Running in Survival Mode

The first couple years after coming out, I was operating in survival mode. After all, I had admitted I was gay and in the most technical sense of the word, even accepted it. But it was a choice made out of desperation rather than strength and inner knowing. In many ways, I was still far from "okay" with my sexual desires and feelings.

I remember very clearly commenting on numerous occasions that I didn't get the whole idea of "gay pride." I argued that being gay was just a part of me, and being proud of it made no more sense than being proud of the fact that I had blue eyes. It would be years before I could truly understand what gay pride was really all about.

This was also a period in my life where I was extremely defensive. Even the slightest hint of disapproval set me on edge like I had to justify my existence all over again. In many ways, my responses to these feelings were aggressive, adversarial, and just downright contentious. But at the time, it's how I survived; keeping the inner turmoil I was still fighting against at bay. Emotionally, I was still treading water.

Of course, my romantic life - or more precisely, my frantic attempts to find one as quickly as possible - was equally messy. I had finally made a choice which gave me the chance to find true love, but I was not convinced at all that I would actually find it. I was struggling with the fact that gay guys aren't terribly common (especially not in rural Pennsylvania), no matter what the statistics suggest. Trying to find that one special someone in a scant handful of possibilities seemed ominously impossible. And of course, then there was the fact that I still wasn't sure I actually deserved to be in a loving relationship. (This is a topic I will cover in more depth later on.)

The end result was that like every other aspect of my sexuality, I approached the search for love out of a sense of desperation rather than one of strength. As a result, I made a lot of missteps. I'm convinced my first step, however, was a positive one despite the fact that things didn't work out. It meant taking a risk, and I rose to the occasion, hinting at the strength I would find in greater supply later on.

In the couple months prior to my coming out, I had been working as part of the crew for a campus theatrical production. I operated one of the two follow-spots we used for the show. During one song, I kept my spot on a young freshman, Mitch. This meant watching his moves closely and making the necessary adjustments to my spot accordingly. As a result, I began to develop a crush on Mitch. He had a baby face and danced on the stage with a confidence and grace that I admired. In retrospect, I think I wanted to be like him as much as I wanted to date him.

Well, after coming out to myself, I decided I'd never get another chance with Mitch. And considering that my developing feelings for him had greatly contributed to the emotional pressures that sent me screaming for the closet, I figured I might as well give it a try. So with great nerves, I sent him an email, coming out to him and telling him I liked him and would like to get to know him better if he was interested.

I'm very fortunate that Mitch handled the situation with a great deal of compassion and dignity, far more than one would expect from someone his age. He wrote me back telling me that he was both flattered by my interest and honored that I'd come out to him. Unfortunately, he also told me that he was straight, so there was just no way things would work out. He was quite kind and gentle about the whole thing, almost apologetic, as I think about it. This softened the blow, but did not erase it completely. I was still quite crushed.

I told my roommate, Seth, about the whole thing with Mitch. He was quite shocked by the whole thing. Seth and I were involved with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship together, and he had been one of many friends hoping I'd "beat" my feelings. He admitted that knowing I had actually approached Mitch drove home the fact that I had quit fighting. He found it depressing. I found it a relief.

As I said, I'm glad I took the chance with Mitch, too. The rejection was devastating at the time, but it showed me that I really could take a step out into the unknown and take a risk. That's an ability that proved to serve me greatly later on, and continues to serve me.