Below is a true story, a testimony, if you like, written by a gay friend. My friend has suffered beyond belief, but by God’s grace has survived. I would like the piece to stand, or fall, on its own merits, so won’t be adding my own reflection, but there again many of you know where I stand!
I did something the other day that I should have done years ago.
I went through my medicine cabinet, found all the out-of-date, half-used tubs and blister strips and packets and vials, put them in bags (three enormous shopping bags, as it turned out) and took them to a pharmacy for safe disposal. I didn’t want to take them to my local chemist’s shop, so I drove to a large supermarket in a nearby town and found the in-store pharmacy.
What I handed over was, quite starkly, my life. I handed over immune-suppressants, steroids and the strongest pain killers that the NHS is authorised to prescribe. There was liquid morphine in there, and valium, and at least three different immune-modulators. These had all, at some point or other, been prescribed to me, and it came as a shock to see the reality, in three enormous shopping bags, of just how ill I have been, and just how much medication it has taken to get me through the day.
This is, as I say, my life. Or at least it has been my life, for far too long. I have always downplayed the amount of medication that I have taken, partly because I haven’t wanted to scare people, but mostly because I’ve been too scared myself to go there. Today, my medicine cupboard isn’t empty; I am still on medication, but it is the smallest dosage I’ve ever been on, and it is decreasing, slowly but surely.
I knew that I was gay when I was thirteen. I told my mum, who assured me it would pass. Maybe she was right. Maybe it yet will. But what happened next was that my Christian faith whooshed into born-again life, and all thought of being gay was expunged. Well, all thought of sex was, actually, because I knew that sex with the opposite sex was just not my thing. I became, and was, an exemplary teenage Christian, going from prayer meeting to CU to church to youth group to soup kitchen. There were crises – crushes that could never be acknowledged, but seemed to literally crush me from within – and that’s when my auto-immune diseases started. Auto-immune disease occurs, very basically, when the body rejects one of its own naturally functioning systems, perceiving it as a threat, a foreign body, so uses all its strength to fight something it cannot rid itself of because, well, it is part of it. That’s what I did, and that’s when my medicine cabinet started filling up.
I managed, over the years. I did various things which the church would bless and encourage as the fruits of a faithful Christian life. I was still an exemplary Christian. I found real joy in my Christian faith (because, as it turns out, my spirituality is as intrinsic to my identity as my sexuality) and, because I am a natural optimist, found much to celebrate in life. Some of what I did, although it looked fine from the outside, turned out to be deeply damaging. I was aware, always, always, of the anti-gay teachings and, much more often, snide sideswiping comments that were, in my world at least, irrefutable. And the hidden story, the one that I just about managed to keep quiet about, was that of the multiplying auto-immune conditions, the chronic pain and the sheer exhaustion that meant that I limped along, weakened and sore whilst telling everyone, and myself, that I was fine.
It’s taken me a long time to clear out my medicine cupboard, not just because I’m lazy and untidy and disorganised, but mostly because of what it represents; my old survival pack, my now defunct armoury, my de-consecrated altar of idolatry. Letting go of things on which one has relied for what one perceives to be one’s survival is an act of faith worthy of Kirkegaard. Letting go of the steroids and the suppressants has only been possible because of letting go of other, deeply rooted things, too, of lying about how I am, lying about who I am, and most deeply, letting go of the fear that who I am is not acceptable to the God whom I love. Perfect love, I am learning, casts out all fear. God knit me together in my mother’s womb, I am finding; it is sin that disintegrates what God created to be integrated. The gay me, I now see, is the prodigal son, coming home at long, long last, having squandered itself and survived on scraps, to outstretched arms and a feast which, poignantly, my elder brother might choose not to come to. I hope he changes his mind, though; the party would be lesser without him.
No, my medicine cupboard isn’t empty, although it is mostly empty space. Just a small bottle remains, and I hope to be able to hand that over some day, too. But for the moment, just look at all that space that’s been cleared. I could put anything I liked in there.