I Was a Secretly Gay Jehovah's Witness: How I Tried to Pray the Gay Away
The following is an excerpt from Cowboys, Armageddon, and The Truth: How a Gay Child Was Saved from
Religion published by Lethe Press. Click here to buy a copy.
I learned what it meant to be a homo from a fellow sixth grader. Michael was the most “grown up” kid I knew. He had blond hair that was so blond it was white and I always wanted to ask why he had white hair but that wouldn’t have been nice, so I never asked. I liked him enough to want to spend private time with him, making him my friend, which wasn’t going to happen. I admired his independence, and his confidence. His mom was a psychologist which I assumed was the obvious reason for his being so grown up. He stole a page out of his father’s Playboy magazine and brought it to school.
He unfolded the centerfold in front of friends, and three boys huddled around the image, totally absorbed by the female nudity. Bobby Prescott giggled uncontrollably. I watched them, starkly aware of the disparity between my boredom and the spell my classmates seemed to be under.
Michael’s older brother showed up at Piru Elementary every now and then. He was in high school, and he thought his own muscles were impressive enough to show off. He pulled up his pant legs, displaying his muscular calves to sixth graders, flexing them into a knot, and I felt an instant attraction.
Michael had a crush on Monica, another sixth grader. They chased each other around the playground and called each other ‘retard’ while throwing out accusations of being infected with cooties, and when she called him a ‘homo’ he laughed hysterically and explained to her what a homo was…and that if he liked her, he certainly wasn’t a homo.
That cleared up my confusion regarding the literal definition of homo, something that had been the butt of my dad’s jokes for years and a phrase I never understood. I got the concept that homo, fruit, and queer were synonymous, but I had never understood the defining characteristics of those afflictions. My eyes were finally opened in sixth grade, thanks to Michael, and I was quite shocked to realize that my fascination for his older brother was considered queer.
That realization sent me on a long and arduous journey of prayer. If I was a queer, as I was beginning to suspect, Jehovah would fix it. So I prayed about it. I prayed at least four times a day, asking Him to stop the persecution that Witnesses in other parts of the world were experiencing. I prayed to thank Him for the food I had been given. In sixth grade, I added a request to not be a homo to my private prayers.
I thought those prayers were answered in 1976 when the Witnesses produced a new study book for kids. It was a little red book to help young congregation members understand sinful things, and I got my copy at our massive three-day assembly in Dodger Stadium. Witnesses worldwide had two assemblies to attend each year—a smaller and remotely local Circuit Assembly, and a larger District Assembly where attendees traveled for hundreds of miles and numbered into the hundreds of thousands. Dodger Stadium was the nearest location for our District assembly, and that’s where the Witnesses introduced the new book that I thought would answer my prayers. It had a long and complicated title, so we called it “The Youth Book” for short. When the assembly concluded, Fluffy drove us back to Fillmore in her station wagon while I curled up in back of the car and scanned The Youth Book’s table of contents of to see what great questions would be resolved.
Chapter Five, “Masturbation and Homosexuality,” caught my eye.
I had just recently learned about homosexuality from Michael, but I wasn’t familiar with the term masturbation.
In a loud voice, without even leaning over the seat, I asked, “What’s Masturbation?”
I could have stunk up the car with a fart at that moment and no one would have said a word. Grandma King made breathing noises…followed by a glance at Fluffy and a stunned silence…concluded by, “Why don’t you ask your father when you get home?”
Silence can sometimes tell you everything you need to know. It was a simple question. I was only asking for a definition, not a demonstration, before deciding which subject to tackle first…so I opened to the chapter about homos and masturbation and began to read…
Should you experiment with your sex organs? Is there anything wrong with rubbing them in some way until the excitement is climaxed?
This practice is called masturbation. It is very common. Lying and stealing are also common today. Yet you wouldn’t say this makes them natural and proper, would you? The “common” cold is quite universal, but this certainly doesn’t mean that you want it, does it?
Weakly giving in to sexual desires by masturbation will certainly not give you strength when faced with a situation tempting you to commit fornication—or even homosexuality. Just the opposite, it cultivates wrong thinking and wrong desire. In fact, masturbation can lead into homosexuality. In such instances the person, not satisfied with his lonely sexual activity, seeks a partner for mutual sex play.
This happens much more frequently than you may realize. Contrary to what many persons think, homosexuals are not born that way, but their homosexual behavior is learned. And often a person gets started when very young by playing with another’s sexual parts, and then engaging in homosexual acts. (Your Youth—Getting the Best out of It, 1976 p.35,36,39)
So I prayed a lot. I prayed before breakfast. I was supposed to pray before lunch too, except sometimes I forgot ’cause none of the other kids at school prayed before lunch. So I lied about it when Fluffy asked if I said my prayers at school, and then I had to pray about lying. And we prayed before dinner, too. And we always said a prayer before going to bed at night, ’cause that was the most important one. I prayed every time I thought about masturbation too, and that seemed to be happening an awful lot.
Dear Jehovah God,
We thank you for this day, and we thank you for the food you provided. We thank you for the good association in our congregation, and we pray that you look after the brothers all over the world. And we pray that you help Aunt Karen get better and we thank you for Grandma King. And we pray that your Will be done and that we spend each day in service to you, and we pray that you bring this wicked system to an end soon. And please help me stop the masturbation. And please make my dad and stepmom like me. We ask these things in Jesus’ name,
To my way of thinking, The Youth Book was a wonderful and enlightening study guide from Jehovah, and it dropped in my lap on the cusp of puberty, an adolescent problem I didn’t understand. There was an entire chapter devoted to that concept: Chapter Three—Growing Into Manhood. Chapter Three explained my physical changes and the appearance of body hair in private areas.
About thirteen or fourteen years after your birth, you begin another rapid spurt of growth. At this particular time you start changing from a boy into a man. The entire transitional period, which is known as adolescence, lasts for a number of years. It ends when you reach physical maturity, generally between the ages of twenty and twenty-three. Puberty covers the earlier period of adolescence. (Your Youth—Getting the Best out of It, 1976 p. 19-20)
Finally! An answer that made sense! I was not a homo! I just had to wait for puberty. It was all about puberty. Age twenty. That’s when I would find a desire to get naked with girls. That seemed like plenty of time for puberty to work its magic.
The Youth Book also gave a woefully inadequate tutorial about heterosexual relations. It painted a sterile picture of a tranquil and gentle procedure that resulted in women becoming pregnant.
The husband lies close to his wife so that his male organ fits naturally into her birth canal. (Your Youth—Getting the Best out of It, 1976 p. 22)
Birth canal? What the hell is a birth canal? I was twelve. The tutorial from The Youth Book didn’t really work for me. I was confused with the lack of specifics and no explanation as to which side of the woman would be receiving the man’s organ. Is it the front or back? Women had two entrance holes, in my mind. One in front, one in back, either one of which could have led to a birth canal. I feared that I would grow up and, on my wedding day, be forced to ask my dad which side of the woman would lead to the birth canal.
Fast forward through the next decade of turmoil and guilt, through my teenage years and running away from home, to a day when I drove to the Castro neighborhood in San Francisco— my first trip to a homosexual destination. I lied to my favorite aunt, Aunt Donnis, about where I was going that weekend—and I got caught. Aunt Donnis was an atheist.
The guilt I felt for lying to her about my weekend plans, or getting caught, was enormous. The weight was burdensome, and I couldn’t bear it. I couldn’t lie any longer. It was time to tell the truth. Seven years had passed since I had unintentionally left the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and while I occasionally noticed shadows of guilt cross my conscience, I had for the most part rejected their teachings. I no longer had random moments when I gazed up into the sky and wondered if the death and destruction of Armageddon would arrive that day. I no longer felt doomed for abandoning The Truth. I no longer believed that The Truth was the truth. I no longer hoped that God would cure me of my homosexual problem. I was 23, and the time had come to unload my secret.
Circumstances and lies convinced me to confess. I drove over to Aunt Donnis’s apartment to admit to something I feared she wouldn’t approve of.
She cut an apple into bite-sized pieces in the kitchen while I occupied an easy chair in her living room, ten feet away. We talked about school. We talked about her favorite yogurt shops in Chico. She chewed on bites of apple. We talked about where I had gone for the weekend.
“I’m gay,” I blurted.
She stopped chewing for a few seconds.
“And how are you doing with that?” she asked.
We talked for hours afterwards. She was fantastic and supportive, and from that moment on, Aunt Donnis and I could talk about anything.
Click here for a copy of Cowboys, Armageddon, and The Truth: How a Gay Child Was Saved from Religion.