No Man’s Land

In Lady Montague’a “Turkish Embassy Letters” she describes a people group in South Eastern Europe, during the Ottoman Empire. They existed between Islamic nations and Christian nations. Out of fear, they kept both holy days, refusing to work on both Friday’s and Sunday’s.

I resonate with that—binding yourself to fear so intimately you live in two worlds instead of one, two realities instead of one, caught at a crossroad, committed to nothing, becoming a citizen to this space between countries: no man’s land.

———————

I’ve been depressed lately. About four weeks to be exact.

I’m not positive of the catalyst. What I do know is that I’ve been paralyzed by fear, watching as much Netflix as possible, so I can just not feel for the next x amount of episodes. (I’ve nearly watched all of Grace and Frankie, and finding a new show is really hard!)

The amount of nights committed to ice cream and television is abhorrent. I need to get homework done.

But it’s hard to live. If I’m being honest. It’s hard to live when it feels like an elephant is stepping on your chest. Makes it hard to breathe.

I came out 3.5 years ago, and if I’m honest, it hasn’t “gotten easier.” It’s gotten harder.

Being gay isn’t easy. There are some days I wish I never came out. Not because I want to hide the truth but because it doesn’t feel true most days.

Most days I deal with imposter syndrome, like someone gave me a script I’m not familiar with and I’m fumbling through the lines. I don’t get being gay. It doesn’t fit, like an oversized, hand-me-down sweater.

I can’t do the drag shows or the hyper sexuality or the open relationships or the club scene or the death after thirty or the gym-ing or the kinks or the sex on the first date or the need to be fashionable and interesting.

I don’t like any of it. It doesn’t fit.

But then I attend an old church and they feel like clothes that shrunk in the wash.

The with-every-head-bowed-and-every-eye-closed faith that doesn’t amount to anything, the come-Lord-Jesus-come’s when He said He’ll never leave us nor forsake us, the mini-money sermon before the plate passes, the every-one-is-welcome-but-not-really, the bless-you’s and shake-the-hand-of-the-person-next-to-you. I can’t take any more of it.

It’s like when I came out of the closet I looked behind the curtain of church and all the churches feel fake, the Bible feels like a weapon, and Christians feel like vacuum salesmen who are selling a product they don’t believe in but they’re terrified of not making their quota.

But I get it.

I’m terrified of Hell. I’m terrified of wasting my life. I’m terrified of being gay. I’m terrified of marrying a woman. I’m terrified of marrying a man. I’m terrified of being a father. I’m terrified of doing anything or believing anything.

I’m paralyzed.

So what do I do? I honor both days. I don’t do anything on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.

I’m exhausted. Like feel-it-in-my-bones exhausted. Like God-please-take-me-home exhausted.

In my cult school down in Texas, we did an activity where staff members pretended to be a hostile government while we students were persecuted Christians. The role-playing led to my friends being thrown in jail (a camp shower house). I was supposed to rush the door, but a man with an automatic paint-ball gun stood between me and the door. Instead of rushing him, smacking his gun away, and freeing my friends like some Christian McGiver, I slunk away.

That moment haunts me. It haunts me because it reminds me of what’s happening again and again: I’m to scared to throw myself at either country: gay or Christian, and you best believe people will tell you can’t have dual citizenship. Both countries are separated by a big Trump wall and missiles pointed at each other, just waiting for any excuse to jump on the other.

The two identities i carry within me are at war with each other, not just externally in the world around me, but inside me as well, and I don’t fit into either of them anymore, and I’m scared as hell in this no-man’s land.

I just want to be comfortable in my own skin, to know and believe who I am, who God is, and be unapologetic about it. But I can’t find a mirror or God, so I’m a bit fucked at the moment. So I’ll watch this really cool movie where a nerd falls in love with Arya with cancer, because I would rather feel that than feel this unresolved mess of confusion that is my life.

Netflix: your next episode starts in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1…

Faith and Fear Hold Hands

I went to a prayer meeting yesterday. First time I’ve been to one of those in a long time. Also read the Timothy’s. First time I’ve picked up a Bible too (okay, well it was my phone).

The skepticism continues. As the prayer leader described the demon of pleasure, I rolled my eyes. Apparently that demon looks like a man with a goat head.

When I read Paul’s extortion to Timothy, I see sexism and slavery propagation.

It’s like the questions that have been asked can’t go back in the box. Like toothpaste. Once it’s out, it’s not going back in.

And yet, in spite of the questions, critiques, and frustrations, I see evidence like God is there. It’s as though I’m close on His trail.

A broken twig. Tracks in the mud. Warm embers from a fire.

The first sign was my most recent blog post and other moments like it. Moments where I feel so weak and unsure, and yet it affects people. I’m broken and bleeding, but somehow it brings a level of healing to those around me.

The second was the demonic-goat-headed man. Yes, I’m unsure of all that. You start talking about this spirit or that demon and I just back away slowly. Those circles have produced more abuse to me than “deliverance”. But as the man spoke of pleasure, how he spoke of God being the author of pleasure, and that pleasure is not found outside of God, but in Him, I weakened.

How long have I believed pleasure is for moments in the dark, hidden away? How long have I believed that God was trying to rob me of pleasure, rather than authoring it in my life?

The imitation continues—He offers abundant life. He’s not trying to rob me. He’s trying to awaken me.

But slumber has become a comfort, and dreams seem more real. I doubt.

The arms of a lover offered so much. Pleasure. Purpose. Passion. And all the other alliterations that start with “p” including Penis.

How would God come through to provide those longings? Why does God not feel enough? Why isn’t God here in flesh and bone holding me? That would be enough. But He’s not. And the body he’s left behind can kinda be a dick at times. We flee intimacy. We hide our dark side. We bicker against one another, claiming we have the correct truth. And in the midst of pain, we demand holiness from a people that are tired and weary and broken.

How is this burden lighter? Where is the power that was promised?

And yet the broken twigs, the muddied tracks, and the cooling embers.

How do we reconcile these things? How do hope and doubt exist in cohabitation? How do faith and cynicism shake hands?

In broken flesh. A broken flesh God hopes to bring hope through. Stumbling in the dark as we may be, He whispers, “I’ve got ya. Keep coming. I’m not scared by your frustration and pain. I see it. Just come a step more. Come a bit closer. That’s it. You’re almost there.”

The hard part is that those words and that existence are our lot. When we arrive, we’ll be dead in the mud. But maybe in that space, freed from fear and doubt, there will be a smile that says, “You dared to keep hope burning, though cynicism rained upon you. You dared to hold onto faith, though pain grappled you.”

He doesn’t smile when the lights turn on and fear dissipates. That takes no courage. That takes no faith. He smiles when we dare to take one more step in the midst darkness, reaching out with trembling hands and bloodied knees.

“Courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.” – Nelson Mandela

In the desert, comes this song, “Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way. Say to those with fearful hearts, ‘Be strong, your God will come and make a highway in the wilderness. Life will break forth from the hot desert sand, and I will bring you home.” – Isaiah 35 with creative license

To those who doubt and wonder what the fuck is this all for? I get it. I’m right there with you. But let’s dare to hope.

Thanks for reading.

Part 7. – San Jose, CA

Before I started this trip, I made a promise to myself that if anyone invited me into their home, I’d go, as long as I had the time and money. Little did I know that this promise would carry me to the least likely of places.

“Come visit me.” It was a simple Instagram comment, and it was from one of my old friends from Bible school.

My heart skipped and my chest tightened.

One–because not a ton of people from Bible school kept in touch with me. I mean, one of my roommates was kicked out for having attractions to guys. I had dated one.

Two–because this friend is a bit intimidating.

Her name is Dura. Dura is one of those people that you never have to guess what’s on her mind. She’s super prophetic and strong in her convictions. If you’ve been in charismatic circles, you have an idea of who she is.

Back at Bible school, Dura and I quickly became good friends. She was this fiery personality with black and red hair and challenged authority. We’d go on adventures into Dallas, taking cheesy band photos at any piece of street art we could find. We’d have fun and we were both zealous for Jesus. We created fantastic memories.

All that said, the invitation was scary. What would happen if I went? What would she say? What would she see?

Truth be told, I’m a pro at avoiding being seen. I pivot and show aspects of myself that I know the person will like. Or better yet, I present the version of me that allows me a semblance of control. If I can present myself in such a way that I know what reaction will be created, I can prepare myself. So yes, it’s me, but not all of me. But to bear parts of me that I’m unsure how the person will react? That’s terrifying.

I learned this at a really early age. Like fourth grade. I was at a new school. I didn’t fit it. So I picked the elements that would fit and hid the elements that would ostracize me. Eventually, I won friendships with the popular kids. The pattern continued when an addiction to gay porn emerged in sixth grade. There was no way people could see this. I’d be ostracized. So I’d pivot and show a piece of me that was acceptable. A piece of me that had predictable reactions from others.

All that to be said, to this day, there’s always a piece of me in the shadows, and I don’t know how to turn it off. It’s such a part of how I function that my therapist says I’m the only person that she can’t really see who I truly am.

You and me both, Mrs. Therapist lady.

The very weapon that defended me was not being used against me.

How does this tie into Dura? Because prophetic types scare me. What if they see that shadow me? What if they see those parts I’m terrified to share?

But I made a promise.

I anxiously scrambled to find last minute tickets to Phoenix (I guess I was headed back to the desert. My favorite…). When I finally found a cheap ticket, it was out of San Jose–a good four-hour drive from Redding. Who would I stay with?

“Brandon! I heard you’re looking for a place to stay near San Jose. My husband and I would love to have you.” The text was from a long time family friend–Emily Lopez.

Little bio of Brandon’s name genealogy–I have two middle names: Darrell Lane. My parents were a little indecisive. And people wonder why it’s so hard for me to land on something. My very name didn’t land!

The two names come from two important men in my parent’s lives at the time of my birth–my grandfather, Darrel, and my godfather, Lane Manuel, Emily’s father. Emily and I go so far back I’ve got pictures of her and I in diapers eating ice cream. But I hadn’t seen her in over a decade. Guess it was time for an overdue reunion.

Although this trip was not planned at all, I am so glad that my travels turned out this way. Emily and her husband Christopher renewed me.

We didn’t do a ton. We ate food, drank cocktails and talk a lot. We had a lot to catch up on!

But what renewed me was not the trendy restaurants or family history. It was who they are.

In spite of not seeing each other for a decade, Emily and her husband poured out hospitality. They made me feel so welcomed and cherished–buying me food, opening up their house, quietly tiptoeing around their apartment so I could sleep, and mailing me my phone charger since I’m a dingus and forgot it.

But they could have done none of this, and I would still be bewildered by them becuase they had something that truly inspired me. Before being spouses or lovers, Emily and Christopher are best friends.

You see it in their shared excitement for food and drinks. You see it in their complete candor and comfort with the other. You see it in how they laugh so easily with the other. You see it in their copious amounts of shared Disney paraphernalia scattered about their house.

There is an ease that they conjure out of you because they are so comfortable with each other. They trust their whole self with the other person. Not just the pretty part. Not just the cool part. Not just the part that they can anticipate reactions to retain control. But they trust the other with the dark part and the silly part. It’s all celebrated and cherished.

And it inspired me.

Being around the two of them made me long for what they had. Friendship before marriage. Acceptance before tolerance. A fun and spirited life that keeps a youthful excitement found in every moment. A genuine joy.

Joy.

I missed that.

Being around these two had put a burning in my belly, a yearning.

I truly want a marriage with a best friend. One I could be completely myself. One I could laugh with for hours. One I could go to Disney with and laugh like a little kid. One I can trust with my shadow self. It’s always felt elusive, but here it was, displayed before me in reality. I didn’t need to go to Disneyland to experience all those warm fuzzies. I could experience it in these two.

Part. 5 – Portland, OR

“How do you feel about driving up the coast from San Francisco to Portland this week?”

You can’t ask that question to a lot of people. But I can ask it of Janell.

Janell and I met when I was a part of a community house–a special season of life that brought hope and life to my very cynical heart.

We’d read Narnia together. Janell would squeal in discomfort as I texted boys on her behalf. I’d obnoxiously barge into her room, flop on her bed, and beg for details from work. She and I worked at a detention center for youth. The stories were always full of blood, sweat, and tears. Literally. Every. Time. It’s pretty horrible and lovely all at once. But it’s not surprising that Janell took this job. It’s what she does.

To this day, Janell steps out into the world the way I long to–with joy, abandon, faith, and love. She’s always in the midst of chaos. Burning Man. The Syrian Refuge Crisis. The Carr Fire. She’s been at them all, hoping to be an agent of hope, a calm in the storm.

It is this person I can ask to drive up the coast on a bohemian adventure with a yellow lab, all the blankets, and no money. And it was worth it! The trip was so gorgeous! Red woods towering above us. Jagged sea cliffs foaming to our left. Cute fishing towns scattered up the coast. It was just simple beauty, and it was so refreshing.

The other thing I love about Janell is that she’s a feeler like me. We can literally say, “Let’s turn left because my heart wants to. Let’s go into that fresh fish market by the bay because something speaks to me about it. Let’s not go all the way up to Astoria. Let’s cut over to Portland. There’s some uneasiness in my stomach.”

And yet, every adventure has it’s moments of discomfort or pain or risk. Otherwise, it’s not an adventure. It’s vacation.

One such moment was a lack of housing in Portland. I had messaged a ton of people, some of which I barely knew. Nothing. And did I mention we didn’t have money? Oh, and did I mention Janell had just spent days traveling in her car from the East Coast?

The culmination of all those factors led Janell and I to a Home Depot. We were searching for campsites, but Janell needed to use the bathroom.

“Brandon. I’m not going into Home Depot to use the bathroom.”

“Why not? They have one, and we’re here. No one will care.”

“Are you kidding me right now? No. It’s Home Depot. They’re not public bathrooms. Brandon, go find us a gas station.”

While I found us a gas station, Janell searched the internet for “safe rest stop Portland Oregon”. We had finally given up due to pure exhaustion and lack of options.

In the end, Janell, her puppy named Gypsy (very applicable), and I sprawled out in the back of Janell’s Jeep Compass, parked next to a few homeless. And here’s the weird part–I felt… at home… and a cramp, but that’s besides the point. The point was that something from my past was reaching out to me.

My life is filled with many moments trying to “prove” something for Jesus. Do something hard for Jesus. Something you don’t like for Jesus. That though process always led me to do things that I believed were uncomfortable or straight up hated.

Sleeping on a tile floor for two months in Mumbai, India. Spooning with roommates in a school bus across country to keep warm. Inching as close to the fire in the Colorado mountains with nothing but a jogging outfit.

All of these moments were some of the most uncomfortable moments I’ve ever had, and yet I felt the most alive. Not because of the pain, although pain does have a way of saying, “Hey, you’re awake!” But because of the beauty surrounding you in those moments.

You’re going after something that’s worth more than what you lose. Cause what you’re giving up is cheap. You’re living for something beyond yourself. Whether that’s loving people or living an adventure or hopefully both, it’s worth the lack of comfort. And as weird as it sounds, I was missing the discomfort. I was nostalgia for purpose and adventure, but I had insulated myself from experiencing both.

Comfort has a way of robbing us of the very thing we actually want, and yet we cling to it so fiercely. I don’t understand why we do it, and yet understand it completely, as I do it every day. It’s as though fear causes us to cling to cheap and easy things. But that night sleeping with Gypsy, Janell, and all the other vagrants I was reminded that there’s more to life than a house, a bed, a decent job… security. I wanted more.

But all those thoughts and feelings will have to wait. I had a friend to meet.

The following morning, Janell and I were pleasantly surprised. An old friend named Sophie met us up for coffee. And let me just tell you, Sophie embodies some of the most beautiful things this world has to offer.

Hours passed as we laughed with complete authenticity. We hadn’t seen each other in years, but the years we missed poured forth with abandon. I could be fully me, nothing hidden. It was like my soul was drinking fresh mountain water. I couldn’t get enough, and apparently, neither could she, because we spent the entire day together. Which is huge. Normally, after an hour or two, I’m thinking about how many more fake poops I have to take to make it through the rest of the time with someone. It’s not that I hate people. In fact, I really deeply care. But that care exhausts me and I get tired of presenting to meet someone where they’re at.

But not Sophie. It was so naturally easy, and I loved it.

We talked about sex. We talked about church. We talked about exes.

We went not thrift shopping. Why? Because we all love grungy, trendy, cheap clothing. But the thrift stores in Portland aren’t cheap. So we bought nothing. We went to Powell’s to not purchase books. Instead, we walked around just looking at books. Maybe it’s the smell. But again, we bought nothing. We just gave ourselves points for being in a bookstore. But then again, maybe we didn’t buy books or thrift clothing because we were just straight up broke. But trendy vegan food. You always have money for trendy vegan food. So we got some.

By the time our time was up, I didn’t want to leave. We had crammed Oregon cliffs, California redwoods, and Portland coffee all into a 36-hour trip. It wasn’t enough time. Too much good stuff! Especially the good people, because ultimately, that was the highlight of this trip, and that has always been the case for me. I can be in the middle of the desert and be as happy as a clam (Why do we say that, and why are clams happy?). I know for sure, because I did it. But regardless of feeling like I didn’t get enough time, time was up. We had to get to Redding.

Part 4. – Oakland, CA

Oakland was… hard…

When I bought my ticket to California, I bought a one-way. I wanted the thrill of not knowing what was next, and maybe entertained the idea that God would do something special. But that’s not really what happened. At least not in Oakland.

My friend Adam was going to Mexico for the week. He was gracious enough to let me stay in his flat for as long as I needed. I had no idea how long that would be. I had texted a fellow bohemian friend of mine, asking if she wanted to trek up the coast, but she couldn’t pick me up till Thursday. That was four days away with nothing planned in between. That’s okay. I could entertain myself. In fact, it might be good for me to be alone… right?

Little fact for you: I grew up in California. Right in the Bay Area. So extended family and old friends reside there. I could reach out to any of them. That would be a wise investment of my time with four days of nothing to do.

But there was something stubborn in me. I didn’t want help. I didn’t want a hand out. And for some reason, reaching out to family felt like that?

My mother texted me multiple times to hang out with this person or that that person. I turned them all down because I didn’t want something given to me. I wanted to exist outside of my family. Is that weird? Am I the only one that does this? It’s like I pull away just because of family association, and I don’t have a good reason.

The end result was a lot of alone time right off of Grand Avenue in the heart of Oakland. I thought it would be good for me. It wasn’t.

Back when dating my ex, I shut down my analytical mind. Any time I turned inward, lots of questions would come up about our relation, and I didn’t have answers. And every time I brought them up with my ex, it threatened our relationship.

So trying to find a resolution with my partner was not an option. But neither was letting them brew beneath the surface. I’m not one to let emotions and thoughts billow inside myself and not let them out. I have to. It’s this weird thing. I don’t understand till it’s outside of my body. But every time they left my body, the person I loved was hurt. In the end, I had unresolved cognitive dissonance. Normally, if my external world was too much, which it can be often, I would retreat inside myself. My internal world was safe. But now it wasn’t. Now I had to avoid it. And I couldn’t engage in the external world because that wasn’t safe either. I couldn’t invest in relationships outside of my boyfriend because I didn’t know how they would react. I had been hurt too many times and was tired of gambling if a person would be okay with me.

So what did I do? Watched a lot of Netflix. The result? Emotional constipation and terror of being alone with the backlog of emotional buildup.

That’s what confronted me in Oakland. I was trapped in an apartment, all by myself. I couldn’t hide in the social engagement of friends. I couldn’t dwell with myself. All I could do was squirm on the couch and feel utterly alone.

Here’s the thing about being alone. If you’re okay with yourself, being alone is great. Why? Because you like being with you. You don’t need a distraction cause you think you’re pretty awesome. But refuse to pick yourself and it’s like being trapped in a room with an uncle you never got along with. And that was me, and I couldn’t handle it.

I did everything in my power to avoid that space.

Bike all of San Francisco (I’m not kidding. I literally biked all of it. I wanted to die.) Hide in all cool coffee shops and read books. Watch Netflix. Go to a bath house…

Now I will say this, and it really only comes out of attempting to salvage any level of dignity. I didn’t sleep with anyone in the bath house. I just walked around a ton of men that wanted to have sex, cause that’s better?

The point is, I couldn’t be alone with myself. Something had happened in me, and I didn’t know how to confront it.

You would think that after all the hope and love over the past few weeks, I would be okay. But I wasn’t. It all vanished when faced with myself. The one reprieve would come from the last place I expected it–family.

My extended family isn’t always easy, and that’s the case on either side. Drama has built up over the years. A lot of it out of any one’s control. But we’re left with the bill regardless.

When my cousin came to pick me up for a hockey game, it felt like more duty than delight.

Here’s the thing about my cousins. I never felt like I was enough growing up. I always wanted the approval of my cousins. I was the oldest, but always wanted an older sibling. I did everything in my power to try and get the approval of my cousins, but it seemed like I was always a nuisance. Now I was going to spend the entire evening with them. And to top it off, my cousins’ dad was coming too.

Why don’t I say uncle? That’s a great question! You ask the best questions. It’s like I give them to you. Although he’s actually the one I’m most directly related to by blood, I’ve always been closer to my cousins and their mother. We always joke that we got her in the divorce.

But when I went to the game, although I hadn’t seen my cousins in years, there was no effort. Something had changed in me, maybe just age or exhaustion, where I wasn’t trying any longer to get approval. I just wanted to connect. And there’s something about family that says, “Well, we’re stuck with each other. Might as well make this work. Let’s not play games and let’s not waste time with stupid small talk.” I like that. It gives me a release. Normally I’m the guy that’s analyzing every question and interaction, worried I’ll do something stupid to jeopardize a relationship. But you can’t break blood.

So there in the stands of a roller rink, I talked about marriage with my cousin who had recently enlisted. I chatted with my cousin’s wife about the tension of raising a child while wanting to still work. We all were held captive by my cousin’s baby, doing nothing and everything while all of it was beautiful and fun. And we all deflated with my uncle’s language of criticism. He cut down everyone in proximity except his kids.

“Why do you think your dad is like that?” I asked my cousin. She was driving me home after an honestly pleasant evening.

“He’s always been like that. He tears everyone down but his kids. He thinks his kids are the best thing. He always tried to pass me off as an Olympic swimmer when they could swim laps around me.”

My uncle had messed up a long time ago. It affected my cousins’ lives forever and my uncle ended up living a pretty lonely life in Sacramento. But I started to connect dots I had never seen while in that car with my cousin.

Personally, I think the reason he tears everyone down but only builds up his children is because that’s all he has left. He doesn’t have anything to really offer and he’s nearing the end of this life. I think he’s full of a lot of regret, and the only thing he doesn’t regret are his kids. It’s his one hope of offering anything to the world.

For the first time in my life, I got why my cousins could sometimes be hard and why my uncle was intolerable–there was a lot of unresolved pain all because of one man’s decision to be selfish. We’re decades away from that event, and we all still feel the ripples of that choice.

Our choices affect more than ourselves. Me strutting around a bath house affects more than myself. I like to pretend it doesn’t, but it does. It’s probably one of the reasons that intimacy with another person scares me. When dating my ex, all I could think about was how my life would hurt him. And that’s horrible.

I want to be better. I want to be healthier. But left alone in a flat for a week pulled so many wounds and pains and straight up selfishness to the surface. I don’t want to be that, but I don’t know how to not anymore. It’s like wandering into the woods and losing sight of the trail. That feeling is terrifying.

I explained this feeling awhile back to one of my best friends.

“I feel lost, Micah. Like I thought I was on a trail, but now I’m up against a cliff and I have no idea how I got here. I need to get back, but I have no idea how. And on top of that, the sun is setting.”

“You’ve done survival training, Brandon. What would you do in that scenario?”

I conjured up the only thing I remembered from that horrible night of freezing my ass off in the Colorado mountains. “Keep walking down hill. It’ll eventually lead to water. Water eventually leads you to civilization?” I said the last part with complete lack of uncertainty, as if it were a question.

He looked at his wife who obviously was more equipped to survive in the wilderness than I was.

“You need to build shelter because you’re going to have to survive the night.” She said with eyes full of compassion.

I want to hunker down. But that terrifies me. Every time I hunker down, I don’t do well. Shadows grow larger in the night, and the smallest noise makes the imagination run wild with horrors. I just want the sun to come up, and it feels like no matter what I do, I can’t find the way home.

But the good news is that I’m not physically trapped in the woods. It’s just imagery. My four days of isolation in the Bay had come to an end, and Janell had come to get me. We were gonna drive up the coast to Portland.

Part 3. – San Luis Obispo, California

The next leg of my journey was California. It was hard and beautiful and confusing and healing. But before I get ahead of myself, I have to back it up a few months.

While dating a guy, I wrestled a lot. Hell, I still do. Questions would assault my mind. They came and came and came, circling and entrenching me. I couldn’t escape them.

Is this okay? Is this the best for me? What about sex? What about sex before marriage? Where is God in all of this? What do I truly want? Am I okay with gay sex? Am I okay not producing my own children? Will my heart become hard? Will I become a different person? Will I lose my God? Is there anyone out there that is in a successful, monogamous, same-sex relationship while still loving Jesus? 

That final question led me to Queer Christian Fellowship–an annual gathering of Christian LGBTQ individuals from across the world. Some had found answers. Others were still looking. And still others were “straight up” husband hunting. Although I’m not sure if there’s anything “straight up about husband hunting.

The conference held two types of people–Side A and Side B.

Side A: God is approving of your attractions and feelings and you should act on them.

Side B: Your attractions and feelings cannot change. You’re not going to hell for having them, but you should not act on them. Instead, you should live a celibate life or have a mixed orientation marriage.

And in case you were wondering, there is a third side. However, it’s not what you’d expect. Whoever came up with these arbitrary sides and letters did not create a “Side C”. They decided to jump all the way down to X. Maybe it’s because it represents the “ex-gay” narrative.

Side X: Not only is it not okay to act on your feelings, but it’s wrong to have them. You should do everything in your power to change these feelings, including therapy. This is where you get the infamous Exodus ministry.

The idea of the conference was to create a space where the tension of Side A and Side B could coexist to produce a conversation and maybe answers. But probably most importantly, the conference existed so we wouldn’t feel alone.

Being gay and Christian puts you in this very unique space. It’s too Christian for the gays and too gay for the Christians. The result is that you don’t really find family in either community.

But in downtown Denver, thousands of these fringe queers conglomerated to not be alone, to know they have people that support them, to begin the conversation, and to maybe find some peace.

I was the weird one. I wasn’t really looking for any of that.

The biggest thing for me was finding healthy Christian gays. I had read through a bit of curriculum and talked enough with people to excuse away the versus in the Bible using theology. But what about evidence? Where were the gay Christians that believed all of this, still loved Jesus and were healthy?

I wasn’t healthy, and the few gay Christians I knew weren’t shining examples of health either. I wanted to see that God could still move in a gay Christian couple. Screw all the other things. Probably not the best heart posture. But I’m being honest. I was here to find evidence. What I got was a bunch of Queens of the King.

If you were to hack my Facebook, you would find a Messenger conversation with the title Queens of the King. The group is composed of five people:

  1. The fiancés – David and Anthony (the ones that give me hope of a healthy gay Christian relationship)
  2. Side B – Nicholas (the one we tease but love)
  3. The best friend – Adam (the one I could literally do anything and he’d be the first to bail me out of jail or give me a kidney)
  4. Me

Scrolling through the messages of these “queens” you would find prayer, encouragement, and a shit-ton of feisty gifs. Since January, this group has been a place where I could be completely candid about hurts, pains, questions, triumphs, and defeats. I’m understood and loved. If I gained nothing from that conference except these men, it would have been enough.

And you’re probably wondering, “Brandon, we’re talking about San Louis Obispo. Can we get on with the story and stop talking about the homos.” Yes, we can move on from backstory, but it’s still gonna be about the homos. Because the reason I came to California was to celebrate Nick and Adam’s birthday.

The six of us (Yes, I can do math; Nick’s best friend Amber joined us) rented an AirBNB in San Luis Obispo and had one of the most stereotypically gay weekends of my entire life. We cooked brunch every morning, enjoyed Lush facials, tasted rosé, and gawked at the Madonna Inn (Yes, that’s a real thing, and it looks like a pink unicorn threw up gold on everything). But a gay weekend would not be complete, without watching the new season of Queer Eye.

If you have not watched episode one of season two of the Netflix Original’s Queer Eye, stop reading this blog right now, and go watch that episode. Be sure to grab tissues. You’ll need them. Well… if you have a heart you’ll need them.

Crammed in that California bungalow, five of us balled our eyes out. Side B didn’t. He doesn’t have a heart. We’re working on it. (Like I said, we like to tease him.)

But why? Why did it impact us so deeply? Yes, the six of us can all be a bit dramatic and emotional. But that’s besides the point. We cried because we were seeing the story we longed for and a love that most of us weren’t sure existed.

The episode is about a woman named Momma Tammy. Momma Tammy lives in Gay, Georgia (yes, that’s a real place), where the population is less than 100 and the gay population is one–Momma Tammy’s son.

When Momma Tammy’s son came out, it was rough. She was an active member of her church where she served as an usher. How could she love her son but be true to her God?

I’ve seen a lot of parents in the same predicament. For some reason they’re not sure how they can worship the God of love while loving their gay child. But Momma Tammy does it. And not only does that love spill all over her son, but it spills out onto each of the Fab Five. Instead of fear or anger towards these gay men, she treats them with dignity, respect, care, and above all love, refusing to see them as anything less than they truly are–beloved sons of God.

When the episode ended, no one spoke. We were all in shock. It was a holy space. Tears flowed freely down our faces as we took in the love of the Father. We were undone.

Is this the love we should have experienced growing up? Is this the love we’ve heard rumors about but haven’t seen in the churches we gave our lives for? Is this real?

The answer is yes, and the power of that love is more strong than any fear mongering anyone could conjure up. It’s the power of Christ, and you could feel it in that episode.

Most people don’t know this, but that episode wasn’t supposed to air. They had another man they were going to do a makeover for, but it fell through. In a last minute change, Netflix scrambled to find another “hero”. That’s when they found Momma Tammy.

I truly believe that there was an intervention of God for that episode. That might sound super cheesy, but I believe there is a God that was desperate to speak to His gay kids, and He knew we’d be watching Queer Eye.

The fact of the matter was everyone on that trip was “strugs to funk”. Driving those three hours to San Louis Obispo, we were anxious about coming out; we were depressed about the lack of ministry and purpose in our lives; we were stressed with law school; we were scared of dying alone, and we were reeling from failed relationships. But we received a breath of hope in Momma Tammy’s love. And on the drive back, there was a sense of peace for all of us. Well, most of us.

In spite of the love I had experienced in my friends and Momma Tammy, I was still rough. There were a lot of things I was feeling but refused to feel. I was standing in the rubble of my previous relationship, and I had no idea where to go both externally and internally. I felt aimless. Then Adam opened up his little pie hole.

“I have a song I wanna put on. Stop talking.” Who announces they have a song they want to put on and then demands we listen to it? Adam.

We all got quiet in anticipation for this song. It better be good if we was making us all shut up.

“When you try your best but you don’t succeed. When you get what you want but not what you need.”

I looked over at Adam. “I hate you.” Adam just patted me on the arm and said he loved me.

Every word was punching me right in the gut. It was as if the song was written for me. I had heard this song a thousand times before. And literally mean a thousand. It was the finale of a show I wrote back in Europe. So I literally heard it at least a thousand times with how much we rehearsed that show.

But driving up the 101 in that 2007 Honda CR-V nicknamed “Duchess”, every word dove deep within me. Christopher Martin sang of giving everything to a relationship you lose, of being too in love to let it go, of being stuck in reverse.

All of it. All of it was me.

As Duchess roared north, I wept. I started to collapse within myself, silently crying.

But then I felt Adam’s hand. I looked over and he smiled. Amber reached back from the passenger seat and put her hands on top of ours. Nick was driving. So we raised our three hands together and put them on his shoulder.

They were feeling with me. I wasn’t feeling this alone.

Then the chorus came, and I felt like God promised me something.

“Lights will guide you home and ignite your bones and I will try to fix you.”

I cried more, but now with a smile. God was after me. He had provided these amazing friends. He had redirected an entire television series to showcase Momma Tammy. He had spoken to the heart of my friend to play a song. And all of it said the same thing–I’m right here; I haven’t left; I’m for you; I’m not against you, and I will always love you.

Prelude

“I’m putting in my two weeks.”

My supervisor stared across the table at me, wide eyed in excitement. “You got an offer?”

We had been talking about me leaving the company for some time now. I was bored with my monotonous work. Every Monday there was a dread of coming in. When the alarm blared on Monday mornings, all I could feel was anxiety.

But the truth was, there was a dread about life inside or outside of work, and there was an anxiety that greeted me not just on Mondays, but every day.

Desperate and hopeful, I applied for a number of outdoor therapy jobs. I had to get out of Colorado Springs. Instead of blindsiding my boss with a notice, I invited him into the process and would let him know as soon as I heard back from any of the companies.

But I hadn’t heard back from any of the companies.

“There’s not a job offer.” I told my supervisor. “But a friend wants me to help move his mom from Colorado to Arizona, and I need to get out. I’m not happy here.”

My supervisor nodded his head and told me he’d put it in the announcements. Although I lacked a lot of emotion, I truly was happy. Something was gonna change, even though I wasn’t sure what that “something” was. But something had to change. The last six months had been horrible. In the wake of a breakup, I struggled to even function. I needed to jolt my system with cold water, and apparently that cold water was in boiling hot Arizona.

Now I know what you’re thinking, “Great… another human unable-to-cope-with-a breakup story. Here comes a Taylor Swift chorus.” Pump the breaks. That’s not exactly what’s happening here. Not to diminish the power and pain that exists in breaking up, but this was a bit different. This relationship changed everything for me.

On June 3rd, 2016, I came out on Facebook in a loooooong 36 minute video, stumbling over my words and repeating myself over and over again. Up until a few months before this, I had been planning on marrying a woman. Not any particular woman. It’s not like I was dating someone. But a woman. Definitely a woman. Even though I was looking at gay porn an hooking up with men. But definitely a woman. I was gonna marry a woman.

But then I met him… and it changed everything. So much so, I decided to go public with it, and that cost me a lot.

Friends from Bible school, high school, and church disappeared. Not violently like a car crash, but subtly, like turning down the volume on the radio after deciding there’s nothing good to listen to. They just faded away.

Family also suffered. I had been living with my parents for a few months. But after some conflict, I moved out… and that one was not with a fade. That one was more of an abrupt collision.

One text message and a stuffed backpack later, I was searching for a place to crash for the evening. After some frantic searching, I landed in a house I could not afford. I needed a job and ended up working for a software company answering emails all day.

I pulled away from people, scared to be vulnerable. I pulled away from God, scared He’d break this relationship, leaving me with nothing. I retreated into myself and into this person.

Life became a panic, surviving one day to the next. What was dreaming? What was hope? To be honest, most of it was wrapped up in this person. Dreams of raising rascals. Hopes of our love being more than tolerated by the people around us. Maybe it could one day be celebrated.

It was as though I had pulled all my funds from all areas of life and deposited them into one person. After all, everything else was deteriorating. I needed to invest where I had a viable future.

But there’s a problem with this methodology. What happens when your only account becomes volatile? What happens when you haven’t diversified your relational portfolio? Will I use another financial term to give symbolism to my relationship?

I’m not saying my ex was violent, but I am saying that the relationship was violent on my soul.

We were extremely sexual, and it freaked me out. Anxiety about how to navigate gay sex consumed potentially months of my life. I remember crying to myself, thinking I now had to bottom even though I hated it. I felt trapped in confusion and panic regarding anything related to sex with my boyfriend, even though I didn’t want to be engaged with sex to begin with.

We didn’t share a lot of interests. He loved guns. I was a pacifist. He wanted to stay in Colorado Springs. I wanted to travel the world. He was a loud conservative. I was a quiet moderate.

But probably he hardest part was he didn’t have a relationship with Jesus. Fear and pain had driven him from the church. And as hard as I tried to incorporate Jesus into our relationship, he refused it. I was left alone in my pursuit of God, when I always wanted to share that piece of my life with my partner.

If I were looking at this as a normal human, I would say, “Oh! We don’t work. We should end this.” But there was a problem–this purchase had cost me everything. Now I was gonna lose it? The fear of losing the only thing I had left crippled me. And if that wasn’t enough to keep me in this relationship, something had coupled itself with my fear–need.

My ex and I filled holes in each other. The cliché of “you complete me” was no more true than in our relationship. Where I was strong, he was weak. Where he was weak, I was strong.

But the problem with any relationship built out of need instead of love is just that, you don’t actually love the person. You need them. And when the person doesn’t meet your needs, you resent them. We call love patient and kind. We say it’s not self-seeking. But love built out of need isn’t any of these things. Is that love at all? Or just selfishness disguised as affection? But it was true–we both needed each other. And what happens when someone or something threatens to take away the thing you need? You panic. Anxiety conquers your mind. And we had a lot of threats.

The twelve breakups. The uncertainty of the future. The lack of God in our relationship. The uncertainty of if this was right for me. The… you get the picture. There was a lot. But I refused to see any of it. I pushed it down. He was moving in August, and I didn’t want to ruin this. “Enjoy this while it lasts,” I’d tell myself when the panic became too much.

But emotions demand to be heard. The more you ignore them, the louder they get, till they become a despondent child that no longer cries. Learned hopelessness sets in.

That’s where I was from January to May of 2018–learned hopelessness. The anxiety had always been there. I just learned to live with it, and even though the source of this anxiety was gone, the anxiety remained. That was probably the hardest part. I had stripped my life of the source of all this anxiety, but it was still there, and I didn’t know why. I couldn’t fix myself and doubted everything.

I doubted the breakup. I doubted the future. I doubted God. I doubted myself. It was as though I had nothing to grab hold of anymore. Every day was a gray blur of surviving. My days were passing without color and life. Something had to change, even if it was just a trip to Arizona to help a friend move his mom.

But I was in for a surprise. The day after I told my boss I was putting my two weeks, I got a call from one of the companies I had applied for. I had completely forgot about the phone interview we scheduled!

“Is this a good time?” The recruiter asked. I was smack dab in the middle of downtown Colorado Springs. My car was at least five blocks away.

“Yeah! This is a great time!” I lied as a Harley blared passed me.

Over the next hour, I knocked the interview out of the park. We were laughing. He was talking to me about job details. I was excited. Turns out, when I have a well-this-is-screwed attitude, I interview well. I relax; I’m honest, and for some reason, recruiters like that? Whatever.

At the end of the call, he offered me the job and I accepted, thinking this must have been what I actually quit my job for. But as soon as I hung up the phone, the smallest feeling stole the joy I had from saying yes–a small unsettling.

Although all of this “made sense”; though security would be provided, and I would love my job, something was off. Something deeper than wisdom. Something in the gut that said “I’m not sure”. And it kept coming back like a song you can’t get out of your head. It wasn’t a no. It wasn’t a yes. It was a simple “I’m not sure about this”.  That’s the best way to describe it that. My gut simply felt unsettled and unsure, and it was driving me nuts.

In spite of the unsettling, I pressed on. I had to move out of my current living situation. I would be moving to Utah in less than a week! Small problem. Strep. Thursday morning, I woke up, unable to make it to work. Come Friday, my boiling hot skin and pathetic voice had caused some coworkers to pity me. They showed up to my house and help me move. As I picked up the largest boxes to prove a point, they screamed at me to sit on a bed and rest so I could get better. I’m not the best at listening.

But finally the sickness forced me to go outside and get some air. When I did, that obnoxious unsettling was there to greet me. I couldn’t make it shut up. How could I rest and get well when I was being nagged by this thing?

Then I prayed.

“God, I’m so unsure about this. I feel like it might be wrong, but I’m so not sure. I need help. If this is you telling me not to go to Utah, give me something else other than a nagging feeling. It’s not enough. I need more.”

At about 11 at night we had unloaded the last boxes into my parents’ guest room. I began to undress, burning with a fever. I had to get to bed. I was starting to get catatonic. But that’s when I heard her.

“Brandon,” it was Marcy, an old family friend that helped me move all day. Marcy came up the stairs, pulled my face into her hands, and stared into my eyes. It was that super intimidating stare too. Like where they switch from eye to eye, peering into the depths of your soul. But I couldn’t fight it. I had no energy.

“You and I both know you’re not supposed to go to Utah.”

And that was enough.

I emailed my recruiter the following night, letting him know I wouldn’t be going. I then texted my friend, Dallas, telling him I was coming to help him move his mother.

Few years back, I lived in Mumbai, India for two months. They say the air quality in Mumbai is equivalent to smoking two packs of cigarettes a day. When I landed in the UAE for a layover, my lungs gripped at the air. “Oh! That’s what clean air tastes like.”

I had learned to breathe in an existence saturated with anxiety. As soon as I sent the email, I was breathing clean air again. The anxiety was gone, and all I could think of was “Oh! That’s what peace tastes like!” I had forgotten.

But what about after Arizona? What about a job? What about a house? To be honest, I didn’t have the answers for those questions. I had ideas of what I would do after Arizona, but that didn’t matter. I had peace. For the first time in a long time, I was “breathing the free air again”, to steal Gandalf’s words. And with that peace, came a gentle knowing that hope was near. Life was near.

Color came back into my face, not just because I was burning up, but because of that breath of hope. And breath brings life.

Monday I quit my job. Tuesday I said yes to a job offer. Thursday I got strep. Friday I moved. Saturday I declined the job offer. Monday I flew to Phoenix where my good friend Dallas and his lovely wife Ariel (soon to also be good friend) awaited me. We were bound for the middle of the desert–Sierra Vista, and who knew that life lived in the desert.

Stay tuned on Instagram for the next leg of this journey.