The Truth About Paul

sc000bcfb9Today I read an article that a friend posted on Facebook about Daniel Dobson, the son of a prominent evangelical minister coming out as a gay Christian.  The person who posted the article is someone with whom I attended Bible college.  Most of you know that I graduated from Bible college, Ozark Christian College, in Joplin, Missouri, to be specific.  I entered in the fall of 1986 with a prayer that if I went to Bible college, God might help me not be gay.  I spent four years there and even still, I consider that period among the most formative of my lifetime.  There were many things I loved about Bible college.  I loved my friends, we laughed A LOT.  We prayed a lot and the spirit of the campus lent itself naturally to intimate relationships.  I myself have been out of the closet now for over 20 years and I still maintain friendships (thank you, Facebook!) with many of these people.

Reading about this Daniel Dobson made me harken back to my time at Ozark Christian College.  There was an incident that occured in my junior year that I will never forget.  There was a non-traditional student whom I’ll call Paul Fielding who was in his 30’s.  We were not close friends, but I liked him and I thought he was a funny guy.  One day, mid-semester, there was a rumor floating around campus that Paul had cancer and that he’d left immediately to go home to a state that was 1500 miles away from Missouri.  The next day, in several classes, teachers mentioned Paul’s illness and prayers were made.  In chapel (we had chapel services every Tuesday and Thursday) either the president or the dean of students made a special announcement about Paul’s cancer and again, a long prayer was made.  There was much talk of Paul’s illness, asking God for healing.  We never saw Paul again.

A few months later, I asked my friend whom I’ll call Matthew if he had spoken to Paul and if he knew how his cancer treatment was going.  Matthew and Paul had been good friends.  Matthew told me that Paul was doing well.  Then he asked me if I could keep a secret and  I said, “Of course, I can keep a secret!”  He then proceeded to tell me that Paul did not have cancer at all and he’d been expelled from Ozark for going to a gay bar.  (This is a gay bar??? I’m leaving just as soon as I finish my LEMON DROP!!)  He continued to tell me, and I must admit to the details being a little fuzzy, that he got caught by another student who was a prominent figure on campus, a performer in the college’s premier singing group who walked into the bar, saw Paul, got scared, went to school authorities, and ratted Paul out.  This other character, I’ll call him Luke, did not get expelled, although he was removed from the college’s premier singing group.  

When I meet people, I always assume that they assume that I’m gay.  I wear pink, I gesture a lot with my hands, I’m not above belting a Whitney tune.  I am a Chardonnay drinking, VW driving, bruschetta eating, 2(x)ist underwear wearing, Rupaul’s Drag Race watching gay stereotype.  It’s hard to remember a time when my biggest fear was someone finding out that I liked guys.  There were guys on campus that I suspected of being gay and I always kept my distance from them.  I remember the dean of students was a little mean to me and I thought it was because he knew what I knew and what I was afraid everyone knew.  So much torment over something I had no control over.

I still have so many questions about the entire Paul Fielding incident.  Were they cruel or compassionate when they asked him to leave? Who came up with the idea that the entire college faculty replace the word cancer for homosexuality every time they referred to Paul?  Isn’t that lying?  Did any faculty member consider going rogue with a “Guys, we should just tell the student body the truth!”? Did the school ever reach out to Paul in the aftermath?  Did Luke ever feel like an asshole for ratting Paul out?  Did Paul ever come to terms with his sexuality?  Does Luke still wrestle with his sexuality?  Would the event play out the same way if it happened today? And most importantly, why do I still care about this incident so much, 25 years after the fact?  

I do think I know the answer to the last one.  When I learned about about Paul’s eviction, my first thought was a fear that if anyone ever found out the truth about me, I would have not a place.  I would have been shipped off, written off with a cursory prayer.  In the matter of days, there was no more room for Paul at Ozark.  The thought of being kicked out terrified me.  Apparently it still terrifies the subconscious me because about every six months I have a dream that I’m in college and the administration has found out I’m gay and they’re expelling me.  So, well, make of that what you will.

I do have a few things I wish I could say to that 20 year old me who was sitting in his friend’s dorm room finding out the truth about Paul while struggling with his own sexuality.  Chiefly, it’s going to be okay.  You will become the person you feared becoming and you will be okay, better than okay.  Your life will be full of joy.  Your life will be full of love.  There will be a place for you.  You will have friends that will always be there for you.  And you will no longer wear that Coca-Cola shirt that you think you look so cute in.


10 thoughts on “The Truth About Paul

  1. Wow, your story is eye-opening. Thank you for sharing it. I actually attended Missouri State University in Springfield for a few years. I came to terms with my own sexuality while I was down there. I remember coming out to a gay coworker I had down there. He had attended Evangel and thought by going there that it would change his sexuality. It’s actually more common than we think.

    I sort of wonder if the school used “cancer” as sort of a metaphor for what they believed. Maybe they thought Paul’s sexuality was cancer and if they kept him there, people would start turning gay and before Ozark Christian College knew, they’d be known as the gay Christian college.

    When did you finally accept your own sexuality?

  2. I attended OCC in the late 90’s and had several dear friends their that struggled to reconcile their sexualtiy with the christian “values” they had been raised with and willingly subjected themselves to at OCC. Some thought that going to OCC would help them to overcome their perceived sinful thoughts and desires. It never worked out. One very dear friend was discovered, outed by another friend who had a crush on a guy that my friend had developed a connection with (she actually saw them kiss, and turned them in to the school and my dear friends parents) He was then forced to leave OCC and his parents forced him into christian pray-away-the-gay counseling. This lasted for several months before he could no longer take it and severed ties with his family. I knew how much he was hurt during this whole process, and my heart goes out to anyone else that has been put through something similar. I’m sure it is devastating enough to be told constantly that desires that you have no control over are going to send you to hell, and because your faith is genuine, so is your self loathing. To have your family, friends, and the larger Christian community ripped away from you or reject you outright on top of what they are already struggling with, well I can’t even imagine how horrible that must be. I am thankful that my dear friend is much happier today, and is surrounded by accepting loving people. I just wish he didn’t have to go through that in the first place.

  3. Ray: Thank you for this. I don’t think the incidents you describe are the same as one which I recall. I think the one I recall is a different incident. I do not know all the facts of what happened in my case, there had been a man who had come to Ozark and had gone through some sort of disciplinary procedure. Several of my peers and I stood up for this individual, whom we felt had not been treated fairly. We met with the disciplinary committee and complained of what we perceived to be the unfair processes that were taken in this case. In the end, the man left Ozark (I think he was from the PacNW). This man and I spoke to one another on a couple of occasions while these things were going on, and prayed together about what he was going through (although I never knew any details). After he left, I was later told that this gentleman was gay, and although I know very little about what happened, the impression I was given is that his leaving was a matter of his being gay. Again, let me be clear, I do not know very many of the facts. I learned some hard won lessons about acting on very little information, but all these two-decades-plus later, I don’t regret standing up for fair processes. Regardless of one’s personal beliefs and convictions on homosexuality, it is always a good thing to stand up for fairness.

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  7. You still have nightmares 25 years later? Wow. That’s intense. I’ll keep you in my prayers as you work toward your happiness.

  8. I love you. I’m thankful for all the fun we had and what a great friend you were to me.
    I am sorry for all of the internal suffering you went through. I’m sorry I was unaware of all these things (Paul…and Luke …and how you were feeling). I wasn’t a very good friend to you. I am sorry. ❤

    • Heidi, I have always thought of you as a good friend. I saw that you commented on this blog post and it prompted me to read it again (5 years later) and I must say that writing about my Ozark years has helped me come to a peace about that time. We did have so much fun and I am glad that we have stayed in touch over the decades and have been able to spend time together. You have nothing to apologize for at all! I love you my friend!!

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