I’ve never forgiven myself for being gay.
That’s not too surprising. I’ve never been able to forgive myself for much of anything.
In third grade, there was — inevitably — a fat kid. His name was Randall. I don’t remember the circumstances, but I know I betrayed him. Maybe it was an unkind word, maybe some small act of playground rejection. What I do remember are his blue eyes, filling with unshed tears, gazing at me.
The growing up time was all about sin and redemption. The pentecostal catch-22 (“you have to be truly repentant before you are healed”) at Bible Camp imprinted through a million pre-adolescent tears, a thousand breathless prayers, the laying on of hands that never touched my wickedness, never washed my unclean heart. I learned so much about how to be defective there.
But my father would never forgive me for being weak and clumsy, for playing with dolls, for crying when we hunted. My mother, not a happy woman, offered no forgiveness to me for having ruined her life. She believed I was God’s punishment. She kept asking me, “What is wrong with you?”
I found out. I walked out of the church on a summer night in 1966, all of fourteen years old and new born to myself as queer. The cicadas were screaming hallelujahs in the trees and the stench of alfalfa and hot asphalt sighed in the air. I remember thinking, “I am so afraid.”
Getting married — well, that constituted ten thousand types of stupidity — even though I never lied about being gay. It wasn’t miscalculation, not an honest belief that I could keep shut down for my entire life. No. It was . . . manipulation. I could make my parents love me . . . or a version of me. Close enough.
I was so afraid of Bill. He was big, a drinker. He was my boss and he hurt me during sex. (Remember stupidity?) Yet, in my long life, he was the only man who meant it when told me he loved me. Or maybe it was just the vodka talking. And then, one day, I complained to his boss about his alcohol abuse on the job and got him fired.
And I’ve paid for sex, believing that a clumsy distortion of honest feeling would be good enough — knowing that drugs and exploitation were not love — but not thinking it, just doing it.
I don’t consistently recycle.
And I’m sure I’ve been mean to kittens, too.
Forgiveness is forgetting, and I cannot forget my failures.