“Hear me, O God! Woe to the sins of men!” When a man cries thus, thou showest him mercy, for thou didst create the man but not the sin in him. Who brings to remembrance the sins of my infancy?
– The Confessions of Saint Augustine
I’m beautiful in my way, ‘Cause God makes no mistakes, I’m on the right track, baby, I was born this way. Don’t hide yourself in regret, Just love yourself and you’re set, I’m on the right track, baby, I was born this way.
– Lady Gaga
I was not an ordinary child, by most accounts. I was the second offspring of a traditional couple overjoyed to bring their first and only son into the world. Perhaps my older sister, a mere toddler at the time, was jealous of their affection for me. I’m told she would poke at my infant eyes, much to the alarm of my proud parents. Thankfully, there was no permanent ocular injury, and my eyes are perfectly fine to this day aside from some myopia that I can’t in all fairness blame my sister for. My parents were both young professionals, and we lived in a pleasant urban home, the four of us with occasional pets of varying genus. The earliest memories from my toddler years are mere snapshots of moments and emotions. The comfort of being held by my mom, the thrill of running and often falling, overlooking a hill and the civilization below, the fear of hearing my parents argue. I was an inquisitive and precocious child. There was nothing I could not tear apart, not merely for the joy of smashing things that many boys appreciate but more for comprehending how things worked. I was also a reflective child. Even as a toddler, I was sensitive to my own and others’ thoughts and feelings.
One persistent message throughout childhood was about gender and gender roles. I don’t remember a time in my life when others related to me merely as a human being rather than a male human being. Aside from the involuntary societal cues about gender, I was also expressly reminded of things that boys would do (“boys are brave!”) and would not do (“boys don’t cry!”). I learned about gender differences mostly from my parents. The two could not be more different in some sense. My dad was confident, physically imposing, risk loving, and socially outgoing, while my mom was diffident, petite, risk averse, and focused on her family. Being more like my mom in temperament, I gravitated towards her from my earliest years, but I had no doubt that both of my parents loved and cherished me. I knew that I was a boy, but the strict lines distinguishing the genders seemed artificial and incomprehensible to me even back then. Some relate being “gay” with having more feminine personality traits. On this front, I was decidedly a mixed-bag, though on the balance I probably had more stereotypically male traits versus stereotypically female traits. As a child, I rarely cried, was emotionally strong, loved to break things apart and construct things, and enjoyed analytical over verbal tasks. However, I was also very aware of emotions, was gentle, was exceedingly well-behaved, and had an artistic flair.
There was no moment in my pre-pubescent childhood when I felt that I was “gay” or “straight” as such terms were not even in my consciousness and I did not feel any sexual attraction. There was also never any sexual abuse. I was, however, rather fascinated by the human phallus even as a young child. Not in some prurient manner, but rather the penis seemed to represent power and grant me certain prerogatives. Manual manipulation of the genitals was also pleasurable, though I did not connect it to any concept of sex or orgasm. The budding scientist/physician in me was intrigued by the physiology of this inordinately important organ. The only experience that had any hint of homosexuality was when I played doctor with another boy when we were about 7 years old. I was distinctly curious about this boy’s genitals as we “examined” one another innocently, fully clothed. Granted, interest in genitalia is normal in child development and I suspect my own experience did not deviate significantly from the norm; however, this interest might have presaged a deeper fascination with the entirety of the male form.
The relative innocence of childhood ended, as is nearly universal, when puberty hit without warning. Actually, puberty seemed to hit my peers before me. In sixth grade, some of the boys had congregated nervously. When I joined them, I realized they were agog to see a pornography magazine that one of the boys had brought from home. It was my first exposure to pornography, and I had not had any interest in pornography prior to this event. As the boys were excitedly talking mostly about the naked woman in a somewhat naïve manner, I remember being more fascinated by the naked man in the picture who was exhibiting a full erection, again something I had previously not seen. Being the well-behaved child that I was and as I had not quite hit puberty in stride yet, I did not revisit pornography until many years later. My first inkling of same sex sexual attraction occurred in middle school. I was part of a group of 6 boys who were best friends, and we spent much of our free time together playing sports and video games. There was one boy within this group that I admired and thought about a lot. I never consciously thought “I like him” or “I think he’s cute”, though in retrospect, both were true. I had a major falling out with him later in middle school, and my sense now is that I had unconsciously distanced myself from him due to these unspoken but taboo feelings. It was only in high school that I finally realized I was primarily attracted to other boys. By then, I was familiar with the basics of human romantic relationships and with the existence of something called homosexuality. There were a few boys during my high school years who would cause my heart to beat a bit faster and would compel me to steal furtive glances. I never expressed these feelings to anyone, as by then I was also well familiar with the society and the church’s disapprobation of homosexuality and the internal struggle was beginning to take deep root. I didn’t fully understand the how’s and the why’s of all this, but the empiricist in me knew the issue would not be going away anytime soon.
In the next blog posts, I intend to examine the root of same sex sexual attractions from scientific and theological perspectives.