A mild-mannered ten-year-old sits quietly at the end of a grey cafeteria lunch table with his nose inside a battered copy of “The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe.”
Further down the table the rest of the third-grade-class pick at styrofoam trays of greasy cafeteria food. A freckled-face boy with braces turns to the end of the table and says, “he's so gay it's retarded” - then returns to poking his chocolate milk carton with his plastic fork. The red-headed girl nods in agreement before loudly whispering, "seriously, reading at lunch? what a faggot."
Confused, the young boy leaves Narnia, wanders over to the teacher’s table and asks, “Mrs. Smith, what does the “gay” mean? After an awkward pause, she responses, “it just means you’re happy, sweetheart.”
The little boy reading Lewis was me.
I’ve always known I was a little different. Sensitive and soft-spoken, I would rather play on the swings, read books or color by myself than kick a soccer ball or wrestle my classmates at recess.
When I was in high-school I would often eat lunch in the library because I felt I had more in common with Hemingway & Tolkien than I did guys and girls my own age. I was “an old soul.” Or at least, that’s what I would tell myself.
Mostly though, I think I liked the library because dusty paperbacks can’t whisper “fag” behind your back.
I remember sitting in the library one afternoon reading “Leaves of Grass” by Walt Whitman. In “Song of Myself” he writes, “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself; I am large… for I contain multitudes.”
I clung to this sentiment for dear life- because I felt trapped in Byron’s “melancholic merriment” - a walking, talking, contradiction.
I had- and still have- a deep, cerebral faith and spirituality. However, I also battled a near constant depression. I also, as it were, had a crush… on a boy.
This story- my story- is not an easy one to share. Frankly, it’s also one I don’t feel most of you deserve to hear. Those closest to me have been privy to my struggles with sexuality, faith and mental health for some time. So, I don’t share this for them, nor am I writing seeking praise, stale platitudes or some kind of public sympathy.
I share this for other enigmas like me. My depressed high-school friends eating lunch alone in quiet libraries - jaded millennials clinging to faith by a thread because they feel the Kingdom has no room for people like “them” - for the college student thinking of taking his own life because an inescapable aspect of himself is seemingly at odds with the grace of Jesus Christ.
I have lost too many friends to self-harm over this issue to stay silent any longer.
Which is why, in the coming days and weeks, I’m going to unpack more of my story than I’ve shared before.
I’m no activist or theologian- but if sharing my own thoughts & experiences with sexuality, mental illness, and faith can help someone struggling to find themselves- then it’s worth the exchange of personal privacy.
For now though, I leave you with this closing thought: what other people think about you means nothing in comparison to what you believe about yourself.
We’re never as alone as we feel like we are… your story matters, and so do you; for you contain The multitudes.