Imagine you had a time machine and were able to gather the following men:
A caveman drawing a buffalo on the walls of the Lascaux Caves in 15,000 B.C.
A 17-year-old grunge kid at a Pearl Jam concert in Seattle in 1991
A soldier overseeing wild animals in the basement of the Roman Colosseum in the 2nd century A.D.
An accountant working at an advertising firm in New York's Flatiron Building in 1952
An emperor during China's Ming Dynasty in the 1500s
An Italian Renaissance painter living in Verona in 1340
A fighter pilot for England's Royal Air Force flying a mission over Berlin in 1940
A computer programmer working at Microsoft's Redmond headquarters in 1986
A horse-mounted soldier in Genghis Khan's murderous Mongolian horde of the 13th century
Now, imagine putting all these men in the same room. They couldn't communicate and they'd have virtually nothing in common . . .
Until . . .
A pretty lady walks into the room.
In a moment, all the heads would swivel in the same direction, and all the men would simultaneously gaze at the beauty of that woman. Despite their differences, they'd be quietly unified with a shared appreciation for the female form. Across all places and all times, men can sit together and all agree on at least this one thing.
Because of its near universality, heterosexuality is one of the most unifying forces in all of humanity.
Think about it . . .
Humans divide ourselves in a thousand different ways—ethnicity, nationality, skin color, religion, language, dialect, hobbies, traditions, sports, income level, education level, caste level, party affiliation, and on and on and on. Research reveals that about 95-97 percent of the human population self-identifies as heterosexual. And that straight experience, because it is nearly universal, makes its way into every crack of our lives—dating culture, office conversation, music, TV, family life, everything. I don't know if it's true, but I've heard it said that 85 percent of all songs ever written are about love. Love! And, based off years of observation, they ain't talkin' about the gay kind.
And of course, there's nothing wrong with all this. Most of us got here because of straight people. In fact, I'm super-glad my parents were straight. 😜
But . . .
Imagine being a 13-year-old, 16-year-old, or 19-year-old boy growing up in Alabama.
Imagine missing that one key piece of your humanity and what that would feel like.
It's a slow terror. And once you are gripped by that fear, a glowing red-hot brand ascends from the depths of the earth, up through rock and soil, and bursts forth to sear three black words right onto your heart . . .
Part of being young and gay is the feeling of being broken, of being trapped inside a fleshy machine that is inexplicably flawed. And you have no idea why.
Sexuality is a function of that machine, and the culture teaches us early on how that function is supposed to work. In my case . . .
Date one girl.
Marry that girl.
Have children with that girl.
Live happily ever after.
Even very young kids understand this cycle. Discovering that you are gay is a slow, gradually-dawning, torturous unveiling. It's the ever-increasing awareness that step No. 1 isn't working. Girls aren't catching your eye like they are for everyone else. And, to make matters worse, the thing that IS catching your eye (boys) is the exact opposite of what it should be.
Like I said . . . trapped in a broken machine . . .
Like a NASCAR driver with four flat tires and a broken clutch.
Like a lone skier trapped in a stalled out gondola with no one for miles around.
Like a submarine operator with water rising around his ankles.
This is how it can feel early on. This is why so many gay kids struggle so much.
Life goes on, and the thoughts intensify . . .
Something's definitely not right here. Why aren't I . . . ? Why can't I . . . ? What's wrong with me? Why? Why? Why?
Before a gay person sets about fixing the broken machine, they will first obsess over how the machine got broken.
With no known source of the brokenness and nowhere to place the blame, the burden of WHY often lands in the same place: ME.
The brokenness originates with ME. It is baked into ME. It was crafted into my design—a manufacturing error. My inner life is fundamentally flawed. Therefore I am fundamentally flawed.
And when these thoughts begin, the first seeds of shame are planted.
Of course, these won't be the first. It will be the first of hundreds, of thousands.
As you move through the seasons of life, your brokenness, your differentness, your weirdness all become sharper, more pronounced.
Dark thoughts help germinate the seeds. And dark thoughts can morph into self-hate, the fertilizer. And like kudzu, once shame is set loose, it takes over.
Velvet Rage is like a bible for gay men. I don't mean that in a sacrilegious way. I just mean that the book has helped lots of men understand themselves, to understand why they think how they think. Alan Downs, the author, is a psychologist who has counseled thousands of gay men and uncovered what makes us tick. He writes,
The wound is the trauma caused by exposure to overwhelming shame at an age when you weren’t equipped to cope with it. An emotional wound caused by toxic shame is a very serious and persistent disability that has the potential to literally destroy your life. It is much more than just a poor self-image. It is the internalized and deeply held belief that you are somehow unacceptable, unlovable, shameful, and in short, flawed.
This is what I mean: The perception of a broken machine, a broken body.
He continues . . .
The nonacceptance of your body is yet one more expression of the internal shame. The apparent motive for body building is to achieve a beautiful physique; however, the underlying motive is to relieve shame.
Downs suggest that upon believing their bodies are broken, some gay men will compensate for it by making their bodies beautiful, an attempt to "unbreak" the machine by making it pretty on the outside.
And what's the opposite of shame? Pride. Gay pride. 🌈
I've heard people jokingly say, "Why don't we have a straight pride month?"
Because being straight doesn't come with the embedded curse of overwhelming shame; that's not part of the package. Oh, straight people can acquire shame in tons of other ways, but it's different. It doesn't feel baked into your biology as it does with a gay person.
This. All this. Everything you just read?
I didn't know any of that in college. I only learned it after years and years of boiling in my own shame every day.
In college, I was acutely aware of my attraction to men. I felt something inside of me was broken. And what do you do with something that's broken?
You set about fixing it.
To me, God's opinion on the matter was clear:
Homosexuality is not okay. It's not God's best for you. It's a path to destruction and sadness. The machine is broken, but with God, all things are possible. The Bible says that, Brett.
All through college, I believed this same-sex attraction would eventually go away and be replaced with a full throttle attraction to women. Why? Because Christians believe in this idea called sanctification. In the simplest terms, sanctification is God doing his thing to make you a holier person. He's the one driving it, but we co-participate in the process through the spiritual disciplines—prayer, Bible study, worship, fellowship with other believers, fasting, etc. Most Christians would agree that that feeling of brokenness is true. We are all, in fact, spiritually broken. We all need fixing. And the fixer—the reviver of broken, dead hearts—is Jesus.
Those spiritual disciplines were a major part of my life all through college.
I got very involved in a college ministry called Campus Outreach. One of their staff guys, Olan, mentored me for three years. And through it all, I believed:
Brett, if you chase God hard enough, you can beat this thing. The desire of your heart is to like women. God will grant you that. Just be patient, and stay focused on Him.
And I knew what that meant: No dating. No guys. No hookups.
And I stayed true to that all through college.
With no dating + enough Jesus in my life I was confident I could beat this thing into submission.
I was confident that the broken machine could be fixed. The rust would fall away, the cracks would suture up, the scuffs would polish out, and the wheels would slowly creak back to life. This machine would rise . . .
Like the lepers.
Like Peter's severed ear.
Jesus healed tons of people in the Scriptures. And I knew He'd heal me too . . . 👊
B.B.P.S. - I was 💀 after reading my mom's hilarious comment after Episode 12. Love her. 😂
B.B.P.P.S. - The images from this episode are from an old piece of machinery from the 135-year-old cotton mill where I live. Sterling Graves is the mastermind behind all these great images, and if you haven't checked out his work yet, you should.
B.T. Harman is the creator of Blue Babies Pink, a Southern Coming Out Story in 44 Episodes.
B.T. is a consultant, writer, and speaker living in Atlanta's historic Cabbagetown neighborhood. He was previously a vice president for Booster, an Atlanta fundraising company, where he helped the organization raise $150 million for elementary schools.
B.T. is passionate about storytelling, leadership, good design, Seth Godin, SEC football, Chick-fil-A, Taylor Swift, archaeology, European Travel and CS Lewis.
To learn more about B.T., visit his personal site at btharman.com.