15 minutes reading time (3083 words)
Journey - Chapter 29
Homosexuals Anonymous—the Toronto Chapter
BY JERRY MCKAY
I arrived back in Ottawa from Reading, Pennsylvania, the Easter weekend of 1985. The Saturday before I moved to Toronto, I attended church. I started attending this congregation as a child in the mid-1960s. This was the church I always returned to whenever I came home for a visit. Most of the pillars of the church were farmers. Small-town folk made up the rest of the congregation of some forty people. To say everyone knew me was not an exaggeration. That makes it easier to understand how, with no warning as to the subject, when I asked to make an announcement from the front of the church, I was given permission to do so without hesitation.
Motivated by that sometimes-naïve Christian eagerness to “lay the truth out there” in personal witness, I announced I struggled with homosexuality, had attended Quest Learning Center hoping to remedy the problem, and that I was moving to Toronto to begin some kind of ministry.
For the previous three years, I had been traveling in circles where terms like gay, homosexual, and lesbian were almost commonplace. Such terms were not usually tossed about in church announcements, however. One or two members were already aware of my situation, but I had no idea who else might have known. I never intended to shock anyone, but I later wrote, “Now they have all heard it from the horse’s mouth and no one need talk behind closed doors. I hope it will help someone. I’m sure people were uncomfortable, but that is how it will have to be.” After the service, one woman slipped me a check for $100. The next day, I moved to Toronto.
I had no money to speak of, no job waiting for me, and except for an invitation to stay with my sister for a while, I had no place to live.
On the bus, I pulled out a book. Not my Bible, not this time. I was reading Return of the Jedi. Given my circumstances, I found counsel in a comment by Yoda! “Fear is a great cloud,” he said to Luke Skywalker. “It makes the cold colder and the dark darker… Be aware of anger, fear, and aggression. The dark side are they. Easily they flow, quick to join you in a fight. Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny.” While I was certain there would be dark-side forces to face from within and without, I hoped I could manage. In fact, I was excited about creating an entirely new life for myself.
In a conversation with Colin shortly after I arrived in Toronto, he told me to remind God that heaven’s windows are open and that I expected blessings daily. Precisely how God was involved in the first few weeks I have no idea, but there were multiple events that I chalked up to a divinely orchestrated synergy.
Although a college degree showed some intelligence and ability on my part, I knew a bachelor’s in theology wasn’t going to get me too far in the business world. To enhance my resume, I included my “receptionist-secretarial” work at Quest. It was my ability to type that paid off.
On May 1, I was given a two-week assignment at Wood Gundy Inc.—Canada’s largest stockbroker. My junior secretarial assignment was on the 44th floor of the Royal Trust Tower of the Toronto Dominion Centre at King and Bay—the heart of Canada’s financial district. I was to replace one of the three “girls” who was on vacation. Those “girls” served the needs of a group of highly stressed guys working the in-house trading floor. I was in over my head. Thankfully, the other women graciously helped me learn to operate the switchboard, file documents properly, and type the business letters correctly. When we were on break and chatting about the weekend or the demands of the guys on the trading floor, I saw myself reflected in the 1980 movie Nine to Five with Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and Dolly Parton. I would be sent back to Wood Gundy repeatedly until eventually being offered a full-time position in the Mutual Funds department. This was the first event that felt very God-directed.
A week later, I found a place to live in a beautiful upscale neighborhood in the west end of the city. The apartment was in a mansion of a house on High Park Blvd. My little L-shaped bachelor apartment came with a street level private entrance and a fireplace. Even though the refrigerator and hotplate were in the grungy green hallway leading to the furnace room—where I was to wash my dishes in the laundry tub—I loved the place. The streetcar that stopped at the end of my street also stopped at the corner of King and Bay right in front of Wood Gundy. These little details, as well as being able to pay by the week, seemed like Divine synergy number two. With a job and a place to call home in place, getting HA [Homosexuals Anonymous] up and running was my next goal.
As the headquarters for the Adventist church in Canada was 30 miles from Toronto, it was easy to set up a meeting with Elder Morgan, President of the Ontario Conference. Because he had given me money out of his own pocket two years prior to go to Quest, it was good to meet him face to face and thank him. I told him more about my Quest experience and my hopes of using an Adventist church for the HA chapter. Such a gesture would make a positive statement to the community. The moment Elder Morgan suggested Pastor Neal of the Willowdale church, the phone rang—it was Pastor Neal! I spoke to him and arranged to meet him that coming Sabbath after church. Was this another God moment?
I also met with Elder Wilson, President of the Canadian Union Conference. He was supportive and agreed that Pastor Neal might be a good contact. Elder Wilson met Colin in Washington, D.C. a few years prior when Colin Cook first gave his appeal for financial support to the General Conference leadership. Wilson admitted he was moved and impressed with Colin.
I was about to leave the building when someone headed right toward me. “I know you from C.U.C.,” he said. Elder Devnich had been the pastor at Canadian Union College when I was studying there. Naturally, he asked me how I was, and then followed up with that inevitable what-have-you-been-doing question. Despite initially wanting to avoid speaking to him, I gave him the Reader’s Digest version of what I had indeed been up to and gave him an HA brochure. Elder Devnich’s encouragement included a comment that unintentionally spoke to my naivety. He encouraged me not to be easily discouraged by any opposition or indifference I would be sure to meet. He hoped that our church could handle this issue and be a leader in offering a hand of help.
As planned, I went to Pastor Neal’s church the following Sabbath. After the service, I met with both him and his wife. Although he seemed understanding and believed I could use the church for an HA chapter, in my journal I later wrote that “he was either tired or was not saying what he was really thinking.” I had no way of knowing what either he or his wife were thinking, so I hesitated to put words in their mouths. However, I felt as though they hadn’t really heard what I said. I was surprised at their lack of response. “There was no shock, little expressed interest or concern as to how I was doing,” I wrote.
I’m not sure what I should have expected; and, in their defense, they probably had little experience speaking so openly about homosexuality. Perhaps I spoke too confidently, giving the impression that all was well—that I was happily heterosexual with just a few fleeting homosexual inclinations to contend with. I had, after all, developed the tendency to speak “by faith” as though things were one way even when they were another. Even though I was used to talking about the most private aspects of my soul, it was never easy. I was exhausted when I went home.
While I was told that the typical wait time for a post office box was 4 to 6 months, I found a postal station that had new boxes available immediately. When I went to register, the new uninstalled bank of boxes was still sitting in the lobby. I left the post office and sat on a bench to reflect on what felt like yet another Divine “coincidence”—the 50 Charles St. location was in the gay village! “The Lord has authority over all events and needs,” I wrote that evening. The first item to land in the HA mailbox was from Colin, a copy of the booklet he wrote for the It Is Written program to feature his ministry. It was to be aired in Canada that August.
After my moment of reflection, I walked downtown instead of taking the subway. Several blocks down Yonge St., I saw Lloyd walking toward me. I had not seen Lloyd since driving back to Toronto with him at the end of my first five-month stay in Reading in ‘83. As we had not remained in contact, Lloyd was as surprised to “accidentally” see me on the streets of Toronto as I was to see him.
In my journal, I said I needed to meet Lloyd—someone who shared a history with Quest, Colin, and HA. Lloyd was pleased to hear I was planning to start an HA chapter and said he’d try to help find a location at St Michael’s University. Located downtown, this possibility seemed better than at the Adventist church in the north end of the city.
As my apartment was HA headquarters, I had a second phone line installed. Once I set up an answering machine and picked up the rubber stamp with all the pertinent contact information to put on the brochures, I was ready to go. All I needed was that location. That took longer than I had hoped. First, Lloyd changed his mind about St. Michael’s as a location because he was afraid of being seen attending the meetings. Lloyd was employed there. Then, a United Church in the area that initially thought it would be possible to use their facilities, on reflection, said that the LGBT members were uncomfortable as they didn’t feel their orientation was a sickness. Not to be deterred, I kept looking.
Moving to Toronto met a desire, a need, perhaps a fantasy that I had had for some time—a place of anonymity! I continued to identify as a Christian and saw myself on a particular mission, but I was no longer employed by the church. I wrote, “Does anyone realize how foreign it is for me to be so totally in charge of my own world?” I went to church but was under no obligation to attend. I was the one who created an arms-length network of accountability with local church leaders, but there was no expectation to follow through. As well, I could come and go from my place when I pleased. Several times I wrote, “I am happy.” Sometimes, I was beside myself with happiness; and I never use that word to describe myself often.
At the same time, I was still in conflict with my orientation. I feared it less in the sense that I believed God understood every aspect of my experience. I just didn’t want to be attracted to the same sex. To that effect, I was continually trying to deny the nature of my genuine affections—men—while trying to fabricate affections for women. It should be no surprise that church would become the one place where I would spend an inordinate amount of time trying to unearth those elusive affections for women. That habit began the Sabbath I went to Pastor Neal’s church and would continue for months and years to come. To a lesser degree, I did the same thing at work, when riding the subway, or simply walking the streets.
Acquaintances who were affirming of their sexual orientation presented a different challenge. During that same church service, I recognized Samuel. We had met at Kinship Kampmeeting in ’82 and had stayed in contact. The next morning, he called and suggested getting together.
When we met, I avoided talking about Quest and my plans for HA. I just wanted to get to know him better. During our conversation, he dropped positive comments about Kinship and mentioned he was nearing the end of the long process of registering Kinship Canada as a non-profit organization. I knew Samuel was dedicated to his faith and the church, something a self-affirming homosexual wasn’t supposed to be or do—but I knew that already. An intelligent, affirming, Christian man like Samuel challenged me theologically and emotionally. I was both drawn to his self-acceptance and puzzled how he got to that place.
I later wrote that Samuel seemed a little down—perhaps lonely. While I didn’t ask, I imagined he, too, felt isolated at church even when surrounded by fellow believers. Whether or not Samuel was lonely, meeting him put me in touch with an issue I faced regularly—loneliness. When not distracted with work or establishing the HA chapter, loneliness could assert itself with vengeance. I often felt loneliness most intensely while heading home at the end of a workday or after church. While Yoda didn’t address loneliness, he would have warned that it too “is a great cloud that makes the cold colder and the dark darker.”
My loneliness had a unique dark side associated with it. The dark side for me was that the lonelier I got the more drawn to men I felt—not women. If it led to a sexual “fall,” the guilt and shame could push me deeper onto the dark side where despair festered. While Yoda’s warning was legitimate, I turned to God to confront what often felt like a death to me. I created and repeated dialogues using resurrection imagery and the story of Jesus speaking to the storm at sea to confront those tough times.
One evening while on the way home from my sister’s, I began to feel restless—intensely lonely. I sat in the subway car and opened my fears up to God using a dialogue I had prepared. “Lord, right now I am lonely, and my apartment feels far away. This loneliness is death to me, and I fear it. I have no authority over this; it rules me. I want to go home, and with your help I can. I believe you are greater than this and that it is your joy to call your son to life in this death. I praise you for calling your son into my death at this moment. I see Jesus rising through this loneliness and leaving it powerless.” I repeated this prayer several times. On this occasion, I made it home, but loneliness was never far away, often haunting me in my home.
On other occasions, I used a dialogue based on the story of the storm at sea. I had a painting on my wall depicting the serene sea after Jesus had rebuked the storm. In a four-page working through of the story in my journal, I concluded I had two options regarding the sleeping Jesus: wake Jesus and accuse him of not caring about my plight as the disciples had done or wake him and expectantly invite him to speak to my personal storms.
Using these dialogues kept God at the center of my life and my effort to stabilize myself emotionally. They were powerful responses because of the spiritual meaning they held for me. I believe now, however, I could have used any visualization technique to the same effect. That does not mean I thought God was absent in those moments. However, attributing these minor victories to Divine intervention only made the times when there wasn’t the same success confusing and painful. There was another downside. It was too easy to believe that I could visualize my way through anxieties around holding a woman’s hand all the way into a heterosexual relationship.
Toward the middle of May, my sister and I rented a car for a trip home to visit mom and dad over the May long weekend. A trip home would switch my focus from thinking about women and heterosexuality to my father and heterosexuality—I still believed the primary cause of my orientation was my poor relationship with my father. Repair or satisfy those “unmet love needs,” I was told, and my desire for men should decrease.
My father never initiated any physical contact. If I were heading away for a long journey—like going to Japan—I might get a hug. It was as warm as embracing a dead fish. My goal for the weekend was to initiate contact. “Just a squeeze of his shoulder as a demonstration of affection would be deeply meaningful to me,” I wrote. In the end, “contact” was little more than a hand on his shoulder when slipping past him in the kitchen, but it was still significant. It is astounding how much anxiety I experienced just expecting and initiating that two-second moment of physical contact. I don’t know if he even noticed, but it would make future efforts on my part easier. Did it decrease my desire for male contact? No!
On May 27, Lloyd and I met in his office for Toronto’s first HA chapter meeting. A very informal event, but it was a start. After that meeting, I started to discreetly put HA pamphlets in random places—church foyers, men’s washrooms, and gay establishments. I hoped someone who really needed the group—someone in conflict with their orientation—would find the pamphlet. I planned to start advertising in local papers in June.
May ended with a call to Elder Morgan for an update. At the end of our conversation, he encouraged me to approach the Adventist Ministerial Association of Toronto to ask if I could speak to the group at some point. Coincidentally, Pastor Neal was president of the Association.I felt that my first two months in Toronto were a success. As a celebration, of sorts, I purchased carnations and a candle for my coffee table by the fireplace. From there, I worked on my to-do list for June.
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