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Beginnings

L.T. Miller shares another scene in a continuing story about his adventures in (and coming out of) an ex-gay ministry.

beginningsI have always felt different – especially growing up in a small town. As old time southerners would say: “there’s something peculiar about that boy . . . he’s about as queer as a three dollar bill”. When I was a toddler in the early seventies, we had a gold sofa. My mom has snapshots of me when I was about four years old wearing one of the arm covers atop my head. When I look at these photos now – standing there limp wristed, pretending to have a long flowing mane, or hanging on to a doll – I chuckle. Even then it was obvious that I was different. I used to be ashamed of those photos . . . not anymore. Now I find the silly poses amusing.

My childhood was bittersweet. To some degree I did bond with the other boys in my neighborhood, but I think perhaps it was by default that I was invited to hang with the gang because of my brother’s popularity. While I did enjoy my neighborhood buddies, I was generally an outcast among my same-sex peers at school – there I surrounded myself with girls. In their company I found comfort and was able to enjoy unconstrained freedom to be myself.

But on my block – albeit “different” – I was for the most part one of the guys.

I grew up in Thomasville, North Carolina, a small town of about 27,000 – half that size in the late seventies and early eighties. We lived in a lower middle class neighborhood with small modest houses grouped close together. There was a sweet innocence to life then. It was safe to leave the doors unlocked. Parents didn’t have to worry like they do nowadays. When we were kids, it was normal to get up on a Saturday morning, kiss mom on the cheek, and run out the door while she called out after us, “Back before dark”. She could rest assured that if our mischief crossed the line, the phone would ring, and she’d get a full report from one of the other mothers on the block. We were a tight knit community, and everyone knew just about everything about everybody. It seemed nothing was unseen or unheard in our small town . . . except early in the morning when everyone was sleeping.

beginnings_003I’m not sure whose idea it was initially, but whoever made the suggestion was able to get us all on board. Here we were, a bunch of rowdy boys, giving no thought whatsoever to anything beyond our own childish desire to wreak a little havoc and discontent. It must have been about five in the morning – we had spent the night camping out in Graham’s backyard and were now tagging along with Ronnie as he fulfilled his duties as a paperboy. It was eerily quiet and the only sound I recall was the noise the tires of our bikes made as they rolled across the pavement.

The concept of a cell phone in those days was unfathomable – there was no quick way to dial 911 when out and about – we had actual fire alarms scattered throughout town. A quick pull and bam wham – the fire station was alerted. I think it was my brother Charles who got cajoled into doing the deed. We stood poised on our bikes, ready to bolt away as fast as we could once he succumbed to the peer pressure heaped upon him.

Once the alarm was pulled we pedaled hard and fast to a patch of woods and hid as best we could. Within minutes the blaring sirens and flashing lights roared to life. We crouched low to the ground, stifling our laughter, watching the fire truck race down the street in pursuit of a fire that didn’t exist. Eventually the sirens silenced and after a long while we decided it was safe to venture out again.

“That was fun”, Ricky declared, “let’s do it again!”

So we did. Same drill. Pull. Run. Hide. Watch. Four more times we did this, each of us taking a turn.

Finally after the final pull and after hiding for what seemed like an eternity, we decided it was safe to head back to Graham’s house. Then we saw it. Maybe I saw it first. A police car was slowly cruising down Sunrise Avenue. All I know is in that moment my heart did a back flip, and in a second I was transformed into a version of Forrest Gump: I dropped my bike to the side of the road and ran like I’d never run before, jumping fences, bushes, whatever was in my way, until I reached Graham’s basement. There I hid. There I waited. I didn’t know my friends’ fate, but hell, they should have run too.

Once they were caught my friends thought maybe – just maybe – they could lie their way out of trouble and proceeded to invent some cockomany story about some roughneck guys who were the true culprits. “Yeah”, Ricky stammered, “you see, sir, they was driving this red mustang – they did it, sir – they rode by us and laughed. One of the boys told us we better run ’cause we was going to get blamed. They drove that way toward Main Street. Ya’ll should go look for them ’cause they was the ones who did it. Ya’ll better hurry before they get away – they’s prolly already in High Point by now. Honest to goodness, sir, I ain’t tellin’ no lie.”

I’m sure the cop was thinking, “Sure, yeah, right, whatever” . . . and herded the four of them into the back seat of the police car. They continued their lying and begging. The officer remained calm and ignored their pleas. Eventually the fire chief arrived with an ultraviolet light that could pick up the residue of a powdery substance placed on the alarms, naked to the bare eye. Their hands and arms up to their elbows glowed iridescent hues of purple.

Because it was a small town and the juvenile probation officer was a deacon at our church, we got off with a stern warning, and it was recommended that we be punished at home. As far as Charles and me, we were grounded for so long that the guys eventually starting coming to our bedroom window and yelling in unison: “Hey chain and shackles boys, when they lettin’ you out?”

I am grateful for these early childhood memories because when puberty hit, my life changed dramatically and took a vicious turn for the worse. Words like “faggot” and “sissy” were hurled my way without mercy; and while my male peers became enamored with girls, the object of my affection was another boy. I fell hard and fast. I hated it. I begged God to change me, and I solemnly vowed that I would never tell another living soul about my secret longings.

Not by choice this vow was broken my senior year of college. I was twenty two years old. Horribly depressed and nearly at the breaking point, I sought out counseling with a Christian therapist. At the first session I had barely sat down when he uttered the words, “You struggle with homosexual feelings, don’t you?”

I was absolutely speechless. Several minutes of uncomfortable silence followed his brazen assumption. Of course, I’m sure it wasn’t hard for him to figure it all out – surely the signs were there, obvious in my walk, my speech, and overall demeanor. Nonetheless his words were shocking – no adult, no authority figure, had ever been this forthcoming with me about any suspicions they may have had that I was gay. Looking back now, I wish I would have come back with some smart ass comment. At the time, however, all I could do was nod my head in shame and mumble, barely above an audible whisper, “Yes sir”.

This so-called therapist put in me in touch with the leader of an ex-gay support group. The meeting was held in the basement of a local church. There must have been about fifty of us crammed into the windowless fellowship hall. The collecti ve purpose of this group of men was to change. The collective belief was that if we just prayed hard enough, and believed with all of our heart, God would deliver us.

This was the beginning of a long road.

 

Ex-Gay SurvivorL.T. MILLER was born in a small southern town. While in college, he became involved in ex-gay support groups, and in 1996 was accepted into the New Hope Ministries residential program in San Rafael, CA. During his two year stay, he questioned everything until finally he completely abandoned a misguided ideology that made less and less sense. He found a gay church in San Francisco where he was accepted for who he was, and with the loving support of a lesbian pastor he was able to begin life anew as an openly gay man.  L.T. Miller is the Ex-Gay Survivor.

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