I returned to Crosbyton from Dallas with my family when I was seven years old. Crosbyton is the typical West Texas town: Southern Baptist, football, and casserole ruled.
In second grade, I had a habit of kissing boys. They would yell something mean at me, and I would say, “Stop or I’ll kiss you!” That was the first time I remember being called a faggot. I thought it was silly: What’s a faggot?
In sixth grade, I remember masturbating for the first time. I was also old enough then to know that I should be thinking about girls, but I could only think about one of my fellow classmates. I had seen him naked in the showers are gym class, and he’s what popped into my mind. Every time. Later in middle school when all of my friends were pairing off, I’m still thinking about my classmate. I tried to force myself to think about girls when I jerked off, but it didn’t work. I turned to prayer.
This prayer lasted through middle and high school. “Lord, make this go away. I just want to be normal. I don’t want to be gay. I didn’t choose this. I’m a Christian so make it stop.” I cried frequently and often in public. I was a wreck, and no amount of church helped. I began to realize that there was nothing I could do about this, and that meant I was on my way to Hell, something all too real for Southern Baptists. In my freshman year, though, something happened: I started hearing rumors that our new guidance counselor was a lesbian. I didn’t know whether she was or not, but I did know that she was very kind to me and let me cry in her office without asking questions.
In my sophomore year, I helped her set up AOL and later answered Internet questions over chat. On IM I eventually told her that I had a “friend” who I suspected might be gay. For weeks, she patiently answered each and every question I had about my friend. One day after our regular discussion about my friend, she asked me the only words from those chats I remember verbatim, “Are we talking about your friend, or you?” I cried on my end of the computer when I answered “me.”
I went through a couple more years of trying to pray the gay away, and at times I was pretty obnoxious about it as only a Baptist can be. But she smiled, didn’t judge, and every time another bout of crying came along, she, my lesbian counselor for high school, was there for me.
In the ten years since I left Crosbyton, I’ve happily lost all religion and I don’t cry in public or private, but I’m still regularly in touch with her, her wife, and their daughter. How could I not be? She saved my life.