A Wedding and a Vacation
BY JERRY MCKAY
On August 10, 1982, barely a week after my first weekend visit with Colin Cook, my sister and I loaded up a rented Capri station wagon and set out for Alberta where I would be a member of the wedding of a college friend. The difference between this trip and others Marilyn and I had taken together before was that she now knew about my orientation. I told her the night I returned from my first visit with Colin. Her knowing about my orientation was significant, but it didn’t mean much. Without access to my experience, how could she know what I was going through? Often during this trip, I was lost in self-reflection about my past, present, and future, all through the lens of reparative therapy.
We knew we had reached our target destination for our first day when we saw a well-known landmark, a large island – the sleeping giant of Ojibwa legend – peacefully resting off the shores of Lake Superior just east of Thunder Bay. It was a long drive, for sure, but we were experienced at marathon road trips. During childhood, many a vacation covered the same route we travelled that day. For that reason, every curve in the road and every small town was familiar. This time, as we drove past familiar places, memories of particular family interactions and orientation- related experiences emerged. The strongest memories were associated with the tiny ubiquitous self-contained cabins we stayed in as a family.
As children, the first thing my sister and I would do was explore each rustic cabin. The rooms were small and the furniture decades out of date, but we didn’t care. The important issue for us was which well-worn squeaky bed we would sleep in that night. Mother’s concern was about which kitchen utensils were provided or not; because, even though on vacation, she still had to do the cooking. Dad’s concern was where to locate his first cold beer.
Staying at those cabins introduced me to other families and, more specifically, other fathers. Even at six, seven, or eight years of age, I noticed how those dads interacted with their sons. They did more than toss balls around; there was lots of physical contact. Although dad was not in the habit of “playing” with either of us, he showed greater interest in my sister. At least once a day, every day, whether at home or on vacation, with me sitting just a few feet away, Dad would coax Marilyn to sit on his lap and ask her one simple question: Whose little girl are you? She had to respond, “Daddy’s wee tiny, daddy’s wee girl.” Dad never did that with me. I envied her in that simple affectionate interaction. In the same way, I jealously watched those other fathers playing with their sons outside adjacent cabins. My response to Dad's favoritism toward my sister and the playfulness of those other fathers was to push my jealous pain deep inside.
The memories that were triggered as we drove past each cabin reminded me of recent conversations with Colin. When I told Colin about my sorrow as a child over the absence of such interactions with my father, he gave me the standard response. It was my “defensive” self-protective reaction to this emotional distance that was the primary cause of my homosexual orientation. My desire to connect with men sexually, he told me, was a sexualized longing for intimacy with my father.
Even if this theory of development were true, it does not explain why many boys, in very similar situations, are not homosexual. Nor does it explain why boys growing up in well-functioning loving families may well be homosexual. The problem with fishing for cause is that it often ignores the randomness evident in the development of sexual orientations. The important point, which I did not appreciate at the time, is that my attractions, whether innate or environmentally influenced, were laid down in my formative years. They were as deeply ingrained and permanent as the orientation of my heterosexual friends. Once beyond Ontario, my earlier vacation memories faded and my thoughts shifted to the upcoming wedding.
We reached Calgary International Airport just in time to rendezvous with Jugo who had been visiting friends in the United States. From Calgary we rushed north on Highway Two in order to join others for the rehearsal of Kelvin’s wedding.
The wedding resembled a school reunion. In addition to other college friends, Kelvin’s sister Karen was there. She and I had been in the same graduating class in high school. And Chris, who was to be the groomsman, had been my roommate during my last two years of college. Although I was happy to see everyone, I dreaded having to face those what-have-you-been-up-to questions. Though an innocent inquiry, the constant editing of my answer drained my energy and reminded me of how different I felt.
With respect to my internal dialogues, Kelvin and Chris were central. Having roomed with both, we knew a lot about each other. We had shared many aspects of our lives including issues about “girls.” They, of course, wrongly assumed I shared those concerns. For sure, they did not know that they had often been the true objects of my affection. My feelings for them were just troubling background noise while in college. Now, however, when we greeted each other with brotherly hugs, I was very aware and self-conscious of how I had felt about them.
The wedding itself was simple, yet beautiful. There was all the joy and laughter you would expect as well as the occasional moments of stress. As best man, I willingly participated in typical wedding pranks, drawing Marilyn and Jugo into all of them. While I appeared to be fully engaged in the day, that was not the case. Everything about this wedding either reminded me of what seemed so far out of my reach or left me feeling abnormal, broken, or defective—an abomination attracted to every well-groomed and handsomely dressed guy in attendance.
Weddings are not easy events for LGBTQ people for multiple reasons. These days, especially, Christian weddings often become unwitting platforms for critiquing all non-normative orientations. Subtle and not so subtle generalized and insensitive comments are made about our relationships. When pastors hammer home the belief, during the ceremony, that marriage is God’s blessed intent for one man and one woman, we know you are preaching to the choir about us! We feel the sting of becoming faceless unnamed “behaviors” and a sign of the end! Because this was 1982, before homosexuality had become a dinner table topic, I was spared this indignity. I didn’t need to be reminded of my fallen state anyway, as I was endlessly thinking about it, and on this day constantly comparing my experience to Kelvin’s.
As I watched and interacted with Kelvin and his fiancée, I was troubled by one feeling—envy. I didn’t envy Kelvin; I envied his wife-to-be. I didn’t necessarily want to be his wife, I just wanted a male companion, as kind and spiritual as he, “to have and to hold until death do us part.” Those thoughts triggered those tormenting why questions. Why can't my feelings be directed to the opposite sex? Why can't I make myself feel differently? Why can’t I will myself into heterosexuality through faith?
As wedding vows were exchanged, I imagined myself moving from altar to wedding bed. When I did, my anxiety shot up. When I pictured myself married and still being sexually aroused by male friends—as Colin had been with me — my head ached. I had to work very hard to push past the cognitive dissonance this created and enjoy the wedding. Had Marilyn and Jugo not known about my orientation I would have felt unusually disconnected.
After the wedding, Jugo and I dropped Marilyn off at the airport in Calgary. As he and I headed for Vancouver on our own, I became preoccupied with a reality I had been able to ignore for the three weeks Jugo was in the United States.
Although both Marilyn and Jugo knew about my orientation, Marilyn did not know that Jugo and I had only recently discovered we were birds of a feather. This revelation was completely unexpected and came about during our travels after arriving in North America. Once discovered, our common longing for intimacy exacerbated our situation and complicated the remainder of our vacation.
Because I had been praying regularly, long before leaving Japan, as sincerely as I was able about the healing of my orientation, I couldn’t understand why God would allow Jugo and me to be put into this situation. Of course, I wasn’t the first missionary to develop feelings for a student-become-friend-become-Christian, but the introduction of this dynamic into our friendship put an intense strain on my faith. I struggled to hold on to the promise in Romans 8:28 which assured me that “all things work together for good to those who love God.” All I could do was wonder if my commitment to change, or my faith itself, was being tested.
When we pulled out of the Vancouver airport, we resembled the 1983 National Lampoon movie Vacation. Our full-size station wagon barely had enough room for the five of us and all our luggage. Despite my very private preoccupations, I was excited about giving my three friends from Tokyo their vacation of a lifetime.
Japan has many places of stunning beauty, but most show evidence of being manicured, in contrast to the untouched natural beauty of the Rocky Mountains. My friends could have spent all of their vacation hiking and exploring British Columbia, but our plans did not allow for this. We spent three days in BC before moving into the foothills of Alberta. Our Alberta destination was Canadian Union College—my college home.
On campus, I tried to entertain my friends with stories about my life as a student, but I was distracted. Like Charles Dickens’ Ebenezer Scrooge under the influence of The Spirit of Christmas Past, images of my school life drifted back. I saw myself sitting in classrooms, attending worship services, hanging out with friends, and studying in my dorm room. While those experiences were pleasant, the memories returned with a heaviness I had not been in touch with while living there. Feelings I had buried under a thousand distractions were at the forefront now. It was disturbing to recall how lonely I had been, how emotionally disconnected I was from myself and others, and how spiritually distressed I was over my orientation.
Shortly before sunset, I went for a walk alone by the lake on the western edge of the campus. I walked through a wooded area where Donna and I had sat around camp fires talking theology and life -- often in the dead of winter. Sometimes, we just shared the cold and surrounding darkness in silence. I missed those times and wondered where Donna was and how she was doing.
Back on campus, numerous friends came to mind, many of whom, like Kelvin, had met their partners on campus and gotten married. The friends I envied most were now working somewhere for the church. As male staff members came to mind, I realized my fondness for some of them had been more than intellectual!
That evening I wrote in my journal, “My life has been in suspension. Kelvin’s wedding and this visit to CUC leaves me feeling out of step with the rest of my friends. They share in most of the predictable events of life while I remain an observer. This ‘homosexual illusion’ as Colin calls it, has altered all aspects of my life. I now have some hope that with more counselling I can eventually catch up to my friends, but it is not a certain hope.”
From Alberta, we headed out across the Canadian prairies. Long-distance road trips are unheard of in Japan. A ten-hour drive could be comprehended only in the doing. As my Japanese friends chatted among themselves about being able to drive in a straight line for miles, I secretly recalled my recent conversations with Colin. I also thought about the wedding and tried to imagine making love to a woman. That didn’t go well. To break up our drive, we occasionally pulled to the side of the road just to sit and stare at the endless wheat fields. As my friends contemplated the emptiness of the prairies, even experiencing anxiety at the vastness, I tried to keep my anxiety about my future in check. The expressions of fascination on the faces of my friends was a pleasant distraction.
That evening, we reached Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, where we stayed with a teacher my friends had known in Tokyo. There, I got an answer to my question about Donna. Being part of the tightly knit Adventist community, our host knew Donna had gotten married that February. I was pleased that she had moved beyond our ambiguous and ambivalent friendship, but I could not share why I felt such a sense of loss.
The following day, we stopped for a break at a McDonald's. When Jugo and I returned to the car, Jugo bumped into a sports car parked beside us – with his body not with our car door. We laughed about this particular car not being the type we could afford to damage. Apparently, the couple who owned the car saw what happened and assumed we had damaged their car. They charged out of the restaurant with the lady yelling, "You are laughing, are you? You won't be laughing when you pay for damages." They rushed to the side of the car expecting to see a dent. She seemed disappointed and embarrassed at finding nothing. To her loud and aggressive assumption, I responded sarcastically, "Sorry we won’t need to pay you any money." Behind my sarcasm was a surge of anger.
I remember this incident with some discomfort, because I was processing everything through that change-of-orientation lens. I told myself that the anger I felt was evidence of the existential contempt I felt for all women because of “The Fall” of Adam and Eve. My fallen state, I believed, was exacerbated by my mother. Seeing her crying frequently, when I was a child, from sheer frustration over my father’s drinking had, I was told, reinforced my contempt for all women as weak. At the same time, I “feared” all women because of internalized images of mom exploding at dad for coming home drunk yet again. Mom could not win for losing when pit against “dominant mother” theories.
Instead of allowing myself the right to be angry over being unjustly accused and yelled at, I labeled my feelings as evidence of my homosexuality. I was told that the sooner I recognized these connections the sooner my “homosexual illusion” would shatter and my heterosexual identity would emerge. I didn’t feel very heterosexual at that moment, however.
At the end of yet another long day of driving, I was glad to settle into a hotel for the night. Just as I passed a guy in the lobby, he decided to scratch his stomach. In so doing, he exposed his abdomen. I was immediately agitated over being “attracted” to this guy’s exposed abs in ways I never felt if the midriff of a young woman were exposed. Following Colin's suggestion for dealing with such situations, I praised God for the man’s beauty instead of fearing it. By faith, I tried to see myself as “as much of a male” as he was and thanked God that my abdomen was as appealing. I also claimed forgiveness for desiring what wasn't mine. Incidents like these might be humorous except for the fact that I constantly stressed over them and labeled myself an abomination because of them.
In my journal that evening, my true feelings were evident: “I don't want to keep fighting this homosexual problem—even through faith. I just want it to end. I understand that it doesn’t work that way—but I want it to. I want to bury my head in my pillow or someone's shoulder and have this all go away. I can't see myself ever being rid of this or ever having a heterosexual relationship. I feel teased and tormented. It seems like a false hope. A change in my orientation feels as much of an illusion as my orientation itself. I feel like I am being fooled—led along a path that I will eventually have to give up. I wish I had someone to talk to right now.”
I had a wonderful time showing Jugo and my other friends multiple tourist sites from Vancouver to Niagara Falls, but I was exhausted when we finally reached Ottawa. It would be another week or more, however, before my friends would leave. Until then, Mom's one-bedroom apartment would remain crowded, and I was denied the down time I needed to plan for my future.
Numerous letters from Japan were waiting for me when we returned. Such letters would normally boost my spirits, but these added to my frustration. After reading each letter, I was determined to return to Japan. I could not imagine walking away from my life there. Then I would feel conflicted and anxious because in the final months before leaving Japan, I had lost faith in myself and couldn’t see myself functioning as a missionary. I felt so conflicted.
Among with those letters was a card from Colin. It was a pleasant surprise, but left me wishing I could talk to him in person. He encouraged me to cling to the hope that before a new dream emerges an old one might have to die. His letter sent me off on a hunt to find a copy of the sound track from the movie Chariots of Fire. We had listened to it several times in his home. I was sure listening to it would revive the hope I had felt then. When I finally got the chance to listen to the theme song alone, I didn’t feel as buoyed up as expected. Instead, I felt very lonely.
Because I still had the station wagon, I used it to escape for a few hours one afternoon. Just beyond the city limits, I backed the car a few feet off the gravel road into a wooded area. The green hue from the sunlight shining through the maple trees, and the sound of the wind in the leaves was soothing, but it could not erase the heaviness I was feeling. I needed answers about my future which were not forthcoming.
I wrote down a prayer. “Father,” I wrote, “I praise You, in faith, for leading me in paths I know not. In the next few days, I am going to make some important decisions. I need Your help. Give me some counsel from Colin or Perry—anyone. I need assurance it is Your voice I am hearing and not that of the enemy. I am tired. Amen.”
It was ironic that I looked for God to speak through Colin or Perry as they would have offered contradictory advice. Colin would assure me that Quest Learning Center was the place to go at this point in my life. Perry, who had already cautioned against going to Quest, would want me to return to Japan and work on things with him there.
While I was writing, a police car passed on the road in front of me. Seeing my car parked in this secluded spot, the officer slowed and stopped—blocking my exit. I was not in the mood for an interrogation. The office quickly realized I was alone and could see I was writing. He said hello and asked if everything was okay. Drawing on my ability to mask my true feelings, I smiled and assured him I was fine. As he walked away, I became intensely aware of my alone-ness and pushed back tears. Had he pressed me with more questions, I’m sure I would have broken down. I so wanted—needed—to talk to someone, but could not allow myself to share the depth of that need with him.