I outgrew Jesus pretty quickly.
I tried to believe in him, convinced myself that I did, but faith has to be heartfelt. I confused the superstitions of Christianity with sincerity. “If I don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t have impure thoughts about other boys, it proves that I believe in god and Jesus, which means I’m a good person.” That kind of thing. Ironically, the superstitions were harder to leave behind than the belief would’ve been.
Anyway, while I was at it–while I was trying to fit in with the masses of Southern Baptists in my hometown who all claimed to believe in god and Jesus and the literal truth of the bible but conveniently overlooked Old Testament prohibitions on shellfish, pork, and poly-cotton blends–during the 18 years I did all that, I prayed. I prayed for my family, I prayed for world peace, but mostly, I prayed for god to make me straight.
I played this game with god–well, not a game, more of a variation on the “give me a sign” theme. You know: “Lord, give me a sign whether I should take this job!” “Lord, give me a sign for the answer to question #37 on the math section of the ACT!” “Lord, give me a sign whether the center on the varsity football team would beat me to a pulp if I tried to kiss him!” Et cetera.
I played the game whenever mom or dad drove us around town. In the backseat I’d whisper, “Dear god, let the next person I see be the sort of person I want to love for the rest of my life.” I wasn’t asking to fall in love with the next person who crossed my path, just a sign of where love would lead me, a sign of whether I was straight or gay. Basically, I hoped that the next person I saw would be a woman, which meant that I’d live an ordinary, heterosexual, biblically approved life.
Naturally, the game yielded mixed results, since I had only a 50/50 chance of getting the answer I wanted. When the next person I saw was a woman, I’d breathe a sigh of relief, as though god had just promised me–in writing, thank you–that I’d eventually settle down with a woman. When the next person I saw was a man, I’d demand a do-over, because clearly I’d been distracted. Because I hadn’t focused intently on god. Because my request hadn’t been sincere.
I played that game for a long time–long after I’d stopped believing in god. It had become more than a superstition, it had become a habit. Kind of like the way I cross myself when I see a dead animal on the side of the road or a funeral procession or an ambulance with its sirens blaring. (Not that I was ever Catholic, of course. I’ve just lived in New Orleans a long time.)
In fact, sometimes I still play it. I don’t know why. My sexual orientation is pretty obvious by now. Maybe I do it to see if I’m truly comfortable with the results.