Jumping off the fence

By Dean Whisler
Reader Contributor

I was raised in Eastern Washington as the oldest of four children. My parents were both educators and hard-working Christians who I know loved all their children. On the outside I acted and appeared as if everything were normal. I was the “all-American boy”—a star athlete (four-year varsity letterman), Boy Scout, a popular kid at school. I had a girlfriend, and was the good little Christian at church. But inside, I was starting to fill with guilt, shame and confusion. I was anything but normal except to those who only saw the outside.

Living as a gay man, my friends, gay and straight, would often tell me I was the perfect example of a person born gay. I didn’t fit many of the so-called stereotypes society associated with gay people. Although far from perfect, I thought my childhood was pretty normal, at least outwardly. But, if you knew the real me and the secrets I started guarding before I even hit puberty, you would understand.

I became best friends with a classmate who introduced me to the world of sex. A seed had been planted and it started to consume me and grow like a weed. I also started to detach from my father. From my perspective, he wasn’t like many of the other men in our rural neighborhood. He didn’t hunt, drink beer, play sports or talk about women like my friends’ fathers did. I turned into a sexual predator and engaged with several of my male friends in sexual activity throughout junior and senior high school. One of those boys went to the new church my family started going to. During our sophomore year we started a relationship that lasted through our first year of college.

One Sunday, while sitting in church with my boyfriend, a guest pastor preached on various sins – including homosexuality. My friend and I made a vow never to return to church after age 18. I kept that promise for almost 20 years. The battle for my soul had begun. But my life started to unravel within a year. My boyfriend left me, I was drinking more and I discovered drugs. I had outgrown the Inland Northwest, and fearing that my lifestyle would be exposed, I dropped out of college and moved to San Diego.

Life in San Diego was good for a few years. My old friend from high school moved there and we were ready to take on gay Southern California. Two of his new friends from another state joined us as well. The four of us were raised in the church and all had vowed never to return. The unhealthy trappings of the gay life soon began to take its toll on all of us. By age 26, I had become addicted to speed and cocaine and was abusing alcohol. And I never found “Mr. Right.” Instead, I began feeding a pornography habit. I was broke, withdrawn and depressed. The AIDS crisis was in full bloom and it hit my circle of friends hard. I made a few positive decisions, including one to get clean and sober at a 12-step program. I also came out to my parents. We reached a middle ground that allowed us to be in relationship. They told me that they were praying for my friends and me. I was confused and a little mad. I thought all Christians hated me. I thought God hated me. I told them I didn’t need their prayers.

My three best friends all died within several years of being diagnosed with AIDS. Although I was able to take care of them, it was a major wakeup call. Before each of them died, they returned to faith. They passed on knowing the peace and love of Christ. The years between the deaths of my friends and my coming back to faith were spent walking on top of a fence. I had issues with both sides. I tried anything and everything to fix the pain that was engulfing my soul: food, drugs, alcohol, anti-depressants, sex, therapy, pornography, money and climbing the corporate ladder. Nothing seemed to bring any lasting peace. After a two-week bout of depression, I humbled myself for the first time in almost 20 years and asked God for help. That was May 30, 1999. I jumped off the fence. I gave up my so-called “gay pride” and humbled myself.

My own transformation is not about becoming a heterosexual; it’s about being obedient to God. That’s when changes start to happen. Nor is it about accepting myself in a lifestyle that brings death, disease and destruction to so many. I was set free but that freedom came with a cost. The work He has done in my life has been nothing short of a miracle.

Dean Whisler holds a degree in Program Management from Whitworth University and works at the Union Gospel Mission in Spokane. He is the director for CPR Outreach — www.cproutreach.org

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