The Year of Before and After, Part II
BY JERRY MCKAY
It was midnight when I finished reading the Ministry interview and headed home. The familiar residential streets of Tokyo seemed different that night. My trance-like walk home was broken once by a brief exchange with a passing policeman whom I knew. I remember this odd detail because his greeting jolted me back into the present. Although my head was filled with the hope of healing from homosexuality, when I saw him I was once again aware of how attractive I found him.
This left me feeling uneasy. Once home, hoping not to wake anyone, I slipped into bed and tried to sleep. That was impossible. It is said that just before you die your life passes before you. Mine passed before me many times that night. I replayed events from childhood and with male friendships in high school and college. I recounted my long “relationship” with Donna and my three prior years in Japan. I spent most of the night reassessing every event through a new lens—the cause and cure of homosexuality.
Among those events, was a very recent, angst-ridden incident that occurred only weeks prior to discovering the interview. Once a year, we teachers gathered for a week of rest, spiritual renewal, and some honing of our teaching skills. To get to our rustic retreat on the island of Teshima in Japan’s Island Sea, we had to travel by train and boat. At one stop, a man boarded our train and sat down in the section where Vikki, another teacher, and I were sitting. Although it was difficult, we were able to communicate. As was our custom, we gave him our business cards and encouraged him to study English with us in the hope he might one day study the Bible. Once he reached his stop, we went our separate ways.
I never thought about him again until I received a letter several weeks later stating that he wanted to get together. I thought it a bit strange that the letter contained two photos of him standing alone on a dimly lit dance floor. Nevertheless, I wrote back indicating a visit would be fine. Welcoming this complete stranger into my home was consistent with the original reason for giving him my business card. He only needed to understand that I would have to work his visit around my responsibilities at school. We were always looking for opportunities to share our faith. Several weeks passed, before I heard from him the second time. His second letter announced the date of his visit. The letter also included another photo and two tiny dried flowers. Even though including flowers also seemed a little odd, it was not totally out of character for a culture where expressions of friendship between male friends is different from those in North American.
Despite being willing to receive this stranger into my home, I felt uncomfortable about his visit for several reasons. First, he spoke very little English, so I knew that would be a challenge. Second, he was the most nonconforming Japanese man I knew. In contrast to the typically well-groomed Japanese male, he had shoulder length curly hair and wore more “colorful” clothing than most men. Also, I did not know any Japanese guy who hung out at disco bars near the American navy base in Yokosuka—as I learned in his letter. On the day of his arrival, we had supper together at a restaurant and, as I had feared, struggled through some very labored chit-chat. To occupy the evening, we looked at pictures of my family and life in Canada—an easy way to fill time and overcome the language barrier.
When it was nearing time to retire, I set up a futon for my visitor on one side of our small living room. Because our visit was going to be short, and he would have to head off early the next morning, I decided to stay in the living room as well. This was not unusual for Japan. Because a room can be a living space by day and a bedroom by night, I had often been in similar situations when visiting friends. In addition, the portability of the futon made it easy for me to set up a second bed for myself on the other side of the living room. With the lights out, I was ready to sleep. It was then that his intention for the visit became apparent. I instantly understood what was happening when he moved across the floor in the dark and slid under my covers.
Even though I was capable of resisting, I lay as though in a paralyzed state of ambivalence. I did not protest, neither did I encourage nor reciprocate. We did not talk. There was no expression of affection between us. He did what he wanted to do and returned to his side of the room. Before he had reached his bed, I was overwhelmed by a wave of gut-wrenching anxiety, confusion, and shame. As I stared into the dark, I wished he would just leave.
The next morning, neither of us spoke about the night before. As soon as I knew he knew how to get to the train station, I sent him away. I couldn’t get him away from me fast enough. I was emotionally numb when I walked into my 9 a.m. class. For the remainder of the day, I was totally consumed with those “why” questions and “what-is-wrong-with-me” accusations. My head ached while trying to teach a Bible class with this experience fresh in my memory. This was my fourth year of mission service, and nothing like this had ever happened before. Japan was a sacred place for me, and now I felt as though I had defiled my entire mission experience in the worst possible way. For days, I tormented myself trying to figure out how I had created this situation. I replayed everything I had done leading up to that moment. What message had I given to suggest I was open to a homosexual advance? What was it about me that had tipped him off? Did it take one to know one, as they say? I could not help wondering if I had become the shadowy predator about whom You & Your Health warned.
In reality, this incident came about as a comedy of errors. His assumptions started the moment I gave him my business card. While I have no doubt that this man was seeking intimacy, I was just trying to be a good missionary! I am confident there were few, if any, unconscious motives behind my actions, because as shallow as it is of me to say, I did not find him attractive in any way. I had no spike of attraction to him when we first met. There was no desire on my part to “stare at him” as was often the case when in the presence of someone I found attractive. Although not attracted to him, I had communicated such by responding to his letters and welcoming him into my home. Although his actions could technically be considered non-consensual—viewed as an assault—which would have been cause enough for my distress, the event traumatized me for different reasons. My lack of protest haunted me, for one thing. While I longed for emotional and physical connection, had I been heterosexual and repulsed by his homosexual advances, the situation would never have gone as far as it had no matter how lonely or naive I may have been, and I knew it.
Even though I wanted him to leave, my feelings of complicity made it impossible to act accordingly. I dreaded the strong probability of having to explain to my roommates the sudden departure of my visitor so late at night. Any explanation would have been a lie and added to my distress. My greatest source of trauma and the real reason I wanted this guy out of my life—immediately—was because I saw myself in him. In this man, I was again confronted with the nature of my affections and it terrified me. In retrospect, I wish I had been in a different place emotionally and spiritually. I regret that my self-loathing erased any chance of treating him with dignity. Years of self-disdain about my orientation made it impossible for me to express compassion for this stranger. It would have been healing for me, in fact, to have talked with him, but I couldn’t have tolerated that psychologically. Even if I had been in a good place emotionally, the language barrier would have made conversation impossible.
I told no one and bore this trauma alone. Just as my distress was beginning to subside, the second wave of this experience fell on me as a plague. A few days later, I noticed something peculiar in my groin area. Although I was not sure what I “had,” I knew something was not right. My guest had given me crabs. I was disgusted and panic-stricken. Although the Adventist hospital was on the same compound as the language school, there was no way I was going to go there for help. I dealt with “the problem” the only way I knew how—by drawing on my childhood experience from my uncle’s farm. My invaders reminded me of the ticks I had seen on my uncle’s sheep. I used to help Charlie pick them off. If that didn’t work, we used chemicals to kill them. In my current predicament, since I wasn’t going to go to the hospital or the local pharmacy, I created my own treatment. I succeeded in eliminating my infestation by using shampoo that had a particularly potent amount of peppermint. To ensure an effective treatment, I left the shampoo in place all day. In the end, not only were those horrible creatures eradicated, but I was left with a burnt groin.
Believing I had “received in (myself) the due penalty for (my) error,” as Paul warned in Romans 1:27, I was left with a deep sense of shame and condemnation. This brings me back to the Ministry magazine interview and to the question of motivation. In that interview, Mr. Cook asserted that, “It is important to distinguish between homosexuals committed to a gay lifestyle and those desperately trying to resolve what they believe to be an emotional and moral problem.” I was still vividly feeling the guilt and self-loathing of my sexual encounter and the residual consequences when I read the interview. Although I had no idea what “a gay lifestyle” was, I certainly believed I had an emotional and moral problem, if not a demonic problem.
When Mr. Cook spoke of his sexual failures, his unimaginable fear, and how guilt-ridden he often felt, I understandably ached with identification. This profound sense of identification transformed my years of angst into a powerful longing to end my silence and reach out for help. I was not only motivated by a sense of moral failure, however. I was motivated by the desire to be “normal,” and the prospect of losing a career—a calling—that required me to be heterosexual. I simply wanted to please God. Learning that Mr. Cook was part of my faith community and had been a minister added an additional layer of trust to the equation. I knew we would speak the same language.
To no lesser a degree was the fact that this hope-filled interview was in an official church publication. Because of that, everything Mr. Cook said in the interview held great weight for me. If the church affirmed him, then I could and should believe and trust him. With this came great expectations. When I read that Mr. Cook had a center to which “a constant stream of requests were coming in from thousands of homosexual people who desired to change,” I was hooked. Learning there was a center run by an Adventist minister and endorsed by my church turned my flicker of hope into a flame of promise. For the first time in my life, I felt someone understood what I was feeling—who I was. I wanted to talk to this Colin Cook immediately, but he was in Pennsylvania and I was in Japan. With no computer or internet in existence yet, I would have to write a letter and wait for a response.
Before getting to that letter, I want to jump back three months to June of that year when a permanent record of my personality was captured on paper. This record shed light on my entire experience. When I returned to Tokyo from Osaka that June, a new director came with the change. The director was not new to me, however. I knew Perry in high school. He was the “older” student who had made the comment about the female body being appealing because of the subcutaneous layer of tissue that softens their appearance to sight and touch. The statement shocked me because it made me awkwardly aware of the fact that I liked the sinews and muscles visible on the male body! Although I still had vivid memories of that dorm room conversation and the angst it created, I admired Perry and now looked forward to working with him.
As the language school director, Perry was responsible for the orientation of all new teachers. Prior to his arrival in Japan, he had arranged to give us the IPAT 16 Personality Factor (16PF) questionnaire as part of a study for the General Conference to see if this instrument could help in both the selection and placement of student missionaries. This questionnaire, in fact, is presently being used at the Seventh-day Adventist seminary at Andrews University in Michigan. The 16PF is based on “trait theory” which suggests that personality can be reduced to 16 orientations or expressions of internal traits. These factors are both filters through which I “see” my external world, as well as highlighting the skills or capacities through which my behaviors and actions are expressed. This is where the test helps with career assessment. A low or high score is not an indication of weakness and there are no wrong answers. Though factors can act independently of each other, our personalities are integrated so they tend to act in clusters of traits. The 16PF cannot tell me what decisions I will make, but it can indicate a range of probabilities.
Because I am a bit of a packrat, I still have the original scores. I was within the range of the general population for seven factors. In four areas, I was just outside the norm. For five factors, however, I was at or near the far end of the respective trait. As of June 1981, I presented as a confirmed introvert scoring 1 on the introversion-extroversion scale. I also scored 1 on submissiveness. I was high on Factor G—conscientiousness—and I was near the top of Factor Q3—discipline. These scores generally indicated where I was the “most distinct” from others. At my request, Perry recently looked at my profile again—not to assess my skills or capacities for a career path but to explore their positive and negative implications when faced with a stressor like sexual orientation.
My scores confirmed what I was living internally. I experienced life and took its cues from the inside and had few boundaries to stop others from walking into my life or taking over. I “more than” tended to be moralistic and staid and was driven to achieve goals and, more specifically, goals that involved “willed” behavior. Perry was correct when he suggested that I would invest most of my will power in performing what I believed was my moral obligation to God or the expectations of a religious group—regardless of how it affected me. While constantly referring back to the values and morals behind my beliefs, I would expend more energy in not being bad or preventing bad consequences than in positively acting on what excited or interested me. I lived defensively instead of moving towards what was important to me. Socially, I was “compulsively precise” in my interactions with others.
What did this mean for me on a day-to-day basis? Whether dealing with minor concerns or major issues, my personality had more influence over me than I realized. When my “self-discipline” gave way to my tendency to passivity, I could find myself in awkward situations. Even if I were facing a trivial dilemma—a social obligation to eat a piece of bacon or drink a caffeinated beverage—I could become distressed. If the school director caught me “intentionally” not wearing the mandatory tie while teaching, I would experience a sense of moral violation that was out of proportion to the situation. If dealing with a major issue, like a visitor seeking unsolicited intimacy, I would become psychologically and spiritually overwhelmed. Yet, to the onlooking world, I appeared to always land on my feet. This mirage was maintained by my precise social control. This enabled me to live behind a mask of “normalcy”—when I felt so very far from that reality.
My introversion did not improve my chances of reaching out for help. When I was in psychological pain or being overrun by a strong personality, I would just withdraw. In 1981, when Perry and I discussed the results of the test, he initially used the information to describe a host of scenarios where those traits could be career assets. He had no idea how I was living within a scenario where my personality could turn traitor; neither did I. I did not see a link between the way I was “the most distinct from others,” personality-wise, any misguided theology I incorporated into my life, and the near-neurotic guilt and anxiety I experienced around my orientation. In whatever way my orientation was inherited or nurtured so was my personality and my faith. Like boxers in a ring, they often went at each other, creating intense psychological and spiritual turmoil.
It would be many years before I realized that, as 1 John 3:20 suggests, although my “heart”—the union of my personality and my faith—condemned me, God is greater than my heart. In fact, God would have to work long and hard to override my tendency to attribute my angst-of-heart to the work of the Holy Spirit.
Finally, I have not forgotten my fifth distinctive trait. I was one point from the highest score of Factor L—trusting. A score like this indicated that I was likely to be gullible and naïve. I had the tendency to be drawn to and influenced by strong people whom I respected, and I was prone to emulate them. This score also meant I had the potential to repress any doubts I had with respect to the motives of others. In a fascinating, if not disturbing, way, this trait was already determining my future with respect to the world of reparative therapy.
However, as I tried to sleep the night I read the Ministry interview, I wasn’t thinking about the intersection of faith, personality, and my attractions. I was psychologically and spiritually exhausted from two decades of secretly dealing with my orientation. Within twelve hours, my perception of the world had changed. That morning, I was a missionary with an unnamed problem. That night, I believed I was a homosexual at the door of recovery. In the bunk above me, I could hear my roommate breathing and wondered what he would think of me if he knew all my secrets. For brief moments, the sweet smell of our tatami floor would ground me, but then my thoughts kept drifting far away. My last thoughts, before exhaustion pulled me into sleep, were about the letter I would write to Mr. Cook.