Illustrated by Kelly Doherty (She/Her)
“If a man practices homosexuality, having sex with another man as with a woman, both men have committed a detestable act. They must both be put to death, for they are guilty of a capital offense.” Leviticus 20:13
Such a verse reverberates emphatically in my soul and has all throughout my life. Insightful critics are not shy in doubting the credibility of the wording, while devout believers take such words as gospel. Regardless of the appraisal, what remains true is the palpable impact it has on my life and the life of many other closeted gay men. Here lies three anecdotes depicting my journey with closeted men: the passionate courtships, the coy promise withdrawals, and the eventual heartbreak. Whether such vignettes provide clarity, closure, or conflict within you is entirely up to you. Personally, this is my emancipation from the evangelical chains that continue to grip my heart.
Elementary boy was cool, fun, and kind. He had nice brown hair, slightly curly locks that were fun to touch. I liked his funny jokes. I liked his silly attitude. I liked his round face. For a little 10-year-old boy, he was a super fun friend to have. We would sneak out to the playground during morning service to play on the swings. He would always tell me to sit on the swing set first, so he could swing me. I would always refuse his offer, so I could look nice. He would always insist, so he could impress me. The cycle of coyness persisted, and my feelings for him grew with every exchange. I had many other friends at school and plenty of guy friends too, but Elementary boy was different. He was funnier than the rest, kinder than the rest, and cuter than the rest. I was confused. My parents jokingly asked me if I had a crush on someone, and I replied with a look of confusion. I innocently asked, “Is crush a person I want to crush?” Entertained by my question, my mom and dad laughed and explained to me that a crush is a person I like. My response was not as acceptable since I answered with a list of my friend’s names. They clarified for the last time that a crush was someone I liked more than everyone else, someone special. My eyes sparkled with realization, and without missing a beat, I dropped Elementary boy’s name with a gleeful smile. The sudden switch of expressions from my parents after hearing my answer continues to linger in my mind to this day; their once merry smiles turned into concerned frowns. They proceeded to lecture their 10-year-old son on the dos and don’ts of love for what felt like hours: liking a girl was a do, and liking a boy was a don’t. I was sad.
Thinking about Elementary boy gave me a fuzzy, warm feeling in my stomach, a feeling I liked. I wanted to see him, talk to him, and hold hands with him. Ever since my mom and dad gave me the talk, I did not hang out with Elementary boy as much. I paid attention to morning worship, I rejected him when he wanted to play on the swings, and I played with my other friends more. I did not like avoiding him, but I also did not like making God sad. Soon, Elementary boy started playing with other people, and I was super sad about not playing with him any more. I started focusing on my homework and school material to keep myself occupied. Before we could move up to middle school, Elementary boy moved out to a different city. He will always remain my first instance of romantic love; our fun play times were always so nice and coy, my Elementary boy.
High school boy had a cute face, an endearing personality, and a bright smile. High school was a transformative time for my sense of identity; between the increased exposure to the LGBTQIA+ community on my social media feed and a more open-minded school community, I was able to develop a stronger understanding of my queer identity and sexual orientation. The heteronormative mask built on indoctrinated beliefs during my adolescence gradually chipped away during my time in high school, and I enjoyed getting to know more of myself day by day. Such a meaningful revelation was further affirmed by my suffocating yearning for High school boy. His charcoal eyes ignited such a comforting feeling in me; his soft touch felt like velvet gracing barren soil; his cheeky smile resembled the twilight illuminating a gloomy wasteland. I was hooked. For a hormonal teen still grappling with his fresh yet puzzling emotions, my feelings for him were robust and sensationalized. I would hug him at every opportunity, approach him with the most menial of topics just to hear his voice, and sit next to him at lunch to close the gap between us. High school boy was never opaque; he recognized my flirty advances yet responded with aloof gestures, teasing me like a confident matador approaching a ravenous bull. Still, I found the back-and-forth amusing until it was not. I could never pinpoint the exact moment when my feelings bloomed from a light crush to an insatiable desire. Perhaps it was during my sleepover at his house where the image of living together with him filled me with saccharine joy, or perhaps it was the countless number of meaningful conversations under the night sky we enjoyed; nevertheless, my fondness for him grew stronger day by day.
With the support of my friends behind me, the fateful day arrived where I could confess my feelings for him in hopes of finding joyous reciprocity or bittersweet heartbreak. I instead received an ambiguous answer riddled with unease. His answer was neither yes or no; it was a maybe, either embellished with hope or anxiety depending on how you take it. I took it as hope, and our inconspicuous relationship began. At first, my heart fluttered as the concept of keeping our relationship a pretty little secret added a layer of spice; the spice soon turned sour as the constant need for privacy weighed me down. Eventually, I began to notice how involved he became with the church; from going to church more to keeping a bible in arm’s reach, there was definitely an underlying message he wanted to say: the message that our relationship was colored in sin. Admittedly, I could not handle the covert nature of our relationship, and I disclosed everything to a friend, who told another friend, who told another friend, and on and on. Naturally, it led to him. Describing his response as upset would be an understatement. High school boy completely shut me out, openly acted callous towards me, and ignored me for fear of the rumors coming into the light even more. I was devastated. He eventually moved to a different high school, and my chapter with him was put on indefinite hiatus. His beliefs got the better of him and the rumors he wanted to destroy, my High school boy.
College boy had a hot body, a killer sense of style, and a sultry mustache. College was monumental for the development of my identity. After stripping myself of the mental barriers that plagued my path towards absolute acceptance, moving to the United States from Indonesia allowed me to place myself in the epicenter of tolerance and sexual liberation. I carried a pride flag pin on every piece of clothing, flaunting it to every living person I saw. No longer did I have to suppress my expression of identity; instead of staying a facet of myself I hid, it became the armor I boast to the world. The freedom to express myself did not end at my appearance, aesthetic, or attitude exclusively; it extended to my sexual practices as well. Like a ferocious lion in a butcher’s backroom, I was covetous in exploring my sexual orientation. My sights were set on a certain College boy who had all the conventionally attractive features of a masculine man; from his bulging biceps, to his chiseled jawline, to his sultry lips, his virile aura permeated all the areas of my mind. My attraction towards him only grew as we bonded over the same interests; between matches of “Super Smash Bros,” sensual gazes would be exchanged; between talks about our favorite pop singers, innocent glances at each other’s lips occurred; between screenings of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” episodes, suggestive stares grew prominent. He wanted me, and the feeling was mutual.
One night, I could no longer contain such visceral feelings, and I confessed to him. My raw declaration of love was met with a warm smile and a dissonant rejection. The silence after was both deafening and muted. I could feel my chest implode with the realization of what was said. All the time we spent together and all our flirty exchanges must have been spawned from my own delusional mind, constructed to abate any principles of reality that would threaten my ego. College boy balked and reassured me that his feelings for me were true as if trying to glue back the remnants of my broken heart. I asked him what the limiting factor responsible for not elevating our relationship was, and he told me it was me; I was the problem. I was bewildered. College boy wanted a fleeting situationship, while I wanted a committed relationship; he wanted a body below his, while I wanted a body next to mine; he wanted sex, but I wanted marriage. Unbeknownst to me, College boy saw me as dispensable, temporary warmth during the cold Seattle nights. I refused his proposals for a cursory moment of intimacy, still longing for an intimate lifetime, and abstaining from meaningless sex like a good Christian man. Leaving his dorm room, I realized that I too still had deep-rooted religious biases; I was just another boy with a bible by their bedside.
Heed my warning: beware of boys with bibles by their bedside.
Author: Joel Sitanggang (He/Him)
Artist: Kelly Doherty (She/Her)
Copy Editors: JQ Shearin (She/Her), Bella (She/They)