It was a hot summer semester at my medium-sized university, and I was slugging through Historical Geology. Caught up with this class, I decided to fight off the heat by stopping inside the local Christian Student Union for some free ice cream and fellowship. All my closest friends had gone home for the summer, and that was just as well because I really had to focus on this ridiculous class.
Still, I needed and deserved a break.
As I mulled around with a few friends, I noticed a guy who appeared physically awkward. I say that not disrespectfully but matter-of-factly, as I’m normally the most socially awkward person in the room. I watched as he seemed to know everyone there (well, except me), and no one seemed bothered by his different disposition.
He seemed to be in another world mentally, shaking his head back and forth to the upbeat praise music in an almost robotic trance. He smiled constantly! You may recall from my prior posts that I am not usually the best at simply coming up and introducing myself to someone. In this particular situation, I was no different.
I learned this individual had not one but two degrees, and he was working on his third. I also learned he was on the autism spectrum, a brand new concept to me at the time. We soon struck up a friendship (albeit a strange one, for sure). I never knew how any conversation with this man would turn out, but we did share this experience of a disability in a university setting.
Most of our conversations were about our disabilities as we tried to fit in, making fun of the “cool kids” on campus — yes, even the ones in the Christian Student Union. Many nights we stayed up at Waffle House, he with his Coke and me with my coffee, studying and enjoying how we had found another “misfit” who somehow fit with us.
Early into this new friendship, my “gaydar” went off with him. He was effeminate, like me, and also uncomfortable around other “tough guys.” While I initially thought this was just due to his disability, I truly began to wonder.
We spent more time together watching innocent, lighthearted 70’s shows, and we grew closer. We both had histories as loners, and we were each a bit older than our peers in the college ministry program. We shared what I now call “bro hugs,” though at the time we said it was just two very strange guys in an even stranger situation doing what they could to support each other.
My “buddy,” as I nicknamed him, also struggled with depression, but due to his Asperger’s the symptoms looked quite different from the more internalized depression and anxiety I have felt for a large part of my life.
We never really talked about sex in any capacity, as in which girls we liked, or how our disabilities intertwined with our sexuality. The topic was a moot one, sometimes uncomfortably so.
Eventually, I had the dreaded conversation with my friend. You know the one: “I’m gay but acting on such feelings goes against what I believe as a follower of Jesus.”
My friend then came out to me as well! He also didn’t want to act on such feelings.
Looking back, I think my friend actually knew about and accepted his homoerotic feelings at a much earlier age than I did; contrastingly, I learned how to manage my disability at a younger age than he did. To that end, we somewhat complimented each other in our respective struggles.
We even had enduring conversations about a mutual friend who was transgender (another new concept at the time). Together we struggled to determine how to relate to this individual in a loving, supportive, appropriate way.
My friend and I never “fell in love” — at least, I don’t think we did. Early on, I explained to him that I honestly felt being in a physical homosexual relationship was not God’s best for me. As for his reasons, he listed off some deceased loved ones who he wanted to see in heaven one day.
To some degree, I was a bit “put off” by his simplistic theology and reasoning. But I also understood it. While he didn’t have the same verbal skills I did, he seemed to understand better the weight of our struggles.
I lost contact with my friend after college, and I’ve often wondered what became of him. We didn’t end on the worst of terms, but I think our combined disabilities made for a more difficult friendship as time passed.
Sometimes, though, I think the Lord brings people into our lives for a season so that we can briefly learn from each other. And even be a blessing to each other.
Have you ever come out to someone, only to be come out to in return? How have you navigated any friendships of shared struggles?