth??
Sorry again Marshall.
Wow! You sure have a story to tell, Jim. Thanks again for being open. Hope the sharing is helping a little to unburden you. It concerns me that you are feeling isolated. That is not good for you though I can see you are very focused on working to support your family. Have you sought counsel or seen a therapist? More really just to have someone to talk out these things with. For me I always had a strong faith in God to fall back on, even before I became a Christian. So wish I could help you somehow, maybe just by being a sounding board for you. Not sure how to give you a contact without it being too public.
Jeremy, I can give Jim your contact info if you both email me at [email protected]. Of course, I will not make anyone’s contact info public!
Jim, you don’t ever have to apologize for a long comment. The only comments I don’t want are ones that are clearly inappropriate, abusive, or harshly argumentative and yours are definitely not like that!
I’m sorry to hear about your isolation and I pray that God will bless you with the right kind of friends. What has worked for me is seeking to be a blessing to others when they are in need. Several guys I reached out to when they were in a crisis are now good friends.
I am very happy that I found others to talk to about my sexual issues. Those friends have been a great help to me!
I can relate to all of that you wrote and I was afraid that my eyes would give me away. The truth is that my male friends in grade school called me a fag before I even had attractions to other boys, so I was REALLY paranoid when they started. I do remember my first feelings, and they started after a sleepover friend coerced me into fondling me, and I him. The following days would develop into an obsession with wanting to repeat the experience, but he denied it happened (he was pretending to be sleeping during the act) and stopped talking to me, literally. I would talk to him at school and he pretended I was a ghost, not even in his sight. I began craving that experience with other male friends after that, obsessed with only their penis. I had no idea that it was largely due to my own sexual abuse I experienced a few years earlier that I had blocked out of my mind. My fixation was simply a byproduct of those experiences, which continued until this day. I have strangely wanted to connect with this person over the last year, I guess out of curiosity. I have since learned from my recent Human Sexuality class in grad school that this is very normal for about a quarter of men when they were young. I always felt like it was shameful, only because of what it stirred up in me. I think that was a catalyst for future SSA.
The other boys in school called me a fag before I even knew what it meant. They all seemed to know I was gay before I did. I made the mistake of asking my grandmother what that meant. I got my mouth washed out with soap, without finding out for several years.
I first became aware of my homosexual inclinations at summer camp in the summer of 1982. Our scout master insisted we take showers. I had never been naked with other boys before. I went into the the shower, removed my clothing and realized that there were about twenty other naked boys. No matter where I looked I saw nudity. I began getting hard, much to my shame. I took the shower nearest to the door, which was by a corner, and hid myself, so none of the other boys would find out (there was a lot of persecution and ridicule if you were found out). I hurried with the shower as quick as I could and got out in under a minute. I had not been found out. A few weeks later though, junior high began and with it came gym class and it was hell every day.