The following is a true story that took place in January 1993.
“Have you kept your thoughts pure?” I looked over the desk at my bishop. I like him. He is kind, caring and wise. This is a man who asks questions he is required to ask, yet cares about the responses you give. He listens and really give his all to see and feel things from your perspective. This is why I trust him and his advice. In him there is no judgment, even when he tells you to stop breaking God’s commandments.
“I try, but I still think about men.” My reply is no surprise. My bishop has known for sometime about my struggles with homosexuality.
“To what extent?”
“Mostly when,” I hesitated. “when I masturbate.”
“Have you reduced how often you do this?”
“No, its difficult.”
“I understand. The church teaches us that this is a sin. It does not make you unworthy, yet it does mean your thoughts are sinful. Most men are demeaning women with such thoughts. In your case it’s a bigger problem because it keeps your mind focused on homosexuality. You have to keep those thoughts out of your life, they hurt you spiritually.”
“I know. I try, yet the thoughts are always there. Even when I push them away they stay in the background.” I am no longer looking at the bishop. Shame has set in. My homosexual thoughts are my biggest failure, my worst sin.
“Have you acted on these feeling with another man?” His voice is so very kind, so caring.
“No.” I understand he means “from the last time.” He knows about everything I have ever done because I have told him. I have repented and done what was required to be in full fellowship. It has been a number of years since I acted on my thoughts, yet every meeting I have with him, he asks, just as he would ask any other member. Being chaste is extremely important. No member: male or female, heterosexual or homosexual, may have sex outside the bounds of marriage. Everyone must have this interview at least once a year. I have it more often because he wants to monitor my progress in keeping my mind clear of abnormal thoughts.
“Good. Your doing a great job. Keep working on stopping your masturbation habits. Keep reading the scriptures. Re-read “Miracle of Forgiveness” and the pamphlets I’ve given you. Follow the counsel given in them.”
“I will.” I mean what I say. I always do what I am asked. I only fail when it comes to the thoughts and feelings I have about men.
Our conversation now becomes more relaxed. We talk about my job, about tithing, about my callings in the church. These are things I do well. When I leave he gives me a firm handshake and as always, a warm smile. I love this man as I am supposed to.
I am alone with my thoughts. Sunlight enters from the patio door so that half my face is in light and the other half is in darkness. I view my face in the mirror that covers the full length of the dinning room wall. I look like two different people I feel like two different people. One part of me is what everyone sees, yet the dark side is hidden. I understand I am depressed most of the time. There is a sadness in me that never goes away. I hide it when others are around. I laugh, tell jokes and smile. Yet these are all fake. Inside I am not happy and the only time I can ever recall being happy was when I attended high school in Temple Texas. I touch the dark side of my face. This is the part I want to go away. I have tried so hard, yet it still exists. The side others see should be the real me – its not all a lie, yet it isn’t real. I sit for a while practicing different smiles and laughs as I watch myself in the mirror. It would be so much better for me if I did not know it wasn’t real, but I am too aware of everything. I can pretend to others, yet not to myself.
My life is blessed. I love my job, my family, and my friends. I stay busy almost all the time. I read the scriptures and pray daily. I care about and serve others. I live a clean life. I don’t drink alcohol or do drugs. My health is good. Yet the darkness persist. I know why it is there. I am a queer. As long as I remain such the darkness will never go away. I don’t want this. I never wanted this! I have done so much to try and change, yet I have failed.
I do not like failure and I never give up. When I play games and I know there is no way to win, I keep playing until the last move is made. I will study longer, work harder, try new things, and find a way. If I lose it wasn’t because I stopped fighting. I have never given up and would not give up now.
I look in the mirror one last time and put away my self pity. I rise and go to my bedroom as I remove my tie and fold it neatly. I place the tie on the bed as I lower myself to the floor. As my knees hit the carpet I clasp my hands together and bow my head.
“My dear Heavenly Father..” I begin as I always do, as I have been taught to do. I address God as respectfully as I can. Then I thank Him for all my wonderful blessings. I want God to know I am not blind to all the great things in my life just because of this this one problem. I pause. How to begin? What to ask? I have been praying this same prayer every since I can remember. It started when I was ten or eleven. I had no name for it then, yet I knew there was something about me that was wrong. I simply prayed to be made right. That later turned into “make me normal.” When I was thirteen those prayers became almost a daily request. I had pleaded, cried, and even yelled my request over the years. I approached it with love and anger. I locked myself away once for three days, fasting, praying, and reading the scriptures. For three days and three nights that is all I did and I believed God would grant me peace and free me. I had prayed with almost every bishop I ever had to be free of homosexuality.I had prayed with a number of friends from many different faiths to have this sin taken away from me. I was on three different prayer groups, one Methodist, one Baptist, and one Catholic. I had been anointed with oil and had hands laid on me two different times to have this curse taken from me, yet I still had homosexual thoughts and feelings.
“Please God,” I start, “I come to you again, with humble heart, with true desire, and ask you to please lift this evilness from my mind and heart. Please cure me of these unnatural feelings and allow me to fulfill my life, to be able to feel for a woman as I should. I know I have come to you so many times. I have done all that I can think of, all that my leaders have asked. I will do anything you wish, anything to be free of this burden. I plead with you to release me from this hardship.” Tears began to run down my face, my voice cracks as I start to sob the words I speek. “I so much want to live a normal life, to be able to marry and raise a family. Please help me!”
“Stop!” I open my eyes and look around. There is no one there. I close my eyes again.
“Stop!” This time I keep my head bowed and my eyes closed. It was not a voice my ears could hear. The voice came from inside. It was loud, it was strong, and it seemed to shake me from the inside. “Stop!” It was one simple, single word, yet it echoed in my mind and touched my heart. With it came a message, came meaning, came clarity.
In an instant everything I had been worrying about, crying about, and hating myself for vanished. With that one word came a message that has been imbedded in my soul every since.
“Stop coming to me about this. I do not care that you are gay. Stop hating yourself for being who you are, I love you . Stop wasting your life trying to be what you are not. Stop wasting my time over nothing. This is not a problem. I accept you as you are. If you love me, love others, then you may love who you love and it is no sin. I love you, so stop.”
Tears roll down my face in streams and years of pain are washed away with them. The freedom I had always sought was granted, in a way I never expected. It had never occurred to me to ask God if I was fine as I was. He never granted my request to be heterosexual because that was not his plan for me. Instead he gave me peace through enlightenment. I stay on my knees, arms folded and my head on the bed as I continued to cry. I had, had so much pain and anguish for so many years and it was gone. I did not know what to do or what it meant, all I knew was I did not hurt any more. I had hurt for so long and now I felt nothing but joy. Nothing but relief.
All my life I could never love myself. How could I love such an evil person who was sure to go to hell? Now hell was not a certainty. I would not be judged because I might love another man, only that I loved. After thirty-three years I could now accept and love myself. I was not sure how to love myself, just that I now could and should.
All my life I was taught that the Bible condemned homosexuals. Yet, I now knew God did not condemn me or others just because of who they were attracted to. God loves us all. There was an unbelievable sense of joy, like none I have ever felt. God loved us all! All the preachers, teachers, bishops, friends, and family, who had ever told me how evil homosexuality was, they were all wrong. I had been wrong, so very very wrong. God had spoken to me and there could never again be any doubt in my mind. I knew God loved and accepted us all!
When I finally lift my head from the bed, the room’s light is fading. I bounce up and look out the window, it is such a beautiful sunset. Night is approaching and my roommate would be home soon. I had a new life in front of me. I do not know what that new life would be,yet my life would change, had changed. I was free and wasn’t sure how to handle life without a constant cloud over my head. No more sorrow, no more guilt, no more pain. I felt like Scrooge on Christmas day – “light as a feather.”
I look out the window and up to the sky, and with a genuine smile, say “Thank you!”
I was just a boy.
There should have been no shame, no pressure, no reason to think I should be dead much less want to die.
I was just a boy.
The message that I was an abomination, a demon, that I was damned didn’t just come from religion. It came from family, from friends (peers), from school, from the government, from books, from movies, from the news, from music, from the health experts, from everywhere.
I was just a boy.
I listen to the radio as “Billy Joe McCallister jumped off the Tallahatchie bridge.” I watched as Martha in the Children’s Hour said, “Oh, I feel so damn sick and dirty I can’t take it anymore!” and then went upstairs and hung herself. I read the news as Dan White received a light sentence because sugar made him kill Harvey Milk and Mayor Moscone. People I knew at the time said if he had only killed the “queer”, he wouldn’t have spent any time in jail. He got out in less then two years, that’s how much a gay man’s life was worth.
I was just a boy.
My only crime was that I was attracted to the same sex. So, I hid who I was. I escaped into religion, losing God in the process. I got a boner while watching a boy two years older then me and for that I was punished, and even to this day I am still paying a price. In 1973 and years after I wanted to die because of it. Today I want to turn my pain into something that might help. I guess you can say I am back on my rock. Some say I never got off the rock, I just change my message.
Yes, this was my first suicide note, however I’m still here. I want that understood so that no one will think that this is about death as an answer. It s about understanding. This is what triggered my long path of depression and suicidal obsession. Everyone’s trigger and circumstances are not the same, yet suicidal thoughts can lead to suicidal attempts and sadly to suicidal deaths.
I share because it is my hope that the more we all understand where the destructive path might start, maybe we can understand how to help others from driving off the cliff. It will also help us understand why someone wants to die is not as simple as one thing or one event. It is built over time and over a number of events. During the years of hating myself for being gay, my religious beliefs were at the heart of my suicidal desires, yet I was also bullied for being gay, bullied because my brother was gay, and bullied because I never fit in. No one ever told me that it was ok to be gay until I was about 20, and that came from my ten year old brother, Alvin. (A great story of a great soul – I just wasn’t ready to listen to his wisdom.) Not only did I not have any support, I saw how my brother Matt was treated because he was gay. When I was growing up almost every part of society had laws that lead to confirmation that homosexuality was a sin and a crime. There were no protections if you were gay.
My religious upbringing had taught me that sex was wrong, yet the desire was normal. I was aware that masturbating was a sin, yet that sin was forgivable because for some reason it was normal. You should not do it, yet it did not make you evil. The same was true about thinking about sex. It was wrong, sinful and you should not do it, yet if you did, it was forgivable.
My religious teaching had also taught me that homosexual thoughts were worse then sexual thoughts “normal” people had. These thoughts were wrong and sinful, yet were also an abomination and pure evil. Masturbating to such thoughts raised the level of that sin to a sickness worse than death. Acting on those thoughts placed you in a perverted level of sin that could not be tolerated, nor easily forgiven. It made you Satan’s evil monster. At 13 that is what I discovered; I was a perverted monster desperately trying to be an angel.
The faith I would not relinquish and the reality of a sexual orientation I did not choose and could not change, clashed at the core of my soul and the longer these two sides battled each other the more desperate I became. As each position stood their ground, I fell deeper into depression and the more death seemed the only answer. My faith could not be compromised and my homosexility could not be “cured”, so there never was an end to my suffering and I could never look into a future where I would not be hurting. When you cannot find any relief, when it seems everything is getting worse and will never get better, when you cannot help yourself and no one else is willing or able to help you, when even God seems to have abandoned you, that is when suicide makes perfect sense.
What I went through is not what everyone goes through and so I hope others will share their stories. Our stories are complicated, yet no matter how difficult life might be – it is still life and I have learned that the sun does shine on the darkest of times. Life changes, you change, others change, society changes and those changes give the greatest hope. All of the suicide notes I wrote, the one silly suicide attempt, and one serious commitment to kill myself are all behind me and I am so very grateful that none of the pain I went through did not lead to a grave. I hope that if you feel death is your best option, please wait, because one day you may wake up to a beautiful sunrise and think as I do today: I am glad I am alive!
When two strangers never meet, yet their worlds collide, from that one explosive catalyst comes two compelling stories with one reprehensible ending.
Award winning writer and director Edward St. Joseph and acclaimed author J.D. Moss present Shadow of the Butterfly, The Short Stories.
By J.D. Moss
Three streaks of light spread across the morning sky. A sky filled with sunlight only a few moments ago is now turning gray. White shining clouds transform into charcoal puffs, building their bulk, ready to spit out heavy drops of water. I have seen rain. I have seen storms. I have even seen the dangerous weather of a tornado. This is a first.
This is the last day of my first trip to west Texas. I came to take some parting pictures off “The Summit of Mount Locke, the highest point on Texas highways” or so the sign reads. This means if you want to drive, not hike, to the highest point in Texas, this is it. I arrived 10 minutes ago to a clear, bright day that is rapidly changing.
A cracking, deafening sound makes me jump. Instead of three claps of thunder, one for each of the lighting flashes I have just witnessed, I hear an incredibly loud one. The thunder takes a long time to reach the summit; meaning the lightning and storm are miles away, even though I can see it forming right in front of me. From the top of this summit I can see the whole of the Earth, from the rocks and brush below to the end of the horizon where incredible shades of greens and browns meet with vibrant mixtures of blues and whites. I see no towns, although I know there is at least one down there, so small from this viewpoint that it is camouflaged by nature. There is a thin winding streak of gray cutting through the greenery and I realize it is the highway connecting the town and Mount Locke. The rest are hills rising, then falling, waves of earth flowing like an ocean across the landscape.
The storm is spreading downward, still restricting itself to the sky yet assimilating the tranquil world quickly. The air is dry and the wind warm. I am transfixed on the creation forming. This is a show no one can see as I see it. In a world inhabited by few, you have great opportunities to be the sole observer. I stand in awe of the uncontrollable, understanding that change cannot be avoided, only faced. As another series of lightning dominates the sky and the angry sounding thunder pushes past my ears, I allow myself to drift back to another storm – a storm only I saw coming.
We both know things will never be the same again. I look over at Anthony as he silently, yet skillfully merges our car with the thousands of other cars headed in the same direction. I have spent a lifetime fighting what could not be successfully fought –the invincible force of destiny. I can no longer live life as I have, if I continue to do what my best friend, Anthony wants, I will die. In a way I am dead in all but body. I know he will not accept the part of me I have been resisting. He has known about my homosexuality for a long time and has remained my best friend despite my “flaw” only because I condemned this part of myself.
“Do you want to get something to eat?” He asks.
“Sure.” I replied, yet do not really care. My heart is not in this car, nor with him.
“You know I am here for you.” He lies, yet does not realize his lie.
“I know.” I lie, knowing, yet not believing.
I look out the car window as we dodge in and around traffic. The morning sun is barely visible behind the cramped buildings. Sleepy-eyed and groggy people, tightly holding on to steaming coffee and egg sandwiches, move quickly in and out of my line-of-sight.
What is it like when a life long fear is realized? Within a few short months the thunderous fear of losing will transform into lightning strikes of reality that will result in excommunication from the church. The winds will blow away the structure of my life, leaving it full of chaotic debris and the rains will wash away most of my friends and acquaintances. I will lose my social structure, most of my support, and my faith – not in God, but in the church and in people.
My mind ignites with flashes of sparks. Logic and reason are communicating at an incredible speed, only slowed by the intrusion of unreasonable emotion. In this case –anger. In a short time my best friend will be gone. My phone calls, emails, letters, birthday cards and Christmas cards will all go unanswered. He will offer no goodbye –no explanation – years of friendship swept away with the change this storm brings. With him and others it will happen, as I always feared.
I am on the edge of transformation. He does not like it. He thinks he knows, yet he does not know, does not understand. I know this change is positive and hopeful. For every yin there is a yang. The yin represents the tranquil grounding of earth, the uncertainty of the darkness, and the cold. The yang represents the positive, reaching for the heavens, warmth from the heat of love and the awakening to the light of understanding. What propels me forward on my personal path has proven destructive to our friendship. I ride waves of emotion from acceptance of this fact to anger. I look at my friend, my brother and quickly close my eyes to conceal my tears.
Calmness surrenders to chaos. I watch as the darkened water is pulled from the sky, beaten to the ground with such force that it rebounds, reaching upward before falling one last time. The storm has now taken over the sky for miles. The heavy rain connects earth to sky; the lightning flashes and thunder are closer together. The wildness in front of me is moving quickly, charging toward my mountain perch. Scores of birds fly as one away from the oncoming menace, yet I stand my ground.
A manmade rock wall, designed to keep the tame safe from the wild, is behind me as I get as close to the storm as the mountain will allow. I am not afraid of what is coming. I see the beauty this storm brings, see its necessities, the rain that nourishes, the old, that floods could clear away, even as another lightning bolt strikes, I understand that even fire brings life.
A wave of cool air hits me. For a few seconds I can stand sideways, stretch out my arms and feel coolness with one hand and warmth with the other. Then the coolness envelops me. The wind blows across my face and fills my nose with the smell of water mixed with dirt. I breathe deeply, trying to become part of the storm. I watch as a runaway section of the storm moves out to my right. It moves quicker than the main body as if it plans on encircling me. This section is smaller yet it seems more violent. Lightning scars the sky more frequently, thunder plays like war drums, and the rain falls harder. Darkness slowly descends on the mountain, as the storm seems to pinpoint my location. I look at it with a crazy-ass grin and think, give me your best shot.
An awkward silence has fallen over us as we watch the sun slide out of the sky. We sit on top of Mount Bonnell watching as the lights of the city become more visible with the passing of each painfully long minute.
Anthony and I have made our way here after sharing a good meal over small talk, catching up on what each of us has been doing in the years we have been out of touch. Forced conversation that avoided what we both really came back together for – the proper ending of a friendship.
In the two years since Anthony cut himself off from me we have both moved on, yet in each of us the thoughts of the other still dash from the shadows of our minds to the forefront of our hearts. We were close friends, akin to brothers of the soul who inspired and looked out for one another. We prayed together, served in the church together, sang together, and his friendship meant everything to me. When it ended, the way it ended, created an emptiness that was instantly filled with an agonizing painful anger that has remained at the core of my being.
I turn and look at him, half lit by the dimming sunlight, and half in the shadow of the coming night. I smile and look as if the spirit of peace and calmness has blessed my soul, yet waves of anger rise and flood my heart then recede allowing the love I still have for him to justify my outward facade. The storm within continues to rage as he decides to break our silent impasse.
He explains he ended our friendship not because I was excommunicated from the church but because I embraced homosexuality. My heart is again submerged in a pool of bitterness, knowing the two are the same. He acknowledges that how he ended things was wrong and he apologizes. Compassion pushes away the hostility and I can see how much pain he is suffering. I sit and listen to his explanation, remembering what it was like hating myself simply because I was gay, being so disgusted with who I was that death seemed an appropriate response. How can I condemn him for not understanding, for the inability of setting aside almost immovable religious beliefs?
He ends by letting me know he still cannot deal with the thought of me with a man – he is generally sorry but still cannot be around me. He tells me I deserved to hear him utter the words – that he owes our friendship that amount of honesty. As his words penetrate my soul, anger, love, bitterness, compassion, and rage, battle each other for a place in my heart.
Lightning and thunder explode at the same time, brilliantly flashing a white burst to lighten the darkened sky, It last but an instant, yet I’ve learned to embrace the instant, to drink it deep and cherish it. It has been fifteen years since Anthony and I talked. The trappings of our friendship are long gone, yet my love for my friend remains. I think I understand why he is no longer in my life, yet probably really don’t. This means I cannot judge his actions. I do know his character is good. He is imperfect, just as I am. Imperfection is a trait we all carry and it does not need to be a negative aspect of our existence. It makes us who we are. It gives us strength.
I take in a breath then slowly push it out along with the thoughts of my painful past and with both gone peace speaks. If there is pain there is love.
The storm clouds seem to tumble over themselves on their way to me. I am standing square to the ground, staring into the storm. I will not fight it, nor flee from it. I become one with what is to be.
And it ends.
The thunder is silenced. The rain retreats. The clouds slowly become white and the lightning gives way to the sun. As quickly as it was formed, it dissipates. My inner smile comes with a foolish thought.
“I faced down the storm.” Smirking, I leave the scattered storm and my past behind.
This is from “In To The West” a project I was able to write for and preform in.
I was born in the South, which means I was blessed to eat some of the most delicious southern comfort food before Paula Deen helped put it on every one’s table or make fat food cool again. One of my all time favorites is biscuits and gravy. There are many types of gravy and at least in the South, cream gravy tops most folks list. There are many things you can do with gravy, like adding sausage or ham. I even created a gravy I call “Swamp Whitch Gravy” that puts a bit of fire on your taste buds.
I bring this up because this week is “Biscuits and Gravy Week” and to celebrate I am posting my favorite gravy reciep again – Tomato Gravy and Biscuits. There is nothing like the hot steam of a fresh biscuit hitting your nose first thing in the morning to make you hungry unless its watching rich gravy as it slips from the spoon onto the biscuit
So, splurge a little and celebrate “Biscuits and Gravy Week!” at the Family Table for this wonderful meal of Tomato Gravy & Biscuits
(Click on this link to read the full story.)
WOW…JD…this is one incredible story. In a matter of minutes, you take me through a journey from your Mother’s womb, then through her eyes, and finally through yours – Along the way I learn from your suffering and hers – This is writing that not only speaks mountains, but also moves them as well.
believe it or not…I wanted to cry
“My mom’s trusted doctor came to her bearing the type of news doctors never want to share. He told my mom he could not save me.”
“Please Mommy!” (Click on this link to read the full story.)
A true story of a how a Mother’s love built a life.
When Death opens a door
When fate builds mountains in your path.
When others lose hope….
The only choice is to live, to climb, and believe.
And The Storm Blinked (click on this link to read the full story.)
“The storm is spreading downward, still restricting itself to the sky yet assimilating the tranquil world quickly. The air is dry and the wind warm. I am transfixed on the creation forming. This is a show no one can see as I see it. In a world inhabited by few, you have great opportunities to be the sole observer. I stand in awe of the uncontrollable, understanding that change cannot be avoided, only faced. As another series of lightning dominates the sky and the angry sounding thunder pushes past my ears, I allow myself to drift back to another storm – a storm only I saw coming.”
“The Dangerous Misleading Smile” (Click on this link to read the full story.)
“Gravity slams my shoulder into the rusting frame of the bus seat. The silent impact spins my body sideways, gravity finishing its job –pulling me to the hard rubber aisle –my back taking in the physical pain – my ego bearing the social pain.”