Secular Woman's first article in the LGBTQ week Series
by Aaron Roberts
I'm queer. I can say it now with assurance, pride even, but it took many long painful years to get to this place. I started from a place where gay was sinful, gross, wrong, immoral. Where sex was hidden, something no one talked about. Where sexuality of any kind was looked on with deep suspicion and shame. I've peeled those layers of oppression off over the years and this is my story.
My parents strongly discouraged any thoughts of romance or sex while I was growing up. They made me feel it was wrong to be attracted to anyone regardless of sex or gender. They said it was wrong to have sex before marriage and that it should not be about pleasure. They made me feel like any sexual attraction was an unforgivable sin. I was terrified of being attracted to anyone. But when I was about 15 I couldn't help myself anymore.
At night I started having visions of being intimate with girls. At first I felt guilty because I thought it was wrong. My mind took over, and my fantasies turned to me getting raped by a woman. I thought that, "well, if its against my will then it's not my fault. Then, I won't be guilty."
As I got older I started doubting religion and everything I was taught. By the time I was 18, I was self identifying as Agnostic. As my religious beliefs began to fade, I felt less and less guilty about masturbating and having erotic fantasies. It was very liberating, now I was able to enjoy myself without feeling guilty. My fantasies became more varied, and I also learned that queer people existed and wondered what two men would do together sexually. I started having fantasies involving men, and enjoyed them.
When I started having queer fantasies it was hard for me to imagine being able to have a family because I'd never seen queer families. I thought that they wouldn't be accepted by society and that I couldn't have a queer family. I remember telling my sister, "I think I would like having sex with a man, but I don't think I could fall in love with one."
During this changing period, I went on 4-H exploration days. It was a program where kids would go to Michigan State University for 4 days. There were classes that taught a wide range of subjects. One year I took sailing and a drama/acting class. The classes weren't too involved, but it was enough to teach you about a subject and get you interested in it. We also got to go on an all day adventure away from the campus.
This particular year we went to an amusement park. At the amusement park I hung out with some boys that were in my same 4-H group and we went on some water slides. I remember being aroused by their naked chests.
We were assigned dorm rooms on campus during our classes and in our rooms the boys talked about masturbating among other general conversations. Before this point in my life, I'd never had the opportunity to be with my peers; therefore, I hadn't heard people talk so openly about what I thought were private, taboo topics. These experiences were very educational for me.
When I was seventeen, my parents let me put a door on my room, but I wasn't allowed to put a lock on it. I thought I was lucky because I had the only door in the house. My sisters and my parents didn't have doors to their rooms, and there was no door to the bathroom either, as our house was in a constant state of renovation and my parents didn't believe in giving us privacy.
But, since I had a door I felt safer exploring my sexuality and masturbating to porn. I would shut my door and watch porn, listening intently for my mother walking up the stairs. Usually I was able to hear her before she got to my room, so I would close the pornography and pretend I was just surfing the web or playing a game. She would just open my door unannounced and look at my computer to see what I was doing. I know she was scanning my window tabs for porn. She would accuse me of closing a page so that she couldn't see what I was looking at. Then she would tell me to go to bed and not stay up too late.
Because of my mother's unannounced "visits" to my room I started taking pictures of the porn with my parent's digital camera because then I could take it to bed with me. I thought that would be less risky. I had the foresight to swap out the memory cards so that my parents wouldn't find them in the camera but one night I forgot.
That next morning my father came in to wake me up and tell me to feed my horse. He saw the camera and tried to turn it on, but the battery was dead. I immediately asked him to let me see it. He sensed my anxiety and asked me why. I told him I took a silly picture of myself and wanted to erase it. He took the camera downstairs to find more batteries.
I quickly got up and dressed. I ran out to feed my horse. I was hoping to convince my father to let me have the camera back. However, when I got back inside he had told my mother. I went upstairs to my room because I knew I was doomed.
My mother and my father interrogated me about masturbating and my mother went on to tell me how disgusting and repulsive the pictures were; it was clear that she was referring to the gay pictures. She was equally upset about all the porn though. She was very grossed out by any references to sex. My mother then asked me how I would feel if other people were watching my sister like that. She was trying to make me feel guilty.
My mother then quizzed me if I watched porn with my friends. She told me that she was taking my computer away and I wasn't allowed to play computer games or use the Internet. She also said that I wasn't allowed to see any friends. She went on to say that from now on they would make me go to church with them every Sunday. I begged her to not tell anyone about my porn. She got so irate that she left the room and went downstairs.
My father was calmer. After my mother left the room he told me that he had been into things that were wrong when he was younger, and that he wanted to help me to not crave these evils. I'm not sure if he was talking about my sexuality or porn in general. I didn't say much because I knew that they were wrong but I couldn't argue with them.
One of the most upsetting parts about this was they ignored the sexuality issue completely. I knew they believed that gay people didn't exist and that gay sex was just evil and that there was no attraction between two people of the same sex. Because of this mindset my parents only saw porn and sex for pleasure as evil and a sin. The fact that it was gay porn made it no worse because being gay was just as sinful.
My mother said that they were taking me to see our pastor to talk about what happened. I was very upset because I had asked her not to tell anyone. My parents took me to the church to talk with the pastor.
The pastor and my parents started out by discussing my lack of faith. I told them that the biblical story was full of holes and that I didn't need religion to be good and moral. The pastor said that some people, famous atheists, come back to the lord. He also agreed that many people leave the Christianity.
He went on to discuss porn and the sex industry. He said it was evil and that the women were forced to participate. My mother sat there agreeing with him. He said that watching sexual images was wrong. He then went on to say that pornography led to homosexuality. My parents asked if I would be willing to meet with the pastor and talk more. They made it clear that if I didn't meet with the pastor I had to move out.
I was forced to see the pastor a couple times, and during our visits we talked and he tried to pressure me into reading a book about a crazy evangelical guy. The pastor and my parents basically wanted to convert me back to Christianity, convince me of the evils of pornography and get me to become ex-gay.
After this traumatic experience I became more reserved. I knew my life was over. This person was dead. It took me years to come out and be comfortable with myself. My family used religion to try and control my sexuality and it scarred me for life.
After this experience, about a year later, I moved out and started college. I played soccer and hung out with the soccer guys. I said I was straight and tried to be straight. It was a very difficult time for me because I was trying to be someone I wasn't. The soccer team was very homophobic also, which didn't help. I also tried to have sex with girls and began dating a girl for several months. I tried to make our relationship work but I just didn't feel an attraction for her. Finally, I came out as bisexual, which made her very uncomfortable. She was afraid I would leave her for a man. I was very sad that she couldn't accept me because I knew she had other friends in the LGBT community.
After I broke up with my girlfriend I started dating a guy who was a friend of my sisters'. I felt more comfortable with him right away, and I just knew inside that this was right for me. I'd never felt that way before. It's something that you can't explain with words.
Since I had a boyfriend it was easier for me to come out because all I had to do was mention my boyfriend. Most people at my work were friends of mine and so everyone would mention my boyfriend once in awhile in conversations. It didn't take long for every new employee to find out that I was queer.
One time I was working with a guy who I knew from a conservative family. I don't think he knew for sure I was queer, so one day he was goofing off and called me a faggot. I told him never to call me that again. He immediately became embarrassed and asked me what he could call me. I told him anything but a faggot.
One time another conservative guy made a comment about a customer who he heard over the headset saying, "Sounds like he plays for the other team." It was not necessarily a negative comment; he didn't have a negative tone, but, I knew the comment itself was heteronormative and homophobic. I was taken by surprise, but I also knew this guy wouldn't understand what heteronormative meant, so I just dropped my jaw and stared at him with the expression, "what the fuck?" I think he got the message without me saying a word.
Another time at work I was telling my co-worker about the night before when I ordered pizza for my boyfriend and I. The guy delivering supplies for the store overheard our conversation. After the delivery guy left my co-worker told me that he had asked about my sexuality and commented that he didn't know people were so open. I was surprised about this reaction because I assumed that he would have seen open people before. I realized how important it is to be open because other people notice it. If they are queer themselves it will help them feel more comfortable and if they are straight they will realize that queer people exist and are comfortable.
Now I know that I am queer and I am proud to be who I am. I define myself as queer because it is a broader term than gay. I think the term queer explains that I do not fit into normative gender identity and gender expression categories as well as covering my attraction to men.
For me, queer also encompasses how I don't fit with society on many levels. For example, I used to have a speech impediment and to this day sometimes it surfaces. I don't have the same values or beliefs, as most of my peers. I do not accept our capitalist, greedy mind set that so many do. I know that the clothes I wear have no bearing on my character. I have many terms to define myself; hard worker, liberal, atheist, humanist, queer, and survivor. But, although I happen to be queer and I am proud to be who I am, it is only a fraction of my being, my identity.