About the time that I quit the reparative therapy program, I had given myself completely over to my studies. I had decided to change my major from design to business. It was a welcome change, as I realized if I wanted to make any sort of money, design probably wasn't going to cut it for me. It also didn't hurt that business school happened to be jam-packed with some of the most gorgeous men on the campus.
At this point, I had started coming to terms with the fact that God likely wasn't going to be changing my sexuality any time soon. However, I wasn't at the point of giving up on my faith. Like I still believe today, there is so much that God has done and is doing in my life, giving up on Him because of this stupid attraction to men was pointless. God wasn't the issue here, my desires for men was.
It was at this time that I reasoned with myself that my sexuality simply meant that I was to remain celibate. If I didn't want a woman, then God was telling me to give myself over to Him. I read some books and felt wholly confident that this was what I was supposed to be doing. As such, I began referring to myself as a "celibate gay" a term that absolutely freaked my parents out. I remember having countless arguments with them trying to sell them on the fact that I was okay being considered "gay," a word they were not happy with. Yet again, they were back on the rollercoaster of emotions. It took some time and reading, but they finally came around on the term and became a bit less scared of the idea that I had chosen to label myself with it.
Celibacy was sexy
The more I came to understand this celibacy, the more I realized the allure that it had. I was incredibly inspiring to those around me (who knew that I was attracted to men). I was sacrificing something that most couldn't ever think of sacrificing: the prospect of finding a partner to spend the rest of my life with. I vividly recall the angering comments that I would get from other Christian leaders around me, many of whom did not know about my sexuality:
- "We really need to get you a girl, Austin!"
- "I saw you talking to [any girl's name], soooo, what did you think?! *Said with a smile wide enough it could tear lips in half
- "Oh! You're single? Well don't worry, Austin, we'll find you someone!"
The comments from Christian leaders was unending—the fierce obsession with marriage that I'm sure single heterosexual Christians can understand as well. However painful these comments are to a straight person, they stung harder than ever as I tried to imagine myself as a single 56-year-old sitting silently in small groups listening to married couples lament the challenges of being empty-nesters. It was absolutely heartbreaking, but I knew I could make it, because God would honor this sacrifice of mine.
This celibate term was a solace in my life for about three years. Actually, my christian friends who knew, loved the term; it was enviable in some way. Those around me were inspired that I had made such a sacrifice. However, everyone, including me, knew the truth: I didn't really have a choice in the matter if I was to remain faithful to God. The term "celibate" soon became far less important than the desperate attraction that I was stuffing deep into the pit of my soul and something was bound to snap.
I still had nights of crying, pain, and lament, and no matter how hard I dove into scripture or God, I still desired to love someone in the same way that many around me were. A change started to happen, something that I think frequently happens to closeted gay people: my desire to give genuine affection to someone turned into a reckless desire for sex. At this point, the gay "dating" apps were rising to popularity and I recall logging in to Grindr for the first time, stunned at what I was seeing, but filled with both relief and shame. I felt an immense shame even for creating an account, but there was some sense of catharsis to it all: A community of people who were like me and unashamed (sort of) of their sexuality.
For about a month or so, I would chat with people on the app, exchanging pleasantries with an occasional flirty conversation. However, my tone began to change once I started to understand the game a little bit better. My time on the app, like many people before me, became less about chatting and more about hooking up. It was here that I learned the art, and yes it is an art, of hooking up.
I had finally made my way into the awkward, no-strings-attached style of sex that would become my not-so-humble induction into the gay community. Yes, I'm going here, because Christians really don't like to talk about sex, let alone a genuine desire for it. Over the course of the next three or four years, I would battle back and forth with my behavior of hooking up and flirting around with guys. Some months, I would be "doing great," content and celebrating my celibacy. Other times, I would meet guys with the sole intention to have a good romp, or I'd meet guys and we'd make pleasantries before getting our pants off, but either way it would probably end in sex.
I was full of shame for having these encounters. No one in my actual life would recognize the individuals, but even to this day, I still pray that I don't run into those guys in public. It has happened a couple of times. I wasn't being a good celibate gay, let alone a good Christ-follower. Nearly every time I hooked up, I would leave with regrets of my faith haunting me. It wasn't the type of regret where I would be crying and upset at myself. Instead, the regret was more of a silent emptiness. Whether the specific interaction was incredibly fun or just plain awkward, both left an indescribable void in me. Clearly sex wasn't the core of my sexuality. I may have been having a fun time, but it didn't satisfy my desire for true intimacy.
Something deeper was missing, but for now, I would cling to being a "celibate gay Christian," almost.