Carolyn and Mary

bilde-2They seemed like the unlikeliest of best friends.  I was fascinated by their friendship because I saw something kindred in it.  They were both popular, in their ways.  Carolyn was a singer who often sang solos or duets during chapel services.   Mary was a star athlete on the basketball team.  Even as a Bible college closet case, I had pretty decent gaydar, and I was sure that Mary and I had something in common.  Their best friendship kind of came up out of nowhere.  Carolyn and I had been friends since our freshman year.  And then in our sophomore or junior year, I noticed that she and Mary started to spend a lot of time together.  They became inseparable.  They dressed alike.  At one point, Carolyn even cut her long hair into a dramatic bi-level that was popular among the budding lesbians of the late 1980s, just like Mary.  And then, after a few short months, they were no longer inseparable.  In fact, I never saw them together at all.  One day, I asked Carolyn about Mary, I can’t remember what my question was exactly, something like, “Hey, have you seen Mary lately?”  I remember trying to phrase my question delicately. Carolyn quickly and finitely told me that she and Mary were not friends anymore.  “But you were so close,”  I said.  And the look on her face told me that this was not a conversation that was going to be continued.  For the rest of that semester, Mary walked around campus like a broken-hearted puppy.  I don’t think she even came back to Ozark after that eventful semester.  Carolyn, on the other hand, continued to thrive.  Carolyn was and is a woman who thrives.   

Because I was experiencing my own overwhelming same sex emotions, I watched this play out with a vested interest.  It’s probably no surprise to anyone who knew me in Bible college, but I had a habit of falling in love with my best friends.  Three different times, I fell in love with three different friends and each time, I feared what would happen if he found out my feelings.  One of those friends sometimes bragged that he didn’t like gay guys and I wondered if he would beat me up if he knew how I felt.  I certainly never had the audacity to make a pass at either of these three loves, but I feared that in every look and in every action I might be revealing my secret.  

Of those three loves, I am still friends with one of them.  The other two just kind of drifted out of my life.  I’m sure they know I’m gay.  I’m sure they know that I was in love with them in college.  And I really don’t care whether they hate me now or not.  I have some good memories of those years and each of those three friendships are cherished, even if I never have another conversation with them.

But I do find myself wondering about Carolyn and Mary.  I have so many questions, of course, starting with, did they ever hook up?  I actually don’t think they did.  I don’t think that Carolyn was gay or bisexual even, but I suspect that at one point, Mary confessed her feelings, perhaps she even made a pass.  And Carolyn responded by cutting her out of her life forever.  

I don’t know whatever happened to Mary.  I keep thinking she will show up on Facebook, eventually, but I’ve yet to see her profile pop up in the “people you may know” section.  I wonder if she came to terms with her sexuality.  Does she have a life partner? Is there a chance I was wrong and she’s straight, married with kids, labradors, etc.? Is she still a little in love with Carolyn?  Does she still have that bi-level haircut?

And I wonder what goes through Carolyn’s mind when and if she thinks about Mary.  Does she feel shame for cutting out a friend who probably really needed a friend?  Does she think she would do it the same if it happened to her again in 2014.  We prayed so much back at Bible college, did Carolyn pray for Mary to find her way?  Does she pray for her still? Did Carolyn have some feelings of her own that she did not know how to process? Maybe she doesn’t even remember any of this.

But of course, I do remember. I remember it because at the time, I thought the worst thing in the world was to be gay and the second worst thing was to tell the person you’re in love with how you feel and they reject you.

The first person I shared my secret with was one of those college loves. At the time, not long after we’d graduated from Ozark, we were separated by several states. I was still a youth minister and one night, I went to a Christian concert where the singer (I think it was Steven Curtis Chapman, actually) had everyone in the audience write down the thing that burdened them most in their faith and then ushers collected what people had written and the idea was that God would lift that burden. For the first time in my life, I wrote that I was struggling with my sexuality. I was there with the kids in my youth group and I was so afraid that one of them might see my words. After the little, folded papers were collected, the musician prayed with the mass of people about their secret burden, that the weight might be lifted. And later that night, when I got home, I needed to talk to someone, so I called my best friend Ab. I called him and I shared and he listened. Even though I didn’t tell him that I had been in love with him, I still feared that he would drop me as a friend for telling him I thought I was gay. But he did not judge, he told me this would not change our friendship. And nearly 25 years later, he continues to hold to that promise. That was the beginning of my coming out. Certainly, on that night in a tiny rural Missouri apartment, circa 1991, I could not have foreseen the road my life would take. But I’m eternally grateful for the friend who listened as I bared my gravest secret and responded with, “You will always be my friend.”

Advertisements

Dear Daisy

4453551996_b1d8ffa745_oIt’s rare for me to spend more than a few hours on a blog post, but I have been working on and off on this one since Thursday.  Up until, just now, I didn’t feel that I was saying what I wanted to say, in the way I wanted to say it.

On Thursday, by chance, I saw that one of the kids that had been in my youth group when I was a youth minister many years ago had unfriended me on Facebook.  She popped into my head and I thought, hmmm, I wonder what Daisy is up to? When I got to her FB page, I saw the little +1 Add Friend rectangle on her profile.  I was a little shocked.  Not surprisingly, it is not my first FB unfriending, but it’s the one that stung the most.

Thursday, not long after discovering the information, I started working on a blog, also entitled, Dear Daisy.  That blog was an actual letter to her which sortof snarkily started off, “I guess you will probably never read this because most people who find my blog, find it through Facebook and ever since you unfriended me, I don’t now how you would even know to look for it.”  Like I said, I’ve revisited that original blog every day, tweaking it, but ultimately, it never felt right enough to publish.

I will tell you a little about Daisy.  She is a singer.  I remember not long after I was hired to be the youth minister at her church, one of the elderly ladies was telling me bits of information about all of the congregation’s young people.  I remember Velda Blagg saying, “And Daisy!  Daisy has the voice of an angel.”  And she did.  When Daisy sang a special in church, usually an Amy Grant song, it was something the entire congregation looked forward to hearing.  Most who have heard her sing would say that she has a God-given gift.

Another thing about Daisy that I think about fairly often is when her mother died suddenly while I was her youth minister.  Her mother was a force: magnetic, beautiful, sharp-witted, opinionated.  Also, she was a teacher.  Her death was one of the first lessons in how fragile life is and how everything can change permanently in an instant.  I marvelled at the poise with which Daisy handled her loss.  She was just weeks from going away to her freshman year of college, yet the Daisy I remember continued to lend support to her father and three younger brothers.  In college, she studied music, because she wanted to glorify God with her music.

We have not had a lot of contact since the time that I was her youth minister.  Even before FB entered all of our lives, she did know that I was gay.  I know that she is still very religious, but I’ve never known her to post anything anti-gay on FB.  Our FB messages were usually about light things, like dreaming of meeting up in New York to go see Broadway musicals together.

At one point in the last few days, I thought I knew why she unfriended me.  Since I’ve started this blog, I talk about a lot of different things. Granted, every word I write, it’s with the cognizance that my mother will probably read it, but I would give my blog a PG-13 rating.  And I talk a lot, A LOT, about being gay.  I wonder if it might be painful for Daisy to see how different I am from the man who was her minister, her pastor, at a very formative time in her life.  If I was a man who once made her love Jesus more, what am I now?

I thought about Daisy and the rest of the youth group quite a bit all weekend.  Something about the action, unlocked some memories that I hadn’t thought about in 20 years, sweet memories.   Yesterday, I posted a blog about a young voice teacher, roughly Daisy’s age, who got to sing on stage with Kristin Chenoweth at the Hollywood Bowl this weekend.  I included a link to her account on BroadwayWorld.com where at the end, she talked about walking to her car after the concert with her dad and him reminding her that he prayed 11 years ago that she would be able to sing with Kristin Chenoweth.  That touching moment made me think of the beaming pride that Daisy’s dad always had for her.  He was a stoic guy, but whenever Daisy sang, whether it be at church or concerts or pageants, he always shed more than a few tears.  He was and is the kind of guy who would pray for his daughter to sing with Kristin Chenoweth, or maybe Amy Grant.

Anyway, I am not angry that Daisy unfriended me.  I do hope that if she did not hear about Sarah Horn from me, that she heard about Sarah Horn from someone.  Those magical musical moments that I talked about yesterday, are something Daisy’s knows a lot about.  So, Daisy, if you ever read this, and I hope that someday you will, know that, Facebook friend or not, I will always love you.  

What Susan Said

1072354In the summer of 1992, I worked at a summer camp in Maine. In the first few days of being at the camp, I fell into a friendship with another counselor I’ll call Steven. Steven and I became fast friends, both Midwestern, both religious, both bespectacled. Steven was 19 and I was 22.

That summer, there was a Rich Mullins song that I often listened to on my CD Walkman called What Susan Said. It starts off, “Two lonely-eyed boys in a pick-up truck
And they’re drivin’ through the rain and the heat
And their skin’s so sweaty they both get stuck
To the old black vinyl seats
And it’s Abbott and Costello meet Paul and Silas
It’s the two of us together and we’re puttin’ on the mileage…” I felt like Rich Mullins had written this song just for me and Steven. We’d borrow his friend’s pickup and we’d go for drives. One day off, we drove from Maine, through New Hampshire, into Vermont and back to camp, talking about the kind of things two people talk about when their friendship is new. Over the course of two weeks, I felt like he was the best friend I’d ever had. I was, at this point, ostensibly straight. We talked about girls and God and I talked a lot about how I’d been a youth minister, just less than a year before. But one night, when we were sitting on the roof of the main bunk house, I told him something that had burdened me. I told him that I thought I was gay. He was the third person I ever told. He told me that he’d kind of been wondering if maybe I might be. Earlier in the summer, he told me that he’d had a friend who was bisexual and the way I’d asked a lot of questions about that guy stuck in his mind. When he did not freak out over the first piece of information, I told him that I thought I was in love with him. He was very quick to tell me that he was straight, that I knew that he liked Claire (one of the other counselors). He also started to cry. He told me that he thought I just wanted to be his friend. I don’t remember exactly how the conversation played out, but at the end, I did think that we would remain friends. As it turned out, we never really talked at length again. He called his mother to tell her about it and she told him that I was one of those gays that preyed on young men. (Again, he was 19, I was 22.) For the rest of the summer, he kept his distance. If the Rich Mullins song had affected me one way before my confession to Steven, I clung to it that much more after our friendship was severed. I’d listen to the song as I lay in bed at night, hoping and praying that I would either not be gay or that Steven would love me.

As it came to pass, neither prayer came true. When camp ended, I moved back to New York and began the process of coming out to myself. Steven was the last straight I guy that I fell for.

Rich Mullins was a singer that I saw a lot of when I was growing up. He would be at week-long youth conferences I attended, so besides being on stage, I witnessed the way he interacted with others. Long before I heard What Susan Said, before he even wrote it, I thought that perhaps Rich and I had something in common. (I have no validation of my theory.)
I’ve attached a YouTube video of the song. I’d hoped to find a version of Rich singing it in concert instead of the generic video I’m posting. If you ever attended a Rich Mullins concert, you know he had a gift. He was funny and serious, humble and arrogant, simple and erudite. There is another line in the song about how love is found in the things we have given up more than in the things we kept. I often wondered and still wonder if Rich Mullins had a Steven in his life. Someone must have inspired such an intimate song.

Years have passed since that summer. Rich Mullins died in 1997 in a tragic car accident. Some would think it ironic that a Christian song would have played such a reflective part in my own coming out process. But when I hear the song, it takes me back to those days when I was on the precipice of my journey to become the person I am today. And Steven, I sometimes wonder what happened to him, but I hope that if I ever come into his mind, as the final words of “our” song say, I hope he’ll have the strength to just remember, I’m still his friend.

Blogger Ray Barnhart

Image

So, something interesting happened after I posted one of my recents blogs, The Truth about Paul which I’d written about an incident that took place while I was in Bible College. I was kind of proud of it and yesterday morning, I thought I would send it to the gay news website, Towleroad.com. I did not have a lot of expectations, I just thought, just send the link, who knows what could happen.

I could lie to you and say that I completely forgot about sending it, but the truth is, all morning, I kept checking the statistics on my blog. If you are a blogger, you know about statistics pages. They tell you how many views you’ve received, which of your posts are getting the most traffic, what countries are viewing you, what links led people to you blog, etc., etc. If you are a blogger, I hope you are a more rational, less obsessive compulsive individual than myself. Because I am obsessed with my stats page.

When I started this blog a few weeks ago, I told myself the blog was for me. I wanted to write about the subjects and post the pictures and videos that appealed to me, what I would want to read if I was reading a blog. That’s what I told myself. And I’ve been pleased with the following my little blog has collected along the way. I’ve received some nice compliments, I’ve interacted with a few members of the wordpress blog community. I’ve also felt a pride that I’ve been writing. I am not the greatest writer and I think of myself as an even worse editor, but I’ve started to see possibilities in my writing that I had not seen previously.

Anyway, getting back to yesterday. At one point in the morning, I checked my stats and I had 115 views, which is good for me. Anything over 100 is always good. I knew that that traffic came from my friend Alan who has 2,373 friends on facebook who had reposted the piece with a kind endorsement. Alan is one of those special people who remembers meeting every person who comes into his path, kind of like Marilu Henner, but likeable. Anyway, at about 11:00 am, I had 115 views and then at 11:15, I checked again and I had 345. Something was up. I went to the Towleroad website and sure enough, they had pasted a link to my blog in an article about Daniel Dobson, the man who was the springboard for my post. : “Daniel Dobson, son of prominent West Michigan minister, talks about being a gay Christian. “It’s morally right for me to do it. I feel I have something good to contribute to the conversation, something positive.” Blogger Ray Barnhart offers a response to Dobson’s disclosure.” ( http://www.towleroad.com/2013/05/news-20.html#ixzz2V10D0hBt) They referred to me as BLOGGER RAY BARNHART!

I was so excited and of course, I spent the rest of the day checking my stats every 6 seconds. It kept ticking up until it petered out this afternoon. In 24 hours, my blog had 1400 views, an easilycrestfallen record. I can now say that someone in Iceland has read my blog. (Þakka þér, nýja vini!) It was exhilerating, then exhausting and then it gave way to depressing. It was this little bright spot in my day, my year actually. And now I feel the way I always felt on the Sunday after my town’s yearly Fall festival, Neewollah ended. The carnival came, we ate the jaffles, we crowned the queen, we listened to the Oak Ridge Boys, and now it’s over. I guess I should be happier, but there are reasons why I call my blog easilycrestfallen.

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.

 

A Few Words With Amy Grant

images-2

A Few Words With Amy Grant

From the moment I heard Lorrie Mullins sing “My Father’s Eyes” at Hidden Haven Church Camp, I loved Amy Grant. My first concert was Amy Grant’s “Age to Age” tour in Tulsa, Oklahoma. My fourth (second and third were The Imperials and Michael W. Smith/Petra, respectively) concert was Amy Grant’s “Unguarded” tour at Sandstone in Kansas City, where I made my best friend Missy mad by making out with a girl from Topeka that I met. One of my signature songs that I used to always sing at churches was “Arms of Love.” Amy Grant was a VERY big part of my youth, and I still love her as an adult. If it had been up to me, Three Wishes would still be on television. This interview (linked above) has been touted as Amy’s first interview with the gay press. It’s an interesting read, whether you are gay or Christian or a gay Christian, or even if you are the kind of person who says there is no such thing as a gay Christian. I’m not going to dissect the interview here, I just wanted to share it.