As the sun slowly rises above the river
I look out over all that God has made
Listen as the day starts to awaken
I thank God for things that never change
I can hear her laughing in the kitchen
And the sounds of little footsteps on the stairs
I’ve got all I’ll ever need: a wife, a home, a family
And I thank God for all those answered prayers
Dave Barnes, Good (full video below if you care to watch)
By 2010, I was a 28-year-old man who'd never been on a date.
Most of my peers had over a decade of experience by then—dating, falling in love, making mistakes, having their hearts broken. Many of them had gotten married. Many of them were preparing to have their first kids.
I had no idea what love was, well . . . at least the romantic kind. In that season of life, I had lots of people who loved me, lots of close friendships with both guys and girls. I've always said that God's biggest grace to me in that season was being surrounded by community—layers of friendships from high school, college, work, and more.
But I also was aware that romantic love was something altogether different from these friendships . . . at least that was my sense. I didn't know.
I think the capacity to love and be loved is something that only comes through experience.
Love has to be done. Love has to be tried. I don't think you can understand romantic love by reading about it or even watching it. I say this, because I tried.
Another little Lonely Practice I had back then was going to a movie by myself.
I only did it a couple of times, usually when I was feeling really blue. One of the movies I went to was a movie called The Last Song, and it was based on the book by romance novelist Nicholas Sparks. I've never loved romantic movies. Still don't. In fact, my favorite movies are ones where some outside force is attacking earth, and it can only be saved by Will Smith in a flightsuit.
But back then I was trying to figure out what love was, so I went to a couple of romantic movies. Love wasn't for me, but the whole world was obsessed with it, so I needed to at least try to understand it. So I chose The Last Song because it was a Nicholas Sparks movie, and tons of girl friends were obsessed with Nicholas Sparks. He was the king of romance. I also chose that one because I liked Miley Cyrus (pre-crazy) and Liam Hemsworth . . . for obvious reasons.
I had to be very covert. Back then, I didn't do anything that would be perceived as gay.
And a single, 28-year-old guy at a Nicholas Sparks movie alone was suspect. I went to the late showing at a theater near my apartment in Dunwoody. I snuck in during the previews with a baseball cap pulled low over my eyes. I sat on the back row, hoping to goodness I didn't see anyone I knew. If I'd had a fake mustache, I probably would have worn it too.
The movie was okay—fairly cheesy—but about as I expected.
After lots of drama, Miley and Liam got together. I watched it all very closely.
I watched how they fell in love, how they talked to each other, how they hugged and kissed, how they worked through their conflict. This seems very silly now, but watching real people this intensely is called stalking. This was a much better alternative.
Back then, I watched romantic movies like a scientist, like a researcher studying gorillas.
Unable to become a gorilla, he can only hope to understand them through intense observation. Clipboard in hand, he takes notes on their family patterns, their coupling behavior, their social dynamics. He watches them groom each other and care for their young.
It felt academic almost—sitting in that theater trying to understand this thing humans call love, trying to understand this part of being human I would likely never know.
In that night's experiment, Miley and Liam were my little gorillas, Nicholas Sparks was their trainer, and Hollywood was their cage. Not sure how helpful it was, but it was better than nothing.
The credits rolled and I snuck out the back quickly. No one saw me.
I've said before that I don't think sexuality has to define a gay person. Some allow it to, and to each his own. But that was just never for me.
The challenge, however, is that sexuality is the gateway to all the things that matter in life. Sexuality is the gateway to all the things that bring meaning and joy to the definition of you. Think about it . . .
Ask anyone, "What's the most important thing in the world to you?" They will often say their spouse, their children, or their parents. If they're religious, they may list that, but family is usually in the number one spot. Everything else—especially material possessions—are a distant second. And you don't get families—mommies and daddies and kids and grandparents—without sex. This is what i mean when I say that sexuality is the gateway to all the things that matter in life.
This leads to one of the greatest challenges of being gay and Christian—a very-present desire for companionship and family.
This desire is endemic to your physiology. It's baked into you. It's inherent in your psychology, and it doesn't fade easily.
I think one of the beautiful things about God's design for marriage and family is that it gives people a sense of their future. It gives them a script and a "track" for their lives . . .
As humans move through adolescence, they begin to date.
Then they fall in love with a particular someone which leads to engagement, which leads to marriage.
Marriage often leads to children which is its own lifelong adventure.
Then there is retirement—the good years!—with your spouse by your side.
And at some point, grandchildren come along which bring a whole new kind of joy in those twilight years of life.
Of course I'm generalizing here, and there are lots of tracks through life, but this track seems to be the preferred one for kids like me who grew up in the South. Even as a 20 -or 30-year-old, you can peer down that track—into your 60s and 70s—and know what's coming. It doesn't matter that it might not turn out that way. It matters that in your mind it is likely, safe, predictable. And most humans love those three things.
Back then, I was slowly, sadly figuring all this out.
I was peering into my future and saw no track, no script—just darkness. I was on some other weird track, but it felt like the one Jesus wanted me on. I didn't know anyone else on this unknown track, traveling life as a chronically single, same-sex attracted Christian. Oh, books would be written, but they weren't out yet. I was going to have to figure this thing out alone.
And the first part to figure out was that I was destined to be alone, and that I needed to let go of the idea of having a family.
And this was tough, because I was surrounded by amazing families. I worked with lots of great husbands and lots of great wives, great moms and dads. I had fraternity brothers who'd grown up, gotten jobs, and were starting families of their own. And every visit to Facebook reminded me of the life that wasn't for me . . .
Of diamond rings and sweaty palms . . .
Of smiling engagement photos at the park . . .
Of awkward rehearsal dinner speeches, teary I Do's, and sparkler tunnels of cheering friends . . .
Of falling asleep next to one who knows you . . .
Of a wife well-missed on a work trip . . .
And the subtle joy of being missed.
Of big kitchen hugs after long days at work,
And neighborhood walks at dusk with fingers laced . . .
Of soft kisses that lead to love well made . . .
And the miracle of life.
Of the mystery of a box with blue or pink balloons,
And the backyard celebration of discovering which . . .
Of wobbly first steps and clumsy first words . . .
Of sleeping toddlers under bedside lamps,
And a tip-toeing mom with iPhone in hand: "You are deeply loved, little one."
Of curly-headed daughters in carseats and pink stickers on the windows . . .
Of brown-headed sons with nets, catching crabs on beaches under moonlit tides . . .
Of first days of school,
And all-out sprints from yellow buses into open arms on front porches . . .
Of corndog nights and Taco Tuesdays . . .
Of thumb-wrestling matches and letting the little one win . . .
Of cheerleader try-outs and football practices . . .
Of first dates and waiting by the door till curfew's up . . .
Of caps and gowns and college and engagements,
And starting the whole process over again.
A lot of married people slog through this stuff, even complaining about it sometimes. I hear them.
And, from what I understand, marriage isn't all roses and unicorns. It's tough, my married friends tell me. And raising kids is hard too. I get that.
But I would have killed for any of it back then. I would have done anything to just not be alone, to have at least 1% of hope that I wouldn't feel like this forever. And people who have felt hopeless before know that 1% of hope is a whole lot of hope. That's all I needed, but the Bible was clear. I had to figure out life without it.
So much of my narrative back then was simply one of Loss.
I had been clinging to the hope that some miracle might still happen, that I could be "normal" and follow the same track as everyone else. My career slowly began to pick back up, and I was making new friends in Atlanta. I had everything in life I wanted, almost. Like something on a shelf that's just a tad too high, the life I wanted was just out of reach.
A lot of people long for love.
The aching for companionship, marriage, and family is not unique to gay people. But I was staring at life without the option of love, without the option of family. Longing for something that may or may not come is painful, but longing for something that has no chance of coming is a different kind of pain.
I was learning how to close my heart off to love.
It was a process of letting go . . . of closing that door on the part of my heart that wanted a family. But it was happening over time, like the slow-motion slamming of a door. And it's the slow knowing that when that door slams on romantic love, it also slams on family.
Or does it?
An investigation was about to begin. 👊
All photos by Sterling Graves. Copyright Blue Babies Pink & Sterling Graves.
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.