Accepting myself was only the start of my Journey
As a teenager I concluded I was not the same as other boys. Whilst my friends all developed a growing sexual interest in girls, I remained attracted to members of my own sex. I decided I was just a slow developer and that any time soon my attractions would develop in the normal, natural God-ordained way.
I was brought up to be an Evangelical Christian. Although I made my own decision to follow Christ at the age of ten, I was expected to conform to my parent’s strict conservative beliefs. I was taught—and firmly believed—that sex was normal only between a man and a woman within marriage, intended primarily for procreation. Any conversation about homosexuality always assumed it was negative and sinful. I remember my Dad telling me that homosexuality was where one man uses another man’s bottom as a substitute vagina.
All this led me to look at my attractions and behaviour towards lads my own age as “only experimenting”—something boys of my age did that we would eventually grow out of. I convinced myself that this behaviour didn’t make me homosexual so long as I didn’t engage in anal intercourse.
As I grew, went to college and eventually started work, I was still waiting to change. Many times I cried out to God to make me normal—surely if I was truly repentant and really wanted it God would hear my cry? But no matter how passionate my plea, how contrite my prayer, nothing changed. My same-sex desires did not diminish. I was obviously not good enough for God—I was beyond His mercy—destined never to be able to lead a normal life.
I believed that the only way I could protect myself was to suppress my sexual desires and isolate myself emotionally. If I kept my feelings a secret everyone would accept me and believe I was a content, well-balanced individual: a son, a brother, a friend to be proud of.
Whilst keeping up this outward façade my fantasy life grew out of control. I was desperately trying to fill the void in my life. I felt so alone and craved intimacy. Masturbation was an escape, but the relief was only temporary and then the guilt set in and I felt worse then ever! I threw myself into Church activities, believing that I could somehow balance my sin by doing good. I even had a girlfriend for a time. I was convinced that as I stepped out in faith God would heal me and take away these sinful desires.
I could not relate honestly to adults but I found acceptance in the company of teenage boys. Though now I can see how unhealthy this was, then I held onto the belief that it was alright for boys to experiment so long as they didn’t engage in anal sex. As my friendship with one child in particular developed, I started to engage with him in sexual acts. Looking back, I can now see how I manipulated him into situations where he didn’t feel able to say no. I persuaded myself that he was enjoying the experience and this gave me permission to continue to abuse him for a number of years.
Eventually my abuse was discovered and there followed the worst period of my life. My friends and family, my victim and his friends and family all felt the betrayal of their trust in me. I was 23 years old and it felt as if my life had ended. I had nothing left to live for. I was lost and confused and honestly thought about committing suicide; but then through the darkness I heard His voice:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths
Do not be wise in your own eyes;
Fear the Lord and depart from evil,
It will be health to your flesh,
And strength to your bones (Proverbs 3 v 5–8)
Every time I felt lost and forgotten by God I would recite these words to remind me that, provided I trust in Him and depart from my evil ways, He would direct my paths and bring health to my corrupted flesh and strength to my crumbling bones.
I could say more about that period of my life but it would be wrong for me to dwell on the pain I was feeling when my victim and his family were going through so much more. I can only guess at the pain and distress I must have caused them.
For me I was to spend the next 6 years of my life in prison. Although I couldn’t see it at the time, now I thank God for putting me in the only place I could get the help I needed. I still cannot fathom how God’s grace and mercy could reach down to such a sinner as me, but I am thankful for it every day.
The Truth shall set you Free
I remember the night in prison when I first decided to share the secret of my homosexuality with my cell-mate.
It was close to midnight as we lay in our cell talking. As I recognised the damage I had caused my victim, I was forced me to think about my sexuality. I dared not pretend any longer that I could keep this secret without dire consequences resulting from ongoing suppression. I had to start accepting myself for who I was, and I knew that had to mean I must start vocalising that self-acceptance to others. I lay silent in the dark searching for the right words. The years of pain and shame felt like a knot in my stomach rising to my throat each time I tried to speak. Would he reject me? Would he tell others on the wing who would laugh and point?
Finally I said, “Steve . . . I think—sorry, I mean I know—that I’m gay”!
“OK”, he said, “I guessed, and it’s not a problem, I don’t think any less of you—so long as you don’t try to sneak under the covers with me!”
We both laughed and the tension was gone. It felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders! I wasn’t rejected, hated or told I was destined for the fires of hell. He accepted me, as did other friends I made, both inside and outside of prison.
Whilst in prison I was surprised to find the best friend and lover I could possibly hope for! His name?
What a friend I’ve found
Closer then a brother
I have felt your touch
More intimate then lovers
Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, friend for ever.
(Lyrics by Martin Smith)
After my release from prison, I was planning on joining a church far away from where I committed my offence—until I received a letter from the church eldership stating that “. . . we do not regard your attendance at this Church, whilst engaging in homosexual behaviour, as being viable . . .” As painful as this rejection was, I do not hold it against them or regret my decision to ‘come out’ as a gay man. I have learnt to be assertive with my beliefs, whilst accepting that others are entitled to their beliefs. After all, how can I judge them for holding the same beliefs I had held all my life?!
I have learned to like myself and accept that God really has forgiven me. Thankfully He directed me to Psalm 139. Even now when I read that Psalm, tears come to my eyes when I think of how intimately God knows me and yet still chooses to love me! Some people reading this may say that I don’t deserve His forgiveness—that is true I don’t—but I thank God that His grace through Jesus extends even to me. In John Newton’s words:
“Amazing grace! how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me;
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind but now I see!”
God will provide all your needs
Over previous years I have become confident in being open and honest with my true self, especially with the support of my friends, including Jeremy, Brian and Sheila from Courage who helped me to realise that if I am open and honest I can trust others to accept the real me.
Through love and patience , many of my friends and family now accept me for being a gay man. I have also made new gay friends—something which I have never had before! I have found fellowship with other gay Christians and have discovered the joy of worshipping God without condemnation. I really do feel accepted and loved just for being me.
In these last few years God has blessed me above and beyond what I ever thought possible. He has even blessed me with a partner. You hear people talking of finding their ‘soul mate’, something I had no comprehension of, and thought only happened to other people—until now! I felt a connection with him from the moment we first met. With my apologies for another cliché—for me it really was ‘love at first sight’! We have so much in common and it feels like I have known him all my life. He makes me so happy that I can’t imagine life without him. At the moment, however, our practical circumstances prevent us from being together all the time, though we are working on changing that! Because when I am not with him I can think of nothing else than wanting to be with him!We both had difficulty accepting being gay and never thought we could find acceptance from other Christians. When people in the church were getting married, we both remembered thinking, “I wish that could be me”. I don’t think it was so much the marriage in itself, but the desire to be ‘normal’ —to be accepted—to be loved. I never thought I could find so much acceptance, love and joy in the arms of another man!
I now know that God had this perfect relationship planned for me all along, but I was slow to trust and had other relationships that I knew deep down weren’t right for me. I met my partner through Courage and will be forever grateful to all those who lovingly and patiently encouraged me in my Christian faith, and helped me to trust that God would provide all my needs (Philippians 4 v 19). I am not saying that everything will always be perfect in our relationship. Like all relationships we are going to have our ‘ups and downs'’. But it was God who brought us together and so I have absolute confidence that, whatever we go through, God will sustain us through it all and bring us even closer together. As Jeremy recently encouraged us, I believe that by making a commitment to love, accept and care for one another as a way of life, we will continue to enjoy a lifetime of love and companionship.
Anyone reading this who has been waiting so long for God to provide and feels like giving up, I want to encourage you to stay strong, “Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him.” (Psalm 37:7) God may not bless you in exactly the same way He has me—but that’s the beauty of God. As much as we may doubt it at times, God has a tailor-made plan for each one of us. You never know, like me, He might surprise you!