I used to go to church every Sunday. My parents raised me in the American Baptist setting, which meant that I was forced out of my warm bed early every Sunday morning, wearing shirts with collars that made my neck itch, and black dress pants that soaked up the humid California heat. Being the church organist, my mom was connected to a lot of posh, proper Christian people. Every Sunday, I had many older people come up to me and strike up conversations about how big I’d grown, or how cute my blonde hair was, or, the most annoying of all, how much I resembled that one kid from the early Home Alone movies. Sunday morning was full of singing children’s hymns, learning Bible stories through Velcro puppets as the Sunday school teacher taught us how important it was to love one another no matter what, and wondering what was for lunch after the long talk from the pastor in big church. After the church pastor lectured about boring adult things, my mom would lecture me and my siblings separately at home.
“There are three things I will not tolerate. Killing someone. Doing drugs. And Homosexuality,” my mom would scold.
That last word shocked me, because it was so rare to have any version of the word sex spoken in my house, and I was also attracted to boys. I’d always attach myself to the characters that you’d typically see on the cover of Teen Beat Magazine. My childhood fantasies always stayed fairly innocent. I’d sometimes imagine that Jonathan Taylor Thomas and I were best friends, and he’d call me on the phone to chat about how cool the new Super Nintendo was: “Can you believe that controller? It has four buttons; what are we going to do with all of those?” We’d laugh, and simulate wars with the G.I. Joe action figures that had been passed down to me from my older brothers, and he’d compliment the tactics that I had stolen from the Power Rangers when they narrowly defeated the latest monster Rita Repulsa created in the latest episode. Sex was a risqué topic, something I knew not to bring up, and if it was mentioned, it would make my mother’s face turn bright red as she tripped over her words while trying to change the subject.
Thanks to my close-minded parents, I learned about sex on my own for the first time in Junior High School. The faculty gathered all the boys of my grade into the cafeteria and had us sit in a cluster on the cold-and-always-dirty-checkered tile floor while the teachers played a video about puberty that contained some words that made all us boys giggle. The teachers had to keep telling us to “Quiet down.” They awkwardly tried to describe natural “urges” we might have, and we should talk to our parents about how to handle them, but I knew deep down that wasn’t a possibility. There was no chance of bringing that subject up in my house.
I was twenty years old when I started to date boys, and the pressure of sneaking around to see them started to become cumbersome. I knew one day my mom would ask a question I hadn’t prepared an excuse for.
“Who are you going to the mall with?” she’d ask.
“Just a friend I met at work,” I’d always reply, my heart beating rather fast. I was terrified of getting found out. What if she decided to ship me off to one of those horrible reform camps I’d read about on the internet? What if she kicked me out? No, I decided. She wouldn’t kick me out. The church teaches us to love and accept one another, I thought. I was lying to myself and my family, and I couldn’t have that. I decided it was time to come clean.
I wrote her a note in the afternoon while I was getting dressed for my job at the local Mervyns. My hand shook uncontrollably while I wrote, the letters turned wonky, as if a child had written them.
I don’t know how to tell you this, but I can’t lie about it
anymore. I like boys, not girls. Please don’t hate me.
I didn’t choose to be this way.
I folded up the note, walked into the kitchen, opened the fridge and packed myself a meal, my mind racing as I wondered if I would still have a home once I got off work. Looking at the trash can, I seriously considered ripping the note into a hundred tiny pieces and throwing it out. I wrote the note; I couldn’t chicken out now. Note in one hand, meal in the other, and spare clothes in my backpack, I walked out the front door, stuck the note under the wiper blade of her blue Toyota Corolla, and started anxiously walking down the street to work.
It was an agonizing eight hours at work. I folded t-shirts, picked up shoes, and awkwardly smiled at customers in the failing store. I was walking home from work at a super slow pace, passing by the homeless man on the side of the mall. I couldn’t help but wonder if he had any room in his sagging cardboard box for a homeless gay man. I got lost in the worst-case scenario, as my feet did most of the work.
Before I even realized it, I was standing at my front door. I took a deep breath and walked in the house. I heard the clanging of pots and pans coming from the kitchen. As I walked by, I saw my mother with yellow cleaning gloves on, scrubbing the shelf where the pots and pans lived. She was scrubbing so hard that I worried she might snap the wooden shelf in half. I walked down the hall to my room, closed the door, and turned on my computer and sat down at my desk.
There was an email from my college pastor. My heart pounded as I opened it.
Your mom called me this afternoon.
Oh, perfect. My mother’s being gossipy. Now the whole church probably knows. I continued reading.
I just want you to know that I care about you, and want the best for you, no matter what. Being gay is not something the Bible teaches, and I hope we can work through this so you can be happy. Best, Troy.
I stared at the email as my mom pounded on my door.
“Come in,” I answered.
She came in and sat on the bed, my note in her hand. I turned to face her, hand in my lap.
“Ummm,” my mom started. “I don’t know what to say about this. How can you like boys?”
“I don’t know, mom. I just know that I like boys, and not girls like I’m supposed to.”
“How can we fix this?” my mom asked.
“I don’t think there is anything to fix, mom; I’m not broken,” I said.
“You know I won’t tolerate gay stuff in my house,” she scolded.
“I’m aware. There isn’t any ‘gay stuff’ happening in your house,” I replied, my voice becoming firmer.
“You are gay, and I can’t have gay stuff in my house, so you have to leave,” my mom ordered, her voice breaking a little.
“Where am I supposed to go?”
“Stay in your room tonight, but you’ll have to live in the garage starting tomorrow,” she offered, and stood up and walked out without looking at me. I sat there wondering how someone who loved me could just toss me aside because she didn’t like one part about me. My eyes started to tear up at the realization that I was being kicked out for being gay. My mother was casting me out like I had some disease.
A few years later, my mom called me to ask why I’m not going to church.
“Christians are hypocritical,” I replied.
“Not all of them are. Some of us still follow the teachings of Jesus,” she said as I rolled my eyes. I have had a strained relationship with my mother since I came out, and an even more strained relationship with Christians since that day.
“Christians don’t like gay people, mom,” I said. “I can have my belief without going to the holy temple of judgment every Sunday.”
“It would just be nice to see you back at church,” she said, as if that was all that mattered to her.
I hadn’t been back at church because I knew what would have been waiting for me there. I would have walked into the church sanctuary, a place intended for welcome and refuge, and been met with scorn and judgment. I knew that no one there would understand. I knew that no one there would be on my side. The older people who had mistaken me for that kid from Home Alone wouldn’t have been as kind as they once were. Their noses would upturn at the sight of me. Their backs would turn toward me, just like my mother’s had when I told her I was gay.
“You know, you never ask me about my love life,” I told my mother.
“Well, you know, that’s not something that I’m, uhhh, well,” she started to stammer.
“You know what, I’m done trying. I’m your son, and I’m gay. If you can’t accept this and be a part of my personal life, then you have no business being my mother. Call me when you’re ready to talk, like, really talk,” and I hung up on her.
It’s been eleven years, and I am still waiting for a call back.
Writer: Marty Allee is a Fullerton College student, majoring in English. He currently works as a bartender at Disneyland. He loves to watch cheesy sci-fi shows and play board games. He can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. This is his first published piece.
Artist: Andres Martinez was born in Mexico City and is inspired by the people of his home country. He has adopted Chicano arte and has come up with his unique style. Through murals, drawings and paintings, he relates the message of struggle, achievements, and common people. Andres commemorates and emphasizes the struggles and existence of the gente that he portrays. With these portraits, he would like his audience to not only admire but ponder who these everyday people are and what stories they have to tell.