BY JERRY MCKAY
From Reading, Pennsylvania, I traveled to Toronto and stayed with my sister for a few days. Robert met me there and drove me to Ottawa where he wanted me to stay. Despite my longing to do so, I was in absolutely no state of mind for any relationship let alone a same-sex relationship. Within a month, I left him for the only relationship I thought I could manage—Japan.
During a short stopover in California to visit friends, I saw the 1983 Japanese-British movie Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence. Based on the experience of Sir Laurens van der Post, the disturbing movie was set in a Japanese prisoner of war camp. While my friends told me in advance of the subtle homoerotic subtext between Major Jack Celliers played by David Bowie and camp commander Captain Yonoi played by Ryuichi Sakamoto, I was unprepared for the impact the lyrics to the theme song “Forbidden Colours” and its haunting soundtrack would have on me.
The wounds on your hands never seem to heal
I thought all I needed was to believe.
Here am I, a lifetime away from you,
The blood of Christ, or the beat of my heart;
My love wears forbidden colours,
My life believes….
Learning to cope with feelings aroused in me
My hands in the soil, buried inside of myself,
My love wears forbidden colours,
My life believes in you once again.
I’ll go walking in circles
While doubting the very ground beneath me
Trying to show unquestioning faith in everything.
Here am I, a lifetime away from you,
The blood of Christ, or a change of heart
My love wears forbidden colours…
The conflict expressed in the song between the blood of Christ, or a change of heart felt painfully descriptive of my experience. I had not found freedom from homosexuality. Nor had I changed my theological beliefs or abandoned hope of unearthing my heterosexuality. While I hoped Japan would be a place of refuge, I feared I would continue to be a prisoner to the war I carried within.
When I walked into the airport lobby in Tokyo, the director of the language schools informed me I was needed in the city of Chiba. My heart sank because I had been told I would work in Tokyo, surrounded by people I knew well. My disappointment was tempered only because Tokyo was just 30 miles away around Tokyo Bay.
Jumping from the “change centric” world at Quest Learning Center, where I could talk openly about my orientation, to missionary life instantly moved me back into that unhealthy habit of compartmentalizing —sharing the well-edited but mundane aspects of my life with a few people while saying nothing of significance to anyone. This left me feeling out of sync with everything and everyone. I soon realized that my beloved Japan would not be the same.
I had no contact with Colin for the first two months, although I thought about him constantly. In late November, I received a letter from him. “I want you to know I haven’t forgotten about you,” he wrote. He expressed hesitancy about writing, thinking I might like to just forget everything now that I wasn’t at Quest. “You can hear my insecurities coming out. But I guess I’m a counselor and a friend. However, if there’s any part of me you don’t want me to be, you know you can tell me,” he continued.
Once again, he acknowledged what had happened between us and offered an apology as an explanation of how such a violation had occurred. He concluded it was his own unresolved hurts and needs that led him to identify too strongly with my hurt and pain. This identification had regrettably become eroticized, and he had succumbed to old addictive patterns. While I appreciated his acknowledgement of the incident, I felt addictive patterns were a dismissive denial of what his actions actually meant—an expression of a persistent homosexual orientation rather than the momentary lapse of a heterosexual.
In his letter, Colin reminisced about visiting me in Ottawa after I left Reading. I welcomed his visit, but I was also stressed by it. Attending church together, visiting with my parents, and meeting Robert for a second time meant Colin knew me and my world better, but no one close to me learned anything more about my experience. Of course, we talked about what had happened between us. Colin worked at making amends, and I worked at forgiving him. As distressing as this visit was, it signaled the continuation of our relationship and the context for his letter.
Colin talked about spending a pleasant weekend away with Sharon. He described a meeting with church leaders to report on the successes of the ministry, hoping to raise funds for Quest. Following some news on a few counselees I knew well, he wrote about traveling to St Paul, Minnesota, for a two-day seminar on the 14 Steps of Homosexuals Anonymous (HA). Ninety people attended, 30 of whom requested HA accreditation. Colin hoped the seminar would result in six new HA chapters. That Colin was reporting successes and forging ahead with his ministry left me overwhelmed by two conflicting emotions—anger and envy. I understood my anger, but the envy took me by surprise. In my heart, I continued to see the two of us in a battle together over homosexuality, and I still wanted to be at Quest—at the front lines in this war. While I agreed with his sentiment “that there was something special about our working together,” I was left with the burden of carrying a secret that contradicted his report on successes—a secret that, if disclosed, could have shut down his ministry.
Colin asked if it was different being back in Japan this time—did I feel stronger or freer? I answered that question in a five-page response I would eventually send him. “Colin, everything hurts—everything. There are days I don’t think I can go on. Things are different this time. I’m not into my work.”
I didn’t elaborate, but my experience at Quest, which felt like a failed faith experiment, left me feeling spiritually defeated and a potential fraud. I felt that sense of defeat most acutely when preparing and teaching Bible classes. Those classes, which had been the highlight of my life and work in Japan, now created great anxiety.
I told him that while he had “worked things out” regarding the incident between us, I had not. The very thing I needed to build up, I told him, had been torn down: trust—trust in others, myself, and God. “Nothing makes sense anymore,” I wrote. How could it? I was trying to make sense out of nonsense.
I constantly thought about my experience at Quest. Sometimes random thoughts became vivid flashbacks and, with them, anxiety attacks. Once, I suddenly became so overwhelmed with anxiety and feelings of rage that I got off the train I was riding. I hated myself for being so out of control. Such experiences pushed my faith to the limit. If I struggled over the common Christian teaching that prayer was the answer to every problem in life, I agonized over statements from prominent Adventists. In those moments of rage, I could barely tolerate the idea that, “Nothing is so entangled that it cannot be remedied; no human relationship is too strained for God to bring about human reconciliation and understanding….” [RH Oct. 7, 1965]
Despite the disillusioning experience of the previous two years, I did not abandon my long-held practice of private devotions. I studied the Bible regularly. As bizarre as it may seem, I continued to use Colin’s cassette tapes and the occasional HA Steps as part of my devotions. As well, I used material from newsletters I was receiving from Quest, HA, and from Metanoia Ministries, a ministry which was run out of Seattle, similar to that of Quest, as sources for spiritual reflection. Doing so presented a challenge. The rosy testimonies of change and the “promise” of healing that kept my hope in change alive on one hand triggered anger on the other. My anger showed a skepticism growing within about the claims of such ministries and about those who ran them. Expletives often came to mind in response to the requests for donations and the self-addressed envelopes that accompanied them!
I continued to record and later transcribe into my journals detailed conversations I had with God. There are dozens of such pages.
More than ever, music played a role in maintaining my faith. When I was certain I was alone, whether in our apartment or the language school, I listened to two songs repeatedly to the point of wearing out my cassette tapes. With the volume turned up, I often sat in a cathartic pool of tears listening to the song “Praise the Lord.”
When you’re up against a struggle
that shatters all your dreams,
And your hopes have been cruelly crushed
by Satan’s manifested schemes,
And you feel the urge within you
to submit to earthly fears,
Don’t let the faith you’re standing in
seem to disappear.
Praise the Lord!
He can work through those who praise Him.
Praise the Lord!
for our God inhabits praise.
Praise the Lord!
I had purchased Jessie’s cassette while at Kinship Kampmeeting in August. Knowing some of his story added pathos and deep meaning to his rendition of the song.
Saying that praising God had always been my practice risks not conveying what that meant. Praising God represented an intentional dialogue with God about any experience that was occurring in the moment. Those brief dialogues changed my perspective and response to an event. I drew on the song to lift me out of any inclination to surrender to the feeling of being cruelly crushed by schemes that were working against me.
If I didn’t feel thoroughly purged of spiritual angst, I continued my music therapy with the well-known song by Marsha Stevens, “For Those Tears I Died (Come to the Waters).”
You said you’d come and share all of my sorrows,
You said you’d be there for all my tomorrows,
I came so close to sending you away,
But just like you promised You came here to stay;
I just had to pray.
And Jesus said, “Come to the waters,
Stand by my side.
I know you are thirsty;
You won’t be denied.
I saw every teardrop,
When in darkness you cried.
And I strove to remind you
That for those tears I died.”
This song—one of the most well-known in Christian circles in the ’70s—was a favorite at worship services when I was in high school and college. While Marsha stated in her testimony that the lyrics did not reflect her struggle with her sexual orientation and her coming to terms with it, my learning of her experience transformed the song for me.
It was not lost on me that both singers were fellow travelers, albeit in a different theological camp from me. God was using the profession of faith of these two self-affirming Christians to buoy up my faith—a Christian who was overwhelmed by the irreconcilable conflict between the blood of Christ and the beat of his heart. In his letter, Colin also asked whether I was making certain to develop close friends who could satisfy my need for emotional and social intimacy.
To compensate for the intense sense of disconnect I often felt, by mid-October I started going to meet with people from the Tokyo Gay Support Group (TGSG). The TGSG was not an affiliate of HA! Neither was it the source of emotional and social intimacy Colin was hoping for. However, socializing with people who could relate to my experience was a significant safety valve for the anxiety that I experienced each week collaborating with people who knew nothing of my experience. My frequent trips into Tokyo, while not affecting my responsibilities, did not go unnoticed, however.
One day unexpectedly, Rosie, a colleague, asked me if I was happy here, meaning in Chiba. “You leave Chiba every chance you get.” Naturally, Rosie’s accurate observation unnerved me. I could honestly tell Rosie I was visiting with friends in Tokyo, but I didn’t differentiate between those I had worked with in previous years and the people I was meeting with from the TGSG. Although she wasn’t satisfied with my vague response, her teasing pull on my chin during a conversation later that same day told me our chat was not over.
Since I was still scanning my known universe for evidence of some emerging heterosexuality, l wrote, “Rosie is going to be an important part of my time in Chiba. God has put us together.” I knew Rosie had a boyfriend back in Canada, so I never viewed her as a potential life partner. I did, however, see her as a woman with whom I could continue “experimenting” in order to unearth more of my heterosexuality.
Two days later, I bought flowers for all the female staff, but I specifically had Rosie in mind when I did so. When she tracked me down to thank me, I was pleased with my attempt at a heterosexual initiative! Soon after, I turned a scheduled language school outing to Tokyo into a date, of sorts. I took Rosie aside and asked if she would hang out with me after the event. To my delight, surprise, and shock, she said, “Yes.” In my journal, I wrote, “Now I’m committed! What do I do?”
Rosie was a godsend. Very early in our friendship I disclosed my secret to her. Her compassion and openness to talking about my experience filled a significant part of my need for emotional and social intimacy. We ate out and explored the city whenever we had the opportunity. During one outing, we saw the movie Terms of Endearment. When I wasn’t identifying with the emotional pain of the children living with parents in turmoil, I was observing the dynamics between the men and women. Sitting with Rosie meant I was very self-conscious when actors Jeff Daniels and Megan Morris joked about the little whimpering sounds they made during sex. Being a sexual being is awkward at the best of times, but sitting beside someone who knew I was attracted to men made me uncomfortable. Seeing the movie together led to many honest and meaningful conversations about human relationships. Unknown to Rosie, however, was how frequently I observed her moods and behaviors. By learning more about the mysterious characteristics of this one female, and analyzing my reaction to her, I hoped to become more comfortable with women.
Also unknown to Rosie were the multiple times I praised God for other interactions that I construed as evidence that I was becoming more heterosexual. After seeing Terms of Endearment, I praised God for the portrayal of the sexually engaged woman who enjoyed a good roll in the hay! I praised God when riding trains to and from Tokyo when jammed up against women. I hoped, like some contagion, the proximity of their bodies would transfer some of their heterosexuality onto me. I also praised God for not being overwhelmed by the very pleasant warmth I couldn’t help noticing when men were crammed up against me on those same trains. Every time I used the public washroom in the three-story building from which the language school rented space, I praised God for the well-tanned bikini-clad woman displayed on a poster that had been pinned to the wall by some other male tenant. In faith, I searched the picture, hoping the shapely and suggestive image would tease out some heterosexual desire, but in vain.
Rosie became the one person with whom I could be as authentic and integrated as possible. When we weren’t bonding over the challenges of missionary life, we were joking about how we found the same men attractive!
By the time December arrived, my world of conflicting realities was in full swing. I was writing letters to friends back in Canada and the United States, but I struggled to answer questions about my abrupt departure from Reading. Along with one very evasive letter, I returned a check for $250 to a dear friend who had promised to help support me financially while in Reading. I corresponded with several Kinship members usually debating theological points regarding homosexuality. I said nothing to anyone, however, about my reasons for leaving Quest.
As Christmas approached, I moved between religious activities at the language school and secular events sponsored by the TGSG. On Christmas Eve, Jim, from TGSG, joined me for a Christmas concert at the Adventist church in Tokyo. Although I felt some anxiety over trying to find an acceptable explanation for how I knew Jim, the evening went well. Jim enjoyed the concert, and I benefited from being able to integrate my two very different worlds, even if only for one evening. Although I never got to know Jim well, conversations led to my telling him about my overall experience at Quest. Because I didn’t tell him about the sexual incident with Colin, Jim’s skepticism at how things might really be presented a challenge to my reality. Jim felt no one is ever healed; they just don’t act on their feelings!
I was glad when the holiday season was over. I hoped 1984 would bring positive change, but I wasn’t convinced it would.
Perry was the other person who met part of my need for emotional and social intimacy. He was the first person in whom I confided about my orientation and about my plans to meet with Colin two years prior. He was never enthusiastic about my going to Quest. Fortunately, he was living just a little further around Tokyo Bay in Yokohama. I enjoyed our occasional visits, but embarrassment and ambivalence made my revelation about Colin’s actions difficult. “Perry does not know how it hurt me to say anything about that experience,” I wrote. Despite the growing need to tell some, I was betraying Colin on some level. I felt indebted to him for the ways he had helped me, and I continued to see him as holding the keys to my becoming heterosexual. My disclosure and obvious turmoil prompted Perry to suggest we spend a weekend at his home for fasting and prayer. In late January, we spent a weekend reading scripture, discussing my burning questions, and praying. Perry was convinced God would intervene. Though I was suspicious of more advice, even if spiritual, the notable take away was a commitment on my part to “plant a banner in the ground” so to speak and claim my identity as a child of God and not a homosexual—no matter what I felt or experienced to the contrary.
Renewing my commitment to affirming my identity as that of a child of God was spiritually and psychologically stabilizing, but only to a point. I don’t believe I was making my orientation my identity, but the line between being preoccupied by it and being defined by it was hard to differentiate. How could it not be? Even when I repeatedly told myself I was a child of God, every man I was drawn to served as a reminder of my orientation. As well, every woman I told myself I should be attracted to, but wasn’t, reminded me of my orientation. While both Perry and Rosie identified as children of God, they weren’t using that identity to subjugate such a central aspect of their being.
On February 5, a few days into my commitment, I had another panic attack. “My chest aches,” I wrote. “The pain has entered my left shoulder and moves down my left arm. This morning I woke up with pain in my upper middle back and my heart was beating faster than normal. My breathing is restricted. I am tired. I have flashes of fear that dare me to go on with my decision.”
I kept recording the days when I claimed my new identity through February and into March, as well as the stress I experienced. Defining myself as a child of God was not erasing my orientation.
Early in the New Year, I sent the letter to Colin I had been working on for weeks. Then, I tried to continue with daily life, while hounded with unanswered questions and uncertainties about the future.