I recently published a book. My first. You might have heard. It’s all about struggle and redemption, and I titled it Struggle Central: Quarter-Life Confessions of a Messed Up Christian.
But that’s almost not what it was called.
I spent many weeks brainstorming the perfect title. The “Struggle Central” portion emerged without much conscious effort thanks to last summer’s hearty camp experience hiding in bathroom stalls – my centralized Struggle Headquarters of four flimsy walls and a toilet.
The main title was easy; figuring out the subtitle, however, required more time and brainstorming.
Among many potential ideas, one was “Quarter-Life Confessions of a Gay Christian.” Ultimately, I switched out “Gay Christian” for “Messed Up Christian” since the book wasn’t entirely about my struggle with homo–
Oh, what’s that? You hadn’t heard?
Well then. Let me explain. Ever since I published Struggle Central two months ago, it’s been the purple bedazzled elephant in the room that I’ve been desperately wanting to kill.
So, let’s kill that elephant already.
My name is Tom. I’m 26, and I’m a Christian.
And I’m also gay.
A Gay Christian from Youth
For 19 years, I didn’t tell a soul about my sexuality. Hardly accepted or even understood my elementary attractions myself.
I mean, I’d known since second grade – distinctly remember innocent childhood desires for a male “best friend” I could see outside school and perhaps hold and fall asleep beside at night. But as my clandestine emotional desires grew more sexualized throughout my teenage years, I started realizing my harrowing situation.
I was gay; I was Christian. I supposed that made me a “gay Christian,” if ever there could be such a thing. Nobody else knew – never even suspected anything. Despite never dating a girl, I never received any verbal attacks of “fag” or “queer.” Was never called out on my secret sexuality and never even heard rumors that my peers thought I was gay.
Apparently, I was the straightest gay Christian there was.
After all, I was a Christian; Christians don’t struggle with that. Good heavens. Rather than label me gay, I imagined everyone in my perpetual Christian bubble of school-church-family simply assuming me a quiet coward when it came to girls.
In the climactic fifth and sixth confessions of Struggle Central, I wrote about the bizarre circumstances which prompted my first “coming out” to my parents at 19, and over the last seven years I’ve been confiding in other precious people at critical junctures – siblings, good friends, and most recently my church group here in California.
Then two months ago, I finally “came out” with that aforementioned book. I say “finally,” because that jump from the closet was actually preceded by quite an arduous climb. An arduous climb unbeknownst to most – a climb four long years in the making.
A Gay Christian Meets Other Gay Christians
Four summers ago, I attended the Exodus Freedom Conference in Wheaton, Illinois, just outside Chicago. For those unaware, Exodus describes itself as “the leading global outreach to churches, individuals and families offering a biblical message about same-sex attraction.” Every summer they host a freedom conference somewhere in America.
The organization has certainly fielded its share of criticism over the years – a blog post for another occasion. Criticisms aside, Exodus awakened me. Made me realize I wasn’t the only messed up, gay Christian in existence, and I even found some life-changing friendships there as well.
Relationships aside, Exodus awakened me in another powerful way – made me realize my struggles weren’t meant to stay concealed in darkness forever.
I’d have never written Struggle Central without that week-long sojourn to suburban Chicago.
It was the last night of that 2009 conference and an altogether rare moment when God distinctly spoke to me. He posed a question so insane and terrifying and altogether thrilling: What if you wrote about your struggles — including the big one? Someday?
Four years later, now living 2,300 miles away from a forlorn Georgian existence, such a bizarre vision was finally realized: I wrote that book.
It was a book, in part, about my long concealed struggle with homosexuality. My mostly secret identity as a gay Christian.
A Gay Christian Holds Back
For the last two years, I’ve almost felt like I was “lying” to y’all — my readers. Blog post after blog post, especially the more vulnerable ones, I was only telling you part of the story. I especially felt burdened last summer at camp. Whenever I vaguely referenced my “struggles” there, I couldn’t quite write why I struggled so much.
That killed me. All summer long, I wanted to come out and say it so badly:
I’M GAY. GAY GAY GAY AT A GUYS’ CAMP WHERE I FEEL INFERIOR AND ATTRACTED AND OVERWHELMED BY DOZENS OF AWESOME COUNSELORS.
But I couldn’t; it wouldn’t have been right. Not at all the proper timing for such a bold, altogether awkward declaration.
In the autumn wake of my summer at camp, however, the clamps started loosening on my hesitations. After blogging here for over a year, it was time to write and publish my first book. With respect to my blog, some sort of personal nonfiction work made the most sense – and then I remembered my Exodus revelation in 2009.
God’s voice I’d heard; His vision I’d seen.
And so it was. I started writing this book in October and finished it in April. Held very little back as I kept all my trusted confidants in the loop about the leap I was about to take with Struggle Central.
A leap four impossible years in the making.
A Gay Christian Steps Forward
Since “coming out” with my first book two months ago, I’ve withheld any blogging about my homosexual struggle. It’s not that I’ve been afraid to do so; it’s just that my book’s homosexual reveal is a bit of a bombshell, and I wanted to give ample time for my most faithful readers to uncover that confession for themselves before I started openly blogging about being a gay Christian.
If you’ve downloaded/purchased the book, but hadn’t yet hit that pivotal part of my story – I’m sorry for “spoiling” things. Don’t worry, though; I promise there’s so much more crap to my story than being a gay Christian.
(Spoiler: there’s tons of redemptive moments as well.)
For the last two years – and especially these last two months – I’ve been eager to advance this blog to the “next level.” To further the mission started four years ago at an unsuspecting conference. A mission of striving to bring darkness to Light.
And so, I have some confessions to get off my chest – quarter-life confessions of a gay Christian.
A Gay Christian’s Confessions
For brevity’s sake, here are some bulleted points that pertain to my faith, homosexuality, and the seeming conflict I bear as a gay Christian:
- Yes, I’m still attracted to guys even after confessing to so many people. And God. After 26 years, I’ve never been physically attracted to a girl.
- No, I didn’t “choose” to be gay. The matter of sexual “choice” has been argued to death in Christian culture, but honestly, I’d have never chosen this life if I’d had any say in the matter.
- Yes, I consider myself a “gay Christian,” though I also describe myself as “same-sex attracted” (or “SSA,” as the trendy Christian acronym goes). To me, it’s all semantics and one in the same with regards to my sexuality.
- No, I’m not actively seeking a gay relationship. Despite my unceasing male attractions at gyms and coffee shops alike, I’ve realized there’s something intrinsically deeper beneath my male attractions. I hope to elaborate more on this particular point in another post.
- Yes, I believe homosexuality is outside God’s ideal story for humanity. I realize there are massively opposing opinions outside and even within the Church, but for my own personal sense of peace, I cannot mentally reconcile a homosexual relationship with also following Christ. Given the choice of one or the other — well, without Christ, I’m lost.
- No, I don’t need “healing.” Or at least not like Westboro Baptist Church thinks I need it. Let’s not even go there.
- Yes, this life really sucks sometimes.
- No, it’s not all doom and gloom. When you think about life as a struggle and drawing closer to Christ by picking up your cross and carrying it as He did — well, that’s a pretty fulfilling life.
- Yes, I want a wife and kids someday. It could happen; I’ve read stories about it happening and have even witnessed those stories firsthand. So much would have to transpire in my life first, but you know what? I’m good with the single life for now; it gives me a lot of independence. Especially as an introverted writer. For now, it’s wonderfully freeing not to be romantically attached to another human being.
I may elaborate on some/all of these “gay Christian confessions” in the ongoing future of my blog. My story. But for now, you have the basics.
A Gay Christian Anew
Four years after receiving my Struggle Central revelation at a conference, I find it eerily fitting that I’ll be returning to that same conference this summer – this week, actually.
Of all the places in America, Exodus is coming to my sunny southern Californian backyard this year. I’m ecstatic to reunite with some long lost friends and hopefully create some new ones as well.
You can certainly expect a healthy Exodus recap in the weeks to come.
I’ve not attended the Exodus Freedom Conference since that pivotal Chicago summer of 2009, so to come full circle here in Orange County after finally publishing that insane terrifying thrilling book is a pretty spectacular turn-of-events.
A “God-thing,” if you will.
I never chose this path, but I have it all the same. And so it is; and so I walk. If you’ve read Struggle Central, you know my homosexuality has prompted some monumental moments. Redemptive moments that have only confirmed my belief in a God actively seeking to reconcile me back to Him. Reconcile all of us.
If you wrestle with homosexuality or any of my other struggles chronicled in Struggle Central, I’d love to hear from you. Feel free to comment on this post or email me privately. You can shoot me an email at tmz[at]thomasmarkzuniga[dot]com. I’d love to hear from you.
It’s a bit difficult condensing 26 years of a struggle into a book, let alone a blog post, but consider both the book and this post a start.
Consider this moment the gateway to a new era on this blog.
I’m unceasingly amazed at the power of Story as it relates to brokenness and redemption. I want to step more boldly into the Story ever ago penned for me. I want to proclaim my story and be the voice I longed to hear 15 years ago when I thought I was all alone in this struggle.
I wasn’t; I’m not. Nobody is alone — gay Christian or otherwise.
And so, the journey’s just getting started.
Travel well —
— and please excuse the dead bedazzled elephant on your way out.
UPDATE: Read my friend Joseph Craven’s fantastic response to this post, “Hating My Roots: A Post About Identity.”