For my dad, because I want him to understand, and for me, as I begin to process and articulate the world that I thought would reject me.
A woman, who was diagnosed with temporal lobe epilepsy when she was five, crafts a narrative to explain her own attempted-suicide in a flat, monotonous voice. It as if she is reading another's remote and alien life from a dry script: She lost her job; she knew all along that she had been "faking it," and, well, beneath her own performance was a person who felt worthless. Naturally, she attempted suicide. It is not my story, but I can relate to this.
When I initially dropped out of school, probably to become a van-life photographer and escape to the mountains, my grandparents slowly stopped engaging with me ("people can steal your camera gear," they rebuked, "but nobody can steal your education!"). My dad said that I was just immature, wanting to indulge in constant road trips, and he would support me if I got back into school. So, I signed up for school again, giving everyone that asked for an explanation a simply-crafted narrative: I did not like studying computer science at UC Merced, so I dropped out of school, and now I'm going back to school because I've learned that you can change majors (wow!). But anyone who is listening carefully and actually curious will ask, "well, why would you need to drop out of school to learn such an obvious thing?" This drop-out narrative, like the woman's suicide one, is too flat and not my own.
Many (but not all) people can lose their jobs without attempting suicide. Many people do not feel worthless after a wrong turn in life, or after a mistake. These people must have a some sense of dignity that pushes them to persist, to continue life even at its most challenging moments. Even more, religion, I believe, is supposed to foster this dignity--other cultural institutions challenge religion and supplant it when it fails at this task. So, we must ask, why do some people lack this dignity--an unconditional belief that life is worth living for its own sake?
The woman talks about how she felt when she was diagnosed with temporal lobe epilepsy. She, a five year old, felt stupid; she felt defective; she felt that she was too dependent. She needed support, but was rejected by her family. She felt incredibly isolated, so she forged her isolation into a lonely independence. Evidently, her independence stuck around--she did not deserve support, so this isolation led her directly to her attempted suicide. We can see that there's more depth to her narrative than just "faking it" and feeling worthless, for these terms are arbitrarily abstract when they are detached from the particular events in this woman's life, which, in this case, was her own sense of defection. Shucks.
I drove home one night from a coffee shop, a while ago, after I had dropped out of school, during my first semester in community college. I was exhausted, stressed, and had been praying every day for two years that God would remove my gayness from me. (Before that: denial, repression, etc.) Anyone that studies the Bible thoroughly, and listens to Jesus' claim that anyone who does not clean the inside of their heart is a goddamn Pharisee (that cursed breed!, probably according to the writer of John's Gospel) superficially knows that the only way to follow Jesus was to pray the gay away, for it is an internal matter, not a just behavior to be ignored. Anything less than heterosexual desire was theological trash, and would ultimately condemn me to Hell (simply being gay, according to bad translations and interpretations of the Bible, is idolatry: lol). And so, I had been praying the gay away everyday for two years, exhausted from faking my own identity, with no reply from a silent God, and decided, well, aw jeeze, if I cannot even be a Christian--if that Christian human dignity is inaccessible to me because of something I cannot control and cannot get rid of, well then I might as well drive this car into the suburban wall right next to me, for God has forsaken his own redemptive action, and had implicitly declared my life not-worth-it. I was diagnosed with this unworthiness--this "difference" when I was young, which, I eventually discovered that the Catholic Church calls "intrinsically disordered," and my friends told me that it "is the same as pedophilia--gayness is pathological" (in not so succinct words). And because of that, this life had been not-worth-it all this time, from those young moments when I quit caring for my own life because my difference isolated me from those around me, up until this decisive moment, when God withheld his favor from me.
Obviously, I didn't do it. I didn't attempt suicide because I was alarmed at how impulsive and absurd my conviction of unworthiness was, and decided that my system of thinking was broken, not me.
I drove back to the coffee shop (open until midnight!) and texted my closest friend about being gay. I risked my entire faith in a text message to my friend (whoops), because, existentially, I had nothing more to lose. The text messages are on a phone that is as dead as a brick, so, I will try my best to represent what I sent.
Me: "Hey, um, I'm into guys."
Them: "I knew it! It'll get better."
I told another one of my friends in a different coffee shop. I cried; he recommended a podcast; things got better.
And slowly, I started coming out to my friends, and a giant burden lifted. I began criticizing the bad theological structures that trapped me; some of my Christian friends rejected me (one, in fact, prayed the gay away in broad-daylight in the middle of a coffee shop! Rude!). I stopped failing classes in school. I started going on dates! My depression rapidly and completely dissolved. I liked what I was doing, and began to form a plan for my life. I even changed majors! (Wow!)
And with all this, well, I look backwards to the life that I was incredibly detached from, the life that I just did not care about, the life that called me to drop out of school and isolate myself in a van in the mountains, like some grouchy and sad hermit. And I see that it is not just "not-liking-computer-science" that led me to drop out of school, although that was part of the matter, but a much broader despair that dug its roots into an intimate part of myself. The remote and dry script, the one regurgitated for those around me who had no way of understanding the despair that I was going through, is only a surface. It is part of the "faking it," and I don't want to fake it anymore.
There is much more to say, but I would like to end by suggesting that gayness is not just sexual preference, but a dialogue with culture. It is a path, a fragment in an approach to the world around you. It is a way of seeing the world. It is traumatic, disorienting, isolating, and risky; then it is freedom. I think that's worth contemplating.