Friend of Darkness

"Hello darkness, my old friend," begins the Simon & Garfunkel profound song, "The Sound of Silence," the song that caught the ear of Columbia Records producer Tom Wilson and led the then young men to a record deal in late 1963. The song, says Paul Simon, poetically captures the human inability to communicate with others emotionally, which instrumentally causes us to not love others as we should, but to only think within our own echo chambers. Communication is key to maintaining proper relationships. Simon begins:

Hello darkness, my old friend.
I've come to talk with you again.
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping;
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence.

I can relate to the familiarity with darkness. This is why I so readily identify with the late spiritual writer Henri Nouwen more than any other individual with whom I am familiar. The man knew darkness. Someone confessed that his "gifts facilitated his calling and his calling facilitated his gifts."1 But giftedness, and being involved within the framework of one's vocation, will not aid a person to the addressing or confronting of one's inner demons. Being distracted from one's problems is only a means to putting off addressing issues.

Nouwen had two friends, Bart and Patricia, who discerned that "the essence of his struggle was his humanity rather than his sexuality."2 But his sexuality was an issue. Nouwen's work with the mentally-challenged was a safe place where he was "free to break down and face his own brokenness in all its complexity." How so? "People with developmental disabilities surrounded him every day and proved to be a constant revelation to him: They could not deny the reality of who they were, and Henri realized that he could no longer repress the wounded child in him."3 Regarding the so-called wounded child, his friend Bart explained:
There was a deliberate aim to keep him in life [reality], because there was a great danger that he would go deeply into his darkness, this hole in the ground. In terms of regression, here was a wounded little child, not a six-year-old, but a two-year-old or an eighteen-month-old who needed to be held in a safe way with great purity. One had to keep separating out what was an agony at the sexual level [our spiritual writer was homosexual in orientation] and what was actually an agony at a much deeper level.4
I can, again, relate to his struggles. My (homo) sexuality does not comprise my humanity in toto; however, my homosexuality is part of my humanity, just as one's heterosexuality is part of her or his humanity. When one is taught to deny part of one's humanity, the ramifications can manifest in unhealthy ways, and I am going to be bold enough to state mine. If issues of human sexuality bother you then, please, stop reading here.

Taught to fear and loathe the "horrendous" nature of homosexuality, I tried, beginning in 1995, to deny that I was attracted to men, thinking that this was a noble effort on my part. I was told not to lie about it, if anyone should ask, but never to broadcast the truth either. Perhaps with much prayer and certain techniques I could acquire an attraction toward women. After 17 years of praying, attempting to portray myself as straight, appear interested in women and appearing to desire marriage with a woman, I began in 2012 to give up hope that such would ever be a reality in my mind or heart. In 2004, though, a disturbing trend began to emerge.

Having denied myself even the remote possibility of maintaining a same-gendered emotional and romantic relationship, yet desiring to have sex with a male, my attraction to straight men began. Why straight men? Because straight men didn't want an emotional and romantic relationship with me. Why not gay men? Because gay men may, indeed, want an emotional and romantic relationship with me. I didn't want to pick out curtains, because evangelicals would shun me for forming a same-gendered relationship, so I wouldn't even consider engaging with gay men. But straight men who wanted some attention, and even straight (or bi) married men, that was appealing to me. So were porn videos that featured gay guys engaging straight guys.

At this point I have already lost some of you. I don't blame you. The last notion you want to learn is that some straight men are willing to receive some attention from a guy -- even some in the church. Well, here's your dose of reality, because this happens. But something changed within me recently. Because I was shown affection and tenderness from an interested gay guy over a month ago, and thinking that the possibility of a life-long relationship could ensue, all interest in straight men vanished. Sex, in the form of affirmation from straight men, is not what I want; nor is the fantasy of straight-to-gay porn; I want love -- real love; love is what I've wanted all along. I never thought I'd find love, so I gave up, and paid a great cost.

As I've been saying to myself lately, and as I read from a meme recently, I want "a love so deep, strong, and complex, that [I] begin to doubt that [I] have ever truly loved anyone prior." I believe that a love like this -- a love like fiction -- is possible because the desire for such abides within me. If it abides within me then it, surely, abides in others as well. I refuse to believe that I am, unwarrantedly, a hopeless optimist.

I've spent enough time in darkness, with my old friend despair, and I long for this season to pass. I haven't lost my faith -- not in the slightest. I'm still trusting in the grace and mercy of God from breath to breath. For Henri Nouwen, who wrestled as do I, he longed to find God in his pain but was unable to do so. "God appeared to be absent, but the dark void was pierced by some light through his faithfulness to the Word in terms of the liturgy and the office, his fidelity to the Eucharist, and his loyalty to his pen."5 I concur.

You may ask me, Why would you write a post like this today, exposing your past in this manner? Well, if you think I'm the only one going through such, you are only fooling yourself. If even one other male or female could change their toxic manner of thinking about his or her sexuality into a healthy and love-oriented manner of thinking then writing this piece would be worth it. I must write, I must, even at my own expense. Michael Ford's conclusion of Henri Nouwen is my own conclusion to this post: "Here was a man who could hardly drag himself out the door, only just manage to get out of bed [because of despair], but who could still find the energy to write. Exhaustion, nausea, lassitude, and despair hovered over every blank page, but he knew that writing was a grace in the darkness, a form of salvation."6


1 Michael Ford, Wounded Prophet: A Portrait of Henri J.M. Nouwen (New York: Image Books, 2002), 166.

2 Ibid., 165-66.

3 Ibid., 165.

4 Ibid., 166.

5 Ibid., 167.

6 Ibid.


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My name is William Birch and I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition but converted, if you will, to Anglicanism in 2012. I am gay, affirming, and take very seriously matters of social justice, religion and politics in the church and the state.