On September 9, 2010, I crossed the Texas state line in an SUV full of books and clothes. I spent two nights with my grandparents in Southern Colorado’s Rio Grand National Forest, another in Colorado Springs, and finally a night in Salt Lake City before trekking 15 hours in one day up to Eugene, Oregon. I moved to intern with a Christian campus ministry. Four months later I would retreat in the same SUV the quicker route: through California, Arizona, and New Mexico to cross the expanse of West Texas back to San Antonio, where I considered home. Today is part of the second anniversary of my northwest migration. I remain very disturbed by it.
What I remember most on that September morning is the insignificance of the crossing. Driving out of Texas I felt resolution, if anything. A few nights earlier, a handful of my closest friends celebrated our years together in the St. Cecilia neighborhood, south of the River Walk. Like on a hobbit’s birthday I bought everyone a gift and wrote out letters describing why I loved them. I wrote a general poem too, which I read that night, sobbing, about how blessed I was. I did and do consider myself uniquely gifted for those friends. They knew me as closely as I let anyone, and they were of the rare sort who could be trusted with all that messy knowledge. It hurt to leave them, but once I did, the deed was done. The physical act of leaving the state felt emotionally irrelevant.
The rest of my journey disappeared in a haze. I don’t even remember pulling up to the home where I would spend many evenings in Eugene: where my old high school teacher lived and led Bible studies for college students. As it happens sometimes in life I ended one circumstance and found myself immediately in another. The five days of getting there passed as instantly as that bump of changed concrete at the border—the difference between Texan and New Mexican civil engineers.
The differences between circumstances, however, were profound. In San Antonio remained eight individuals I’d allowed dark glimpses of my soul. In Eugene, I knew two couples, all ministry workers, harsh in the practice of their beliefs. I quickly learned discussion wasn’t possible with my old teacher; he possessed a seminary degree and a hateful amount of pride. The other man with whom I lived was embittered, something of an activist who realized late in life he never perfected the world. I loved the wives, but in this brand of Christianity their voices couldn’t stand up to the screaming of their husbands. Further acquaintances I made in that city never knew I was gay. Those four workers—for lack of a better term my bosses—created a tacit rule that though my sexuality couldn’t change, it should be hidden from most of the world.
For someone who considers himself a Calvinist, I must believe in purpose behind those months in Eugene. It’s odd to me, two years later, I still look back on them with such horror. Within days of arriving, my old teacher berated me to the point of tears for being too sensitive. His fury extended to everyone around him; but as a gay Christian, questioning the cultural relevance of some scripture and in open support of social justice, I think he hated my grayer dogma most of all. I cry often in movies and at Olympics commercials. In Eugene I cried almost weekly from abuse. By the end of things, when I was fired for kissing another man, I returned to Texas so much less whole than when I’d left.
Which is the hardest part. When you believe as I do in a god whose hand supposedly directs life’s events and structures them into an intricate, beautiful purpose, you expect progression. You expect growth and betterment through every life occurrence, even in bankruptcies and genocides. I expected to grow in faith, talents, and my sense of an ultimate calling while in Eugene. Instead I was damaged, so hurt by Christians I couldn’t return to church for months and unsure how or even if God planned to use me in life. It felt like regression, and only now, two years later, can I sense that it wasn’t.
In September of 2010 I had a firm idea of what a gay Christian life should be, and by December it had shattered. I moved to Oregon outwardly resolved to be celibate for life; I returned to Texas certain only that being gay wasn’t as wrong as I’d been told. If enough time has passed to have any hindsight on the experience, I consider that shattering the one good consequence of my months in Eugene. If nothing else, it opened my eyes to a life outside the box Christians have built for gay individuals. The choice was no longer simplified between celibacy and reparative therapy. I left Eugene wounded but cognizant for the first time of the complexities of faith, realizing it might be possible to navigate a life with God and a partner. I had no idea if God had such a life planned for me; I still have no idea, but I finally know being a gay Christian means only that I earnestly seek him. The open road of faith was at long last that: open. It’s a freeing notion, and I think two years later I can say I’m thankful for the abuse that led to freedom.