|- Tyler Connor Missionary Kid||
Date: Mon, 17 Aug 1998 18:09:36 -0500
Since I never introduced myself to the group when I started hanging out on this list (and I've recently found out I should have), I thought I'd take the time to do so now. Sorry if this is overkill, I didn't have anything to use as a model, so I just wrote until I felt like I was done. :-)
My name is Tyler Connor. In B-A parlance I'm Side-A. But, how I came to be Side-A is a long and complicated story -- as I'm sure it is for most everyone on this list.
Here's my story, so far:
My parent's are missionaries with the Wesleyan church, so I spent most of my formative years outside the United States. I've lived in Zambia, South Korea, the Philippines, and all the west coast states. I currently live in Indiana, where I've lived longer than I have anywhere in my life.
For those of you who may not know, the Wesleyan church is one of the groups born out of the Methodist movement, started by John Wesley in England. (The Wesleyans actually split from the Methodist Church over the issue of slavery -- the Wesleyans were abolitionists.) The church is Evangelical-Christian and firmly grounded in the holiness tradition. This means they believe the Christian experience must include holy living, which is said to include things like not smoking, not drinking, and not going with girls who do. In Wesleyan theology holiness is only possible through of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
My upbringing as a Wesleyan missionary's kid had two important impacts on my intellectual and spiritual development. The first was a dogmatic conviction that Christianity contained the only correct rules for living, and that the Wesleyan church had the most Biblical theology of any Christian denomination. The second was a tempering of this dogmatism with the idea that Christianity must mold itself to the needs of different cultures, and that others' cultural values have equal value with my own.
I had an idyllic (and in many ways privileged) childhood. My parents love each other and did a good job combining love with reasonable boundaries. They also did a good job making my sister and me feel like we were a part of the decision-making process. (For example: when we moved to Korea from Zambia, it was only after my parents asked my sister and me to pray about it and make sure it was God's will for us, as well as for them.) I think because of this, I haven't experienced the feelings of neglect and bitterness often associated with being an MK. To the contrary, I've always felt incredibly blessed -- and a little guilty -- that my life was so good, in comparison with many other people's lives.
Now to the issue of my sexual orientation, and how I came to accept it:
Like many gay people, I can point to lots of childhood and adolescent experiences that make me think I've always had same-gender attractions. I remember having crushes on boys in elementary school, and I had one particularly strong crush in high school. I also remember reading men's fashion magazines in junior high and high school (when my hormones started raging), scanning the pages for underwear ads, and cute men in running shorts.
However, because of my dogmatic faith, it wasn't until I was in college that I acknowledged these attractions. My worldview didn't include the possibility of same-gender attractions (homosexuality was something wicked men did together, not something they felt), so I simply denied those feelings in myself. I did, however, acknowledge that I wasn't attracted to women. I remember being concerned that I wasn't aroused by the naked women in fashion magazines, or by the numerous scantily-clad girls backstage at our school fashion shows (I majored in fashion design in high school -- in California) . I even began to believe I was asexual, and identified myself as such to people.
I didn't date in high school, and when I got to college I determined that, as an asexual person, finding a spouse would be a matter of intellectually finding a woman who fit my goals and interests, and then marrying her. In 1991, I met a wonderful girl who seemed to fit all my criteria. Although we never talked about dating, we were best friends and did everything together. We even talked about the fact that everyone thought we were dating. (I went to a small Christian University, so if you were seen twice with a girl you were engaged by rumor.) By Christmas we were at that place in the relationship where we both knew we were going to have to label ourselves -- "either we're dating or we're not." So, without saying anything, we both determined to pray about it over Christmas break.
Now, this is where the story may sound a little unbelievable to some people. One night, while I was praying intensely about what the rest of my life entailed, and whether this girl was part of God's plan for me, I heard an audible voice say, "You can't date her, you like boys." (I called people my age girls and boys.) Now, I don't know if that was God, or my unconscious, or some other spirit, but it came as both a complete shock and an incredible revelation to me.
Thankfully, God also told my friend that we shouldn't date, and we remain close friends to this day. But, I still had to deal with the feelings I now knew I had. So, I did what any good Evangelical Christian would do, I went into Christian therapy.
The first thing my counselor did was go down the checklist of behaviors he usually helped people modify. "Do you have compulsive sex with men? Do you ever participate in anonymous sex?" The list was long, and ended with "Have you ever even been with a man?!? Well, then, what about pornography?" When I answered no to all his questions, he responded with, "Tyler, I don't think you're really gay. I think you're just confused." So, I quietly reminded him that we'd begun the conversation with me stating that I was attracted to men and wasn't attracted to women. He didn't know how to respond; he had only ever thought in terms of modifying sexual behavior.
Over the next two years I went to three different Christian counselors who didn't know what to do with me; I also read a lot of ex-gay literature that didn't apply, in any way, to my experience. I soon figured out that conservative Christianity had no way of dealing with a well-adjusted gay virgin who loved God, had a happy childhood, and exhibited no apparent social or emotional problems. I remember my last counselor saying, "Tyler, you're just the sort of man I'd want for a son." The implication of his comment was that he liked me as I was and didn't think I needed to change. But, he still believed my sexual attractions were unhealthy and that I needed to be healed from them.
Slowly, over the course of those two years, I drifted away from church. I'd been very active in a local Wesleyan church, but found it harder and harder to feel comfortable in an environment that seemed to foster disbelief in my very existence. Finally, at the end of 1993, I gave up on Christianity altogether, and stopped going to church completely. But, I knew I couldn't believe in the non-existence of the Creator, so I determined to find another way, another religion. I also determined to hold off on dating until I had a better grasp on who I was and where I was headed -- I didn't want to subject anyone else to the chaos and uncertainty of my life.
The next two years were dark and lonely. I graduated from college and worked as a waiter, because I couldn't deal with the stress of finding a career job and recreating my world at the same time. I spent a lot of time reading about other religions and talking to friends about religion. I also began networking with other gay people and reading more gay-friendly literature, but my main focus was on finding my spiritual bearings -- I figured after I did that I'd be more capable of dealing with my sexuality.
To make a long story short (or shorter), I eventually realized that I could not separate myself from the Judeo-Christian tradition to which I'd been raised. All my experiences with the Creator made me believe there must be One God who is both intelligent and attendant to the needs of creation. I dabbled with Islam and Judaism (mostly through reading), and finally returned to Jesus by way of the Historical Jesus Movement.
When I did return to the teachings of Jesus, I found that it wasn't the original teachings I disagreed with, but the way in which those teachings had been applied by contemporary Christians. Moving into a study of Christianity so shortly after studying Judaism brought into focus the connections between Jesus and his Jewish culture. (A connection which hadn't been emphasized in the Evangelical-Christian churches I'd been raised in.) I discovered the incredible power of the message "God with us" when contrasted to the Hebrew experience of knowing God through the Law. (And in contrast to my Christian experience of knowing God through a Salvation checklist.)
Since then, I've found comfort, wisdom, and guidance from the Spirit of God at work in my life. And, I daily rediscover that Jesus indeed had a special handle on the character and nature of God and the character and nature of humankind. I also find that his teachings make a good lens through which to view the rest of scripture, and the rest of life. I don't claim to understand everything about God. But, I trust that if I remain honest with myself and with God and open to new ideas, then the Spirit of God will guide me into the truth I need to live well.
I've also finally internalized the truth that the entire Law and Prophets can be summed up in the two commandments, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself." As a result, I no longer worry about following a list of holiness codes, because I recognize that the two greatest commandments exemplify a higher standard, applicable to every situation (even the ones that wouldn't have been thinkable 2000 or even 200 years ago).
On the romantic front, I do hope to find a husband someday. But, in the meantime, I'm just enjoying life, getting to know God better, and experiencing loving (and honest) relationships with friends and family. I'm glad for how the Creator made me, and I'm excited to see where God takes me from here.
That's my story. For those of you who made it this far, thanks for reading such a long e-mail.
I welcome any comments, questions, or conclusions.
text © 1998 Tyler
Do not quote from this document, or excerpt passages,
in print media.
Web pages may quote excerpts if there is an accompanying hypertext link to the original document on this site.