When I was about 14, I remember watching a PBS news segment on gays & lesbians. They showed two guys kissing, and something clicked within my head, “That’s who I am! I’m gay.”
Though I was a typical boy in grade school who chased the girls, I also knew I was different than my male peers. This feeling of difference carried into my middle school years. I had girls that were friends, I even tried dating some of these girls, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was still different. It didn’t help that others labeled me by my difference, openly declaring this to myself and others. It seemed that my peers knew I was gay before I did.
Knowing that I was gay, and being comfortable with myself, I wanted to express who I was, just as others expressed themselves. I knew being gay was seen as weird and confusing, but I didn’t see my sexuality as a threat to society. I wanted to embrace my sexuality, and all things gay, and I wanted others to see things my way – without question. The problem I faced, though, was that others didn’t want to see things my way; rather, they avoided the conversation and topic altogether, surmising that ignorance, jokes, and chastisement were better ways to deal with “my gayness.”
My high school years were hell. I hated every minute of those four years. Still, when I reflect upon my high school years, my stomach turns in knots and anger-pain begins to well up inside. I wasn’t too much into sports, though I played baseball, soccer, and swimming. I didn’t know a thing about trucks, cars, or any other mechanical thing, but I could tell you a lot about painters and musicians. I didn’t hang with the popular crowd, nor was I accepted by them, but my band of friends were trustworthy people who accepted me as I was. The majority of my high school wished my gay friends and I would leave and disappear. I wanted to leave and disappear – though my attempts failed.
With my headphones on blaring Queen, most days I would walk to school in a complete depressed daze. I would walk the halls as quick as I could, trying to avoid the names (faggot), the threats (“Gonna beat you, faggot”), guys mimicking someone gay, the stares, the rumors, etc. Besides my friends, I immersed myself into painting and writing. Though I rarely was honest with others about how I was, I could always express my true emotions inside the arts. This was my escape. However, I longed for a real escape – from everything and everyone.
I hated God and Christians. They seemed to be my biggest enemies during my school years. My Christian peers would offer grace and Jesus to everyone but my gay friends and I. We were the ones totally lost and damned to hell. We were the ones God didn’t love because we were the ultimate sinners. In 11th grade, however, I became friends with a Christian girl who was different. We all knew that Yvonne was a Christian, but she didn’t shove the Bible down our throats, nor did she sit there and condemn us to hell every minute. Yvonne befriended us and showed us who Jesus was by the way she lived and interacted with us. Sure, she messed up at times, but she was genuine in her faith and friendship.
In July of 1996, after graduating high school, I ran away with my boyfriend. We checked into a hotel room until we could find a permanent place to live. That night I experienced a strange occurrence, which could only be explained as an encounter with God. I left the hotel room that night with a bag of clothes, my savings, and having asked Jesus to help me “get out of everything,” if He was real. Though I didn’t “pray the sinner’s prayer,” I mark this day as my spiritual birthday, for this was the day I began my journey from darkness to light.
For the next fours years, I struggled to connect and reconcile my faith and sexuality. I threw myself into ex-gay groups, prayer meetings, men’s retreats, books, revivals, worship, bible studies, etc; I wanted to be 100% straight; I wanted to be normal, just like every other man. At times I even prayed that God would give me straight lusts and temptations – anything, just to feel normal. But all my prayers went unanswered. The promises of my ex-gay groups proved to be lies, or at least promises I wasn’t allowed to receive. I determined in my mind that I had to live a double-life, and that if I tried hard enough, I could pull everything off.
I didn’t accept Jesus because I didn’t want to go to hell. I accepted Him because I wanted the love, hope, and life He offered. I also didn’t accept Him in order to be straight and accepted; however, if He was offering this to others like me, than I wanted it, too. Because I didn’t receive my straightness and acceptance, though, I concluded I had done too much evil and this was punishment. Therefore, I had to live with being attracted to men – forever. So I lived a double-life, in that I was a good Christian man by day, and I went to gay bars, hooked up with guys, and consumed gay porn by night.
My Christian accountability partners knew I “struggled with sexual things,” but I never offered more info than that – nor did they ask. I stayed away from dating, using the book “I Kissed Dating Goodbye,” as a cover-up. I had some good friends that were girls, and two of them I tried to date, but I came back to homosexuality every time. I was gay, and there was nothing anyone or I could do; this is who I was. Naturally, then, I quickly started to embrace pro-gay Christian theology: God made me this way, because God doesn’t think being gay is wrong. In fact, God blesses those who are gay in unique ways.
At the end of August in 2000, after some amazing encounters with God and after a hard-pressed summer of personal battles, God sat me down to talk. As I sat at a computer, staring off into the corner of my room, I saw a hand extend from the wall and a person falling. God had told me that the arm was His and I was the one falling. He said I was going to continue to fall until I was ready to surrender everything. I saw the hand disappear and I saw myself falling deep into an unknown. I was left with the word “decide.” The next day, my three best friends “kidnapped” me, took me to a park, and told me to spill my guts on everything. And I did.
Afterwards, with the full support of my friends, I moved out of my apartment and back into my step-dads house. For the next few weeks, God and I began to talk in-depth. I had stopped going to church, praying, and reading my Bible. Picking up where I abruptly shut Him off, God began speaking loud and clear. One thing He said very clearly was this question, “Shawn, would you still worship and follow Me if I never take away your same-sex attractions?” A serious question which definitely needed an answer. With a heartfelt “yes,” God began restoring things in my life and moving me into uncomfortable directions.
For the first time I met a woman and fell in love with her. After telling Emily everything about me, we started dating seriously. In May 2001, we were married. And though these past 12.5 years have had huge ups and downs, God has kept us together on the path He laid before us. Our marriage is healthier now than when we were first married, and we deal with different issues now than we did before. Each step taken has been a blessing, though, because within each step we’ve grown as individuals, spouses, parents, and as children of God. I wouldn’t trade this journey for anything.
Though I still deal with same-sex attractions, I am ever committed to my family and my Savior. I still don’t like girls, accept for my wife, but I don’t have a desire to live as an openly gay man either. Over the years, I have discovered that Jesus is it – He is the fulfillment of all desires, and nothing can sustain me as He can. Together, my wife and I run Six:11 Ministries in order to help others who are walking a similar journey experience God’s identity and wholeness for them. Our heart is to tell God’s story and “be Jesus” to those who need to experience Jesus. As Christ and others met me where I was, so I want to meet others where they are, pointing them to a Savior who died for them out of sincere and unconditional love.
Shawn Harrison is the director of Six:11 Ministries in Saint Marys, OH.