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Disappointed With Life
by Manuel Estalon (a pseudonym)
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I've saved too many old letters, journals and e-mails, thinking they would be good resources for writing my story someday. But looking back on half my normally allotted lifespan, I realize I'm disappointed with what I've seen of life, and this is not the story I had hoped to write.
I never knew my paternal grandmother. On a July Sabbath morning in 1962, my parents were brusquely informed that she had taken her life while the rest of the family was in church. It fell to my mother, just 22 and three months pregnant with me, to tell her husband’s younger siblings the sad news. A few months earlier, severe financial straits forced my mother to move back to her parents’ home while my dad finished his year of teaching. This was followed by several months of job instability which culminated in the bankruptcy of his employer just days before I was born.
Mother’s note written on my last birthday recalls those early years. "How fast the years have gone by since that snowy day when you were born…We were so happy that you were a boy! Now we had one of each! Many times I’ve said that you were our only Christmas present that year, because we were so poor."
Was it this stress to my mother during my prenatal development that caused my same-gender attractions (sga), or just the chance workings of circumstances in my life? I don’t know, and maybe it doesn’t matter. All I know is that I am sga, homosexual, gay, or whatever term you choose, and I don’t remember the day when I woke up and decided this was the way I was going to be.
My father wasn't the absent, distant or abusive dad that so many gay men seem to have had. On the contrary, he was very loving and physically affectionate. He was a good provider and took his responsibility as spiritual leader of the home very seriously. He did, and always has done his best to show me his love, support and approval. But there was something in me that seemed to reject his love. When he hugged me, I would freeze. Though the affection was there, I couldn’t seem to receive it. Was this because of my growing realization that I was so different from him?
He always tried to include me in typical male activities. I helped him when he worked on the car and with the other handy-man jobs he was so good at. I was even very involved in building our own home from 12 to 14. But that just wasn't me. I always had an aversion to heavy work, noisy power tools and getting greasy.
I was as much like my mother as I was different from my father, and I have always been closer to her. This similarity is both mental and physical. I was always very slight of build and even now rarely top 115 pounds. As a child I was fairly androgynous when it came to toys. I did have Matchbox cars and some Tonka toys, but spent as much or more time playing dolls with my sister, or being creative with an old sewing machine. I also had a tea set made out of real china. And of course there was the music and the art that I was very good at.
My mother didn't seem a bit bothered that I preferred girls' games. And she positively appreciated the fact that I wasn't a "rough-houser" like other little boys. Since my sister, 21 months older, was rougher, tougher, and dirtier than me, Mother frequently told people, "She should have been my boy and he should have been my girl."
Relationships and Developing Sexuality
Some people seem to remember when they first realized they were homosexual. I don’t. It was a slowly developing process of awareness. But looking back, I can see certain signposts that indicate I was moving down that road.
It is true that while growing up I just didn’t seem to fit in, but as I recall, perhaps that was more of a cultural difference than anything else. As an Adventist and a vegetarian, I didn’t seem to have much in common with the rest of American society. As a very conservative Adventist, I didn’t even have that much in common with other Adventists - no TV, no sports, no slumber parties. But although I might have felt isolated and ignorant, I pretty much just accepted it, along with other expectations of my parents. Rebellion just wasn’t my style. I was never a "wild" kid.
In grade school one of the boys found a cast-off Playboy magazine or two. This was my first exposure to pornography, and I seemed to be as fascinated with them as all the rest. I remember our boyish jokes and the pictures we drew of female anatomy. Maybe some of the parents found out; I’m not sure. At any rate, I remember getting the message that good little boys shouldn’t have that kind of thoughts about women or look at them like that. As the acquiescent child I generally was, I have wondered if maybe that threw a switch in my psyche: it was sinful to take an interest in naked women; okay, I won’t be interested. Or maybe I wasn’t really that interested, anyway, and was just trying to fit in with the other guys.
From first grade through college, I can remember only one guy that stood out as being a best friend and our interaction outside of school and planned activities was very limited. Our friendship lasted for a few years during grade school, but by eighth grade we had little in common.
I don’t remember having crushes on any guys in academy, but perhaps I have forgotten. I do remember one occasion when we were on tour that one of the boys on the gymnastics team was walking around the guys’ changing room, un-ashamedly naked, after taking a shower. He had the face of an angel and, in that natural state, was absolutely gorgeous. I told him he looked like Michelangelo’s David. I just wanted to stare at him, but knew I dare not and felt embarrassed by what I had said.
By my freshman year in an SDA college my sga tendencies were definitely surfacing. I remember that while moving into my dorm room my mother found a gay-oriented book camouflaged and hidden inside the desk she was cleaning out. She made some disparaging comments and threw it in the trash with disgust. Little did she know that I was dying to pull it out of the trash and devour it, but I was too afraid and too much in denial to do such a thing. I certainly couldn't talk to anyone about all my questions and uncertainties so I had to discover things the best I could, and I spent far too much time in the college library, searching for books on male sexuality and scouring the stacks for articles about the gay scene in San Francisco or art journals with pictures of male nudes.
Throughout college I was one of the minority group called music majors and, as the only serious male organ student, I had little in common with other guys. I thought several of them were incredibly good looking, but they were in another realm, a realm of masculinity, strength, maturity and beauty, and I was on the outside looking in. The first couple of years I mainly socialized with my sister and her group of friends, most of them girls. I had three roommates my freshman year, none of whom was really a friend. I was much closer to my roommate my sophomore year, and only learned many years later that he too was sga, but at the time I had absolutely no idea and there was no sexual involvement whatsoever. My last two years of college I actually roomed alone as much as possible and don't remember a single relationship of any significance with any male in my peer group.
In graduate school there were a couple of guys in the organ department who were good friends. Finally, some other males to whom I could more or less relate! Today one is married and has a family; the other is older and has never married. They are both non-SDA's and I still keep in touch with them. But I have never told either of them about my sga.
It was somewhere in these year that I learned about the gay section in book stories and also how to search the photography section for my obsession, the nude male physique. I also learned that there were certain news stands and book shops where I could get my hands on magazines of gay pornography. I would go to them, not to buy the trash, but to look at as much of it as I could, as discreetly as possible. All of this took a great deal of nerve, and I was scared to death that the wrong person might see me.
My relationships with women have, in many ways, been the opposite of those with other men. As a child and into elementary school I had my little girlfriends, it seems. But I got my first taste of what it is to love and lose in fifth grade when my best friend and I both fell in love with the same sixth-grade girl. Though she played the game with both of us, it was obvious to me that she preferred him. He was bigger, stronger, more athletic, more "manly". Besides being small, non-athletic and more interested in the softer things, this was just one more evidence that I didn't have what it took to cope as a male. Was it this early experience that sealed my heart in some way against rejection and caused me to reject before being rejected?
Most of my friends in academy were girls who were older than me. I felt safe with them and treated them like sisters. I had dates for the main social functions, but never had more than fleeting romantic feelings toward any of them.
In college I had a passing romantic interest in a couple of girls, but it wasn’t reciprocated. Then I became good friends with a girl and we dated more or less steadily. Her parents visited college once and met me. Afterward, her father commented, "He treats you like a brother." How perceptive of him! When our relationship took a more romantic turn, I couldn’t handle it. Things became nasty, and we could hardly stand to be around each other for a while.
I didn’t date for about six years after college. It wasn't any problem since I have often wondered what in the world it is about women that men can’t seem to live without! Then in the early 90's, while in Latin America teaching music as a missionary, I became close friends with a very nice girl there, due to circumstances which threw us into each others company. As our relationship developed I felt a lot of pressure, both from the local community and from my parents, to get married. Everyone thought we were a great couple.
After praying and asking for a sign, I felt I was supposed to marry her. So one beautiful evening near Valentine’s Day, at a romantic spot by a fountain, I proposed. She accepted immediately. I was terrified. I don’t think I slept a wink that night. The next few months were a living hell. I cannot describe the horrible black dread in my mind. You don’t love her the way a man ought to love a woman. You have no business getting married if this is how you feel. If she could just live in one country and me in another! Such thoughts clashed through my mind. I prayed and agonized. All of my options seemed 100% wrong. I had long international calls to my parents. My father told me I should tell her I loved her every day, and I tried, but every time I said it I felt like I was telling an enormous lie. Whatever I did I was damned, and I knew it.
Then one night when my torment reached a pinnacle, God seemed to speak to me, saying that my fiancée would go to live with my parents and in a year I would know what to do. Suddenly I felt peace flow over me and the blackness in my mind dissipated, but I didn’t breathe a word about this to anyone. I thought If this is really from God it will happen; if not, it’s my crazy imagination and I’ll just have to do what I have to do. But I clung to the hope that this was God’s answer, as I saw no other gracious way out of the situation. And sure enough, when my parents came to visit, a missionary friend urged my fiancée to go home with them and somehow they agreed. This took some of the immediate pressure off of me. A year later, she had taken advantage of a fantastic opportunity to further her career as a musician and was far away from me. Although I missed her friendship, I didn’t pursue the relationship. She is now married, but I still have a very soft place in my heart for her. In one sense I love her deeply, and I think the feelings are mutual. I saw her last summer, and she had tears running down her cheeks when we parted.
After that, I decided to stay away from women, and did a pretty good job of it until I went to Eastern Europe. There I became good friends with a very sharp girl who was a nurse at the institution where I was working. We were soul mates in many ways. Then I visited her home and, due to unforeseen circumstances, ended up staying two weeks. During that time we basically fell in love. I came as close as I ever have to feeling the things I assume men must feel about the girls they marry. I could imagine myself married to her, and even having kids, and that’s really weird for me. But then I freaked out. I thought of all the obstacles and reasons why it couldn’t work. I escaped to Turkey for two weeks by myself, and a few weeks later gladly returned to the States.
I had broken another heart. As I write this I can’t help feeling a sense of sadness and loss for myself, and even more, sorrow for what I have put some really sweet girls through. This is one reason I never want to get involved with women again. They always seem to get left holding the short end of the stick, without understanding why. It’s just not fair to them.
I guess it’s pretty amazing that in 35 years I have never been sexually involved with anyone, male or female. My great sin has been masturbation, and it began before I started school, so I was only five or six years old. From that time till now, 30 years later, the whole issue of masturbation continues to be unresolved. My parents gave me quite a guilt trip when they caught me at it as a child. And of course, as a good Adventist, I read all the fearful references to "self-abuse" in the Spirit of Prophecy. I prayed for forgiveness millions of times, but still masturbated. I thought it was my "cherished sin" that was surely going to keep me out of the kingdom.
Somewhere along the way, I pretty much quit asking God to forgive me every time. Finally, well into my 20’s, when the vast majority of people my age were married and sexually active legally, I rationalized that if married people could have sex two or three times a week, what was so terrible about masturbating. After all, of all the choices for sexual outlet, it seemed the least immoral. I just couldn’t seem to make sense out of the whole issue, and am not sure I can yet, but at least I believe that obsessive masturbation with graphic fantasies should not be part of the life of a sanctified Christian.
Still, there have been so many times throughout my adult life that I have wanted a man who would be a soul mate, someone I could talk to about anything and be understood and accepted. Then, in 1997, I came out to my sister and got involved with Homosexuals Anonymous, an Exodus ministry, and eventually with GLOW. For the first time I have been able to freely share the darkest recesses of my life and know I am understood. In this way I have found, to some extent, what I have needed. But with this new openness has also come less fear of letting the mask slip, so I have taken some deeper plunges into masturbation and pornography and even had a mildly sexual but very loving encounter with another man. The needs are not all met, and the issues are still unresolved. So I still need help and support and can't seem to develop the close, ongoing relationships with anyone locally which I probably need.
What About God?
How does God relate to all this? I find that very hard to write about. There is a raging war of contradictions, paradoxes and ambiguities between what my mind knows to be true and what my heart seems to believe.
Head knowledge? I was weaned on it! There hasn't been a time when I haven’t gone to church regularly. I grew up in a home where God, the Bible, Ellen G. White and being a Seventh-day Adventist were all basic assumptions of life. We had family worship morning and evening only on the days when the sun rose and set. Attending Sabbath School, church and prayer meeting was as routine as eating. I practically learned to read from the red books and learned to play the piano from the hymnal.
Yes, I was taught well how to be a Seventh-day Adventist, and have been a pretty good one. I'm not sure I have yet figured out how to really be a Christian though. Is being a good SDA the same as being a Christian? All those years of memorizing the memory verses, and playing Bible jeopardy (for blood), and attending church schools (first grade through college), and never drinking, or smoking, and being a vegetarian, and not drinking caffeinated drinks and not going to movies and not owning a TV, and paying a faithful tithe plus offerings, and even being a foreign missionary, and... and...and....
But then, why are the people who spend the most time studying the Bible often the biggest jerks? Why doesn't life ever seem satisfying? Why don't I have any warm fuzzy feeling about God? Why am I sick of hearing about prophecies? Why can't I stop masturbating? Why am I gay? why?...Why?...WHY?
Everything seems so performance oriented, and I am never good enough-or BAD enough for that matter! There is still the deep-seated belief that if I do something bad God will zap me. If I rent an x-rated video I'll probably be in an accident on the way home. If I don't follow the script just so, I'm a goner. But after a while the traditional reasons for being good just don't seem to work anymore. Being good just because you always have been and everyone expects you to gets really boring.
I do look back and see that God, in His mercy, must have sent me to Latin America for my own best interests. I was in a downward spiral at that time, about as lost, frustrated and unsettled as I have ever been in my life. I knew where the gay book store was. I was beginning to call gay bars to see what they offered. At the time I was also very involved in the local chapter of the American Guild of Organists and know now that I was associating with a number of gay male organists. One of them, to my utter shock, as I was in no way "out," invited me to join a gay men’s chorus. Another died of AIDS not long after I left the area.
I can see how God evidently put a hedge about me in a special way, yet I feel angry about that, too, sometimes believing emotionally that I might have been better off in the long run if I had eaten the forbidden fruit. Mentally I "know" this is not true. But what a frustrating life to always be admiring it, smelling it, wishing it could be yours, but knowing you shouldn't and can't have it.
What’s this about the gift of sexuality? In my case it's more like a major curse! There is nothing I can do with it! It is a million dollars which can only be spent in the one store that I can never find open. Masturbation is wrong, sex with men is wrong, and the only "legal" option seems undesirable and unobtainable. Yet the urge lingers on, the cash incessantly smoldering, never to be a fire and never to be snuffed out.
Yes, I have plenty of anger directed against God. When I dig deep within my soul, the first and strongest emotion that surfaces is ANGER. Anger at God for botching up this part of His creation called Manuel. Yet I know at the same time that it isn't really His fault and that the only answer is getting to know and learning to love the very One I am so angry with. So I am trying to grasp that spark of hope—hope that God really does know what He is doing and hope that someday my questions will all be answered, my anger will all be gone and I won't be disappointed with life anymore.
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15 Feb 2010 08:21 PM