During my second year of college, I took a jump and studied abroad for a semester. Since I was continuing my French studies, the choice made plenty of sense — and opened an easy door for a double major. My fourth semester, I flew across the Atlantic and arrived in Orleans, France.
Had I ever been overseas before? No. Did anybody else come from my university? No. But my naive self convinced himself that this would be an exciting six months.
The intensity of the first week or two wore me out. Constantly hearing my second language that I “knew,” taking placement tests, and touring the dorm, campus, and city. Not to mention navigating a new culture.
My bed welcomed me as soon as I could get back to it each evening.
I began my search for community as soon as classes began. The Americans quickly formed into two groups with two slightly different ways of approaching our semester. I landed between the two and discovered that nobody else put a high priority on Jesus.
So, I then searched for fellow Protestant Christians in a Catholic country with freedom from religion on campus . . .
Eventually I did find a church, although it was an effort to get there — a tram and bus ride about 40 minutes. But I found a church that felt right. Through this place, I found some college students who met most weeks for Bible study and/or fellowship.
I am forever grateful for those friends and the support, encouragement, and hope they provided.
But my struggle to reconcile my attractions and faith while navigating this culture, language, and new friendships expended me more than I expected.
My classes sapped much of my energy. The rest of my energy went into surviving all these new places and people while trying to enjoy what I could. And also attempting to stay connected to friends and family back in the US.
As one friend warned me, there comes a time near the middle of a semester abroad called the “Three Month Slump.” That moment when the place you reside dulls and the place you are from seems distant.
With strained friendships in both places, I hit that slump hard.
I remember asking a friend who dealt with depression about any warning signs, because I worried that I might be depressed. I was frustrated that none of the signs lasted “long enough.”
At some point I considered my gloomy state and looked at the other Americans to figure out how they spent time and enjoyed being in France; the answer, it seemed, was alcohol.
I accepted their next invitation to join the fun. Some of us gathered at a friend’s apartment to chat over wine before heading out. I actually had a good time dancing at the discotheque, chatting with folks, and trying new drinks.
The second or third night, our group lost track of time and wandered back to campus in the middle of the night because we’d missed the last tram of the night at 1am.
One evening I didn’t feel great, and my dorm was the furthest away. I asked to stay with one of the other guys, and he agreed to let me crash in his single bed dorm room.
Looking back, it is difficult for me to know what my (or his) intentions were. I’d like to say that I’d intended just to sleep on the couch, but that may not be accurate because I knew he also liked guys . . . and was decently attractive.
I snuggled up in the twin bed with him. It felt good to be close to another man. And yet, was it “right” (healthy, faithful, acceptable) to like this?
As we whispered, trying to get to sleep, I found that my body wanted to stay awake.
He sensed this as well, and we began more intentional cuddling.
He felt my body, and I felt his.
Is this what acceptance in a physical sense felt like? Was it okay for me to find pleasure in these touches?
Sparing the other unnecessary details, eventually we masturbated each other. And it felt great.
Except that shame hit me almost instantly afterward.
This isn’t right. You would have never done anything like this in America. Drinking? Naked cuddling with another guy? What are you doing?!
After falling asleep from exhaustion, I awoke with those questions and more whirling in my mind. How could I begin to process what had just happened? Nobody understood me in this place, and I could feel impending judgment from my communities in the States.
How would this experience impact my faith?
I felt lost with no real direction.
I wrote pages and pages in my journal over the next few days, trying to make sense of what I had done and what I should do next. Jesus’ presence was near, but I didn’t know what to make of it at the time.
To be continued . . .
Have you ever done something you didn’t see coming? Have you questioned your physical actions with another man, and how did you overcome the shame? When have you felt physically close with another man in a healthy way?