I love kids. I always have.
As much as I love them, their presence stirs up something uncomfortable within me. Memories I wish I could forget. A conversation I wish never happened. Assumptions that should have never been made. And regardless of how desperately I wish I could turn back the clock and undo what took place, I cannot. And so I can only move forward.
During my freshman year of college, via the medium of blogging, I started sharing the truth about myself with the world. I wasn't identifying as gay. The word had too many negative connotations for me and for the faith community of which I was a part. And so I went with the other identifier that would let people know of my struggle: same-sex attracted/same-gender attracted. I was interacting with people from Exodus International and one of their sister organizations, Living Hope Ministries (an online message board community). I'd started seeing a therapist in hopes of changing my sexual orientation. I'd been reading Every Man's Battle and seeking to curb my ever-growing sexual appetite.
That summer, I was scheduled to work for a local man and a group of my peers moving furniture into different college dorm buildings. Because of a schedule change, we ended up with a 3-week break from the job, the first week of which coincided with my church's annual vacation Bible school. Being the lover of children (and generally helpful person) I was, I decided to stop by and offer to help out.
Forty-five minutes later, I found myself in the youth pastor's office being told that I needed to leave. While he appreciated my honesty and forthrightness about my struggles, the church could not "run the risk of facing accusations or allegations of inappropriate conduct."
The subtext: because I'm gay/same-sex attracted/same-gender attracted, I'm more likely to have tendencies towards pedophilia.
That was in 2003. It's been ten years, and while there are children in my life, children I love with parents I love, seeing them, interacting with them, often leaves me drained because every encounter reminds me of that conversation.
There were times shortly after that meeting where I would have a panic attack (and almost a seizure) anytime a child/tween/teen/adolescent came close to me. I'd put on the face as if everything were fine, possibly stepping away to the washroom to catch my breath and cry for a few minutes, to let the bile out of my mouth.
These days, I have a lot of friends with kids who I see on a fairly regular basis. Every time I play with them or hug them, I feel a piece of me heal, I feel the scars of assumption and stereotype fade a little more.
Read the following from the University of California Davis:
In 1970, more than 70% of heterosexual respondents agreed that gay men are dangerous as teachers or youth leaders because they try to get sexually involved with children. By 1990, only 19% of straight men and 10% of straight women agreed with the same statements about gay men, and only 9% of straight men and 6% of straight women believed these statements about lesbian women.
So yes, we've come a long way from the stereotypes of the 1970s. But until those numbers are zero across the board, then there is still harm being done.
As for me, I owe a debt of gratitude to each and every one of my friends who let me be a part of their children's lives. I owe them thanks for being a part of my healing, for letting, for encouraging their children to love me. I owe them as much love as I can for being a part of making me feel like a whole person again.
I hope and pray that no one else faces this kind of discrimination. I also hope that there are more and more opportunities for reconciliation, the kind which I was able to experience recently when I spoke to that youth pastor on the phone and he asked my forgiveness for the harm his assumptions did to me, when he said his focus had been wrong, when he admitted he should have been more concerned with my heart and my well-being than with maintaining the status quo and the reputation of the church.