What if they find out?
In the 1980's and '90's, in the hills of West Virginia, I was growing up, and life seemed slow, almost predictable.
My twin sister, Sarah, and I were born in October in 1978. We were the youngest of six children, the eldest three, our sisters, were already married and beginning families of their own. Our brother was nine years older than we were and before our lives really were started, he had graduated high-school, joined the Army, and was off living his life.
Our dad died young. My sister and I were only 2, and to be honest, I have no memory of him. It was just me, my sister, and mom. Our life centered around our church. An evangelical christian church that found reasons to restrict most anything that meant you would grow up and fit in with everyone else.
The Worldwide Church of God had it's own set of rules and beliefs. There was no celebrating Christmas, Easter, Halloween, St. Valentines Day, or any other holiday that could trace origins back to a pre-christian pagan celebration. The earth was only a few thousand years old, and, of course, gays were an abomination and sinners, doomed to spend eternity in the lake of fire with Lucifer.
Maybe you can imagine what it was like to not share the beliefs of 99% of the community you lived in. When I was in kindergarten I was asked why I wasn't allowed to celebrate Christmas. I am pretty sure I ruined Santa Clause for that six year old as I did my best to teach him all the things I believed and how the rest of the world was wrong.
The part of my youth that was the most difficult was reconciling my sexuality with the teachings that came from the pulpit. The minister talked about choosing the sin of homosexuality. I certainly wasn't choosing it! I had heard how disgusting it was my whole life and being called a "fag" was just about the worst insult you could hurl at someone. How hard I prayed for God to remove these feelings. Late into the night I would cry sometimes, begging for the feelings I was having to go away. And when I wasn't praying at night, I was pretending the entire day. Pretending to like the things that the other boys liked. Pretending I wasn't scared someone would find out every day. Pretending I wasn't scared of the eternity of damnation I would face. And looking forward to the day I could run away and maybe find a place I could be accepted for who I was.
For most of my young life I just wished to be like everyone else. A straight guy who believed in Santa and could able to go to football games on Friday night. You know, normal... or what I thought of as normal.
And then things changed.
In church one Saturday (yes, we went to church on Saturdays) I started hearing how everything was changing. No longer was celebrating Christmas a sin, Friday nights were no longer sacred, and birthdays could now be celebrated. It seemed god had changed his mind about what the right way to worship him was. My entire belief system had been turned upside down, and all the jeers, teasing and harassment endured for 16 years were all for naught.
So I entered adulthood with a crumbling foundation and a secret that could no longer stay buried.
A bried history: in pictures. We had a lot of happy times. And, even with secrets, I grew up having hope and a sense of knowing I could achieve anything I put my mind to.