Thursday, February 14, 2013

Losing Innocence

Y2K. Remember that? In hindsight, it was such an innocent time. Before 9/11 and the Dick Cheney decade, our biggest collective anxieties were the Y2K bug, Bill Clinton’s sexual purity, and the end of the Tech Boom. For me personally, it was the year I finally stopped trying.

Without going into too much detail or nuance, I spent the 1990s fighting against my own sexual orientation. My weapons were prayer, psychological counseling, Bible reading, church-going, confession to pastors, anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication, a stint in reparative therapy, personal vows of purity, and good old-fashioned teeth clenching. When I made it to the year 2000 with my virginity intact (success!?), something finally snapped. At this point, the image I had of God was a statue of a man with a smile on his face. Sure, he “loved” me (represented by the smile), but he didn’t move. He wasn’t alive. He was powerless to change me. Anything I said to him fell on his hardened, stone-cold ears. It was the year 2000, I was getting close to 30, and I just didn’t fucking care anymore.

2000 was the year I lost my “innocence.” I’m not going to get all TMI on you here, because it’s really not necessary. The point isn’t: I lost my virginity. The point is that I finally gave up trying to find the god I had cobbled together with shards of evangelical logic and then petrified into stone.

I mourned. Once in a while I tried to recover some of the broken pieces of the statue I threw away. But it was gone.

I didn’t wake up one morning with an image of the “real” God in my head. I didn’t miraculously feel that the “real” God was alive, radiating light, love, and truth into my soul. I didn’t feel Jesus’ “arms around me.” I felt alone and sad and in desperate need of real human contact. So I found it in any way I could.

I experienced the consequences of intense, sustained shame about my identity as a gay man in the following ways:

  • Authentic relationships were almost impossible
    • I hid something very core about myself from others, making it that much harder for others to get to know me and for me to get to know them
    • I felt unworthy of any true love or relationship because of the identity shame, so why bother?
  • I eventually expressed the repressed longing for love and affirmation with destructive and self-destructive behavior
    • Anonymous, unsafe sex
    • Manipulating and lying to others in order to get love and affirmation (often, again, through sex)

My own beliefs about sex are different now than they were in the 20th century. Sex in itself isn’t wrong or dirty or sinful. It’s a strong, natural desire and a very real part of our humanity. Just like anything else, sex can be used to wield power over ourselves and others. I personally do not subscribe to the traditional evangelical rules about sex, because they are incredibly rigid and simply another gateway to shame and, inevitably, destructive behavior. What I can get behind is a code of sexual ethics with the foundation being the Golden Rule. In fact, why does it need to be any more complicated than that?

It was a good thing for me to lose my innocence. I was putting childish things behind me, and smashing my stone-faced, smiling idol to bits.


paul said...

It sounds as if you didn't lose your "innocence" (or lose anything of value, really), but that you escaped prison. It is not an easy feat to escape from the evangelical/fundamentalist Christian gulag, especially when you were born and raised there. It's the only 'life' you have known.

Most, if not all of your 'loving relationships,' would qualify as text book examples of Stockholm syndrome.

The "experienced...consequences" were the results of institutionalization and having to learn how to live as a free person for the first time in your life.

My guess would be that feeling "alone and sad and in desperate need of real human contact" was a feeling you had carried most of your life and were finally acknowledging.

While not ideal, it is no crime to embrace the first person you see upon escape. It's even a healthy sign that you still possessed the motivation to seek out contact with another after being conditioned to S&M for so long. If you had never really had healthy human contact, it makes sense there would be some learning to do.

Though it's been awhile since you breached the wall, congratulations on your sustained escape. It's good to have you as a member of the free world.

Kevin said...

Agreed on all points. You know, I consider myself one of the lucky ones, because even though my family are all conservative evangelicals, they have always been loving PEOPLE. They struggle with my "sustained escape" but they have never been ugly or hurtful. In fact many of them are really trying to understand and reach out. There are so many kids (and adults) who grow up the same way and aren't so lucky with close family members...they finally open up and they experience the shitty rejection they always feared.