The Devil I Knew
BY JERRY MCKAY
Spring in Japan is the season for sakurami—cherry-blossom viewing. Weather networks predict and track the northern progression of blossoming just as they would track the progression of warming temperatures. By early April, the greater Tokyo area is awash in soft pink and often warm enough to sit outside. When my schedule allowed, I sat in the sun on the roof of the four-story office building in which the language school was located. The view was less than spectacular in this area of low-rise office buildings, but the architecture and the odd neglected cherry tree along the street or in a vacant lot confirmed I was in Japan. Looking out over the city, I did a lot of reflecting and journaling about my uncertain future.
From the other side of Tokyo Bay, Perry continued to offer encouragement and support, but we met infrequently. The few friends I had within the Tokyo Gay Support Group gave me a sense of affinity, community, and companionship; but most did not understand, let alone support, my goal of changing my orientation. Closer to home, Rosie—my trusted confidant—knew how perplexed I often was. More than once, she comforted me when I broke down while in conversation with her. She, however, would leave Japan in June; and I knew that would create a great void in my life. Mission work at the language school, which had always been deeply meaningful, no longer felt like the best place for me to be. I could not tolerate the idea of starting over again with a new group of teachers who would know nothing of my journey. A sense of isolation and desperation started to close in around me.
Robert and I had been communicating since I returned to Japan, so I knew I had a standing invitation to move to Ottawa and be with him. While very appealing, the idea remained a fleeting fantasy because I could never picture what a relationship might look like for us—for me more precisely. Because I couldn’t reconcile the “desires of my heart” and what I believed about homosexuality, I saw us living only in a platonic relationship. That was not what he had in mind. As time passed, all I could do was encourage him to “let me go.”
While I wrestled with uncertainties regularly, there were small blessings for which I was grateful. Communication with my parents was more meaningful than ever. In response to one particularly open and honest letter to mom, she wrote:
It felt very good to have you tell me your feelings and open up to me. I guess I’ve sometimes felt a distance between us in that I didn’t always know how you have felt or the problems you have. It makes me feel so much closer to you to have you tell me things. Though I, for one, know this is certainly not easy to do! It is a very hard thing to do in our family. There seems to have developed a kind of fear to open up to each other. Perhaps there is a fear we will be scolded or blamed in some way for having feelings or problems—that we will not be understood. It would be wonderful if we could overcome this.
Mom was talking about the dynamics in our family. Dad was the one who had a tendency to judge what he didn’t like or understand. Yet, my disclosure to my parents about my orientation had set in motion a change in how we communicated. Fortunately for me, my revelation had not elicited scolding from either of them. They never seemed to be in a panic about my orientation.
I also received a letter from my father that Easter. Along with a card signed simply, Dad, was a note written in pencil on a three-by-five piece of paper.
Dear Jerry, Well, how is everything going with you? It has been a very long and cold winter. But spring has come at last, and the sap is running. Donald has put in a new machine to boil sap down near Charlie’s farm. It is fired with oil and makes nice syrup. Marly and your friend from Japan are coming down for Easter. They had a pleasant time at Christmas. It will be nice to see them again. Well, have a nice Easter. Wish you were spending it with us, but you can’t be everywhere. Bye, Dad.
Dad’s letter, while void of any personal details or feelings, was profoundly meaningful. It was the first such “letter” I had ever received from him.
As well, I was grateful that despite being an emotional and spiritual wreck, I could carry out my missionary obligations. It meant a lot to me to have the language school director ask me to lead out in evening worship at the language school ski retreat. And although I often felt I was no longer morally qualified to teach my weekly Bible classes or preach, I enjoyed presenting a mini-series entitled Father of Mercies. It doesn’t take much imagination to understand why I would want to speak on 2 Corinthians 1:3-6:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort;
who comforts us in all our affliction so that we may be able
to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort
with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
Interwoven among the blessings were moments of disappointment and sadness.
Adventist churches in Tokyo joined to hold evangelistic meetings featuring a speaker “from the United States.” We were expected to attend the meetings. When we met with the speaker, he praised us for our dedication to mission work. I received his praise with ambivalence. He made references during his presentation to AIDS and the “lifestyles” that went with it. My determination to pursue change did not lessen the familiar sting of being deemed a sign of the imminent return of Jesus and the end of the world!
I met Hiroshi at a Tokyo Gay Support Group meeting. A gentle man, he had taken the dramatic step of becoming Mormon years earlier. His new community later shunned him once it learned of his orientation. I empathized with him when he shared his deeply private pain. I tried to encourage him, but the wound he carried made it difficult for me to justify the actions of his Christian community.
I had also been corresponding with Colin. Our ongoing conversation was slowly repairing the breach in our friendship his sexual violation had caused. To be clear, while Colin knew of my growing uncertainties about my future, he was not suggesting I return to Reading. He knew I was financially strapped. He, in fact, encouraged me to I think about advancing my education or finding work of any kind hoping to improve my sense of personal growth and stability. At the same time, I talked about the possibility of going back.
I went for interviews at public language schools in Tokyo thinking I could make some life for myself in Japan. When that thought wavered, I contemplated returning to Canada or the U.S. to study, but I had no idea what to study. Colin’s suggestions and encouragement notwithstanding, I simply had no ego strength left to follow through on any of those notions. I had not come to terms with my orientation. With no tangible unearthing of my heterosexuality to work with, I felt I would be in limbo for ever. My rooftop journaling records a slow progression in thinking—against my better judgment, many would have said—to return to Pennsylvania and continue counseling with Colin. To that affect, and to the complete surprise of the language school director, I announced I would not be staying on for a second year.
When asked how I could have contemplated such a move given my history with Colin, I have but one response. Entrusting myself to “the devil I knew” was more appealing than starting over again with a different ministry or a new therapist. And, as I have said before, despite what was a profound violation, I saw Colin and me as pilgrims on the same journey. My profound distress and struggle to become heterosexual was clouding my judgment.
That April, Colin presented a series of lectures at Andrews University in Michigan. The Student Movement published a two-page interview after the fact. As expected, Colin maintained that there are no homosexuals but people who are “created heterosexual with some sexuality confusion.” He insisted there is “no way a person could become orientationally homosexual if there were not interpersonal relationship trauma in early years.”
Dr. Elizabeth Moberly, a professor and psychologist at the University of Cambridge in England, was cited as support of the common belief that homosexuality resulted from unmet love needs between the child and the parent of the same sex, and that homosexuality is a distorted attempt to repair this trauma. Colin also reiterated his theological position that homosexuality is but one manifestation of being born into a world where guilt, shame, and fear distort our relationship with God, ourselves, and the world. Deal with these issues and one’s heterosexual nature would emerge.
While I supported his taking this psycho-theological message to the student body, I was taken aback by his personal testimony. Because of my experience with Colin, his statement that he had “found freedom” from the strong addictive force of romanticism felt dishonest. Even when he dialed back his testimony with a qualification that certain men “occasionally give [him] a romantic feeling,” I knew better. I was most uncomfortable, however, when he added those feelings didn’t have the power and the strength that they had “several years ago.”
“Several years ago”! We were barely a year away from his sexual violation, let alone any romantic struggles he might continue to have over me.
When such statements are made by an authority figure like Colin, the uniformed reader would only hear a testimony of deliverance and change. I was not an uninformed reader, however. Yet, I ignored the implications of this classic example of denial and understatement. After all, how could I be too critical? When I needed to convince myself or others that my orientation was changing, this is how I worded my experience—all the facts be damned! Instead of seeing such statements for the red flags they were, I pursued plans to return to Reading.
As I have indicated other times, my mindset or commitment to changing my orientation is usually the first thing that comes under scrutiny. Again, my journals have preserved two illustrations of my attitude toward changing my orientation.
If I were I to return to Reading, I would need to ask my parents for money. On May 16, I got a letter from mom about my request.
“Received your letter to your father and me, and we can help you out with the money.” Great, I thought. Then I read on. “Dad is not too enthused that you need to go back to Colin again and feels that you should just accept yourself the way you are.”
While many might applaud his lack of enthusiasm, I was exasperated that my very blue-collar father would even suggest I “accept myself” the way I was. In my reply, I wrote, “I am glad to hear I can count on the money. Accepting myself as I am—well, that is impossible. God doesn’t allow it and I hate it.”
Since I didn’t understand dad’s comment to mean “accept myself” and be celibate, I suggested he think about what that might mean. Would he be comfortable with the relatives, neighbors, or church members learning I had accepted myself? If I were to walk the streets of our hometown, holding a partner’s hand, how would he feel? Despite the turmoil and angst my pursuit of change had already caused and lack of any results to date, I closed my letter saying that I wanted to go back to Quest for myself, for God, and out of respect for him. A key point here is that I was seeking change on my initiative, not because I was under pressure from my family.
Another entry from my journal illustrates my spiritual attitude. As part of my Bible study, I occasionally personalized scripture by putting myself into the story. In one such case, I became the key figure in Mark 10:46-52.
46. And as Jesus was going out of Jericho with His disciples, a burdened homosexual named Jerry, the son of Alex, was sitting by the road.
47. And when he heard it was Jesus the Nazarene, Jerry began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
48. And many were sternly telling him to be quiet, but Jerry began crying out all the more. “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
49. And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him here.” And they called the burdened homosexual, saying to him, “Take courage, arise. He is calling for you.”
50. And casting aside his cloak, the burdened homosexual jumped up and came to Jesus. 51. And answering him, Jesus said, “What do you want Me to do for you?” And the burdened homosexual said to Him, “Raboni, I want to be healed. I want to be heterosexual.”
52. And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well. And immediately he received his request and began following Him on the road.”
Reading this is painful. Although it illustrates my determination to put faith into action, it succinctly captures how I perceived myself in the world. I was a sad, burdened homosexual marginalized on the side of life. By using this text in this way, I inadvertently had Jesus affirm my shame. Not only that, but I was also putting words in Jesus’ mouth. I took Jesus’ promise to blind Bartimaeus and used it to affirm my decision to return to Quest.
On June 16, Elder George W. Reid, Director of the Biblical Research Institute, was a guest speaker at a Tokyo church. In his message, he encouraged us to take up our personal crosses, believing that God promises to support those who move forward in faith. I was so moved by his message that I asked to speak with him in private. I told him about my “H” struggle.
To my surprise, he was aware of both Colin and SDA Kinship. Modeling the style of “testimonials” I was familiar with, I gave Elder Reid a hope-filled account—one that did not accurately reflect my reality. I encouraged him to deal with the subject of sexual orientation more frankly in church papers—even suggesting he give more exposure to Quest. Being just days away from what I believed would be my last mission posting in Japan, I teared up when he shared how several Japanese had told him how much they valued my work. I was grateful for this boost to my sense of self-worth.
After all the usual farewell parties and picture taking, I flew out of Tokyo on June 26, 1984. Ending my coveted two-year mission term less than one year into it was heartbreaking, but I felt I had no other option. Rosie was the perfect companion for this emotionally charged flight.
Months of deeply personal interaction meant we were very comfortable together. When not talking about her return home and wedding in the fall, we chatted about my uncertain future. When not reliving our time in Japan, we joked about which male flight attendant was the cutest. Released from our missionary expectations, we shared in a little glass of something during the in-flight movie.
After the movie, Rosie asked if I’d massage her shoulders—which I did. She rested her head on my shoulder for a bit before asking if she could lie on my lap. She took my hand and drew it close to her cheek. When she did so, I felt at peace. I gently stroked her hair for a moment. Silently, I praised God for this opportunity to experience this emotional and physical closeness. And of course, I wondered if stroking this woman’s hair indicated my homosexual orientation was abating and that heterosexuality was emerging. Then one of those male flight attendants we had been joking about would walk past! I was effortlessly drawn to him. I didn’t have to “act as if” I appreciated his beauty or wonder if I would enjoy running my fingers through his hair—I knew I would. There would be nothing mechanical and forced about doing so. This frustrated me.
As expected, I was acutely aware of how much I valued Rosie’s friendship when we parted ways at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. We promised to stay in touch.
Prior to leaving Japan, I purchased an excursion ticket that allowed me to take nine flights anywhere in Canada and the United States. Between June 28 and Sept 7, I crisscrossed North America, stopping in Portland, Seattle, Reading, Ottawa, and Seattle for a second time before ending my journey back in Reading.
Exploring Portland with Russell, a former missionary colleague, was a good way to readjust to North America. While being able to confide in Russell was comforting, I knew there was no way I could convey the apprehension I carried with me. I celebrated my 28th birthday in Portland. That same day, I headed for Seattle.
I learned from their newsletter that Metanoia Ministries was hosting a conference around the time I was to return to North America. In a journal entry from late winter, I thanked God for the personal testimony of the Director, Doug Houck. I registered for the Seattle conference.
Being the financially strapped missionary that I was, Doug opened his home to me as he did to several others. Arriving a few days prior to the start of the conference allowed me to get to know him far better than I would have otherwise. Doug and an associate counseled about 30 people each week. I had several informal counseling sessions with Doug. He had brought Homosexuals Anonymous (HA) to Seattle and opened their space for chapter meetings. I attended one of those meetings. Because Doug was a member of the Christian Reformed Church (CRC), his ministry was endorsed by the CRC in the way Colin and Quest were endorsed by the Adventist Church. Besides speaking engagements throughout the United States and occasionally in Canada, Doug oversaw the production of their newsletter. That newsletter was the lifeline for thousands on the Metanoia mailing list.
About 25 people attended the conference. The focus was typical for a change ministry: sessions on the cause(s) of homosexuality, using scripture to advance healing, and testimonies of change. At the risk of being overly simplistic, we could be divided into three groups: the never married, the struggling to stay married, and the no longer married. Whether it was during a presentation, a break-out session, a meal together or social activity, I wanted to know how my experience was similar to, or different from, the others. My take-away was that I shared the same troubled journey and was hoping, like the others were, for that extra bit of knowledge that would unearth more of my buried heterosexuality. Any doubts or disillusionment we shared were mitigated by the hope that change was just one more counseling session or conference away.
Doug was the second change ministry leader I now knew personally. My experience of change ministries was now broader than that of just Colin and Quest. I was inspired by Doug’s testimony of recovery from homosexuality even if in private conversations he indicated that freedom from attraction to the same sex was a bit more elusive than he would have shared publicly. Because of my experience with Colin, I relegated revelations of struggle to the change-takes-time file. I left Seattle in envy of Doug. He believed his progress was significant enough that he could head up a ministry dedicated to helping others along the same path. I wondered if I would ever be in the same position.
On my Republic Airlines flight to Philadelphia, I wrote, “We are approaching Philadelphia. I praise God I can return to the place I ran away from just ten months ago with renewed enthusiasm and hope. Except for some mild trepidation, I am looking forward to seeing Colin and Sharon again.”