Well, I’m back from SoCal. All in all, it was a marvelous trip, filled with delightful friends and good times!
I was afraid that my troublesome arrival was merely an ominous prelude for the week. Seriously, it was an awful Thursday evening! About 3 hours before my flight, I get an automated message telling me that my flight from BWI to LAX was delayed, which meant that I’d miss my connecting flight from LAX to Orange County, and the next flight wasn’t until the following morning. So I spend the next 2 hours on the phone, trying desperately to find someone who was not a moron at United Airlines, trying to figure out why my flight was delayed, and why they automatically booked me for a flight the following morning! At the end of that annoying 2 hour affair, all that I knew was that my flight was delayed, and the airline was willing to put me up in a hotel overnight, so that I could wake up at the buttcrack of dawn to get a flight from LAX to Orange County. So why the hell couldn’t they just pay for a $35 shuttle that would take me from LAX to my hotel in Orange County?
No one could answer this question. NO ONE. Not one person that I talked to. Idiots!
So I just went to the airport at my scheduled time, and waited for them to desist from delaying the flight further. It was here that I discovered the source of the delay: bad weather in Denver meant our plane would not be arriving at BWI on time. And because it’s a weather delay and not a mechanical one, they will not pay for my shuttle. ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?? But you’re willing to put me in a hotel overnight?
We finally get on the plane (an hour and a half past schedule), and then we sit on the frickin’ runway for another hour!! Grrrrrr! (I’ll admit that none of this was United’s fault, but STILL!!)
I don’t get into LAX until like 11:30pm. Then it’s another good 15 minutes to de-board, find the shuttle, wait for it to pick me up, and then a good hour of travelling to Irvine. I didn’t arrive at our hotel until about 1am. Now, ordinarily, this wouldn’t be such a big deal. But you see, I had people waiting for me.
I get to the hotel, and I’m immediately met by Gabe, the sound guy, who promptly miked me up. Then I’m waiting in the lobby for Christina (the creator of the documentary) to debrief me, before she allows me to see my friends. I enter the pool area, where my 3 friends are: Jon, Andrew, and Brian.
This would be the only night where all of us could be filmed together – for Brian (who was attending the Exodus Conference) was leaving the following morning, Andrew would be at the Exodus Conference the rest of the weekend, and only Jon and I would be at the Ex-gay Survivor’s Conference.
Well by this point, we’re all so exhausted, that we only get a good 20 minutes or so of the reunion. The sleep deprivation of the film crew, and frigid California evening winds brought our fellowship to an end.
Jon and I headed up to our room, had some heart-to-heart sharing, and then we slumbered.
Sleep was brought to a bitter end because Jon’s internal clock was set a bit earlier than my own. No worries though, it was a BEAUTIFUL morning, and breakfast was calling! After enjoying a we’ll-regret-this-later, fattening McDonald’s breakfast, we shopped around for a bit, before we were picked up by the film crew to head out to the beach.
After picking up Andrew from Exodus, the crew equiped him with a handheld camera to not only film us while we’re driving to the beach, but also to shield him from being filmed by the rest of the crew who drove beside us getting some different angles. Hmmm, I guess I should explain that “Andrew” is a pseudonym, and due to personal reasons, was not filmed directly so as not to reveal his identity.
Anywho, we spent the rest of the afternoon at Crystal Cove (near Laguna Beach) filming for the documentary, and then the 3 us headed to the opening night of the Ex-gay Survivor’s Conference. We got the opportunity to see Peterson Toscano perform his tragically hilarious, one-man show “Doin’ Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House”. Fantastic. Seriously fantastic. I don’t care what your views are on homosexuality, if you get a chance to see this show, you MUST see it!
After the show, we got a chance to meet some of the Gay Christian Network folks, and pal around a bit before reuniting with Andrew and Richie – an old buddy of ours – for dinner. It’s been so long since I’d seen some of these guys, so we spent a good deal of time talking about our various journeys, and how we’d gotten to changing (or remaining the same in, as the case may be) our stance over the years regarding sexuality and Christianity. Very thought provoking stuff. I wish more churches would engage in these kinds of conversations. It’s clearly an issue that the Church desperately needs to engage, since there are so many of us who are saying “I love Jesus, and I’m gay, and I’m not going anywhere” . . .
Afterwards, we headed back to our hotel for (yet another) nearly-full-but-not-quite night of sleep.
Saturday, Matt (another old buddy of ours), Jon and I headed to our conference, while Andrew was at his. Gosh, so much to say about the conference! It was powerful. Emotional. Uncomfortable. Informative. Jon and I were again miked up the whole time, as we were being filmed.
The first session was a time of silence and community sharing, as we all wrote out our good and bad experiences with Christian ex-gay ministries. My only critique of this part of the conference was that there was no facilitation of discussion about the positive things, though there was much to say about the negative things. I can’t complain about this so much, however, considering the sheer amount of pain that was expressed during this time. And for good reason . . .
I must admit that session emotionally rocked me. I thought I was just going across to the other coast to spend some quality time with friends, and shoot a documentary – not rehash all my old shit, and have to come to terms with how much love and relationship I’ve lost because of the difficulty of being gay and Christian The exercise was so heavy, that it catapulted our Christina – previously the creator of the documentary – into one of its main players.
The rest of the day was spent at several sessions, and workshops, and in serious contemplation. Jon and I rapped with Christina on film a bit more, and then we called it a day. Matt, Jon, and I headed over to the Exodus Conference to see some old friends. I mean, after spending nearly 5 years in the trenches with these folks, you really do start to get nostalgic. We just had to see them!
What started off as a sweet reunion with dear friends and a time of worship, ended quite poorly. Caryn – a good friend, and also an employee of Exodus – had an altercation with a couple of other guys from our conference. Somehow through that, she was under the impression that those guys claimed to be with us, and so she proceeded to throw us out as well. Fortunately, Ricky was there, and she ended up letting us stay to finish the worship session. (All of this was happening unbeknownst to us, as we were quite caught up in worship while this ugly situation transpired.)
After worship, Ricky told me to go talk to Caryn, and she – with tears in her eyes – began to explain how uncomfortable she was with things. I mean, we hadn’t paid for the conference, after all. But I think there was something much deeper to it, for as Caryin explained “we were coming from our conference to Exodus on the last night of Exodus”, and as much as she loved me, as much as we’d shared in the past, my current theological and ideological leanings were in conflict with the Exodus gathering. She expressed her heartfelt desire for some “distance” between us.
I’m not sure that I can explain how much this hurt me. I don’t think there are words for it. I found myself staring into the face of yet another loved one, as they tried to figure out what to do with me How many friends and family will I disappoint in trying to live out my convictions to the best of my ability? How many more sad faces do I have to survive? It broke my heart, in a serious way.
Sunday morning, Jon, Andrew, and I got to do some one-on-one interviews for the documentary. I was still reeling from the previous evening, and I’m not sure how I even made it through that interview. But this was probably one of the more meaningful aspects of the film, as we all got to sit down and explain how much we had all changed in the past year.
A year ago, when we first started filming for the documentary, I was in a very different place. I was a self-proclaimed “postmodern, bisexual Christian, trying to figure out what to do with my life”, and I returned to camera a year later as a Chistian man at peace with his sexuality, and in love with another man who I’d likely spend the rest of my life with if it were up to me.
Again, these are hard things to explain in words. How do you explain such a long, arduous journey into bite-sized sound bytes? It’s impossible!
Later, Andrew, Jon, and I headed down to Newport Beach for some sun, fun, and sharing. It was really nice.
Then the film crew splurged on a really nice meal at a groovy restaurant overlooking Laguna Beach. Splendid! Here we had one last night of filming, and a chance to finally interview Christina, and discover more about her story, and how this documentary was birthed.
And then . . . sweet sorrow. I honestly never anticipated becoming so close to this crew. I hardly know them. Yet, we’ve shared in something amazing together. I’ve opened up my heart, I’ve shared some sacred parts of my story with these folks (and soon, to much of the world!) They were standing by listening to us as we were just being us – just enjoying each other’s company. And they were also around to witness us relay our joys and trials these last 5 years, in our sincere struggle to reconcile our sexuality and earnest desire to follow Jesus. Yeah, my heart hurt a bit as we hugged goodbye. Who know’s if I’ll ever see these guys again? Who knows if my story impacted their lives? Who knows if maybe they have a slightly different idea of who Jesus is, because of the me I was able to share?
I don’t know. All I know is that before we parted, we descended the path and subsequent stairs to the beach, and enjoyed the moonlight, as the waves danced before our eyes. We tasted life that evening – we soaked it in, and embraced beauty for all it was worth . . .
And then we sang a song together. What a special moment:
How could anyone ever tell you
You are anything less than beautiful?
How could anyone ever tell you
You are less than whole?
How could anyone fail to notice
That your loving is a miracle?
How deeply you’re connected to my soul . . .
And so, the journey continues. I wish I had my bearings and wits. I do not. I’m just living life one day at a time . . . enjoying grace, and beauty, and justice, and mercy, and all the good things life is made of. . .