It’s pretty late, and I’m trying to squeeze in some cardio before the gym closes and the Bally’s staff ask us to leave. This was a few years ago. I wasn’t in the shape I am now (more on that in another post, promise), but I’d made a lot of progress. A young lady came up to me. She told me how good I looked and asked me questions about my workout. To say I was flattered is an understatement. Over the years, I’d developed a pretty strong insecurity, so to receive a compliment like this, I immersed myself in it.
SIDE NOTE ON INSECURITY: to be insecure is to be burned, scalded, flayed… insecurity rises from you like thick black smoke. Rises and falls. And when it falls back on you, it sears your flesh, so that when you are touched, you scream out in pain and lash out at the one who did so. Those who fall under its weight- do you know what I mean? That instance where you respond to a minor criticism as if your very sense of self depended on it? Well aside from this tell-tale sign, there’s a fairly obvious additional sign- you travel through life and days and streets, projecting an open need for the balm of affirmation. Has this ever been you? No judgement- it’s me too. I only include it to say, you’re not alone in feeling this.
For what it’s worth, I understand…
BACK TO THE STORY: As I said, I was pretty flattered. She’s a beautiful woman and she’s approaching me! Telling me that she sees that I’m in great shape and that I’m working really hard. And she even starts asking me about who I am outside the gym. It was a great conversation. I couldn’t stop smiling. She asked me for my number (the FIRST time that’s ever happened), so I gave it to her. She said she would give me a call and left me to finish my workout.
The next evening, she gives me a call. I don’t hide my excitement in hearing her voice! I ask her about herself, and she asks me more about myself. Our talk is going well. She shares with me that she’d like to get to know me better, but she thinks I should know that she is transgender. She asks me what my thoughts are about that. And here’s where this story becomes one of my most shameful moments…
You see, when she decided to share that truth about herself, I immediately began thinking- “God is testing me… He is using this moment to see if I will ‘be true to His word.’ If I pass His test, maybe, just maybe, He’ll give me what I want (what did I want? Please, read on…)” So, in true selfish fashion, I began to speak the “truth” in “love.” That truth? – That God would want her to stay a biological man; that her “choice” was against “His will.” In my “magnanimity,” I would still be her “friend,” though I would never agree with her “choice.” (NOTE THE QUOTES)
She was truly magnanimous, enduring my attacks on her very personhood, my audacity at speaking for God, as if He needed me to do so, my selfishness at making her truth about myself, and, though she didn’t know this… my hypocrisy. Why hypocrisy? Simple, it is because before this moment, I was on the receiving end of this “truth” in “love.” And it almost killed me. THIS truth… was how my hope died.
Very few people know this, but in college, I actually attempted to end my life. I craved acceptance, and always felt like an outsider in school. I believed in God, and was raised in the Christian faith. I was a church goer, bible reader, choir member, even a pastor in training. It is why I chose to attend a Christian college (though not the only true reason). I didn’t know what it meant to be gay for a long time. I didn’t know that I was gay- I thought attraction to men was normal and that it didn’t have a designation. I also thought that at some unspecified time, my attraction would just turn toward women. In my first year at college, that change wasn’t happening, and soon it became very clear that how I felt, who I ‘liked,’ was going to be an issue. I started to learn from all those around me that being gay, wasn’t a good thing- it wasn’t okay. It was ‘evil,’ ‘immoral,’ ‘gross,’ etc. (people can be a special type of cruel when they think they’re free to be so).
Hearing these guys speak about gay people, and being gay, filled me with dread. So, I told no one. These would become the recurring interaction(s):
“Marlin, are you seeing anyone?” “Not really,” I would respond, “School keeps me pretty busy.”
“Marlin, do you like anyone?” “Yeah, but I just don’t know how to approach her,” I would respond. “I get really nervous.” “Just go for it.” “… I guess you’re right. I will…”
“Marlin, what type of girl do you like?” “Um… well, someone intelligent, ” I would respond, adding some clichéd traits from celebrities and models I’ve seen. “I know someone I think you would like. Let me set you up!” “…Sure… I’d… love… that…”
These canned responses (lies are probably the more accurate term) became reflexive after a while, and I maintained them, as I fervently prayed that God would change my attractions before these lies caught up with me. I fasted, spoke in ‘tongues,’ got baptized and re-baptized, and read every Bible verse on homosexuality (this was definitely a mistake). You’ve probably guessed the conclusion of all this ‘effort…’ nothing but a burning self-hatred and budding insecurity.
By my Sophomore year, I was unraveling. God was not answering my prayers. God had abandoned me. God had betrayed me. God had lied to me. God hated me. God wasn’t real. Life is one big, cosmic joke. I couldn’t concentrate in class, I exploded on my roommates, I behaved erratically, uncontrollably. People definitely noticed.
I started sharing with some people this phrase “I’m struggling with homosexuality.” In each case, these people would speak the “truth” in “love.” That truth? – That God would want me to live as a “man;” that my “choice” was against “His will.” In their “magnanimity,” they would still be my “friends,” or they would pray for me and with me, though they would never agree with my “choice” (NOTE THE QUOTES). Some even told me I was possessed by a demon. Or, if I would just pray and believe, and “give it to God,” He would “deliver” me (whatever that means). All these comments came replete with Bible verses from Leviticus, words of Paul (Romans, Corinthians), etc. I know that these people were trying to help in their own way. They would not have known that their words, struck at my hope, and stoked my rage. “You don’t understand!” I thought/ I said/ I shouted/ I pleaded/ I cried. “I didn’t choose to be this way! I’m doing everything you’ve said! I’ve read all these verses! I’ve prayed these prayers! NOTHING’S WORKING!!! NOW, WHAT?!”
I sent college-wide emails about becoming an atheist and fought faith expressions at every turn. Finally, after one really disoriented day in Spanish class, I asked my professor if I could leave early, I went to my dorm, laid in my bed, slept, cried, and slept more. Then, when no one was around, I took an extra-long phone cord, wrapped one end to the wood frame, the other end around my neck, over and over again, then rolled off the bed. I choked myself- and it definitely hurt a lot. I felt all this pressure in my head and around my eyes, my fingers were tingling. I was afraid, but still SO ANGRY.
Eventually… thankfully… I sat back up on my bed. But then, I saw this as a failure. I couldn’t even take my life. Now, I hated everything. I destroyed just about everything I owned, my computer that my mother gave me- I took a pen and jammed it into the disc drive, my keyboard- I placed it neatly on the ground, took the stand, and proceeding to beat it until the keys snapped off, my VCR- I took my fists and slammed it, over and over until it didn’t work anymore, and my bible- I ripped out as many pages as I could. Then, I sat in this destruction until my roommates came in. I can’t imagine how concerned I must have made them. One of my regrets was that I made my suffering their suffering…
I remember that was my last night at Trinity for a little while. I went from there, to the hospital, and from the hospital, back to Trinity. And from Trinity, home for the rest of the semester. I saw a psychiatrist, who diagnosed me with major depression. I met with counselors, and pastors, and began a slow road towards recovery… or at least some normalcy. I didn’t know it at the time. Well, I knew my hope was dead, but I didn’t know it could be reborn. Certainly, not with such mundanity. There wasn’t a critical moment that changed my perspective. Or a conversation, event, experience, or person that shifted my thinking. It just so happened that… after a while, I was able to find a genuine smile again. Most of the wounds though- they stayed. Some bored deep down within me and would resurface again later in my life (through today actually). And I never looked at faith the same way again, which I ultimately believe was a good thing.
I continue to learn lessons from that time. One of those lessons- the horror of killing someone’s hope, is what inspired me to write this post. I think about my response to that young lady often, even though I can’t remember her name. I wish I could apologize to her. I was young too, and not too smart. I was a little selfish… maybe a lot selfish. I turned off my empathy and I forgot what it means to truly show love. To that person: I’m sorry I said those things to you. I’m sorry that I tried to kill your hope. I hope that I failed and that you continued to live as strong and as beautiful as you were that evening. I thank you for being a better person than me and helping me to learn a lesson that I am still growing in over 10 years later. I hope you found happiness, I hope you found someone to be with, I hope that you have everything that your heart desires. I was wrong. And if we were ever to meet again, it would be my honor to be your friend.
To those who read, and those who know me, but may not have known these things about me, THANK YOU FOR READING. I hope that my story has helped you in some way. I hope that no one was offended by my words. I simply had to share this… because of what is coming next… my challenge to the world; my challenge to MY world. My audacious request, which I couldn’t make unless I became vulnerable.
As you can see, I now use the word “hope” a lot. My hope is alive and well, so when you see what I write next, you’ll know that it comes from a place of hope.
Love you all.
P.S.- if you are having thoughts about hurting yourself, if you’ve been in that place of dead hope, PLEASE, take some time and talk with someone. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is free, open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and filled with people who want to listen and help. I’ve used it… it can help: 1-800-273-8255.
P.P.S- Sperocide: it’s a word that, as far as I know, I made from 2 Latin words: Spero, which translates to ‘hope’ and cide, from Latin caedo ‘to kill.’ I would accept correction if you have it!