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?

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  • Hi, Sam

    Thank you for an interesting and moving post. I am pleased that you and your friend enjoyed each other’s company and were able to support one another, while remaining within the boundaries which you had each set on the physical side of relationships.

    Re question 1: no, but the reverse happened to me 16 years ago. A close friend from university, who I had already known for 18 years, rang me unexpectedly one day, in tears, to tell me that he was gay. I reassured him that this was ok, and revealed that I, too, am gay but celibate. He had already guessed my sexual orientation correctly, so, looking back, I suppose I was a ‘safe’ good friend for him to be honest with. We are still close friends. We have never felt sexually attracted to each other, despite the closeness of our friendship, which actually makes my relating to him much easier.

    Re question 2: The friend who I mentioned above is my only gay/SSA male friend. My other close male friends are all exclusively straight. All of them are aware of my sexual orientation. One of them, with whom I share a lot of common interests, is also my online accountability partner, and I am his. We are still working out how best to accomodate this mutual responsibility within our existing close friendship. So far I have needed more support in this respect than him, but this is balanced by support which I can offer him when his mental health intersects negatively with his faith in Jesus. It is very freeing to be almost 100% known by a friend, and yet still be (chastely and joyfully) loved by them, just as God knows me 110% and yet still loves me.

    I appreciate that temptation is not the same as a disability, in a number of different ways, and I am not trying to equate the two.

    Thank you, again, for sharing your story.

  • Thanks for this transparency, Sam. Just last week I had the experience of coming out to a person I was eating with – someone I had known for a long, long time – and before our paths separated for the day, he opened up too and confessed his life as a closeted yet practicing gay man. It was my willingness to venture out into the territory of admitting my same sex attraction/gayness that gave him the freedom to open up to me. I found out that I was one of very few people he has ever allowed into this inner circle. Needless to say, our relationship will forever be different. What an unexpected blessing that grew out of risking honesty – and being rewarded with intimacy.

  • I love getting this glimpse of college Sam! Thanks for taking us into this time capsule with you, brother. I think back on the college students I interacted with back in my own day, and I wonder how things may have turned out if there had been any openness about our sexuality, on either side. I also wonder if I’d have been ready for such an encounter in my late teens? Perhaps everything happened in its own time, despite wondering how much further “ahead” I’d be in my life had things gone differently in so many ways, particularly in my friendships.

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