I've been thinking a lot about death lately. Okay, not just lately. It’s more like I think about death every day. It's kind of a constant presence in my life. I carry it on my back like a cloak. It’s invisible, but it isn’t light. Thoughts of death are very heavy.
I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t afraid of dying. Maybe it’s not the dying as much as it’s the fear of what comes after. I’ve been aware of a place called Hell for as long as I’ve been able carry a tune. And believe me, that’s a long time.
You see, I was raised in a religious environment where I was cautioned on the unimaginable fiery pit of Hell — or Lake of Fire. I was warned of a judgment day and of how if my name wasn’t found in the Book of Life I would be cast into that pit — that waterless lake — to writhe and burn for eternity. Eternity. That’s forever. Burning. Consumed but not. Feasted on by maggots. Consumed but not. Tormented by demons. No peace. Only anguish. And the falling. Hell, I also remember it being said, is bottomless. So, there would never be nothing but burning, gnawing, writhing, torment, and falling.
Hell scared the shit out of me as a child.
I was educated early in the redemptive power of Jesus Christ. How he, and only he, could save my soul from eternal damnation. All I had to do was ask him into my heart to save my soul from Hell. By doing so, I would be granted entrance into Heaven where I would live for eternity in a mansion of my own in the golden street suburbs of a Utopia that I couldn’t begin to fathom. And I asked him. Then I had to believe that he actually did it. That he saved my soul from Hell. As a child I imagined Jesus — he looked like the images that appeared in my Bible (white man, beard, compassionate expression, a nice post facial glow) — sitting on a throne in my chest. He was in my heart after all. I had asked him to come inside, and I believed he had accepted my invitation. He had to be sitting there. I didn’t quite know how, but I believed. Ah, the faith of a child.
As I got older my attraction to men began to surface from the dark shadows of my deepest desires. I began to realize that I was homosexual. Wait. What? Homosexual? How was that going to work? As long as I had know about Heaven and Hell I had known that a homosexual was not going to be granted entrance into Heaven. I mean, the Bible said so and I was taught to believe those words without challenge.
Revelations, chapter 21, verse 8: But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur.
As a homosexual many will say I fall into the category of the sexually immoral. I might also be considered cowardly if you take into account all of my fears. Then, of course, there’s the option of denying my homosexuality, which would make me a liar. Sheesh.
My thoughts of death —or the afterlife — beget quite a damper on my present life. I am alive but I’m not really living. I fear that fiery pit every single day that I breathe. I find no comfort in the fact that I asked Christ into my heart to save me from that place. I find no comfort in the fact that God is said to have created man in his image and here I am created homosexual...in his image, right? These things don’t match up for me. It’s almost as if I believe I can only have one or the other. I can be a homosexual, live my life, find happiness here on Earth ending up in Hell Or I can fight my desires and deny everything I feel in the hopes that I will find my name in that Book and get to walk through those pearly gates.
I know that not every Christian feels that homosexuals will not see the Kingdom of Heaven. But many do. America — and the world — has made great progress in the area of LGBTQ rights and overall acceptance in the past few years. But even now there are those who are pleased to see our rights being rolled back or at least being attempted to be rolled back. Being a Christian means being Christlike. I have to ask: How is discrimination and violence against a minority group in the name of God Christlike?
As a homosexual, I have lived my life under the shadow of fear for as long as I can remember. First it’s Hell. Then it’s bullies on the playground. Then it’s bullies in high school. Then it’s AIDS. Then it’s fear of familial rejection. Then it’s narrow-minded people who somehow feel better about themselves when they call me names. Then it’s the Americans who currently feel emboldened to stand strong against me on the grounds of religious beliefs.
LGBTQ people have decided that enough is enough and are now very visible. Because of that, narrow-minded people feel persecuted and oppressed. I’m sorry, but give me a break. Oppressed? I’ve felt oppressed since I realized I was homosexual. They’re not oppressed. They just don’t understand same-sex attraction. And they often get hung up on that "dirty," "nasty" sex I enjoy with a man. If they just thought about it in terms of when they realized who they were attracted to and that we realize it the same way an amazing epiphany might happen. But alas, many would rather just think of me as immoral. I’m not.
When I came out to him even my father responded that he believes what the Bible says. In that moment I was so relieved that he said he loved me and that I was welcome in his home that I didn’t ask him what he meant. To this day I don’t know. Does he merely believe, per the Bible, that my homosexuality is wrong? Or does he believe, per the Bible, that I won’t be joining him in Heaven? Maybe I don’t want to know. Maybe I don't need to know. I can’t quite understand how people can still believe that homosexuality is a choice instead of the way we’re born. Believing it’s a choice is the choice. Not accepting what homosexuals tell you about when they knew they were homosexual is a choice. But I’m off topic.
I’m often angry. It stems from the rhetoric that was used to oppress me as a child. I was scared into believing something that still affects me negatively today. I can’t seem to release the fear. I can’t seem to release the anger.
I find no comfort in my past invocation. I have no faith. I do not trust.
I don’t know if Hell is a real place, or if we live in hell every day here on Earth. I don’t know if Heaven is a real place either, or if it’s a story of a beautiful paradise made up to comfort us in our time of need when a loved one has died.
Hell continues to scare the shit out of me.
And my fear of death does not become me. It hampers me. It stifles me. It limits me. Living my life to its fullest would become me more. I just can't quite step into the sun and leave my shadows behind.