It amuses me when people who knew me as a kid reconnect with me on Facebook because I don’t know what the knew about me then and I don’t know how they’ll react to what they’re sure to find out about me now.
It’s not that I am worried about their opinion on the matter or that I’m ashamed of what I’ve become. What exists now is a far more authentic version of the person they once knew or thought they knew. But the authentic new gay Terrence is so different from the pre-gay Terrence. So I imagine that coming across and/or reconnecting with new gay Terrence when you were expecting some semblance of the pre-gay Terrence you once knew or thought you knew can be very jarring.
I grew up in the Pentecostal church. The black Pentecostal church. Like most churches and denominations, they’re struggling with the gay thing just as much as I did, albeit for different reasons. Though they have a biblical stance on the so-called issue, I feel safe in saying they know their stance has to waver at some point if they’re going to survive – especially if it turns out the gays tithe more faithfully.
The 1990s wasn’t that point.
During this time, my family attended two churches. The first church was in Montclair, New Jersey. The second was in Morristown, New Jersey. While neither pastor ever preached fire and brimstone, I knew that homosexuality in their respective churches was best left as a big pink elephant in the room rather than as discussion topic or a lifestyle.
These pastors, particularly the latter one, spoke of faith and the Christian walk. I liked that. Still, these were Holiness churches that didn’t even want women wearing makeup or pants, let alone men embracing and/or exhibiting their attraction toward other men. So the possibility of my being gay was either going to lead to discussions about it being a sin and/or a tarry group of prayer warriors was going to gather around me until a spiritual breakthrough took place that would eradicate the “demon of homosexuality” from my life.
I had no time for tarrying – especially since I was already under the impression that fighting it was a waste of time. And I had no interest in the discussions. I didn’t want to talk about it with my parents so I sure as Christ didn’t want to talk about it with church people. And I never did.
But I often wonder what would have happened had it been confirmed that I was a gay. Would there have been an outcry? Perhaps a schism in the church? Would they have been loving and supporting? Would I have gotten the “hate the sin, not the sinner” bullshit that I believed for a time?
Certainly there would have been rumblings and grumblings. My parents would have definitely been called upon to address the situation – particularly my father, who was an elder in the church and a minister in his own right.
What would they have done? My mother, no matter what she really felt about it, would have gotten in a lot of faces. Like a lot of mothers, she had no problem going Mama Bear when it came to her sons.
My dad would have been more diplomatic – telling them to a) mind their own business and b) that this was a Moss family matter to be dealt with by the Moss family.
Then we would have gone home and they would have forced themselves to deal with the gay issue – likely through prayer and lengthy discussions about the ground rules for being gay in their home. Or they would have been so incensed enough by it all to leave the church altogether and become big-time PFLAG-gers.
Fortunately for the church, I had no intention of coming out. I was going to fight The Gay to the death. And because I bought into a lot more than he probably should have, I was able to play the part of Good Christian Brother very well. I dressed in my Sunday best. I didn’t drink. I didn’t smoke. I didn’t curse. I was nice to everybody -- sometimes to a fault. I carried my Bible. Sometimes I even read it. I went to Sunday school. I sang in choirs. I made it a point to greet all the church mothers during the Passing of the Peace. I caught the Spirit, jumped up, shouted “Hallelujah!”, danced in the aisles and ran around the church.
And it was all in earnest. I was fervent in my desire to eradicate this “demon of homosexuality” out of my life.
To both church’s (and my parent’s) credit, they never pressed the issue. Those who suspected, just suspected. Those who knew, just knew. Perhaps because it was obvious I was fighting The Gay so hard and keeping the internal battles to myself, that those who didn’t know probably just saw me as a good kid who was focused on school work and getting into college before become a preacher like his daddy. Plus, my friendships with girls in the church probably planted the seeds in the minds of some that what they might have thought was probably not the reality.
I don’t know. I’ll probably never know.
I know I feel a bit sorry for the latter group. They stand to be the most surprised by news of my being gay. And while I might still become a preacher, it’s going to be from a different pulpit with a much different message.
By the time I went off to college, I had only told one person about my gaiety. And even that was under the guise of still trying to fight The Gay, which was strange because he didn’t even go to my church.
Once I was in college, The Gay was harder to fight. Though I wound up fooling around with only one more guy in college than I had in high school, I was coming into a greater understanding that this was a fight I was eventually going to lose.
It didn’t stop me though. I still didn’t drink. I still didn’t smoke. I still didn’t curse. Since I was living away from home, the gospel choir became my church. We had Bible Study. I went. We had testimony service. I testified. We had Morning Prayer. I prayed. We went on fasts. I fasted. I still carried my Bible when necessary. Occasionally I read it. We had singing engagements. I engaged – in my Sunday best, even on a Friday or a Saturday. I continued to catch the Spirit, shout “Hallelujah”, dance in the aisles and run around the churches where we sang.
All of it was still earnest. I was still fervent in my desire to eradicate this “demon of homosexuality” out of my life.
This time around, more people suspected. More people knew. More people found out. More people invested themselves in my fight against The Gay. And I let them because I needed all the help I could get. But by and large and with few exceptions, it remained the big pink elephant in the room.
Then I moved to Los Angeles. And I joined another church. Just like the previous two, there were no fire and brimstone sermons but it was obvious to me that the big pink elephant likes to travel.
This worked out fine for me because I was still not ready to come out. Plus, I was working with the youth. With what people think about gays and their children -- even in Los Angeles and even in the early 21st century, the ministry was not worth the trouble provincial minds might have caused for me despite the good I was trying to do in the community.
It was during this time that I started hooking up with guys somewhat regularly. It was during this time that I found myself making more and more gay friends. It was during this time I started hanging out in West Hollywood with less fear and shame of being discovered.
But it got to the point where I was having a personal problem hanging out in West Hollywood on Saturday night and then teaching Sunday School the next morning. For some reason, I had less of a problem with the hooking up part. I had one at five o’clock on a Sunday morning, went home, showered and headed off to church. Perhaps it was the covertness of a hookup that made it more okay than hanging out in the more overt West Hollywood bars.
I lost the fight against The Gay in Las Vegas during Memorial Day Weekend 2004 when I came out to myself. I had already been voluntarily released from my position with the Youth Department but I set up a meeting with my Pastor to officially withdraw my membership. I never told him why. I don’t know if he knew but he didn’t ask.
It’s been 16 years since we left the Montclair church. It’s been almost 10 years since I’ve even visited the Morristown church. And it’s been eight years since I was a member of the church in Los Angeles. That’s a lot of people who have added me on Facebook who may not have been aware of the changes that have gone on in me. That’s a lot of people who aren’t sure what they even know about those changes. It’s also a lot of people who probably knew then, know now and probably don’t care either way.
In all likelihood, they’ve all discussed it amongst themselves and it’s just a confirmation of what they’ve long suspected. Maybe it’s such a non-issue that they’re just happy I’m alive, well and as free to be me as I’ve ever been in my life. Maybe they prefer the big pink elephant. As long as I don’t bring it up, they won’t bring it up. Maybe they’re waiting for me to tell them what is clear and obvious on Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, Google Plus and this website.
None of this is about the need to keep “back in the day” people abreast of my sexuality. It’s not like a wedding announcement or a birth announcement or career updates. It’s not about validation of who I am. It’s just simple curiosity on my part about what they know and how they feel about it because most of them haven’t asked so much as a question about a status update, a photo or even a posting. And I find that surprising.
In fact, I can only count five “back in the day” people with whom I’ve had any semblance of a discussion regarding New Gay Terrence.
The first is my college roommate. Technically he shouldn’t count here because we’ve kept contact over the years. Though he knew about me in college, he wasn’t witness to my final evolution toward self-acceptance. But he’s read a lot of my articles, so we’ve had periodic discussions about my current status as a gay man.
The second is a friend of mine from college who had contacted me a few years ago about coming to the campus to speak to incoming freshman. I was in the process of relocating from Massachusetts back to Los Angeles so I couldn’t do it. As a means of playing catch-up, she then asked me if I was married.
I told her, “I would but it’s not legal in 45 states.”
She said, “Pardon me while I fall on the floor.”
She knew being gay was a struggle for me in college, but she figured (hoped, really) that I had overcome it. And that’s about as far as that conversation went.
Shortly after I returned to Los Angeles, I was chatting on Facebook with the director of the choir I sang with in college. He knew a lot more about what was going on with me than most people in those days and was very supportive of my fight to overcome homosexuality.
Our Facebook chat was more along the lines of what the Bible says about homosexuality. I respectfully told him that I disagreed with it. I told him more about my struggle toward self-acceptance. I told him about how accepting who I am has enriched my life. I told him about the great friends I’ve made and the great people I’ve met. I told him about how being the authentic me has made me a much better person.
He could understand that much but he wasn’t going to be waving any rainbow flags anytime soon. He told me he would continue to pray for me, which is fine. We don’t need to agree with one another to understand one another.
In March, I wrote a reaction piece to Kirk Cameron’scontroversial remarks on CNN’s Piers Morgan Tonight about homosexuality. The piece garnered a very positive response and a share on Facebook from a lady I went to the Morristown church with. It was the first such acknowledgement about my work from anyone of that era in my life. Our resulting discussion was the first such acknowledgement of that aspect of my life from anyone of that era in my life. While she didn’t necessarily agree with everything, she sure as hell wasn’t going to judge.
And just the other day, as I was starting to work on this piece, I was chatting on Facebook with another lady from that Morristown church whom I have long considered to be an older sister.
I asked her if she knew back then. She said she did but she loved me anyway. And still does. It was simple as that.
Perhaps it is. Maybe the “back in the day” people love me regardless. If they loved the pre-gay Terrence, how could they not feel the same about New Gay Terrence in all his authenticity and brilliance? Perhaps I’ll have to just actually ask the next “back in the day” person who reconnects with me on the Facebook.