My Christian Parents Try to Pray the Gay Away (It Hasn't Worked)
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“Honey, we’re praying for you.”
This is how my mother ends every email she sends me. Typed in italics and peppered with smiling emoticons, Mom’s electronic missives are as precious as she is — as earnest as the Empty Tomb Cake she bakes each spring on Good Friday. An edible replica of the cave where Jesus was buried after dying on the cross for our sins, the Empty Tomb Cake is the standard passion week centerpiece in my childhood home. It is frosted in gray, surrounded by a field of green coconut grass, and finished off with a Hostess Ding-Dong as the stone that was rolled away. On Saturday night, after everyone goes to bed, Mom steals into the kitchen under cover of night and rolls the Hostess Ding-Dong away from the door of the Empty Tomb Cake, then retouches the frosting. On Easter morning Jesus has risen — right there in the middle of the kitchen table.
As sweet as Mom’s loving messages and born-again baked goods appear at face value, there’s a silent threat in “we’re praying for you” that sticks in my craw. I came out to my parents the first time at the age of 19 when I was kicked out of the Bible college where my dad taught. Since then, their ongoing prayers for my “deliverance” from “Satan’s lie of homosexuality” have continued unabated in the presence of my four younger siblings and the unsuspecting wait staffs of Olive Garden restaurants nationwide. Indeed, my parents offer a never-ending stream of supplication to a God they’re certain is testing them with a son who has been blinded to the righteous pursuit of a female partner by the penis-shaped temptation of Satan.
“We’re praying for you” isn’t a harmless afterthought. It’s not a pleasant wish for my general well-being, continued physical health or financial security. No, my mother’s “we’re praying for you” is an italicized baseball bat, a silent plea for God to change her oldest son from something abhorrent and abominable back to the fresh-faced young man who dated the captain of the Bible college cheerleading squad, before it was discovered he was also sleeping with the captain of the boy’s soccer team.
Of course, Mom wouldn’t say that. But then, as far back as seventh grade, she and Dad have rarely been very articulate when it comes to the issue of my sexuality. My next-door neighbor at the time Wes Green, on the other hand, had no problem calling things exactly what they were.
I was the accompanist for the junior high boy’s choir at my Christian school back then, and one afternoon as I returned from the piano to take my seat with the baritones, Wes snickered a single word under his breath:
It wasn’t loud enough for our teacher to hear, but the group of boys sitting around us laughed while my cheeks burnt with embarrassment.
We’d moved into the house next door to the Greens several weeks prior so Dad would have a shorter commute to the Bible college. Our new backyard held a sparkling swimming pool, while the Greens’ featured an old El Camino the color of primer with four flat tires. Wes and I were both new students in our seventh grade class the next week. I was coming from a Christian school across town, but this was Wes’ first time at a private school, and he was being held back.
“Wes is dyslexic.” Mom had whispered the word. “I want you to be a good example of Jesus’ love and help him out as much as you can.”