Stephen came into my office today. No one comes in unless there’s trouble, and from the look on his face and the bags under his eyes, I knew something wrong.
“How can I help you?” I asked. I cleared my desk of distracting paperwork and the piles of late housing surveys.
He took a seat on the other side of the desk and began to fidget with his fingers. “Well…What is the school’s policy on homosexuality.”
I pushed my chair back from the desk and exhaled, deeply. Lacing my finger’s behind my, I told him, “The official stance is that we do not condone or accept any homosexual behavior. Unofficially, the school board doesn’t want anyone that openly claims to be a homosexual present on this campus.”
“Have you had gay students here before?”
“A couple, actually. We’ve had gay, lesbian, bi; you name it. I don’t know why most of them come here in the first place, probably because their family sends them, but they usually leave while flipping the bird to the school. Without sounding unbiased: most of them had problems completely unrelated to their sexuality. It was more of a rebellion against their parents and Christianity than it ever was about how we treated them. I’ve never had to kick them out, they all left on own. Then there have always been the ones we never know about; the one’s that just leave without telling anyone. People suspect things, but the reason is never clear because people leave for all sorts of reasons: Grades, relationships gone bad, a change in major; but in some case I have to imagine that there are those who leave because they couldn’t be open about their homosexuality.“
I really just wanted to ask him why he asked. What did he want to know? What was going on in that mind of his? Why was he here? What did he want? What happened? I had so many questions come to mind in a instant; all while looking at the expression on his face that showed deep thought and…I don’t know. Decision? Anxiety? Depression? I don’t know why, but I took a stab in the dark, as a joke, but I still meant it all seriousness.
With a chuckle I stumbled over my words. “Why do you ask? Are you thinking about coming out?”
“Yes.” He muttered.
I tried not to let it get to me, or to let it show. I did need to make this a big deal for him, but wasn’t this a big deal for him? I don’t know what I was planning on saying if he did say yes, but I still had to ask. And he had said yes; what now? How long had he thought about this? What made him think he was…gay? What do I call it? What do I call him? Why did I think that? He was Stephen. He is Stephen. He will be Stephen. Will he still be Stephen afterwards? Can he be Stephen here? Has he ever been Stephen for as long as I’ve known him? Was he ever Stephen before? Or has he always had to be someone else? I guess I’ve had to be someone else before, but is this any different?
I took a deep breath and spoke calmly, a focused contradiction of my racing mind. “How do you know?”
“I figured it out in high school.” He sounded defeated. I didn’t want to pressure him what was I supposed to do?
“Does anyone else know?”
“A friend, you,…” His voice trailed off, “…my roommate.”
“How did they react?” I couldn’t stop myself from asking.
“Well, and…not so well.” I couldn’t bring myself to ask which one was ‘not so well’.
“Why are you telling me?”
Stephen sat up straight. “I don’t know, but I guess I’m at a point where I have to make a decision. It’s already to late to go back, and I don’t know exactly how I’m going to continue.”
“You don’t have announce it.”
“I know. I don’t plan on announcing it in chapel, but how do I react if someone asks about…I don’t know…”
“Without sounding like I’m telling you to lie: You don’t owe them the truth.” I gestured toward the door of my office.
“But I owed my friends the truth, and at some point its going to slip out, intentionally or unintentionally. I just want to know if I can stay here.”
I clenched my hands together and thought for a moment. “As long as word doesn’t get around, then yes. If people find out, it might catch the ears of…others, and they will very likely have to…”
“Have a witch hunt?” Stephen said.
“I wasn’t going to say that, but yes, that is probably what’s going to happen.”
“Even if I abstained from being a practicing homosexual? What are homosexual tendencies anyway?”
“They would probably define it as having sex with someone of the same gender.”
“But they would still would bust me, even if I never even had sex with another guy?”
“And now that you know, what happens?
Truthfully, I didn’t know. I guess whatever is going to happen, happens. I certainly didn’t want to be the one to tell Stephen to pack his things and leave.
He sighed. “I guess I always knew that if the institution didn’t get me the people would.”
“What do you mean?”
“You’re right. If I stay then you’ll be forced to kick me out, and even if you don’t, I don’t believe the students here will be as…accepting.”
Me: “You don’t know that necessarily.”
Stephen: “I remember the reaction I got when I said the word ‘whore’ in class, in context. Imagine the same flinching faces looking at you if they thought you were gay. If the distaste in their mind didn’t get to me, the outright condemnation would.”
“You don’t know that.”
“I don’t, but I know that no matter would happen, I would get forced out. Either you do it, or I am forced to do it myself.” He took a deep breath. “Its just…not fair. I hear and see those that are out having sex on the weekends-“
“No one ever said life was going to be fair.”
“-And drinking and being out past curfew; but no one actually gets kicked out for doing those things; and Its not even like I’m having sex, I’m just admitting that I sin, just like everyone else! But as it stands now, I have a nail put in my right hand for having sex outside of marriage, one in the left for being a homosexual, one in my feet for having sexual desires, and then, because it wasn’t hard enough to breathe already, the school’s high standards would be there to break my legs in order to make sure I eventually suffocate. Afterwards, just to make sure I’m dead, I’m sure they’ll poke my reputation with a spear sharper than any two edged sword and bury me in the annals of students without recognition; just another person that no one knows, or at least they’ll deny that they do.”
It was tense moment after that tirade. Stephen was fired up now. He was angry, and hurt. I couldn’t blame him. All I could do was offer some comfort to dull his pain. But whatever I did wasn’t going to make the issue go away.
“Why do you want to do this so badly?”
Stephen replied: “Well at first, I wanted to be honest, and now I want to prove to Pa-…people out there, that honesty and admission of sins is what Jesus would have wanted, not all this hiding behind false faces.”
“I know that feeling. Like there’s an entire campus behind the one we see everyday, and that one is the real one, but we’ll never know it.” I sighed. “Stephen, since you stepped in here, you are the first real face I’ve seen.
Stephen smirked a little. “But it hasn’t made your life easier, has it?”
“No, no it hasn’t.”
I started again, slowly. “Like I said before, Life isn’t fair. No one promised fairness. I will promise you the one thing I can give though, and that’s mercy.”
I could say what I wanted now, but this was going to hurt later. “Know that whatever your decision, I will be here to talk to. I won’t turn you in, and I won’t tell you to do so. If you come out, I will stand with you in order to help how I can.”
And now to tell him the final fact. “But, I can only do so much, and mercy does only go so far before law kicks in, and I will have to enforce the law. Nothing can stop that. Even if I quit now, the next one will do the same.”
Stephen nodded his head slowly. “I understand. I guess I just regret opening up to some people, they didn’t deserve to know me like that.”
My heart about broke, because I knew right then that he had made up his mind, and that there were those out there who were undeserving of how godly a young man Stephen really was. It didn’t break because I also knew that God had something else in store for him. Details were not forthcoming though.
“Did you get what you needed?”
“A last meal would be nice.”
“You’re not dying.”
“But I’m taking my mask off, and that’s an entire part of me. Even if I keep it, the other dies slowly. Half of me is destroyed at any given time; so it feels like I’m dying.” Stephen stood up and stuck his hand out. “Thank you for at least trying.”
I didn’t know what to do. A handshake seemed inappropriately small after being with someone who bared their soul with me. But I still rose and shook it firmly. He walked out of my office, and that was the first and last time I ever saw Stephen.