Sunday, August 10, 2014

Joseph Schmidt, Reaching Out to Those Who are LGBT

I'm still sort of new to the Ex-Jehovah's Witness community, so I don't know if this topic has been addressed before, but even if it has, I'd just like to share a little bit of my story and reach out to anyone who might be dealing with similar issues.  I would also like to preface this by saying that I know from reading the posts and comments that there is a wide spectrum of people who come here with regards to religious belief, from still very religious to anti-theist and everywhere in-between.  My point is, I'm not looking for a theological debate on this topic; I am well equipped to have one if you so choose, but I'd just rather not.  There are other places for those sorts of conversations and the purpose of this Ex-Jehovah's Witness community doesn't seem to be for that. Therefore, if you feel a religious aversion to my story, I'd just respectfully ask that you just skip past and ignore it.

My background in a nutshell is that I was born and raised in the Watchtower Society's version of "the truth."  I gave my first talk at age four and read the bible from cover to cover multiple times.  I was a publisher (active JW), was home-schooled after 6th grade, to keep me away from "worldly influences," and did my 20+ hours like I was supposed to, since I wasn't going to regular school.

I never got baptized, because I could never stop questioning.  There were just so many things that made no sense to me.  I could list a litany of things, both organizationally specific and scripturally specific that I couldn't logically reconcile.  My point is that, even though I wasn't baptized, it wasn't because I was not a "believer" or because I was "spiritually weak."  It was because I couldn't make sense of things and I felt that it was wrong to lie and answer the baptismal questions, "Yes," when I knew that I still had serious questions and doubts.

Now, the point I'm trying to get to is that I'm gay.  You would never guess to see or hear me now as an adult, but I was born pretty much as stereotypically girly and effeminate as is humanly possible, and my parents beat. the. shit. out of me for being "bad" even though I didn't understand what I said or did that was "bad."  Skipping was bad.  Playing with my cousins' dolls was bad.  Wanting a Cabbage Patch Kid doll was bad.  So, they did a pretty good job of beating (literally and figuratively) the gay out of me, in terms of how I acted, but it didn't fix the underlying problem, which I didn't know was there until I turned age twelve, hit puberty and realized WHY I was so different than everyone else.  From that point on, I made DAMN sure that even when I was COMPLETELY ALONE and NO ONE ELSE WAS AROUND, I still "played it straight."

I thought about suicide almost every day from the time I was age thirteen on.  I knew that if my parents ever found out, even though I'd never acted on my feelings, (and at that point in my life, never thought that I would), they would still throw me out of the house.  I was just a child, but I knew that if I wasn't beaten to death first, I would have no choice but to leave.  I hated myself and I hated feeling that way.  I used to PRAY AND PRAY to take those feelings away.  I used to pray that even if Jehovah wouldn't make me normal, at least please let me start liking girls too, just so that I could get married and not have people start questioning if I was a homosexual.

I trained myself "do not ever, EVER, notice or look at a good-looking guy", "do not EVER let ANYONE catch you looking too long at another guy," "don't look at women either, because you don't want anyone to notice your indifference to some conventionally attractive woman, especially if her breasts are showing or something."  "Just look away from everyone and act like you're an asexual neuter."  I trained myself to sit as rigidly as possible and look as nonchalant and disinterested as possible in every talk when I could see the sexual morality lectures were going to start. I couldn't look uncomfortable or flinch when they said "homosexuality" lest someone notice and become aware of my secret.  When they started having the occasional "Young People Ask" column about homosexuality, I would just skip it, then only read it when I was sure there was no one else in the house, just in case I was caught reading the article.  Of course, the articles never helped and never taught me anything useful.

As I got older, I also avoided getting baptized, even though it became increasingly shameful that I wasn't already, because I knew as long as I was unbaptized, I was ineligible as marriage material and I did NOT want to get pressured into pairing up with anyone.  I was nearly 100% sure I wouldn't even be able to perform and then, if nothing else, at least ONE person would know my secret.  More than that though is I couldn't imagine spending my entire life with someone I didn't love and had no feelings for, and I couldn't imagine ruining someone else's life by marrying them under false pretenses.  I mean, it wouldn't just be MY life I'd be making miserable, it would be whoever I married's life too.  How could I in good conscience do something so horrible to someone else?  On top of all this, I HATED the society's idea of the new system.  Living forever with no cities, no technology (which were never OFFICIAL doctrines I know, but which everyone locally seemed to take as givens) no books other than the bible and the society's literature, no music other than the kingdom melodies.   Having to farm.  Having to make my own clothes.  Having to build my own house.  Spending eternity just going to meetings and living like the Amish?  It all sounded like HELL to me, not paradise.

Finally I couldn't deal with it anymore.  My desire to die was so strong that the only thing which kept me from killing myself was being actually too scared of the aftermath.  What if after I was dead, they realized why I'd committed suicide?  What if it didn't work?  How would I explain why I'd tried to kill myself?  I was SO SCARED of anyone even knowing that I was one of the most filthy, debased, perverted monstrosities on the planet that I finally decided to just fade out.  I moved out and I slowly drifted away.  I hoped that my death at Armageddon would be relatively painless, but even then, I never thought I'd become an apostate or even irreligious.  And I sure as hell never thought that I would "come out."  That was DISGUSTING.

Then I met someone and fell in love and it changed my life.  I realized that the "chestnut," which the society always liked to throw out in their articles on homosexuality... that it had nothing to do with love and was just "depraved lust and diseased minds" was wrong.  I didn't even think the guy was cute.  In fact, I thought he was rather ugly the first time I met him, but we 'clicked' and it was one of those moments beyond love-at-first-sight where you meet someone and it feels from the first INSTANT that you weren't just in love, but that you were ALREADY in love and had been your whole life and just had not realized it until that moment when you first met, as if something could ever even get me to entertain the notion of reincarnation, it was that feeling.

In actuality, it didn't work out.  He was a Christian, not a Jehovah's Witness, but rather a fundamentalist Protestant, and could not take being shunned by his family for "coming out," even though I was willing to do it.  For the record, we never even fornicated (just throwing that out there in case any biblically minded people decide to comment on this post ANYWAY), but it made me realize something.  It made me realize this wasn't just a logical inconsistency or something ridiculous like no beards or no smurfs or no troll dolls or women not being able to give regular talks, this was a HUGE LIE.  I was in love.  I loved him more than anyone or anything in the world.  I loved him so much that I was willing to "come out," something which, up until then, I had been willing to die to prevent.  There was no physical lust, pretending it was love, we barely even hugged and held hands! We probably would have gone further, had we not both been from such repressive backgrounds, but that's not the point.  The point is that FAR from being insatiable "demon-lust" making us pretend we were in love to rationalize our debased pervert-sexing, we were, in fact, in love.  It haunted me for YEARS after we broke things off because I never thought that I'd find love like that again.  Still, it was the greatest thing that EVER happened to me, in spite of how badly it hurt, because it gave me the courage to read the bible AGAIN without my "god glasses" on.  I won't go into my reasons for becoming an anti-theist, but I can assure you that it had nothing to do with my being gay and everything to do with my rational mindset.

Being gay saved me.  First, it almost killed me, but then, ironically enough, it saved me by helping me break away.  It also saved my brother, because even though he beat the crap out of me when he first found out I was gay, and he did not want anything to do with me, as I learned things, I passed them on and he eventually started studying things on his own, too, and came to HIS senses.  Now he's an "apostate," too! And we're roommates!  He's also a totally straight ally!

It took YEARS for me to come to terms with being gay and to get over all of that internalized self-hatred and loathing.  I still deal with major depression and anxiety because of my upbringing, as a whole, but at least I no longer hate myself for being gay.  That's why I wanted to write my story.  I just wanted to connect with any LGBT Ex-Jehovah's Witnesses who may be in the Ex-Jehovah's Witness groups, and perhaps share stories and/or get another perspective on what it was like growing up gay or transsexual "in the truth."  I would also like to offer my support to anyone who may be disfellowshipped or dissociated over this issue (or any other issue, really).  I've been there.  I know how bad it can be.  I know how deep the self-hatred can be.  And if you're newly out (or even not newly), and still dealing with those feelings, just know that you don't have to feel that way.  There's nothing wrong with you, and there's EVERYTHING wrong with the Watchtower Society.  You are NOT ALONE, even if you feel that way.
Contributed by Christian Sparlock Freedom