By 2012, my plan for living without love was on. Adventure and community were my paths, and I was happy with that. Letting go of the dream of companionship and family was one of best decisions I'd made.
I've always thought the weirdest commandment was the tenth one. That's the one about not coveting your neighbor's wife or house or donkey or boat or Instagram photos.
Coveting—wanting someone else's thing very badly—just never seemed that bad to me . . . sort of like a victimless sin. Besides, in America, we just call that marketing.
But it was around this time in my life where that commandment started making sense.
Coveting is like a self-hosted torture clinic.
Peering out of our skulls into a technicolor world of glittery objects, our eyes seize onto something we wish we had.
And then we torture ourselves—lingering, longing, pining, aching—for something we can't have and may not even need. It's like strapping yourself down to one of those medieval torture racks, reaching for the crank, and spinning that thing like crazy. It's quite painful, but we've been doing it since we were very small, so . . . meh.
Of course the problem with this is that when you're torturing yourself, you can't love God. You can't love others. You can't serve people around you. It's just you and a dungeon and that damn machine, constantly reminding you of what you can't have.
This was my every day. I'd tortured myself about the loss of family for so long, I was bloody and bruised. So when I decided to stop and get off that machine, it felt very good.
The no-coveting commandment makes sense to me now because letting go of things we can't have is freeing. And God wants us to be free very much.
I'd like to say that I spent all this new, extra time pursuing nobler things, but alas, I am human.
Work was going great for me back then, so I invested even more time there. Our company had weathered the economic crash from a few years earlier, and we were growing quickly. What started as just three of us at an Applebee's booth was now several hundred employees scattered around the country. I was the head of our marketing and creative team, and I'd hired a few new team members. I didn't have much "work-life balance," but I didn't care. We were building a business, and I was having fun with it.
Around that time, I got really into antiques. I know . . . gay men + antiques = major stereotype. I own it fully.
I've always had a weird infatuation with old things. When I was a kid I was obsessed with dinosaurs and wanted to be an archaeologist . . .
In middle school, I hunted for Indian arrowheads with my dad—our own little father-son obsession.
In high school, I'd rather watch the History Channel than MTV.
Even now, I live in one of the oldest buildings in Atlanta, a 135-year-old cotton mill converted into lofts. I just love old.
Give me ancient, vintage, broken, and crumbling over new, plastic, perfect, and polished any day of the week.
I'll take yard sales . . . you can have your IKEA. No judgment . . . that's just me.
When I first got into antiques, I was a total addict.
That's because antiques are amazing.
You go into any normal retail store and it's aisle after aisle of mass-produced crap. Antique stores are like fingerprints in that they are all unique. The inventory is always changing and you never, and I mean never, run out of surprises. Where else can you find a set of wooden dentures, an 18th-century vampire-slaying kit, a terrifying doll with cornhusk hair, and a pair of snowshoes from Siberia?
The answer: not West Elm.
I studied how the antique industry worked. I studied pricing and the antique "supply chain"—estate sales, yard sales, dealers, retail shops, eBay, and Craigslist.
I also discovered that antique dealers will do anything to make a sale, often writing elaborate descriptions of items to give them a richer sense of history. They know this is their best marketing strategy.
One afternoon, I was working my way through an antique shop when I came across a piece with a hand-written note on the hanging price tag.
The dealer had simply written "Not perfect. But extremely rare!" I chuckled to myself and thought that was a very clever way to describe a piece of junk.
But when you're a words-person, sometimes phrases stick with you, swirling around your head like a fly at a company picnic.
"Not perfect. But extremely rare!"
I got out my phone and made a note with that phrase. I didn't want to forget it.
Around that same time, I was just beginning to learn to love myself.
Christians get very nervous when you start talking about the idea of self-love because it feels very bad, very anti-Christian.
Self-love? Sounds an awful lot like selfishness, self-absorption, and narcissism. After all, we're called to love God, not ourselves. Self-love is for the liberals and the hippies.
And I'd always agreed with that. 100 percent.
In the college ministry I was involved with, I learned that, apart from Christ, humans are "totally depraved"—wretched, scoundrely sin-bots programmed for evil.
Being gay, that made sense to me.
I thought homosexuality was the worst of all the sin-monsters, and because that monster lived inside of me, and I couldn't quite kill it, I was the worst person in the world.
I was the monster.
I can remember singing the song "Amazing Grace" and resonating very much with the line, "that saved a wretch like me."
I looked up the definition of "wretch" once . . .
"A despicable or contemptible person"
Yep. That sounded about right. After all, the Bible references homosexual acts as an abomination (Leviticus 20), so wretch felt like an upgrade. I was a wretch.
I think a lot of LGBT people feel this way, especially kids.
When we hear "Homosexuality is an abomination," we internalize it as "I am an abomination." This is why the word "self-hate" is often used to describe how LGBT people feel about themselves, and its the primary reason LGBT kids kill themselves at a much higher rate . . .
God hates abominations.
Homosexuality is an abomination.
Therefore, I am an abomination.
We can't take off our gay-ness like a coat. It feels grafted into our skin.
For me, it felt like hell itself was grafted into my bones and muscles and tendons, and I couldn't get it out.
I felt this way all growing up, but you wouldn't know it because I was so good at hiding, at numbing the pain.
Undoing all this self-hate is a long process and, for me, coming out to a few friends and letting go of the dream of the wife, two kids, and white picket fence was a catalyst for beginning that process.
And over time, I began to hate myself a little less.
And then I began to like myself a little. I began to like the person I was.
And if you like yourself long enough, you might begin to love yourself eventually. I began to love myself a little back then. It was baby steps, but it was a start.
I remember reading and rereading the part in the Bible where Jesus said the second-greatest commandment was to "Love your neighbor as yourself."
He was trying to get people to understand how they can love others, so he referenced a type of love that most people can understand—love of self.
It seemed like Jesus was actually endorsing self-love, insinuating that it was the foundational step to loving your neighbor.
When I understood that, I realized most of my stresses in life came from this subterranean sense of self-hate that I carried around with me each day.
Being unaware of the self-hatred inside of you is like walking through life with a backpack full of dead skunks. The stink is coming from you, but you're convinced it's everyone else's problem.
I also learned that having one big glaring thing that makes you feel broken, unwanted, unusable is actually a fantastic advantage in life. Because if you can make peace with that thing, you can make peace with all the smaller stuff. You can work through your other weaknesses.
Back then I actually made a list of my weaknesses. I still have it and occasionally update it.
Of course, I had known my strengths for years. Most people can rattle off their strengths easily, but no one wants to keep inventory of their weaknesses, insecurities, flaws, and shortcomings. They don't want to accept them because they're scared of them. But what they're missing is that it's the total package—the strengths AND the weaknesses—that make them "extremely rare." It's the light and the dark—the black and the white—that make us . . . us. Our beauty is in our unique rareness, not our attempts at perfection.
I learned back then that it was life-giving to review my list of my weaknesses and say . . .
You know what, Brett. These are okay. They are just so okay.
No one is all strength, and it's really good to admit that. Why are you spending so much time trying to cover them up and fix them? Sure, make a plan for them, but stop trying to appear perfect. Be okay with "not perfect, but extremely rare."
Remember, only gods and superheroes don't have weaknesses. Who told you you needed to be that?
I didn't know where I learned to think that. Maybe no one ever told me it was okay to just be human, just be mortal. Maybe it's America's culture of hyper-masculinity. idk, really.
I know little boys spend a lot of time trying to be superheroes, and sadly many men do too. Those little boys in capes become desperate men trying to jump over all of society's manly skyscrapers. And they're so frantic, they forget that a grown man running around in a cape is just a crazy person.
I think this is one of my favorite things about Christian spirituality.
It tells us that we don't have to be superhuman, supernatural. Jesus did all the supernatural stuff for us. He's God enough, so we don't have to try to be little gods. We don't have to make Him, or anyone else, happy with our wannabe-superhero silliness. We can be at peace that He was enough and is enough. This is the mystery called grace, and 2,000 years after Jesus was down here, I think most Christian people still don't get it. Some days I still don't get it.
It'd be much longer 'til I understood all this, but back then I was learning it, slowly.
I was untangling all the cobwebs that come with a bad self-image. I was defusing the devices of self-hatred buried in my soul. There was a lot still to pray about, work through, and discuss.
All in all, it was a sweet season of growth and healing. I could see and feel the light after many years in darkness. Things were looking up . . . 👊
B.B.P.S. — I consolidated all my Instagram images for each episode into one album on Facebook. Each one has a quote and image per episode. Nice little roundup if you'd like to check it out . . .
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.