Dear Father, forgive me for I have sinned. It has been ten years since my last confession.
As a young child, there was nothing I detested more in life then going to Church on Sunday morning. Wedged on a hard pew between my mother and sister for what felt like an eternity, I found mass to be the most excruciating sixty-minutes of my pre-adolescent life. Being forced to sit still and listen to some old man with funny robes on try to catch his breath was not my idea of a good time.
Dressed for Church on Christmas Eve.By the age of five, I remember starting to put two and two together. I never asked what my mother was thinking about each time she returned from the front in order to kneel down and shut her eyes, the mystery still too great for my childhood brain, but I did start asking other questions that were within my reach. After refusing to be shushed one particular fall morning at 11:26 a.m., I retaliated against my mother with a barrage of questions that had been building up inside of me.
“What are those silver things stuck in the palms and feet of that half-naked bloody man hanging up there?”
“Why are they drinking blood, isn’t that what vampires do?”
“You cannot be serious, you mean one day I have eat a piece of that dead guy’s body too? Bitch please.”
After several years passed and I somehow managed to survive the horrifying symbolic event that was my first communion, I finally managed to convince my mom not to let me go. By ten, my arguments in favour of why I should get to stay home had become substantially more logical.
“Well, dad never has to go to Church, and if you’re telling me that he’s not going to Hell, then there’s really no reason why I should have to go now is there?”
Without any help from my father on these occasions, who stayed far, far away, whenever my negotiations would fail, I would plain-out hide. I was a master at making myself invisible, a skill I would later fine-tune in my high-school years. I would hide behind curtains, in corners, outside even when it was freezing, anywhere where I not be found out, grabbed by the arm and forced into the door. Even when my mom would start to run late and get super upset, I would not come out. I avoided Church instinctively, like a dog who knows exactly which people to cower away from. Sacrificing several a pancake breakfast that year, when my mom would return with my sister an hour and a half later, it was not until I turned eleven that she finally put up the white flag and did not ask me to go with her.
Three years later, I unwittingly found myself right back where I started. Except this time I was not wedged uncomfortably between my mother and sister on a wooden pew, I was seated comfortably in a velvet-padded oak-stained chair placed right in the middle of my mother and father, and directly across from a man who was dressed in clerics and introduced himself as “Father Director.” I had passed the three-hour aptitude test for entrance into St. Jude’s High School, and made it to my final interview.
After barely-surviving two years of counselor’s appointments and home-room changes in the public junior high school system, my parents thought it best to give me a change in scenery. Convinced by my mother of this fact, my father had managed to put his apprehensions about the Church aside so that I could stop living in perpetual fear of going to school each day. It also helped that school was run by Jesuits, a highly-respected group of men as far as Catholics go, who are known for being well-educated and staying closer to the middle.
“How often do you go to Church?” the Father asked me point-blank after assessing my extra-curricular activities to be running, singing and drawing in my sketch-book.
Overcome with guilt, I looked anxiously at my mother before responding. Shifting my gaze back to my father, whose attention remarkably was still fixed on a painting he had been looking at since he first walked through the door, I looked back at the Father.
“I, uh, well I don’t go as often, but well, you see, I... uh... used to go all the time when I was younger.”
Part of me wanted to be honest and tell him that I never went to Church because it was a fate I thought worse than death. But the other part of me knew that I was already living in hell, and would say anything to get out of it. I was called “faggot” five days a week, and my best-friend and only life-line at the time had made it into this school and I would do anything to stay by his side.
“We consider Church attendance and active religious participation to be very important in becoming a successful member of the community here at St. Jude’s,” he said to me. “While it is true, you do not have to be Catholic to be a student here, we still expect you to be engaged in your spiritual life and community outside these school doors. Does this sound like something you are interested in?”
“Absolutely,” I replied without one moment of hesitation or clue as to what I was actually saying.
Three months later, I received an acceptance letter in the mail for St. Jude's and my parents got an invoice for $20,000.
If you are wondering whether or not I knew I was gay by the time I arrived at grade-nine orientation day in late August of 1999, the answer is yes. That said, knowing the truth… and accepting it, are two very different things. St. Jude’s was a fresh start for me, and I intended to keep it that way. Lucky for me though, it turned out that every man in that school, gay or straight, was in the same boat as me. With same-sex schools a way of the past, every student from across the city at St. Jude’s was subject to being called fudge-packer, queer, or gay at outside school events. Now that I was dressed up in a suit and tie to go to school, I may have still been different on the inside, but on the outside I was no longer alone.
For whatever reason, my recollection of that first Orientation day is crystal clear. The sky was blue that afternoon, the sun was boiling, and even though it was only one week until September it felt like summer was not over but had just began. Referred to solely by our last names, I remember meeting some of my best friends on that day. It was not until a month-and-a-half later that I learned their first names, but even after that we still called each other by the last.
Toured around by Seniors wearing maroon-coloured coats, we learned all in the ins and outs. My straight-laced guide told me how in his four years, he had not once received a JUG: Justice Under God, also known as detention. He led us downstairs where our locker room also doubled as a change room, a discovery that made my blood pressure rise at the very thought of having to get my books. Once our tour was over, we headed outside for a BBQ and I stumbled across a group of the boys I originally went to school with.
One of them was a hockey-player who had it out for me since day one. Looking him in the eyes, I did not say a word. I only asked of him that he did not acknowledge my existence - that he let me go, which thankfully at that moment he did. Walking away without a sound, I returned to a group of new friends I met and geared up for the rest of the afternoon. Still left on the agenda, was a “Shirts and Skins” game of soccer between each new homeroom, played on the outside fields.
Never one to take my shirt off in public, I pulled the redhead card and informed the teacher in charge that I was not wearing sunscreen, and therefore would have to remain fully-clothed as to avoid getting second-degree burns. Politely refusing his offer to get some for me, I impressed upon him that it was really no trouble at all, and I didn’t having to play “Shirts” this one time. Manning up to the game like I actually had some fledging interest in sports, I tried my very best to not get the ball while not getting distracted by the shirtless boys around me. My heart racing, my brain in slow motion, the game played out exactly like a scene in Tom Ford’s A Single Man: where Colin Firth walks passed two college-men playing Tennis and the camera slows down to capture each flex of their chiseled bodies and bead of sweat as it inches down their tanned-torsos.
After the sports were over, we proceeded directly into the auditorium to pray for the school years that lay ahead. Thinking back now it seems like this particular order of events was exactly the framework my high school education took: chasing half-naked men with prayer.