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I came out to two older boys during a church trip and the response I got stuck with me for my whole life.
I went to a Seventh Day Adventist church with my mom growing up.This church was mostly white and a little crazy. I really felt like a black sheep there. Quite literally. But every Old Testament feast or celebration was a religious holiday and I got to be out of school. And that was the best part ‘cause I came out at school when I was around 12 and the majority of the guys I’d been friends with growing up stopped talking to me. I even got my homework flushed down the toilet and all that. Going to school every day was terrifying. Not only that, but my English teacher told my mom I was gay during Open House. My mom didn’t tell my dad, but she told church leadership. From that day on, I was the “gay” kid. Everybody at my church was telling me that I’m going straight to hell. I got used to seeing the angry stares, hearing gossip behind my back, being laughed at, and spending time alone.
But the Feast that year stuck with me for life. It was the first trip with my church since I came out. One of the activities for the kids was canoeing. I couldn’t swim and I didn’t want to do it, but they put me in a life jacket and paired me with an 18-year-old lifeguard and his 14-year-old brother. I looked at them for the first time and I was immediately terrified. At the time, I was very much Carlton Banks wearing bowties and listening to Barry Manilow. Definitely on the feminine side of the spectrum. And these were 106 & Park guys with cornrows and baggy everything. Both of the boys played football and the 18-year-old was well over six-feet tall. I’d been bullied mercilessly since coming out, so I was ready to die that day.
I took a breath and stepped into the boat. I thought, “I can’t swim. I’m in a boat. These boys are BIG.” They started rowing and talking about different stuff - family, school, girls. But I was mute, I tried not to draw any attention to myself, I even looked away, so we wouldn’t make any eye contact. We ended up far away from any other boats and the older guy, Andre, said we should eat some snacks. I thought - this is it. The conversation turned to me and he started asking questions about how old I am and if I ever had a girlfriend. And then he asked, “Do you like girls?” I looked away and after a moment of silence, he asked: “Do you like guys?” I was obviously terrified, so I just sat there and said nothing. “You gay, aren’t you.” I was getting ready for the worst possible outcome until I heard, “Anybody mess with you? You know. Anybody on your case, giving you problems?” We made eye contact for the first time. I felt fear coming over me. I even grabbed the edge of the boat. “Look, man. I see you by yourself. None of the boys at your church sit with you. It ain’t right, man. It ain’t right. If anybody mess with you, you come to me. We gotcha.” I didn’t have a frame of reference for being gay and having boys be nice to me and I just started crying in the canoe. Sobbing. He put his hand on my back saying, “I don’t think Jesus would want you to feel like that. You love your parents? You love God? You nice to people? You good. Jesus worries about other stuff, man.” It meant the world to me to hear these words. I felt so much love from them that I hadn’t seen anywhere else for a long time and it helped to get through a lot of tough times later on. Anyway, I spent the rest of the trip with them, exchanged e-mails so we could keep in touch. Even though it was only a couple of weeks, they became like brothers to me.
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