Coming Out: My Story
Coming Out: My Story

Table of Contents

Introduction
Part 1: Growing up, high school and discovering myself (1974-1992)
Part 2: College and coming out (1992-1996)
Part 3: Graduation, grad school, and a low point (1996-1999)
Part 4: Starting over and discrimination (1999-2001)
Part 5: Moving to Columbus and new troubles (2001-2006)
Part 6: New job, new friends, and a look at a new beginning (2006 to present)
Part 7: Looking back

Introduction

      What follows is a story about a journey that I've been through and, in a sense, am still going through. It's the story about how I discovered myself and somehow managed to get as far into life as I have so far. Some parts or pieces of this story have been told before to different people, but after reading Mel White's Stranger at the Gate, I was inspired to write my coming out story so that everything was out on the table to share. It's quite lengthy, which I hadn't initially intended, but to fully understand my story, you have to get it all.

Part 1: Growing up, high school and discovering myself (1974-1992)

      I wasn't sure how to start this so I guess the best way would be to start at the beginning.

      I grew up in Bucyrus, the older of two kids. Our parents tended to shelter us quite a bit growing up, which became a source of confusion at times when learning about things outside of home. As I later learned, my family had an enmeshed family structure. There were no boundaries growing up. Everybody's business was everybody else's business. Mom and Dad were always right. We also weren't allowed to close bedroom and bathroom doors because, as Mom always said, "We're family. We have no secrets." There was also abuse that occurred, mostly emotional (especially later in life) but some physical as well. Dad actually had a wooden board that he made into a paddle with my name on one side and my brother's name on another. Whoever was in trouble would get hit with their side of the board. If Mom or Dad didn't know who to blame for something, we would get the narrow edge of it. And I say that we were hit with it because often if we put our hands or legs in the way of the swing of the board, Mom and Dad would continue to swing until the board hit its target. My brother also had a cunning way of getting me blamed for things that he did when he was able. Whenever our parents couldn't determine who did something, it would be a case of blaming both kids and asking questions later. The emotional abuse was often just as bad. I still remember one Christmas Eve when, to get my brother and myself to do something, Dad got out his shotgun and went out on the porch. Mom and Dad told us that if we didn't do as they said that Dad was going to shoot down Santa's reindeer, using Rudolph's nose as a target.

      Of course, with all of the control that Mom and Dad put on us kids at home, they did all they could to extend that control over us (at least with me since I was the oldest) outside of home in the real world. My brother and I were always told what we liked, what we were supposed to think of other people, etc. Only on a few rare occasions was I allowed to visit friends or have a friend over. I got picked on/bullied at school a lot. Mom and Dad literally told me that the kids at school were not really my friends and that only my family would ever love me. Looking back, it was like at the end of Psycho II when Norman Bates is speaking to himself in his mother's voice and says, "Remember, Norman, I'm the only one who loves you. Only your mother truly loves you."

      In the 8th grade, one of my classmates had a big hayride party for Halloween. I hadn't been invited, and I hadn't even known about it until the night of the party when my family and I were getting around for bed and people began banging on all of the windows of the house. Dad got in the car and chased after the tractor and two hay wagons loaded with kids. Mom called the sheriff's office. Not long afterwards, Dad came back. Coming up the road, we could see a parade of kids chanting my name and that I was a nerd. I stayed in the house while my parents went out and began lecturing the kids. It looked like just about everybody from my grade was in the driveway. The next day, I was made to go out and clean up the front yard. I was made to do it mostly by myself since Mom and Dad said it had been my friends that had done it.

      From that point on, life at school and at home got worse. The bullying intensified at school, including receiving harassing phone calls at home. The front yard got TPed at least once every spring and fall. Of course, I was always the one to go out and clean up the mess.

      My freshman year in high school came around, and that's when things got a bit confusing at times.

      While in junior high, we'd gone through sex ed in health class one year. I don't recall seeing diagrams or anything like that being used in the class. My parents tried to help me understand things, but they didn't do much better, only adding to the confusion. I still remember Dad explaining that with sex, the man was the plug, and the woman was the outlet. At school, my confusion became a source of entertainment for the other kids. They'd asked me what a term meant, something that I hadn't been told what the true meaning was, and then I'd try to explain what I thought it was. One term that I was often asked was what a wet dream was. I honestly, at the time, thought it was where a person wakes up in the night and is unable to make it to the bathroom. Incidents like that became a big joke for the other kids, but nobody ever explained those sorts of things to me, only adding to my confusion.

      During the first semester of my freshman year, each day started off in gym class. That's the time that a scary and confusing time of my life started.

      The usual things happened in gym class with getting picked on and bullied. However, there was a guy a year ahead of me named Tom who did more than the usual things that other people did. He would touch me. Only he didn't touch me in "normal" ways. He would put his hands on me in an almost caressing way. If I was sitting in the cafeteria or in the library, he would often sit next to me and put a hand on my thigh, slowly rubbing my leg. If I was at my locker, he would come up behind me and rub himself against me from behind. At other times, he would rub a hand on my chest and moan loudly. Sometimes he would come up behind me and put his arms around me. He even said that he was going to come over to my house sometime to fuck me.

      I was always scared and angry when he did those things. At the same time, I was confused as I found myself liking that touch, finding myself becoming aroused for the first time in my life. I'd always been told that it was how people were supposed to touch the opposite sex. Nobody had ever really said much about homosexuality before then. The only thing I knew about it at the time was that homosexuals were old men who lived alone. Tom and I weren't old men living alone. We were teenagers.

      I tried telling my parents that there was somebody at school doing things to me. But they just told me the same thing as the other times when kids had picked on me and bullied me. They just told me to either be nice to him or just ignore him.

      It was at that point that I stopped telling my parents everything that went on in my life. I didn't know where else to turn for support. Unfortunately, that wasn't the only time that I realized that I couldn't count on my parents to be there for me.

      Sometime during high school, my mom took me into Bucyrus to our family's optometrist's office. We were sitting on opposite sides of the tiny waiting room, which was narrow enough that you could easily bump feet with the person sitting across from you if both of your legs were stretched out. A guy who looked like he was in his 20s came in and sat down next to my mom, stretching his legs out. His feet bumped mine. I pulled my feet back a bit. The guy stretched his feet out a little farther to touch mine. I pulled my feet back under my seat, and he kept stretching his legs out farther and farther. Obviously, he was trying to touch my feet to try something. Mom looked over at me and just smiled, oblivious to my trying to pull away from the guy. Fortunately, I got called back to see the optometrist, ending the ordeal. I never did bring it up with my parents. I figured that if Mom had been that clueless when she was sitting right next to the creep that there was no way to sensibly talk to them about it.

      At school, I discovered that I also couldn't really look to my teachers for support. During my freshman year, a classmate in my grade colored and spiked his hair. Nobody had said anything until Mr. Sutor's science class. Mr. Sutor came into the classroom and told us to look at the kid's hair and laugh. So, even though nobody had made any jokes or anything about his hair, here was a teacher encouraging kids to make fun of and laugh at a classmate.

      We also had a history teacher named Mr. Dilley who I dreaded after a while. He would "target" certain kids in class and intimidate and ridicule them. In my class, I was one of his main targets. During my sophomore year, I discovered how uncaring he was. One of my classmates was killed in a car-train crash, and that day in Mr. Dilley's class, he asked me a question. I was still in shock from the accident that morning, and I wasn't even able to think. When I couldn't answer the question, Mr. Dilley told me, "I know we're all upset about Dale's death, but you're in my class and need to focus." I didn't say anything to him, but words alone can't begin to describe how upset I was with him that day.

      During my senior year, I began looking for colleges. My parents were still trying to remain in full control of my life, even telling me that when getting interviewed at colleges that I shouldn't tell anybody that I was into trains because they wouldn't accept my application. They were still telling me what I should think about my friends at school, telling me that after graduation, I should just forget about all of them and move on. They also didn't let me go to the prom during both my junior and senior years because I hadn't been able to find a date for either.

      Trying to find a date for the prom during my junior year started another event in high school that caused a lot of frustration. I'd asked a girl in my class to the prom, but she'd turned me down. At the time, I was convinced that if I just found a girlfriend, then I wouldn't have the feelings I had about guys anymore. During the early part of our senior year, she started getting teased about my asking her to the prom. She and her mom blamed me for the teasing and called my parents about it after they had gone to the vice principal at our school claiming that I'd been chasing her around school. Our vice principal hadn't believed her, but she and her mom held an obvious grudge against me that lasted well after high school.

      In October 1991, homophobia reared its ugly head at home. The TV show Coach aired an episode where Craig T. Nelson's character discovered that one of his football players was gay. I thought it was a funny episode. My dad and brother didn't. It got to a scene near the end were a couple guys were hugging on screen in the background, and my dad just started cussing and yelling to turn the channel, saying that he wasn't going to watch a bunch of "fags". Mom called in from the kitchen asking what was wrong. My brother shouted out to her that there were guys on TV doing it and that I was smiling about it. I don't think I ever got to see the end of that episode.

      During my senior year, I began looking at colleges, and my parents were again trying to control my life, not in choosing a college that we could afford but in telling me what to say on interviews. One thing that they made very clear was not to tell interviewers that I was into trains. I wasn't sure how that would affect my getting into a college, but it does show how ridiculous my parents' control over me was getting.

      I did end up getting accepted to Heidelberg College in Tiffin.

      I graduated from Wynford in 1992. With graduation came more fears and confusion. While I had been picked on and bullied in school, the only friends I knew were gone, although I did see some of them from time to time that summer when I was a carryout at Food Town. My depression and confusion became much worse. My parents were of no help. All they could do was tell me what to think and do with my life. By that August, thoughts of suicide filled my head, and one night on my way home from work, I nearly went through with it. I'd tried talking to one friend that I'd graduated with who I thought I could talk to. But, like everybody else, he distanced himself from me after graduation. Word got back to my parents though that I was talking about suicide. Rather than talk to me about it, they only got mad with me about it, making me feel worse.

      Before even attempting to end my life, a thought popped into my head. It was only a couple short weeks before starting college. I'd be moving away from home, getting a chance to start my life over. I'd be able to get away from my family and think for myself for the first time in my life. I would be able to do a complete 180 with my life and turn myself into who I wanted to be. I also believed that with the change of environment, the thoughts about other guys would end.

      I didn't know it at the time, but I was right.....and wrong.

Part 2: College and coming out (1992-1996)

      In the fall of 1992, I started classes at Heidelberg College in Tiffin, Ohio. That first night in the dorm, I discovered that the change in my environment hadn't stopped the feelings that had been in me through high school. That night, our resident coordinator for our dorm had all of us in the dorm come down to the central lounge between the two sides of the dorm so that he could introduce himself and the resident assistants from each of the floors. While in the lounge, I saw a guy who looked like Tom from high school. It wasn't him, but the feelings that I'd been able to ignore the last couple weeks before college were definitely back.

      My feelings from high school were not the only things to not let me go.

      Late during my first week at college, my mom called and asked when I wanted them to pick me up. When I asked what she meant, she said that they would pick me up to bring me home for the weekend. When I told her that I had homework to do for one of my computer classes (I'd chosen a major in computer science) over the weekend and needed access to the campus computers, Mom asked, "Why do you need a computer to do computer homework?"

      Realizing that I wasn't coming home every weekend like they wanted, they then began coming up every other Saturday just to see me. They would take me out to dinner, and then we would go back to my dorm room. Mom would straighten my bed (which was already made every day) and anything else that she felt needed tidying up. She even had to comment on how I did things differently from what she did at home (for example, how I folded my jeans). My dad and brother would go through my things (desk drawers, dresser drawers, closets, etc.). If my roommate wasn't in, they would go through his things as well. When in the dorm room, they would insist on having the door to the room closed as well as the blinds on the windows because they didn't like the "strange people" looking in.

      At home on breaks, things were worse. They couldn't figure out why I now preferred to use the bathroom with the door closed or preferred to have my bedroom door closed. According to my dad and brother, Mom was crying every night that I wasn't at home. They also didn't like the changes in me. Prior to college, I'd been shy, quiet, and pretty much kept to myself. After starting college, I became a new person, becoming more outgoing.

      I also discovered that they weren't telling me things that were going on at home. I'd been in 4-H for several years when I graduated from high school, and we still had a couple of the rabbits I'd raised from my early years in 4-H. When they died from age, I wasn't told until I was on my way home on break. Mom said that they decided not to tell me because they didn't want to upset me.

      Late that fall, I was talking to a friend of mine named Karen about how I had issues from my past bothering me. I didn't mention anything about my homosexual feelings. She invited me to join her at Campus Fellowship, which was the campus Christian organization that was supposed to be non-denominational and open to everybody. I'd never gone to church except for weddings or funerals. I'd always believed in God, and I thought it would be good for me to help me deal with issues in my life, including the feelings I'd been experiencing. I also started joining the group for Sunday morning church services at Tiffin Christian and Missionary Alliance Church just outside of town.

      Not long after joining Campus Fellowship, I talked with Sandra, the advisor, and she had me get a copy of Neil Anderson's book The Bondage Breaker, which deals with overcoming spiritual bondage (negative thoughts, irrational feelings, and habitual sins). The book does touch on the topic of homosexuality, saying that same-sex friendships lead to homosexuality and quotes 1 Corinthians 6, lumping homosexuals in with fornicators, idolaters, adulterers and effeminates. It also goes on about how only Christianity is the true way to believe in God.

      Needless to say, at that time of my life, I was now terrified of my feelings and did all I could to put myself on the right path of life. Karen and I had become close friends, and I asked her to go with me in February 1993. She turned me down, and we remained close friends. I was baptized at the C&MA church in April 1993. Afterwards, I was putting all I could into being a good Christian, blindly believing everything I was being told. Anytime thoughts of other guys popped into my head, I believed that I simply wasn't praying enough or correctly. Years later, a friend of mine told me that he thought I'd become a religious zealot and had become rather annoying at pressing my views on others.

      Of course, my finding religion caused problems at home. Mom began telling me how I should be a good Christian. My younger brother mocked me quite a bit. At one time, my brother tried getting me to engage him in an argument. When I remained calm and ignored him, he said, "Oh, that's right. You're a goody-goody Christian. What's going to happen? Is God going to hit me with a lightning bolt?" At another time, I was listening to one of my Amy Grant tapes while working on my model railroad in the basement. Mom came down to do laundry and asked me what I was listening to. I told her it was Christian music. She replied, "That doesn't sound like church music."

      In the fall of 1993, things started to go sour between myself and Campus Fellowship.

      That fall, I'd joined Inter-Residence Hall Council, which planned some of the events on campus throughout the year. That fall, we decided to have a haunted house in our Campus Center and trick-or-treating at the dorms for Halloween. The event was going to be open for the families with kids in the neighborhoods around campus to bring their kids to campus for a safe and fun time. In my dorm, I was also going to be having an event that I'd started during my freshman year at Halloween, and that was a horror-movie marathon in the lounge. The week before Halloween at Campus Fellowship, we watched a video from the series The Pagan Invasion about the evils of Halloween. In the talk afterwards, Sandra brought up how there was evil on campus that coming weekend with the Halloween haunted house and trick-or-treating on campus and the horror movies in my dorm. To this day, I don't think she had any idea that I was actually one of the people involved in organizing the events.

      Some time after that, I saw another episode of the Pagan Invasion series on one of the local cable channels. The episode was discussing how evil works its way into our lives every day. One topic that was touched on was movies. The hosts listed a list of "evil" movies, which included five movies that are on my top ten list of favorite movies. The first three were the original Star Wars trilogy. They were "evil" because they gave humans supernatural powers. The other two movies were Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T. Those movies were taboo because they made aliens cute and cuddly. Thankfully, I've never seen any other episodes of this show.

      Other issues soon arose with Campus Fellowship.

      When I went to church with Sandra and my friends from Campus Fellowship, I began noticing that after our Sunday sermon, our discussion that Tuesday night at Campus Fellowship would basically be the same thing. Campus Fellowship was supposed to be non-denominational, but we were being subjected to only the views of our advisor.

      I also began having issues with going to church. After our sermon every Sunday, the collection plates would be passed around. Shortly after starting going to church during my freshman year, Sandra and my friends noticed that I hadn't put anything in the collection plates. They told me that I should if I was truly a believer. After the collection plates were passed around, two men would then take them up to the front of the church and begin counting out the money in front of everybody, even though services were not over, which never did sit right with me. It's one thing to ask for donations, but I didn't see how paying money would ensure God's love.

      Another issue came up with my workload with classes and activities during my sophomore year. During the week, I was busy with homework, being on hall council in my dorm and Inter-Residence Hall Council, and working in the library (my on-campus job) in addition to going to Campus Fellowship. There were some Tuesday nights when I was too busy with homework and opted to not go to Campus Fellowship. On the weekends, I began trying to catch up on sleep, sleeping in in the mornings, including occasional Sundays. This didn't sit well with other members of Campus Fellowship. I kept getting told that God would give me my time back. I believed that God knew that I needed my sleep and needed to get my homework done.

      In early 1994 at Campus Fellowship, we had a big discussion on religious cults, even watching a video on the tragedy in Waco, Texas. During the discussion, Sandra went on about how the fraternities and sororities on campus were actually religious cults. A number of my friends on campus were in those fraternities and sororities, and I knew that those groups had nothing to do with religion.

      That was the last night that I went to Campus Fellowship, and I never joined them for church services again.

      Even though I'd left Campus Fellowship, Karen and I remained close friends. She was open to other people's views and beliefs. She never pressed her beliefs on anybody, but she was one of the most caring friends anybody could hope to have and was there if somebody needed spiritual guidance.

      My junior year at Heidelberg was an interesting one when it came to dealing with my homosexuality and religion.

      My parents and brother came up one evening (by this time they were not coming up every other weekend) and met a friend of mine named Eric. The day afterwards, Eric asked me what was wrong with my parents the night before. I asked him what he meant, and he said that my mom seemed overly nice and that my dad and brother acted like something was wrong. Eric, who is straight, wore earrings. I told him how my parents didn't care too much for guys wearing earrings and apologized for their attitude. At the time, my parents believed that any guy with long hair, earrings, or a mustache was gay.

      In the fall of 1994, I got a new roommate named Tim. He seemed like a nice guy but held some religious views that at times caused some frustrations.

      Tim belonged to a religious group called "The Way" and attended their church tent revival meetings every Sunday as well as one evening a week. To get there, a friend of his family, an older married guy with kids named Kirk, would come by the dorm to pick him up. Tim didn't try to push his beliefs on me. Kirk didn't hesitate to do so. When he came by on Sunday mornings (if I was awake) or during the week, he wouldn't hesitate to question me about my beliefs. One Sunday morning when I was still in bed, he came by to pick up Tim and brought his kids into the dorm room. I woke up and found his two kids standing next to my bed staring at me. Needless to say, I wasn't happy about it. Unfortunately, that wasn't the only problem that I had with Kirk.

      One evening during the week, Kirk brought Tim back from another one of their revivals and was talking to him when I got back to the dorm. Kirk had seen some of the Operation Lifesaver pamphlets that I had on my desk and asked about them. I told him about the Operation Lifesaver program I'd started on campus the previous year and told him about my classmate Dale who had died in high school.

      Looking back, I think the reason I got so involved with Operation Lifesaver in college was because, even though I never told anybody, I had always felt partly responsible for Dale's death. It wasn't because I was into trains. It was because my bus had gone through the crossing shortly before Dale's crash. For years afterwards, I often wondered if I could have prevented the crash by taking longer to get on the bus that morning, causing Dale to be stopped behind my bus at the crossing to wait on the train. At the time when doing the Operation Lifesaver program on campus, I guess I just wanted to do what I could to prevent it from happening again.

      Well, after telling Kirk about Operation Lifesaver and what happened in high school, he obviously thought there was another reason for the program I started and asked me, "Was he a boyfriend?"

      I suspected what he was getting at but answered, "I don't know if he was anybody's boyfriend. He was pretty popular."

      Kirk then rephrased the question and asked, "Was he your boyfriend?"

      I held back the urge to punch the guy and just firmly said, "No, he wasn't."

      Kirk left, and I had to leave the room for a while to keep from going off on Tim about his friend. A couple days later when I did finally talk to him about it, Tim simply told me, "You gave the right answer."

      Sometime that year, a friend of mine named Bill came out in the college newspaper, telling about a support group that had been formed for gay and lesbian students. Not long afterwards, I heard that he'd received death threats from another student warning him not to show up to classes. That student was kicked out of Heidelberg shortly afterwards. Needless to say, hearing that somebody was getting threatened like that just for coming out didn't help me with what I'd been feeling for the past few years.

      That spring semester, I got a summer job secured working in the campus computer center where I had been working during my junior year. Eric and Tim were also going to be working there. I was happy with that since I wasn't going to be working for minimum wage scanning and bagging groceries at Food Town like I had for the past three summers. Initially, I thought I was going to be living at my parents' house over the summer and driving to campus, a 30-mile drive in the mornings and then another 30-mile drive in the evenings. Things improved when Eric and Tim proposed an idea to me. The two of them and Eric's girlfriend Jill were going to be renting the house belonging to one of our professors (Dr. Mark), who was going to be out of town with his family for the summer. The rent was only $200 a month. With four of us, that would only be $50 a month for rent and 25% of the utilities. The house was just two houses from the edge of campus, making for a five-minute walk to work.

      Needless to say, I accepted the offer. Most people would think that this was a great opportunity.

      My family didn't.

      The previous three summers I'd worked at Food Town back home in Bucyrus. One summer was as a carryout, and the latter two were as a cashier. When I told my mom about working in the computer center over the summer, something that would be good for me since my major was in computer science, Mom wasn't happy. They were friends with the manager at Food Town and had already told him that I would be home over the summer and working there. When I told them about my staying with some friends just off campus over the summer, they really got upset. Mom wouldn't stop crying. My brother got mad with me. Dad just kept asking me, "Can't you see what you're doing to your mom?"

      I stood my ground and stayed in Tiffin over the summer. Of course, every time I talked with my parents over the phone, the main thing that they kept asking was "When are you coming home?" When that summer, each of us working in the computer center got three weeks off, taking them one week at a time. I told my parents that I only got two weeks, and during those two weeks, they were insistent that I come home. Looking back, I'm thankful that I stayed in Tiffin that summer, not just because of my getting away from my parents but because of an incident that occurred about mid-summer.

      Not long after we'd moved into the house, Eric and Jill were out of town for the weekend, and Tim had gone to one of his Sunday revivals at The Way. I was sleeping in when Tim got back. He woke me up and told me that I had to get dressed and get around. A group of people from The Way were coming to clean the house. Dr. Mark and his wife had kind of left the house a mess, and we'd tidied up when we'd moved in. However, Tim and his group believed that cleanliness was next to Godliness and wanted to clean everything spotless. They cleaned the kitchen, living room, sunroom, bathroom, stairs, and upstairs hallway. I didn't let them touch the bedroom that Eric and Jill had their computers/office set up in as well as Eric and Jill's bedroom. They wanted to clean my bedroom, but I already had everything the way I wanted and told them to leave things alone. I was glad when they finally left. Eric and Jill were pretty furious when they got home. None of us was happy with Tim about that since he should have asked the rest of us before bringing strangers into our home to clean.

      One Thursday in late July, Dr. Mark was in town for a couple days on campus. That evening, he spent the night at his house with us. Early that evening, we were watching TV when a strong storm roared into town. We began closing windows just as the winds picked up, and the power went out. Grabbing flashlights and a battery-operated radio, we headed to the basement until things cleared up outside. While out in the driveway waiting for the power to come back on afterwards, Eric and Dr. Mark got into a long discussion which led into a discussion about morality in America. At one point, the discussion turned to homosexuality. Eric said that he thought it was okay as long as it was between two consenting adults. Dr. Mark felt differently and felt that if homosexuality was okay, then he should be allowed to bring a horse into class and have sex with it. I thought Dr. Mark's comment was pretty ridiculous, but everything Eric said that night stuck in my head and would become important in a few months.

      On a side note, when I told my parents about the power outage we'd had in Tiffin that night and through the next day, my mom told me, "That wouldn't have happened if you'd been at home." Apparently she forgot that their house runs on electricity as well.

      That fall, I started my senior year at Heidelberg. Within a short time, my senior year almost never happened.

      In mid-September, my dad was wrongfully fired from his job at Timken in Bucyrus after working there for over 26 years. A couple years later, he did win his lawsuit against the company. I was able to get financial aid to allow me to finish college, but things got worse between my parents and me. Mom said that while she and Dad were both working at new jobs, Dad was often depressed. They kept asking when I was coming home. Arguments intensified some. Basically, anytime something went wrong at home, it was my fault because I was at college and not at home to make things right. They did reluctantly let me have my mom's car on campus after a bit of arguing (they had three drivers at home and four vehicles), but before that, they kept saying that I didn't need a car because they could bring everything I needed to the dorm for me.

      By the time that January 1996 came about, my guilt over my feelings about other guys was really starting to get to me. I'd even purchased a 2-year subscription to Playboy in hopes that it would cure me. I used the anonymous online question service our campus counseling center offered, which was basically like a "Dear Abby" column in a newspaper but was online. Users could also read the anonymous letters and responses if they wanted.

      Shortly after submitting my questioning my sexual orientation on the system, I remembered what Eric had said at the house the previous summer. I asked him if I could talk to him sometime about something. He was confused as to what I would have to talk to him about that I couldn't talk to anybody else but agreed to meet that evening when he got off work at the computer center.

      That evening after my art class let out, I headed to the computer center where Eric was working. He had about an hour left after his shift before closing the center so I got one of the terminals, and we began talking about the conversation he'd had with Dr. Mark. I asked him to expand some on his views, and after I was quiet for a few minutes, he asked how long it had been an issue. I gave him a brief rundown of everything I'd been going through. He told me that it was okay and that my being gay didn't matter to him since he had no problem with it.

      Finally, on Tuesday, January 23, 1996, I had come out to my closest friend, ending seven and a half years of holding everything in.

Part 3: Graduation, grad school, and a low point (1996-1999)

      Shortly after coming out to Eric, a response to my online question about my sexual orientation had been replied to and posted online. It had been completely anonymous, but some guys in my dorm began asking me about it. I denied writing it since I knew what their views on the topic were already and didn't want to come out to them, but the rumors had started.

      Not long after I came out to Eric, I came out to my friend Bill, who had been threatened the year before. I also came out to Doug, who was the advisor of a kind of underground support group for gay and lesbian students on campus. Both were very supportive, and Doug suggested that I read a recent book called Stranger at the Gate by Mel White, which I read the following summer.

      Looking back, while I was finally acknowledging my feelings at that time, I still wasn't being honest with myself. When I first started coming out, I was coming out as bisexual, not gay. At the time, I honestly believed that I was bi since I had feelings for Jamie Lee Curtis in the first two Halloween movies. Later on, I realized that the only reason I had feelings for her was not because she was a woman but because she reminded me of a guy I had a crush on in high school.

      My last semester at Heidelberg went fairly smoothly. I was accepted into the graduate program at Bowling Green State University, and I'd also secured a job working in the media center on Heidelberg's campus over the summer, living on campus until the move to Bowling Green. I was looking forward to how everything seemed to be working out for me.

      My parents were not. They wanted me to move home after college, work in Bucyrus (where there are no real jobs for somebody with a degree in Computer Science), and live with them.

      Graduation came, and my parents and brother came up late, causing us to have a bit of a rushed lunch. While we were eating in the cafeteria, Dad started complaining about the women with tattoos and guys with earrings saying, "Tattoos are for men. Earrings are for women." When I told him that that was a stereotype, he said, "No, it's the truth." He even had me lift my hair, which I'd grown long at the time, off my ears so he could see if I had earrings.

      After the graduation ceremony, my parents again began begging me to come home with them. I stood my ground, and they left, obviously not happy. Over that summer, every time I talked to them on the phone, they kept begging me to come home just to see them.

      Eric and I then got a taste of homophobia towards the end of May. He and I went out for a couple drinks for my birthday. At the bar we went to, I had a white Russian. Eric had decided on a martini. While we were talking and enjoying our drinks at the bar, a guy on the other side of Eric leaned over and asked if we were gay. He then said that he'd never known straight guys to have a martini and just automatically assumed that we were gay. Needless to say, we quickly finished our drinks and went to another bar.

      Two days before my move to Bowling Green, things exploded between myself and my parents. That Saturday, I went to my parents' house to get some things of mine to take to Bowling Green with me during the move and visit with my parents some. Late in the afternoon when I was about to drive back up to Tiffin, Dad came up with the idea that we should all go out to dinner for the evening. I politely told them that I couldn't because I still needed to pack for my move that was going to be happening in two days. They didn't care about that and kept saying that I needed to spend time with them. Apparently my spending the afternoon at their house wasn't enough.

      That's when what had been a good afternoon visit turned into a living nightmare.

      Dad exploded about how his life was all fucked up and that I didn't care. At one point, Mom suggested riding with me part way to Tiffin and then having me drop her off for Dad and my brother to pick her up on their way to dinner. After the arguing went back and forth for a bit with my parents and brother yelling at me, Dad grabbed the keys to Mom's car from me, opened the hood, disconnected something, slammed the hood shut, and yelled that nobody was going anywhere. The argument continued and moved back into the kitchen. Dad went into the TV room and sat in front of the gun cabinet saying, "Maybe we all ought to just shoot ourselves and put ourselves out of our misery." My brother came storming through the kitchen yelling at me, "Fuck you! I never want to see your fucking face around here again!" Mom came into the kitchen and said, "You know who I'm going to blame if he tries anything tonight."

      That was probably the most scared I'd ever been around my parents. I wanted to call 9-1-1 for help, but the phone was near the gun cabinet, which I didn't want to go near with the mood Dad was in. I didn't have a cell phone at the time, which would have been a lifesaver at the time. I also couldn't just drive away since Dad had disabled the car. I honestly thought I'd never see any of my friends again and wondered if I would even be getting out of that house alive. Even if I was able to get to the phone, they could easily try stopping me. This was before I had a cell phone, leaving me with no way of calling for help. I couldn't just leave since Dad had disabled the car.

      To end the madness, I agreed to go to dinner with them. It was like a switch had been turned off. It was suddenly like nothing had ever happened. Dad reconnected whatever he'd undone under the hood of the car, and we went to dinner. I ate quickly, and once we were done, we headed out to our cars with my parents telling me to ask them for help rather than my friends with the move.

      I don't remember the drive back to Tiffin. When a friend of mine came back that evening to the dorm, I went to see him. He knew I'd had problems with my parents in the past, and when he saw me, he immediately knew something was wrong and asked me if I was okay. I broke down and told him what happened. That night, I had the worst headache that I can remember. Not only was my entire head aching but so were my neck and shoulders.

      Two days later, a couple friends helped me with moving to Bowling Green. Unfortunately, things didn't go as I'd hoped. I was so focused on succeeding so that I would never have to move back to my parents' house again that my grades started slipping. I began having nightmares about fights between myself and my family.

      During that time, I was still trying to come to terms with my being gay. I was tired of hiding my true self from the world, but I also knew I couldn't come out to just anybody.

      In April 1997, Ellen Degeneres came out on her TV show and in real life. Message boards online lit up about it. I still remember one message board where there were a small group of religious "fanatics" bashing Ellen just because she'd come out. In the early part of the discussions, I was welcomed in the discussions until I revealed that I, too, was gay. They then turned their gay bashing at me and anybody on the message board who was supportive of anybody who was gay. One person even said that my love of trains and model railroading was a sin because they claimed that the Bible says for us to give up childish things.

      By May 1997, my grades had slipped badly enough that I ended up losing my graduate assistantship at BGSU, meaning that I would now need to find a way to pay my own way to try to finish grad school. I was looking for work, but nothing was panning out. About mid-summer, my parents found out that I'd lost my financial aid and, without asking them, began paying my tuition and helping me with my rent and utilities.

      However, my grades kept slipping, even worse than before.

      In March 1998, I thought things were making a turn around and that my dreams were going to come true.

      Norfolk Southern interviewed me in their Bellevue, Ohio offices and then, after a short time, flew me to Atlanta for interviews with their information technology department. For me, it was a dream come true since I'd been into trains since I was two years old, and I felt that combining my love of trains with my computer skills would be perfect.

      It was not to be. A month after my interviews in Atlanta, I got a rejection letter from Norfolk Southern thanking me for allowing them to interview me in South Bend, Indiana.

      I ended up failing out of BGSU and moving back to my parents' house, looking all over for work.

      Sometime during the course of the summer, I went to dinner in Marion with my parents at Red Lobster. While there, I realized that I knew our server Cheryl, with whom I'd graduated from high school with in 1992. We talked some, and during the meal when she came by to check on us, she mentioned to me that two more classmates from high school, Bart and Mark, were at another table nearby. I turned, and they waved. I waved back. I wanted to go over and talk to them a bit, but with the way my parents had been in the past about my friends, I decided against it out of fear of my parents making a scene in public. After dinner, we were leaving the parking lot when Mom made the comment "Those boys never were in your league, were they?" I asked what she meant, and she replied, "Well, you didn't want to talk to them." I then told her that I had wanted to talk to them but figured that she and Dad would get upset at my going over to them. At that point, both Mom and Dad started chiming in that they never denied me of having friends, which was a contradiction to how they'd raised me.

      That August, I began work at Landoll's in Ashland, which was a publisher of children's books. I was going to be working in their help desk, which basically meant doing technical support for their computers and software. Including myself, there were only seven of us in my department.

      Not long after I started, I discovered that Erick, my manager, and Jay, the company's website designer, joked around a lot about each other being gay, even though both guys were straight and married. I just laughed it off. However, not long after I'd started working there, Erick and I were working in our server room, and he started talking about how he and Jay often joked around. He then, out of the blue, asked, "Are you gay?" Before I could say anything, he interrupted and said, "No, don't answer that. Has anything Jay or I said offended you?" I told him no and that I knew that they were just joking around. Afterwards, I was in a bit of shock by it since after all I'd read and heard, I knew it was illegal for an employer to ask an employee about their sexual orientation.

      Despite that incident, I continued work as usual, doing all I could to find a place to live in Ashland and end my 75-minute drive to work every morning and then doing the same drive home to Bucyrus in the evenings. That September, mom's car got traded in on a 1997 Pontiac Grand Am SE, which was mine although it was registered under my dad's name for insurance reasons until I was 25. That October, I found a place in Ashland (the lower part of a 2-story house), about five minutes from work. Mom wasn't too happy about it, saying that she didn't understand my "rush" to move. Dad, who was now working for a trucking company on the south side of Ashland, understood my wanting to end the drive and live closer to work. However, since Mom wasn't happy, he wasn't too thrilled either.

      I got moved to Ashland, and things were going okay for a while until one Saturday morning when I woke up, looked out my front door, and saw my dad's pickup driving off. I wondered what they were doing there at that time of the morning without calling ahead. That afternoon, Mom called. They had purchased a washer and dryer for me and wanted to bring them over. All through college, grad school, and since moving to Ashland, I'd never had my own washer and dryer, using a local laundromat down the street. While I wanted to get a washer and dryer, I wanted to be involved in the purchase since I felt that they were major additions to my home that I should have a say in. Mom and Dad felt differently. Not long after that, I was getting off work one evening and was heading out to my car in the parking lot and discovered that Dad's pickup was parked next to my car. He immediately got on me about the washer and dryer, arguing for a few minutes with me in front of my coworkers who were also getting off work. He then angrily drove off.

      At Christmas, I went to my parents' house, and they had the washer and dryer in the garage. For Christmas, they had also gotten me a new dining room table with four matching chairs in addition to the usual flood of presents that they had every year under the tree. Knowing that I could use the table, chairs, washer, and dryer (and seeing them in person rather than Mom trying to describe them over the phone), I let them bring them over to my place the following day since it was a Saturday. I was actually thankful to have them a week later when a heavy snowstorm came through and I didn't have to go out to get my clothes washed.

      Not long after that, things became rapidly worse between myself and my parents. One night in January 1999, I got off work early due to heavy snow coming through Ashland and headed home to take a nap before dinner. Laying down in bed, I dozed off to sleep, getting awoken at the sound of somebody pounding on my front door and ringing my doorbell. I sat up wondering who was showing up at that time, and as I started getting off the bed, I heard somebody turning the doorknob trying to get in. I froze where I was, and after a minute, I heard footsteps and a vehicle door shut and a vehicle drive off. I later found out from Mom who it was. Apparently my dad had gotten off work at the trucking company on the south side of town, didn't want to drive to Bucyrus in the snow, and, rather than call, had tried to invite himself in for the night.

      That February, things finally came to a head between myself and my parents. I came home late at about 11:30PM to find Dad waiting in my driveway. He came by after work at the trucking company on the south side of town and stopped in to check on me. As usual, an argument ensued, and he left.

      After that, I decided that it would be best to make one last drive to my parents' house and pack up my model trains and bring them to Ashland. With their being upset with me, I didn't feel it was safe to leave them where my parents' and brother could do something to them. I went during the week after work. Mom wasn't home, but my brother and his then-girlfriend were there. He went off on me. I stayed focused and finished packing as Mom came home. She started in on me as well, saying that Dad was suicidal again. I packed my things in the car, and, after more arguing, I headed home.

      A week after my trip to my parents' rumors started circulating at work that there was going to be a layoff. The wife of the CEO of the company had been fired, and we were told that there were going to be a lot of changes made. My department's manager told us that since we were such a small department that we would be okay through this and not to worry.

      A couple days later, I was being laid off. The Chicago Tribune, who had purchased Landoll's just before I started, decided that since there would be less computers being used that somebody could be let go from my department. Jay's job was the one being eliminated, but since he was good friends with some of the heads of the company, I was getting let go so he could assume my job. The reason for the layoff was because the Tribune had discovered that the accounting department at Landoll's had been adjusting their numbers, making it appear that we'd been making money when, in fact, we'd been losing money.

      I applied for unemployment, which I was eligible for since I'd been with Landoll's for over six months. However, due to a mixup on Landoll's part, my unemployment was delayed for a month. When I was told about the delay at the unemployment office, the woman I was talking to told me that to help me out that they had welfare. I didn't like that idea, especially when they told me that I would have to sell my car for a cheaper one in order to qualify.

      Fortunately, my unemployment did get started before my severance pay ran out. I began sending out my resume to wherever I could. In order to keep from going broke, I was paying my bills when I could, which often meant paying them late. My two credit cards were starting to near getting maxed out. Rejection letters were piling up, and I'd fallen into a severe depression.

      Through it all, I didn't even try to call my parents. I didn't need their piling things up on me with what I was going through.

      That June, while online job hunting, I met another guy who called himself Waco and lived in Defiance and was looking for friends. We talked off and on for a while, and then in August, desperate to end my loneliness and depression, we agreed to meet at my place. I won't go into the details of what exactly happened that day and evening, but I discovered what sex was like. However, it wasn't exactly as I'd hoped it would be. For me, I'd always pictured sex as being something special between two people. Waco was basically just looking for some physical fun. After that night, I didn't hear from Waco again for a long time. Before that night, I'd always told myself that I'd hold off on having sex until I met Mr. Right, not Mr. Right Now. Afterwards, I felt guilty, not about having gay sex, but for having broken the promise I'd made myself.

      That September, I found what I thought was a great job doing website programming for a company out of Columbus. While it would be less of a salary than what I'd been making at Landoll's, I would be working from home, which would save me money with gas and other expenses.

      Shortly afterwards, I called my parents for the first time since I'd talked to them last in February. They were relieved to hear from me and told me that they loved me and that they were there for me if I needed them.

      Unfortunately, the new "job" was not to be. The websites I was hired to create turned out to be nothing but porn. While I have no problem if somebody wants to look at porn, there are some things that I do not wish to see. Trying to do the work literally made me sick to my stomach.

      That October, my one credit card maxed out with the interest charges. Not having a job and not able to pay the monthly payments, I got a notice from the credit card company that they wanted the full amount immediately.

      At that point, I was at my breaking point with my depression and loneliness. When you're as depressed as I was at that time, you don't think clearly, and I began wondering what to believe. At the time, I began wondering if I was even wrong to think that it was okay that I was gay. I also didn't want to involve my parents and friends in my problems.

      Wanting it all to just end, I decided to end my life. I won't go into what I tried here, but I spent an afternoon writing a long letter to my family and friends, explaining why I was ending my life and how I wanted my possessions divided amongst everybody.

      Once done with the letter, I attempted to end my life, asking God to help me just before I did it.

      By what I can only describe as a miracle, nothing happened, and I was still alive. God had saved me, and that must only mean that there was something better for me out there if I didn't give up.

      Freaking out over what I'd just tried and what did (or didn't) happen, my mind began racing with trying to figure out what to do next. That's when I remembered what my parents had told me about their being there for me if I needed them. While I didn't like the idea that I'd come up with, at the time, it was either that or go bankrupt and ruin my credit, which was probably already hurting from paying bills late.

      I called them and asked them if I could move back home to try and get my life straightened out and back on my feet. They let me, and by mid-November 1999, I was living in my parents' house again.

Part 4: Starting over and discrimination (1999-2001)

      Moving back home to my parents' house was a blessing at times and a curse at others. The job hunting continued, and I kept going to interview after interview. Rejection letters kept coming in the mail, and at times, I was wondering if anything was ever going to turn up for me.

      In July 2000, I went to Mansfield for an interview with Jim and Garry at Universal Digital Communications. It was a small company that did multimedia publishing for companies as well as web hosting and internet service over DSL. The interview went well. The position was for an assistant network engineer, installing DSL for customers around Mansfield, Shelby, and Lexington as well as providing tech support for employees. After the interview, Jim and Garry asked me to stay in the lobby for a few minutes while they talked. Jim then came back out and invited me back into their office where they offered me the job.

      After seventeen months, I was back to work.

      Work at UDC started off going well. I reported to Dennis, who reported to Garry, who reported to Jim. Having income again, I quickly got my credit cards paid off, and I started saving up for moving out of my parents' house once I could afford it. I did spend some on my old model railroad layout that was still in the basement, getting it running again and relaxing in my own little world.

      After a while, though, I began noticing that things were not quite right with the company. I wrote them off as "growing pains" as the company was rapidly gaining customers as well as employees.

      One thing I noticed was how the company was extremely micro-managed. While my work was to come to me through Dennis, and occasionally Garry, Jim, as well as Ralph (the owner of the company) often jumped into the mix and began telling me what to do, even though my work schedule had already been worked out by Dennis and Garry. Looking back at the company, there was about one manager for every person actually doing the work. There were often times when there would be meetings about meetings.

      Then there were cases where embarrassing issues would happen when dealing with customers. In one case, one of our Mansfield customers ordered a DSL line for their offices. I went out to install the line only to find that each PC in the company was a stand-alone PC. In other words, they had no network for the DSL line to plug into for them to have internet access. It was an embarrassment because our sales people were basically selling our DSL lines with no idea as to what the customers needed or had at their locations.

      There was no organization for support calls either. I would be in the middle of working on a project, and somebody in the company would call my cell phone, demanding that I help them with something on their computer. In one case, Jim called me into his office. When I got there, he asked me what was wrong with Jason's printer. Nobody had told me a thing about Jason having problems with his printer. When I told Jim that, he firmly told me, "Well, get on it!" In another case, I was working on a project at my desk when Ralph's granddaughter called from the receptionist's desk and asked me if I was going out to a customer's site to fix their DSL. When I asked her what she was talking about, it turned out that when she'd been taking calls the day before, a customer had called with DSL problems. Rather than route the call to me or even tell me that the customer had called, she had told the customer that I would be out the next day at a certain time and then never told anybody that she'd made an appointment for me to be there. In another case, the management would be an embarrassment when I was trying to work. In one case, I was out to our RGR office to troubleshoot their DSL line. While troubleshooting it, Ralph, who felt he needed to troubleshoot it himself rather than let me do my job, began yanking wires at the phone box and plugging them back in, causing my equipment to keep going offline while I tried to look for the issue.

      Time reporting was another issue that was absolute chaos to deal with. Initially, we had daily timesheets that we marked our time down on for whatever projects we were working on. While keeping track of time was no problem, I was asked about certain gaps in time (typically about five minutes or less) on my timesheets. When I said that they were times when I was in the restroom, I was told that I had to mark that down as well. During stressful times, in the function column, I was almost tempted to enter either a one or a two.

      I remember one day when a fellow employee in our digital printing department was telling somebody that the company was about like the performers you see on TV or talent shows where they have long sticks with spinning plates at the top of them. Basically, everybody was running around trying to keep the plates spinning. The only problem was that some of those plates were beginning to fall.

      In early 2001, a coworker of mine was fired. It wasn't until well afterwards that I heard what happened. Dawn had come in on a Saturday to do some work. Her husband was going to his office and dropped her off. While she was in her office in the lower floor of the building, Doug in the digital photography offices upstairs left, setting the security alarm. When Dawn stepped out of her office after Doug had left, the alarm went off. Dawn turned it off and called the security company to let them know what happened. Not long afterwards, Kelly, our HR person, noticed the Saturday hours on Dawn's timesheet and asked her about them. When Dawn said that Doug had been there and mentioned the incident with the alarm, Jim asked Doug, who said that he hadn't seen Dawn there. Since her husband had dropped her off, Dawn's car hadn't been in the parking lot when Doug left. As a result of Doug not seeing Dawn, Jim fired Dawn on claims that she'd falsified her time reporting. After she was fired, Jim then called the security company and found that Dawn had actually been there that Saturday. Jim, in turn, offered Dawn her job back, which she, of course, refused after how she'd been fired.

      I didn't know it at the time, but that was a sign of what I would end up going through.

      Rumors began circulating about certain employees within the company.

      We had interns at times working in the company. The one thing that everybody noticed was that they were always young girls just out of high school. In most cases, Ralph would tell managers that the interns would only be observing our work and not actually do any work for the company (i.e. they were being paid to sit around and do nothing). They were all girls that Ralph knew personally, and they often spent time alone with Ralph in his office behind closed doors, sparking rumors that there was something more going on.

      Rumors were also circulating about my manager Dennis and our administrative assistant Vickie. Both were married, and while I'd seen them flirting around a bit, I didn't want to believe it.

      It was also rumored that Jim was an alcoholic. Somebody had apparently seen a picture of him totally smashed at a party somewhere, and several people often said that in the morning meetings, he would come to work reeking of alcohol.

      By July 2001, my credit cards had been paid off, my savings had gotten built up, and I was looking for a place of my own in Mansfield. I found a townhouse that was within my price range and met all of my needs. Needless to say, Mom and Dad were not happy about it, but they reluctantly helped me move. However, things didn't go 100% smoothly. The night before the final move (I'd been taking carloads of my things to work with me and dropping them off after work), my brother went to back our parents' trailer into the garage with my furniture on it and backed it into the bumper of Mom's car. While he should have waited for somebody to help him with backing the trailer into the garage, their attitude was that it wouldn't have happened if I wasn't moving.

      Even after I was moved out of my parents' house, the stress wasn't over. They kept checking up on me, even showing up one night in the parking lot at work as I was about to head home. I was also having nightmares that I was still living at my parents' house and getting into fights with them.

      That's when a friend of mine suggested looking into seeing a professional to get help with dealing with what I'd been going through. That's when I remembered that there was a licensed practicing clinical counselor who had an office in the same building as my company on Sturges Avenue. I called Linda and made an appointment with her. She believed that I was currently dealing with post traumatic stress disorder from the issues with my family, things that I'd been through in the past, and the current issues regarding work. I began seeing her once a week and began getting my life heading in the right direction.

      Around September, Dennis surprised me when he told me in private that he knew that I was gay. He said that when he'd lived in California, he'd had a gay roommate and was okay with it. Not long afterwards, we had a long talk after work about what all I'd gone through since finding out about myself, and he understood my not wanting anybody at work to find out.

      Not long after I opened up to Dennis, he opened up to me about the rumors regarding himself and Vickie. They were true.

      Issues at work then went from bad to worse.

      One of our employees was fired. Garry, who was by that time divorced, had been seeing her before she'd been fired. In September, Garry was called into Jim's office. It had been discovered that Garry and the former employee had been coming into the offices after hours when nobody was around and going into the servers and sabotaging files and customer information. He was going to be fired, but, after he broke down and told Jim that if he was fired that he would lose his green card and never see his kids again, Jim decided to instead demote him to "special projects" and have him report to Dennis.

      In early October, a nightmare began for me that I'll never forget.

      I was at a customer's site when Jim called me on my cell phone and asked me to see Kelly (our HR person) in her office at our Park Avenue West office when I was done. I went there, and she called Jim at the Sturges Avenue office, telling him that I was there. Jim came over, and we all went upstairs to one of the conference rooms. Jim told me that they had something serious to discuss with me and needed me to be completely truthful with them. He then pulled out a printout of my Yahoo profile. While my real name was hidden, my picture was on it as well as the fact that I was gay. Apparently, Greg, another employee, had found my Yahoo profile, saw that I was gay, and felt threatened by it. He printed off my profile and then turned it over to Jim along with allegations that I'd come onto him. Jim then pulled out a pre-typed writeup form that outlined my being written up for sexual harassment, which I was told that I needed to sign, even though I told them that I hadn't come onto anybody. I wasn't being fired, but I was told not to discuss the issue with anybody. I asked them what they wanted me to do if anybody started harassing me about my being gay, and Jim said, "If anybody begins bothering you about this incident, come see me." I again asked what I should do if I get harassed for being gay, and he again referred to the incident, not my being gay, raising a red flag for me.

      I didn't get much sleep that night. I kept having a dream that I was tied to a pole in the back parking lot at the Park Avenue office, and people from all parts of my life (work, college, high school, etc.) were yelling at me, throwing rocks, and even approaching me with lit torches.

      Even though my being written up was not to be discussed, it was obvious that other people knew what happened. People began treating me differently. In one incident, we were having a training session for the new companywide time reporting system. I got to the training room first, and there were five rows of chairs with ten chairs per row. I sat at the front right corner of the chairs. Other people began coming in, sitting armpit-to-armpit in the back left corner of the rows of chairs. Mary Jo, who was doing the training, even stopped at one point of her presentation and commented that I looked like a potato chip that had fallen out of a bag.

      Jim even began treating me differently. He would often see me and refer to me as "buddy" and slap me on the shoulders, something he never did to anybody.

      About a week and a half after the writeup, I was told to rebuild a customer's PC that wasn't seeing their network. The customer had a PC tech there, but he was obviously incapable of real tech support since he didn't know that a PC's "OS" was the operating system. I got it rebuilt back at my office, and Dennis checked it over since it was something we normally didn't do for customers. He gave me the OK to take it back.

      That following week, I was at a customer's site at about the end of the day and was told that I was needed back at the Sturges Avenue offices. I got there, and Dennis came down to get me at my desk. We went up to Jim's office. Kelly was there as well. Apparently, the customer whose PC I'd rebuilt the previous week was complaining about it. When I mentioned that Dennis had given me the OK to take it back, Jim turned to Dennis and asked him if he had done so. When Dennis said he had, Jim said, "Well, ignoring that, looking over your records, I'm seeing nothing but problem after problem after problem with your work. I've got no choice but to end your relationship with the company." I was told that I would have to turn in all of my tools, laptop, etc. that I'd used for my job, which were already at my desk. When I mentioned that the only thing I had left to turn in was my charger cord for my work cell phone, Jim said, "Well, we'll just hold your paycheck until we get that back." I didn't know it then, but what he said was illegal since the charger for the cell phone was well less than the amount of my paycheck. He then had Dennis escort me out of the building. Dennis told me that he was against my getting fired and that he'd had no problems with me or my work.

      That evening, I called my mom and told her I'd been fired, not telling her about the "sexual harassment" incident. The very first thing she said was, "You'd better plan on moving back home." I told her that I would be getting unemployment and that I wanted to get back on my feet on my own, relying on them only if necessary. I also called Linda and told her that I was going to have to cancel counseling. She allowed me to continue coming to counseling, and then I would pay her back when I was back to work.

      About a week after getting fired, I returned home from looking for prospective employers online and in newspapers at the library. I was flipping through the channels on TV and came across Oprah, who I never watched, but she had a guy on named Dr. Phil. I listened to what he had to say, and he was talking about people playing the victim role during difficult times. After that show, I realized that I had started with the same attitude I'd had when I'd been laid off for over a year. Rather than asserting myself when talking to potential employers, I was taking on the "victim role" and feeling sorry for myself.

      I changed my attitude, and while I had my bad days, my outlook on things began to change.

      I continued going to counseling. According to Dennis, Jim had initially decided to have me banned from seeing Linda for counseling to ban me from the building. However, he apparently realized that trying to tell me where to go for counseling would open the company up for legal trouble.

      Jim still tried stirring up trouble for me. One evening when I arrived for counseling, I parked next to Jim's SUV. Linda's car was the only other vehicle in the parking lot. I headed upstairs, figuring that I would avoid a confrontation with Jim. When he exited the building, Jim would see my car and Linda's and know that there were people still in the building. During the session, Linda and I heard somebody walking around in the upstairs hallway and stopping outside of her office for a while and then walking away. Halfway through the session, Linda excused herself to go down the hall to the restroom. Going out to the hallway, she set off the motion alarm for the security system. She went down to the door to turn off the alarm and came back up to her office. She confirmed my suspicions. Jim had apparently thought that I would come out of the office first and set off the alarm. In a few minutes, there was a knock at the door as two Mansfield police officers arrived to check out the alarm. Jim had literally tried to get me into trouble with the police!

      During the time I was out of work, I ran into Waco again online through his website and his site's message board. We talked a while and were talking about meeting up sometime when he suddenly stopped responding. Shortly afterwards, I saw a notice put up on the message board on his site. He'd been arrested for raping an 11-year-old boy and had tested positive for HIV. I was disgusted that he'd actually done something to a kid like that, and I was even more worried about his testing HIV-positive. However, I calmed myself when I remembered that we had used protection two years earlier and that nothing had gone wrong. It still lingered on the back of my mind for some time as I tried getting my life back on track.

      Fortunately, my troubles with being unemployed would not last much longer.

Part 5: Moving to Columbus and new troubles (2001-2006)

      That November, I had an interview with Sean at Shonac Corporation, the parent company of DSW Shoe Warehouse in Columbus. The interview went really well, even going off into the topic of model railroading since Sean was into trains as well. I got called back afterwards for a followup interview, which went equally as well. On Monday, December 3, 2001, I was hired as a PC systems support analyst. I offered and started work the next day, exactly eight weeks after getting fired from UDC.

      Work went well for a while. I ended up driving to work each day, making for a 70-mile drive each direction. I wanted to move right away. However, I wanted to save up for a move as well as wait until spring since I didn't want to move in the middle of winter. Early in the spring of 2002, I began looking for a new place to live during my spare time and began looking at places. Some places were either too small or didn't meet my needs. Other places were okay but in neighborhoods that I didn't feel comfortable in.

      In the summer of 2002, I went to my 10-year high school reunion, which was held in Lexington just south of Mansfield. I was a bit apprehensive about going, but I figured it would be good to reconnect with friends from high school and get some closure on that part of my life. It turned out to be a great evening. A lot of people were impressed with how much I'd changed. Several had heard rumors about the issues I'd had with my parents, and they expressed how they'd felt bad about how I'd been treated in high school. It was a good evening, and it was great getting caught up with everybody.

      In August 2002, I found the perfect townhouse in Hilliard. It had a full basement (perfect for the model railroad layout I'd been planning) and was in a good neighborhood. My application was accepted, and I began taking carloads of my things to work and making a trip on the weekends to get everything moved. The final move was in September, and my parents called the night before, worried that I would not be able to handle driving the U-Haul truck that I'd rented. I told them that I had a friend helping me from work, and if I needed further help, then I would call them.

      Thankfully, the move went smoothly, and before long, I was settled into my new home. I also continued to see Linda once a month for counseling, which was very helpful when I needed it.

      Not long after the move, I got the book And The Band Played On, which chronicles the start of the AIDS epidemic. While reading it, I began thinking about the incident with Waco. While nothing had gone wrong, with the scare I'd had when I last heard from him, I decided to get myself tested.

      Thankfully, everything came back negative.

      In early 2003, I began thinking about coming out to my family. I ended up writing a lengthy letter about myself to send to them. I opted for the letter because I wanted to avoid any bad situations with them. If I told them in person, it could easily escalate into a situation like what happened in 1996. A similar issue could happen if I called them. I figured that a letter would be safest since what I had to say was written down, and they wouldn't be able to twist what I said into something that would make me look like the bad guy.

      On Wednesday, May 28, 2003, the letter was mailed. I figured it would take a couple days to get to my parents' house, and they would get it on Friday, avoiding any issues in the middle of the week.

      That Friday afternoon, after the usual time that my parents' mail gets delivered, I began calling my home to check the answering machine. That night as I went to bed, a strong thunderstorm came through. Needless to say, it made me wonder about the storm that was possibly brewing at my parents' house.

      On Tuesday, June 10th, I got a letter in the mail from Mom. I had a cousin in Mansfield who "turned gay" and was basically shut out by the rest of my dad's side of the family. Mom said that she'd even heard rumors that another cousin of mine was possibly gay, even though he'd never given any indications of that. Mom said that they wouldn't tell anybody about my "situation" and hadn't even told my brother and [then] sister-in-law. She also didn't want me to tell anybody else that I was gay because she was afraid that people would treat me differently. She also felt that it was a choice and that I was confusing close friendship with love. She was also worried about AIDS and said that I would never be able to have children.

      It wasn't the reaction that I'd expected, but as I suspected, they were dealing with years of misinformation. That night, I began writing a second letter to address the issues that Mom had brought up in their letter. I touched on how my sexual orientation was not a choice, my religious views on it, AIDS, how I could have kids, and how I was out to my closest friends. I also asked them to share the letters with my brother and his wife. The second letter was mailed not long afterwards.

      On Monday, July 7th, I got a message on my answering machine from my mom reminding me about the upcoming family reunion for my dad's side of the family later in the month. She sounded cheerful, which was a good sign.

      That Saturday, the 12th, I called her back. They just wanted me happy. She asked if anybody was living with me. Overall, the conversation went well. Since coming out to them, I'm happy to say that the experience went much better than I'd ever anticipated.

      Unfortunately, problems began happening at work. It wasn't really noticeable until it was too late.

      A coworker named Austin had figured out that I was gay and said that he was okay with it. He joked around at times about it, which was initially fine, but he then began pushing it, asking me if I wanted to suck his cock, play with his balls, lick his nipples, or play swords in the restroom. Looking back, I should have reported it, but I didn't. I figured he would eventually stop, and I also was nervous about reporting it since somebody would be sure to ask why he was asking me those things.

      Other issues arose at work. In 2003, Sean was no longer my manager. Due to reorganization in my department, John (the other PC tech that I worked with) and I were now under Mike over at the Value City offices in an attempt to merge the companies together since Value City had purchased Shonac shortly before I'd been hired.

      In 2004, changes came again as a new employee named Brian was hired and became my third manager. Brian was basically the type of person who acts now and asks questions later. Somebody would e-mail him and me about an issue they had on a PC I just fixed, I would correct the issue, and then, without checking on the issue, Brian would jump on me about why work wasn't getting done. A classic example of this was if somebody needed software installed. I would install the software. However, if there was no shortcut on the desktop to the software, they would assume that it was not installed and e-mail Brian and me. I would then add the shortcut to their desktop and tell them and Brian that the shortcut was just not there. The person would e-mail me and thank me. Brian would then e-mail me and get on me about not doing my work. On days that I would be helping over at the Value City offices or days that I had the day off, he would assign trouble tickets to me, knowing that I wasn't in the office. When I would get back to my office, I would find e-mails from him and other people asking me what the status was on different issues.

      In June 2004, I was working on a PC in our maintenance office in our warehouse at the request of one of the employees out there. While working on the issue, I noticed a folder on the guy's desktop on the PC called "pics". Knowing that the department didn't have a digital camera, I opened the folder, which opened in thumbnail view for the icons.

      It was all porn.

      Disgusted, I closed the window, finished my work, and then reported the issue to Austin since he was our network administrator. He reported it to Brian since he was our manager. Brian then reported it to his manager Dennis.

      By that fall, nothing was done about it. It was obvious abuse of company resources and grounds for immediate dismissal of the maintenance employee. However, while talking with Brian in his office, Dennis came in and said, "Yeah, we let that one slip through the cracks."

      He and Brian had me replace the PC in the maintenance office, putting everything on it that was on it before the replacement except for the folder of porn that I'd found.

      In the spring of 2005, Brian announced that he was leaving the company. Austin was promoted and became my fourth manager. I hoped that when that happened, his sexual harassment would stop, but it didn't.

      On Wednesday, April 6th, Mom called while I was eating dinner. My cousin's son Curt had been killed in a motorcycle accident the previous evening. He'd been out riding responsibly with some friends, even wearing his helmet. They noticed that his back tire had begun to wobble, and he apparently had noticed it too since he'd begun to slow down and pull over to check it. Before he got stopped, the back wheel locked, throwing him back out onto the road where he was killed on impact with the pavement.

      I was in shock. Curt had been about my age. I sat there silent as Mom went on and on about how he and his fiance had been about to get married, how there would now be no wedding, how they'd just purchased a house, how my cousin and her husband would now never have grandchildren, etc.

      After a while of talking, Mom noticed that I was quiet. She then asked, "Are you okay?"

      "No, not really."

      "What's wrong?" she asked.

      "Well, I'm kind of in shock at the moment, " I replied.

      "Why?" she asked.

      "You just told me that my cousin died. How am I supposed to be, Mom?"

      She only said "Oh" and then continued talking about things back home. I couldn't believe that she was so insensitive to how I would take hearing of Curt's death. Little did I know that it was a foreshadow of things to come.

      In May 2005, I was doing some work out on the new maintenance PC again. While there, I did a quick check in the PC. By not putting the "pics" folder back on the maintenance employee's desktop, a person would think that he would have realized that it had been found and not do something like that again. He hadn't. Once again, he had folders of porn on his profile. This time, I skipped going through the ranks of management in my department, knowing that nothing would happen again. This time, I went straight to HR and told them that either something was done this time, or I would be walking out the front doors and letting them talk to my attorney.

      The maintenance employee was fired, and Dennis got into trouble for not following up on the issue. Unfortunately, that wasn't the end of the issue.

      After the issue with the porn on the PC, Dennis obviously had a grudge against me. I've heard of people being able to feel tension in the air around others, but in this case, it was so strong that it could have been cut with a knife.

      That summer, I made vacation plans for around Labor Day weekend, planning on a trip down to North Carolina to see some friends. Not long afterwards, John announced that he was going to be leaving the company at the end of August. Knowing that we would be short a PC tech once he left, I thought that our managers would start looking for a replacement. However, they refused to do so, saying that it was considered "expanding the department". The day before my trip to NC, people above Austin were wanting me to cancel my trip that I'd had planned for a couple months since John was leaving when I was going to be gone, leaving no PC techs at the Shonac offices. Austin felt differently and told me to go ahead on my trip.

      When I got back, I found out that Brian from the help desk had been brought on as John's replacement. However, what should have been a blessing turned out to be a curse. Brian often came into work early and left late in the evening because, as he told me, he had nothing to do at home. He was often jumping in on work that I was doing and then take full credit for it.

      Late in 2005, one of the PC techs over at the Value City offices announced that he was leaving the company. After he left, Austin began interviewing people and hired a friend of his.

      In January 2006 during one of my last counseling sessions with Linda, she told me how she believed that I was suffering from cyclothymia, a milder form of bipolar disorder where the mood swings were not as severe but were more frequent.

      In February 2006, things went from bad to worse. Austin revoked any internet access for me at work, claiming that I was spending too much time online, even though it was the same as it was throughout the time I'd worked for the company. He even mentioned that I'd been on a website a couple days before then, which was a lie since I hadn't been on the site for about a month, and that had been from home. He refused to show me his proof of what he was claiming.

      That following Monday after work, Austin called me into Dennis' office. Dennis was firing me, citing my internet usage. When I asked why it was suddenly an issue, he began switching the subject, claiming that there had been complaints about my work. When I mentioned that I'd never heard any complaints about my work in the time I'd worked there, he again changed the subject. This went on for about twenty minutes. I remained calm and kept my emotions of the situation in check. Dennis, however, began yelling louder and louder as the discussion went on. I then had to sign the dismissal papers, even though I initially refused since I didn't agree with their claims. I ended up signing them with a note under my signature that it was under duress. Austin then escorted me out of the building.

      It was obvious that my firing had nothing to do with my job performance but rather was a result of revenge. Dennis couldn't fire me right after he got into trouble with HR over the issue with the porn on the PC that he'd ignored since it would be obvious revenge. When John announced that he was leaving the company a few months later, he couldn't fire me then as there would be no PC techs in our building. Once Brian was up to speed at our building, one of the techs at the Value City offices announced that he was leaving. He couldn't fire me then since they would be short a PC tech at both buildings. Once the new tech was up to speed, he then proceeded to take out his revenge.

      My application for unemployment was approved as I had provided 16 pages of documentation on issues and incidents that I had gone through in the little over four years there. Not long afterwards, I got a voice mail from Austin. Even though I was fired in February, he said that I would be getting my yearly bonus that normally didn't come about until April.

      Like when I'd been fired from my job in Mansfield, I didn't fall into playing the victim role, asserting myself when it came to job interviews. I also talked with the attorney that had helped my dad when he'd been wrongfully fired from Timken back in 1995. He believed that I was fired out of revenge. However, he felt it wouldn't be worth the fight as the company could drag it out in court and make things a mess for me based on how Dennis had kept coming up with excuse after excuse when firing me. I also didn't have a case with Austin's sexual harassment as I hadn't reported it to the company. I also wouldn't get much in the way of damages if I would win since they'd paid me my annual bonus, which was a sign that they were trying to make amends. I was also waiting to hear back from job interviews I'd had at my bank where they were doing a background check on me, indicating that I wouldn't be out of work much longer.

Part 6: New job, new friends, and a look at a new beginning (2006 to present)

      In April 2006, I was hired on with Huntington Banks in their technical response center doing over-the-phone tech support for employees throughout the company.

      When I was hired on, I'd originally planned on eventually going to part-time over time. Back in 2004, Bill, a friend of mine from my last job, and I had begun making plans for starting a custom-PC business that I had been thinking of. We'd been working on planning the business, building a template for a website, looking around for where to buy supplies, etc. When I was about to get hired at Huntington, Bill and I were basically about to apply for a small-business loan to get started on our business. However, during the time I was out of work, Bill's girlfriend left him for another guy. According to a mutual friend of ours, Bill had been through breakups before, and each time, he basically shut himself out from others around him. That explained why I didn't hear from him until May when he began responding to my e-mails again for about a week. He said he was still interested in getting the business going, but when we made plans to get together to go over things, he broke off contact again. Around late June, Bill e-mailed me saying that we needed to get the business going because he needed to get his car fixed. I told him that it would be a while before we made a profit once the business got going, but we e-mailed each other back and forth for about a week. When it came to getting together to do the work, he stopped replying to my e-mails and never returned my calls.

      Over the summer of 2006, I talked with some friends outside of word about the issue with Bill. They all told me the same thing. If he's doing this now, he'd be doing it when the business was going. I realized that I'd been so focused on getting the business going that I was in denial about Bill's behavior. That August, I e-mailed Bill and told him that we needed to talk. I never heard a word back. That Labor Day weekend, I e-mailed him one last time and told him that he was out of the business as I needed somebody who was going to work with me and not disappear for weeks at a time. It was a difficult decision to make, but it was necessary to move on. I never heard from Bill again, and the plans for the business collapsed.

      That winter, I began making plans for adding addition to my home/family. Growing up, I'd always been around dogs and had thought about getting a dog for some time. However, living in a townhouse and being away at work during the day, I knew it wouldn't be a good idea.

      On my trips in 2004 and 2005 to visit friends in North Carolina, I got to meet my one friend's cats. While I never hated cats before, I just never saw myself as being a cat person. That changed on those trips, and I got to see how each of his cats had its own personality and could be just as loving and affectionate as a dog. Being litterbox trained, a cat wouldn't have to be let out at all times of the day like a dog and would be okay while I was at work. A cat also wouldn't make noise like a dog would and wouldn't disturb my neighbors.

      By the end of 2006, I was getting everything that I would need for adopting a kitten. I also paid my landlord the pet deposit in my contract and got her written permission to bring a kitten into my home.

      On Saturday, March 31, 2007, I went to the Capitol Area Humane Society to see if they had any kittens available. That day, they had two kittens, a brother and sister, who had just gone up for adoption that morning. I was taken back to check them out. The sister didn't really want to be messed with me and kept hiding from me. The brother, however, was quite active and let me pick him up to check him over. Before long, it was obvious that he liked me as he curled up on my lap and fell asleep. I didn't bother with checking any other cats. I was sold on him.

      I filled out the adoption papers, got approved, and paid the adoption fee. The kitten wouldn't be able to come home until he was neutered the following week. After spending some more time with him, I headed home and got everything ready.

      As far as names, I'd thought about the name Chessie, which I got from the name of the sleeping kitten in the Chesapeake and Ohio's sleeping car advertisements. However, that Chessie was always said to be female. That's when I remembered how the C&O went into Chessie System in the 1970s, putting the silhouette of the sleeping kitten in their logo. So, I named my Chessie after the railroad, justifying naming a male cat Chessie.

      On Monday, April 2nd, I got a call at work. Chessie had been neutered that morning and would be ready to be brought home after work. I'd kept the cat carrier I'd gotten in my Jeep to have ready and stopped on the way home to bring my new friend home.

      Chessie soon became a big part of my life. That Thursday, I took him to a vet about five minutes away from me. He checked out completely healthy. While there, I made plans for getting him declawed in about three weeks. While I knew that cats could be trains not to claw up furniture and households, I had heard from several friends about how their cats had gotten into trouble when left alone. With my renting my townhouse, I knew it would be best to have Chessie declawed before he did any damage that I would be held liable for.

      The day I took Chessie to get declawed turned into a very difficult day. I'd taken him to the vet for his laser declaw surgery that morning. Just after lunch, my vet called. She didn't feel comfortable with going ahead with the surgery that day. While checking Chessie over before the surgery, she'd discovered that he had a heart murmur. Either it had developed over the three weeks since he'd first been checked out, or he'd had it but it had been missed because of his small size at the time, getting amplified as he grew from three to six pounds in that three weeks. She also told me that Chessie was a Maine Coon, a breed that, in the past, had been known to have a genetic heart defect. Through my vet, I made an appointment for Chessie with MedVet in Worthington to have an echocardiogram done to see what was going on with his heart.

      I brought Chessie back home. I'd thankfully taken both that day and the following day (a Friday) off from work so that I could be at home to take care of Chessie and ensure he'd be okay after the surgery. I now needed that time to deal with the shock of what was happening. When I'd brought Chessie home, I was nervous about the major pet food recall that was going on at the time. Every day, I was checking the internet to make sure Chessie's food wasn't getting recalled. I never imagined that he would have a heart issue at only five months of age.

      I called my mom and told her what happened. The first thing she said was that I needed to find him a new home because she didn't think I could afford to take care of a cat with a health problem. I told her that we didn't even know how serious it was at the time. I also asked her that if one of her kids had developed a heart problem if she would be looking for a new home for them. She blew my question off by saying that we weren't talking about a person. Later on that evening, I was in the middle of eating dinner when Mom called again to tell me to get Chessie to a new home. She was completely ignorant of my feelings on the matter and was now calling me up just to put her views in my face. To this day, she's never acknowledged what she'd said and has never apologized for it.

      Chessie and I went to MedVet not long afterwards. Unfortunately, the news wasn't good. He was diagnosed with hypertrophic obstructive cardiomyopathy, the genetic heart defect that used to be common in Maine Coons. Basically the heart muscle that pumps his heart was thickened like what usually happens in elderly cats. As a result, blood was backflowing some in his heart, causing the murmur. While there was no cure, it was treatable through medicine. However, Chessie's life would be shorter than normal. He was started on a prescription of atenolol, which I could get at my local Kroger pharmacy. The declaw surgery would have to wait until his heart was under control.

      Around that time, I promised him that I would do everything I could to make sure his time with me would be happy and comfortable, a promise that I kept.

      One thing did cross my mind when Chessie's heart issue was discovered. I began wondering if God was punishing me for being gay or something else. Looking back, I think it was the emotional stress of the situation that caused me to think that as I believed that my being gay was normal and that God wouldn't put an innocent kitten through a heart issue to punish me. In one of Chessie's early trips to MedVet, I believe God spoke to me through his doctor. While I had never brought up what had been on the back of my mind, Chessie's doctor told me out of the blue that I did nothing to cause Chessie's heart condition. He'd simply gotten the defective gene from probably both of his parents to have the issue at such a young age.

      In June, my mom told me that my uncle up by Bucyrus had three kittens that were going to be needing a home. Their mom had been a stray on his farm, and when the kittens were only ten days old, the mother had gotten hit out on the road. The kittens had been bottle-fed and were now on regular kitten food and litterbox trained. I had thought about getting a second cat to keep Chessie company when I couldn't, and I went up to check them out. There were two girls and a boy. I wasn't sure which one I wanted up until I went to leave with my parents for dinner. While rounding the kittens up on the porch, I was getting one of the girls out from under the porch when I felt somebody pawing my head through the railing. The boy was reaching through the railing for my attention. I decided to adopt him and name him Casey Jones, after the famous engineer.

      Since I didn't have room for a second kennel at my place to bring him home yet, Mom volunteered to let Casey stay with them until Chessie was declawed, and then I could use the kennel I had to ease Casey into his new home. Casey took to his new home very well. Mom had him neutered and declawed by their vet. Casey had a friend at my parents' house in their toy fox terrier, who would lay on the floor and let Casey pounce on her.

      In July, I heard that my high school class was holding its 15-year reunion. Mom had heard about it, and she told me that she wasn't sure if she should tell me about it or not. She was shocked when I told her that I'd gone to the 10-year reunion. She went on and kept asking about how the other kids that I'd gone to school with had grown up. I kept telling her that we'd all grown up, not just the others. Thankfully, the reunion went well. With my parents knowing about it, I'd feared that they would show up to check on me. Fortunately, they didn't, and it was a good time.

      By September, Chessie's heart was under control, and he was able to get declawed. Thankfully, it went smoothly with no complications. Within a couple days, Chessie was walking normally. After a week, he was out of the kennel for good, which he really enjoyed.

      On the last Saturday of the month, I brought Casey home. Mom cried like she was losing one of her kids when I went up to take him, which was funny since she kept saying that she wasn't a cat person. That evening and all day on Sunday, there was obvious tension between Chessie and Casey with a lot of arched backs, hissing, and growling. By Monday evening, they were starting to touch noses. By Tuesday evening, they were sitting side-by-side at the feeder in the kitchen and taking turning leaning in to eat. It was the start of a very close friendship.

      About a week later, Casey developed a stomach infection. For a couple weeks, both he and Chessie were on medicine twice a day. Needless to say, it took a toll on me, causing me to wonder what else was going to happen. Casey's infection cleared up, although he had a loose stool issue that didn't. My vet had me give him some medicine to mix in with some canned food to help ease and heal his digestive tract. Before long, it was cleared up.

      Chessie's heart condition slowly worsened, although he never showed any signs of problems. With his prescription of atenolol, he soon was prescribed enalapril and furosemide. He was also prescribed baby aspirin every third evening. Still, he acted like a completely normal cat, surprising me, his vet, and everybody at MedVet as to how well he was doing at home. His doctor at MedVet said that normally a cat in his condition would need to be put to sleep. Yet, he was going strong at home, even rough housing with Casey from time to time.

      Both of them had become big parts of my life, which basically had become based on making sure Chessie got his medicine twice a day, which basically restricted my life each day, and made it to his regular checkups at MedVet, which meant taking a day off from work. Seeing how active and happy he was, though, made it all worth it.

      In November 2009, Chessie was found to have an irregular heart rhythm and had started to form a blood clot in the artery leading into his heart. He was prescribed digoxin, which cleared up the irregular heart rhythm. But the clot was still there. So, by that point, he was on atenolol, enalapril, and furosemide (all twice a day) as well as digoxin every other morning and baby aspirin every third evening. Yet, Chessie never showed any signs of problems. I started calling him my "miracle kitty" and believed that it was just something he was going to live with for a long while as he wasn't showing problems.

      At the end of July 2010, I took Chessie to MedVet for a routine checkup. They were concerned about his blood work, and with his new increase of his furosemide, his doctor wanted his blood work checked in one to two weeks to make sure his kidneys were functioning normally. I made the appointment with my vet for on Saturday, August 7th since I figured it would be easier on him than making another trip to MedVet so soon.

      That Saturday (and the night before), Chessie had been acting completely normal. We got to the vet's office, and he was still acting normal, just nervous. He was even walking around and checking the exam room out while we waited for the vet.

      That suddenly changed.

      Just before the vet (not his regular vet) came in, Chessie started dragging his back legs. The vet came in and wasn't able to get a pulse in either one. He told me that the clot had come loose and hit the artery going down Chessie's spine. I needed to get him to MedVet right away as they might be able to do something to save him. At that point, Chessie lost control of his bowels. We got him in the carrier, and I sped off to MedVet while the vet called ahead for me. On the way, Chessie began panting like a dog with his mouth wide open and tongue hanging out.

      We got to MedVet, and I rushed Chessie in the main entrance. They were waiting and literally ran him back to the ER. I went back outside to move my Jeep since I'd just hastily parked it in the fire zone rather than search for a parking space. I then went inside and filled out the admittance papers. They took me back to a room, and one of the ER doctors came in to talk to me. They had him on two IVs and oxygen. He wasn't responding. The doctors there and his regular doctor (who they'd called at home) all agreed that there was nothing more that they could do. Not wanting him to suffer anymore, I agreed to have him put to sleep.

      They took me back to see him and opened the oxygen incubator to let me touch him. He saw me and lifted his head and gave one flop of his tail. I told him that he wouldn't be in pain much longer, that Casey and I would always love him, and that he'd always be my "big baby". I told him that Casey and I would then see him at the Rainbow Bridge when it was our time.

      I then went outside to wait as he was put to sleep. He was only a little over three and a half years old. They then brought him out in a small casket as I'd told them that I wanted to take him up to my parents' house to give him a proper burial in their back yard where we'd buried the dogs we've lost over the years.

      I called my mom and told her what happened. They said that it would be fine to bring him up the next day since I was in no condition for an hour drive to their house. I then called my team lead from work at his home and told him what happened and that I would need Monday off to pull myself together. He told me to take all the time I needed as he understood what I was going through.

      Even though I'd shown Chessie to him when I brought him in, Casey was confused by what was happening. All day that afternoon, he was looking all over and crying up a storm.

      The next day, Chessie was laid to rest at my parents' house. We took him back by their barn/shed in a peaceful location and buried him.

      I ended up taking the following Tuesday off from work as well since I was still a wreck on Monday.

      Looking back, I believe that I was meant to adopt Chessie. God knew that Chessie was going to have the issue with his heart and would need a good home. I don't think it's a coincidence that he went up for adoption on the exact same day that I went looking for a kitten.

      One of the things I did after burying Chessie was go through the YouTube videos that I'd made of him and Casey to make a memorial video for him. Looking through the videos, it was obvious that other than that last hour he was always happy, comfortable, and active. While it was shorter than I'd hoped, he had a full life, much better than a lot of pets have. Another thing that has helped me cope is writing down the good memories I have of both him and Casey. Trust me, there are a lot of them.

      I've also had a sense of relief that started a few days after Chessie's passing. No longer is he having to go to MedVet or take multiple pills twice a day. I initially felt guilty about feeling relief after losing one of my best friends, but then I realized that the relief was coming from the heart disease being gone. No longer were Chessie and I having to deal with it. God had taken him into His arms and cured him.

      The sad thing about my experience with Chessie is how I never heard back from the humane society after I tried contacting them after finding out about his heart issue. Since it was something he had in him at birth, they should have helped me with Chessie's MedVet expenses. Instead, I had to go through taking him to MedVet 17 times in just over three years, costing over $3300. That doesn't count the regular vet visits, all the medication, and the constant wondering over that time of how much longer I would have with him. Granted, he was well worth all I went through to take care of him, but nobody should have to go through what I went through.

      About two weeks after I lost Chessie, I began looking around at the local Maine Coon breeders to look into getting another Maine Coon since I loved the breed, thanks to Chessie. Plus, breeders regularly tested their cats for issues like the heart issue that Chessie had, making the chances of getting another Maine Coon with the heart issue or any other health issue very, very slim. It was not to be, though. Each breeder had a no-declaw clause in their adoption contracts. When I asked if that was negotiable, each one gave me a lecture about how declawing is harmful to cats and that the cats are mutilated by declawing. One breeder even told me that people who have their cats declawed don't really love their cats. Needless to say, after everything I went through with Chessie, that hurt as it was obviously wrong.

      So, I began looking into other sources for kittens. Obviously, I did not look into the Capitol Area Humane Society this time. I checked with my vet's office, but they didn't have any kittens. I then checked with coworkers to see if they knew of anybody that had kittens available.

      On Friday, August 20th, one of my coworkers had heard that I was looking for a kitten and told me that the animal hospital where he'd taken his dog often had kittens. He called them and was told that they just got a litter of six kittens in. I stopped by there after work. All six were about nine weeks old, healthy, and very active. Apparently a cat belonging to one of the employees had them, and now they just needed to find good homes. While I wasn't able to determine which one I wanted, I went ahead and filled out the adoption application.

      The following Friday, I got a call from the assistant adoption coordinator. While my application hadn't been approved yet, she said it looked good, and I was the only one who had put my name in for the kittens so far. They wanted me to go come back to pick out which kitten I wanted to adopt, which I did the following Monday after work. Of the six kittens, where were two black males, two gray males (one with a patch of white on his chest), one yellow male, and one yellow female. One of the assistants and I took them back to an exam room where they could run around for me to check them all out at once. Not all of them let me pick them up. Of the ones that did, only one, the gray one with the white patch, didn't try to wiggle away to play with the others. He just relaxed in my arms, letting me make over him while watching the others and even touching noses with me at one point. I was sold on him, and he was reserved for me. I was told that it would be a couple weeks or so before they were fixed and would be able to go home.

      On Tuesday, September 7th, I got a call at work. For my adoption application, they had forgotten to get a copy of my written permission from my landlord stating that I could have cats. Even though I'd given them my vet's name and the name of Chessie's doctor at MedVet as references, they needed a copy of the permission for the adoption records. I stopped by there after work for them to get a copy of my landlord's letter from 2007. I was also told that the kittens would be fixed in a couple days, and my kitten, for whom I'd chosen the name Smokey, would be able to come home the following Monday.

      On Monday, September 13th, Smokey came home. Things started out kind of rough between him and Casey. Smokey quickly took to his new home, but Casey was obviously not happy with the new member of our family, constantly hissing, growling, and charging at Smokey the first night. On Thursday evening, I took him to get checked out by my vet, and he checked out 100% healthy. By Friday morning, they were starting to touch noses with just a little hissing and growling from Casey. By Friday night when I came home from work and let Casey out of his kennel, they were acting like best friends. They were sharing litterboxes, the feeder, and the water bowl in the kitchen. They were also sharing all of the toys, and on several occasions, I'd catch Casey grooming Smokey. On Thursday, October 7th, Smokey had his laser declaw surgery. Everything went fine, and he came home the next day, making a complete recovery. Casey initially wasn't happy since Smokey had the smell of the vet's office on him, but after a day or two, things returned to normal.

      Not long after losing Chessie, I began thinking about an idea that had been in my head for the past couple years.

      Back around 2008, I discovered that one of the local PBS cable channels was reairing episodes of The Joy of Painting with the late Bob Ross. I'd been a fan of his since I was a kid and always loved art. In the past, I'd been told that my work was obviously influenced by watching Bob Ross paint. I knew that with some practice, I could make some beautiful works of art as well. However, I never really got around to looking into the idea, just remaining stuck in my regular routine.

      After Chessie died, I was going through the YouTube videos of him and Casey from the past three and a half years. Despite his health issue, Chessie always lived each day to the fullest and enjoyed life.

      Looking back over my life, I realized that I was always just going where life took me, never taking control of my life. Every day during the week, I was getting up and going to work, working all day, getting home early in the evenings, doing dinner and dishes, and then going to bed to start the whole routine over again the next day. On the weekends, I was busy trying to catch up on things at home that I wasn't able to do during the week

      My life had gotten into a rut. As I had found out with Chessie, I had no idea how long my life would be. I needed to begin enjoying life while I still had it. Like Rod Serling said in an episode of The Twilight Zone, "Clocks are made by men. God creates time. No man can prolong his allotted hours. He can only live them to the fullest in this world..."

      So often in life, I'd wanted to do things but couldn't because what I wanted to do was during the week when I had to work. The drive to and from work, especially in bad weather, had become quite stressful. While work was going okay, every day was the same thing: people forgetting their passwords right after they changed them, people blaming us for every little hiccup in their PCs and laptops, etc. As Albert Einstein said, insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

      By taking up painting and gradually switching to painting instead of doing tech support, I'd be under less stress, have more flexible time, save in wear and tear on my Jeep, get regular sleep throughout the week, work at my own pace, and be in control of my life for once.

      One issue I thought about was the possibility of loneliness from being at home so much. I then got to thinking about how things were now. While I have good friendships with my coworkers, at the end of the day, I never hear from them again until the next time I'm at work. Besides, with the way some people are, how would it be if somebody at work found out that I was gay? I didn't want to go through the negatives of that, which I went through at my previous jobs. Plus, I wouldn't really be alone at home since I do have the cats and since I would have a flexible schedule to go out with friends or invite friends over.

      I began adding up the costs for getting started as well as making a spreadsheet weighing the pros and cons of both staying on my current career path as well as taking up painting. I also made a deadline for myself. I decided that by Labor Day 2011 I would be started on my painting career.

Part 7: Looking back

      Looking back over my coming out and my life, my views have changed on the world, religion, and life in general, and I'd like to touch on some of those things now.

      When it comes to religion, a lot of Christians look to the Bible as the word of God. But is it?

      Early in the time that I began coming out, I kept hearing about how masturbation was a sin. The story of Onan in Genesis 38:9-10 was often what I heard used to condemn masturbation: "He spilled his seed on the ground... And the thing which Onan did displeased the Lord; wherefore he slew him also." These verses have often been used to forbid masturbation as well as stopping sex before ejaculation. Why was this? The Hebrews knew nothing at the time about eggs, sperm, and ovulation. They believed that the man's semen contained the whole child. Therefore, spilling semen was considered murder.

      Homosexuality has also fallen victim to this sort of misinterpretation and misunderstanding.

      Genesis 2:21-25 says that a man and woman creating life is a "natural" relationship. It's often used to claim that homosexuality is unnatural. However, that doesn't say anything about couples too old or unable to have children, straight couples who choose not to have children, or single people. Does that mean that they are sinners as well simply because they do not produce children?

      The story of Sodom in Genesis 19:1-14 is often used to condemn homosexuality. However, Jesus and five Old Testament prophets all speak of sins that led to Sodom's destruction. None mention homosexuality. Even Ezekiel 16:48-49 tells the real reason for why Sodom was destroyed: "This is the sin of Sodom; she and her suburbs had pride, excess of food, and a prosperous ease, but did not help or encourage the poor and needy. They were arrogant and this was abominable in God's eyes." Sodomites are rich and don't share what they have with the poor. They have plenty and want more. Sodom was destroyed because its people didn't take God seriously about caring for the poor, hungry, homeless, or outcast. The only sex act mentioned in the story of Sodom was gang rape, which all gay people I know are opposed to.

      The book of Leviticus is often quoted when condemning homosexuality as well. Leviticus 18:22 says, "You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female. It is an abomination." Leviticus 20:13 says, "A man who sleeps with another man is an abomination and should be executed." Leviticus is a holiness code from 3000 years ago containing many outdated sexual laws. Leviticus also prohibits round haircuts, tattoos, working on the Sabbath, wearing garments of more than one fabric, eating pork, eating shellfish, getting your fortune told, and playing with the skin of a pig. A holiness code is a list of behaviors that people of faith find offensive in a certain place and time. Leviticus was written for priests only to set the priests of Israel over and against priests of other cultures. The term "abominations" also has different meanings. In Hebrew, abominations are behaviors that people in a certain time and place consider tasteless or offensive. To Jews, they were not law like something evil like rape or murder forbidden by the Ten Commandments. They are common behavior by non-Jews that Jews thought were displeasing to God. Jesus and Paul both said that Leviticus did not pertain to Christian believers. While we should set moral and ethical standards, we should not allow our own prejudices to determine what those standards should be. When Leviticus was written, people did not understand homosexuality. Therefore, it was easy for them to condemn it.

      Romans 1:26-27 has also been used to condemn homosexuality, even though it was in regards to temples in Rome built to honor Aphrodite, Diana, and other fertility gods and goddesses of sex and passion instead of God Himself. The real lesson in those verses is that sexual passion is okay unless it gets control of our lives and leads us away from God.

      In 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10, Paul tells the Christians in Ephesus and Corinth that they are breaking God's heart with how they are treating each other. He gives them a list of admonitions against fornication, idolatry, whoremongering, perjury, drunkenness, revelry, extortion, malokois, and arsenokoitai. Greek scholars believe malokois probably meant "effeminate call boys" (i.e. male prostitutes). So, it wasn't homosexuality that was being condemned but prostitution. Greek scholars have yet to find meaning for the word arsenokoitai. In 1958, a person translating word from Greek to English decided that it meant homosexuals, for which there was no such word in Greek or Hebrew. So, one person made the decision for everybody that placed the word homosexual in the English-language Bible for the very first time.

      That brings up another subject regarding the Bible, and that is how it is often misused to support different people's beliefs. Paul's writings have been used to support slavery, segregation, apartheid, and to oppress women and limit their role in the home, church, and society. When Copernicus believed that the earth revolved around the sun, John Calvin quoted Psalm 93 ("The earth also is established. It cannot be moved.") to condemn him. Philipp Melancthon used Ecclesiastes 1:4-5 ("The sun also rises, and the sun goes down and hurries to the place from which it came.") to condemn Copernicus. He also said, "It is the part of a good mind to accept the truth as revealed by God and to obey it." In other words, believe everything that the Bible says even if science disproves it. Galileo supported Copernicus in 1632. He was proclaimed a heretic by the Pope and placed under house arrest for the remainder of his life. It wasn't until 1992 that Pope John Paul II said that the church had been wrong to ignore science and to interpret the Bible literally.

      Whenever I've heard people use the Bible to condemn homosexuality, they ignore other verses of the Bible to condemn other things:

      So, what are my religious views after all that I've read and been through?

      In regards to evolution and creationism, I believe that both exist. The Bible says that God created the earth in six days. However, it doesn't say that those days are human days. For all we know, a God day could be years, decades, centuries, etc. in human days. That would explain all of the animals (like dinosaurs, which the Bible doesn't even mention) that no longer exist. Of course, maybe God planted all of those dinosaur skeletons all over the planet just to play a practical joke on us.

      That brings up the subject of the Bible. I no longer take the Bible verbatim. It was written back in a time where people didn't fully understand the world around them, thinking the planet was flat and at the center of the universe. Also, with all of the translations and rewrites, the original meaning of the Bible has been lost. As mentioned above, some words of the original writings of the Bible don't even translate into English, meaning that some of what we have in our English-spoken Bible are a single person's or group of people's interpretation. While I believe that the Bible does still offer guidance in life and teach some important lessons, I take it all with a grain of salt.

      As far as interpreting the Bible goes, I do not believe in following any one denomination. Looking back over all of the denominations I checked out when I discovered religion, each one seemed to basically say that their beliefs were right while everybody else was wrong. When Jesus walked the earth, how many groups or denominations followed Him? The last I counted, there was just one. According to Christianity Today, there are now approximately 38,000. And I'm sure that each one believes that their ways are the right way while everybody else is wrong.

      I also don't believe that Christianity is the only way to God. I believe that God reaches different cultures and people in different ways. It's kind of like a bicycle tire. We are all out on the tire. God is in the center. Each spoke of the tire represents a different path to God. There is no one correct way to find God.

      In my opinion, some people become too focused on faith and ignore God's guidance in their lives. Take this story that I heard years ago as an example:
      A priest was walking in a desert canyon one day when a flash flood hit.

      The water is up to his knees in a few minutes, and a rowboat comes by with two men in it. One man tells the priest, "Climb in, Father! We'll save you!"

      The priest tells them, "It's okay. God will save me."

      A few minutes later, the water is up to his waist. A motorboat comes by with two men in it. One man tells the priest, "Climb in, Father! We'll save you!"

      Again, the priest tells them, "It's okay. God will save me."

      Within minutes, the water is up to the priest's neck. A helicopter comes by, dangling a ladder down to the priest. The pilot comes on the speaker mounted on the helicopter and tells the priest, "Climb on, Father! We'll save you!"

      The priest shouts to him, "It's okay! God will save me."

      After a few minutes, the water is above the priest's head. Unable to swim, he drowns. He arrives in Heaven and meets God. The first thing he asks is, "God, why didn't You save me from drowning in that flood?"

      God replies, "I tried, but you wouldn't get on the two boats or the helicopter that I sent for you."
      Back when Chessie's heart issue was discovered in 2007, I was so upset by it that it clouded my judgment, and, initially, I began believing that God was punishing me for some reason (like my being gay, for example). Once my head cleared, I realized what God really was trying to tell me, and that was that Chessie needed a good home and somebody to take care of him with his condition. It had nothing to do with punishment or anything that I did in my past. I've seen other cases where people have been in accidents or something and need a medical procedure done. Yet they are so focused on their religious beliefs that they refused to allow a life-saving procedure to be done on them, even though God is providing the means to save their lives. Like the priest in the above story, they think that God is going to perform a big miracle and save them. Yet, they ignore His trying to save them when it's right in front of them.

      After all I've been through and read on religion, I no longer classify myself as a Christian. While I believe in Jesus, I choose to remain open to views of different religions and faiths and go where God leads me rather than follow somebody who on Sundays tells me where I am going while passing a collection plate around.

      Whenever anybody tells me that I'm sinning by being gay, I tell them that a sin is a choice. Often, people using the Bible to condemn homosexuality try to say that people like me choose to be gay. Even though they don't know me or my past, they insist that I chose to be gay and am a sinner for that. What gets me is when I ask them when they chose to be straight. They will either tell me that they didn't choose to be straight (even though they just said that sexual orientation was a choice) or tell me that they chose to be straight around birth. Somebody once told me that he'd heard some Christians say that God makes people gay as a test and that it is only a sin if they have gay sex.

      One thing that scares me about religion is how some people who claim to be Christians are close to repeating history. Let me explain.

      On January 30, 1933, Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany. On February 23rd, he banned all gay-rights organizations. Four days later, Hitler burned the Reichstag (parliament), blamed the communists, and seized absolute power in Germany.

      Over the summer of 1933, Hitler's troops began raiding gay bars and arresting people. They broke into offices of gay organizations and gay or gay-friendly magazines, confiscating mailing lists. They then broke into the homes of people on the lists, getting address books from those people to expand their searches.

      In 1934, 766 German men were arrested because they were gay. In 1935, Nazi law banned all gay gathering places and outlawed homosexuality. In 1936, over 4,000 gay men were arrested. In 1938, over 8,000 gay men or suspected gay men were arrested. By end of Third Reich, more than 50,000 gay men were arrested. After serving prison terms, they were put into concentration camps.

      Heinrich Himmler, a leading member of the Nazi party, called it "the extinguishing of abnormal life."

      When the Allied armies freed the people in the concentration camps, gays were left in prison. The ban on homosexuality was not lifted in Germany until 1968.

      As horrible as what happened in Germany was, it is important that we not forget what happened. In the episode "Deaths-Head Revisited" of The Twilight Zone, Rod Serling explained why this is important: "There is an answer to the doctor's question. All the Dachaus must remain standing. The Dachaus, the Belsens, the Buchenwalds, the Auschwitzes - all of them. They must remain standing because they are a monument to a moment in time when some men decided to turn the Earth into a graveyard. Into it they shoveled all of their reason, their logic, their knowledge, but worst of all, their conscience. And the moment we forget this, the moment we cease to be haunted by its remembrance, then we become the gravediggers. Something to dwell on and to remember, not only in the Twilight Zone but wherever men walk God's Earth."

      Here in the United States, homosexuals haven't received much better treatment than what happened in Germany. A person can still lose their job, home, parental rights, etc. if they are suspected of being gay. In San Francisco in the 1970s, police still raided gay bars and arrested patrons and employees. Their information, including employers, was then listed in newspapers, basically ensuring that they would probably lose their jobs. Now, think about that. Suppose a straight friend of one of those gay patrons was in one of the raided bars at the time. Simply because they were there, they would have been arrested and accused of being gay, probably losing their jobs and wrecking their lives. Even today, people are being harassed, attacked, and murdered simply for being gay or suspected of being gay.

      Even until 2003, 14 states still had sodomy laws telling grown consenting adults what they were allowed to do in the privacy of their own homes. In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v. Texas invalidated sodomy laws in all fifty states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. Prior to 1970, all states but one (Illinois) had sodomy laws. Illinois repealed its sodomy laws in 1962. 24 states repealed their laws between 1970 and 1989. Between 1990 and 2002, 11 more states repealed their laws.

      A lot of people who are antigay support such laws. However, in some states, the laws applied to more than just homosexuals. At the time of the 2003 Supreme Court decision, Alabama, Florida, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Utah, and Virginia all had sodomy laws that applied to straight people as well as gays. Punishment for violating sodomy laws varied from state to state. Some states had fines of $500 while others had fines of up to $2,000. Jail time varied from 60 days to 10 years. In Michigan, the punishment was worse. Sodomy was considered a felony. Imprisonment for the first offense was up to 15 years. For repeat offenders, it was up to life in prison.

      As Rod Serling said in another episode of The Twilight Zone, "The tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bombs and explosions and fallout. There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, and prejudices to be found only in the minds of men. For the record, prejudices can kill and suspicion can destroy, and a thoughtless frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all its own for the children and the children yet unborn."

      Of course, discrimination against homosexuals in the United States hasn't stopped with sodomy laws.

      Back when the AIDS epidemic started, it was believed that AIDS was disease only spread between gay men. The Red Cross began banning gay men from donating blood. Since that time, it was found that AIDS was not a gay disease as it doesn't discriminate. Testing of donated blood has been developed since then as well. However, gay men are still not allowed to give blood.

      Since 1950 when Congress passed the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the United States armed forces have banned openly gay men and women from serving our country. In 1993, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was introduced. Basically, military officials are not allowed to pursue efforts to discover if somebody serving is gay or not. However, gay people are still not allowed to serve openly. Despite this supposed protection from the military pursuing kicking gay servicemen and women out of the military, over 13,000 people have been discharged from the military since 1993. How much time and money has been wasted on those discharges? It's sad that the value of a person's love, devotion, integrity, and sacrifice for their country is only valid if the person has to lie about who they are. As Rod Serling said at the end of "The Obsolete Man" episode of The Twilight Zone, "Any state, any entity, any ideology that fails to recognize the worth, the dignity, the rights of man, that state is obsolete."

      Fortunately, since I first wrote this page, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" has been repealed.

      Unfortunately, there are some people in this country who believe that their hatred for others gives them the right to basically act with no respect towards others. Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church is probably one of the biggest groups of these types of people in terms of making their presence known. If you don't know who these people are by now, they basically blame homosexuality for everything that they don't like in the world. They protest at funerals for gay people and military personnel (no matter if the person is gay or not). They've targeted Matthew Shepard, President Ronald Reagan, Princess Diana of Wales, Jews, Catholics, Jerry Falwell, and even Mr. Fred Rogers. Yes, you read that right. They hate Mister Rogers. However, they supported Saddam Hussein. While I am all for the freedom of speech in this country, there is a line where it goes from being free speech to indecent and disrespectful behavior for others. Apparently, Mr. Phelps (I refused to call him "reverend") has chosen to ignore the Golden Rule about treating people how one would want to be treated. I can just imagine how big the protest will be at his funeral. While I wouldn't go to it to protest it since I don't want to stoop down to his level, I would fully support anybody that would protest it.

      In the "He's Alive" episode of The Twilight Zone, a neo-Nazi was spreading Hitler's hatred, and through his keeping Hitler's views alive ended up bringing Hitler himself back from the dead. At the end of the episode, Rod Serling had a message that applied not only with the episode but all of the hatred that Mr. Phelps and others like him spread: "Anyplace, everyplace where there's hate, where there's prejudice, where there's bigotry, he's alive. He's alive so long as these evils exist. Remember that when he comes to your town. Remember it when you hear his voice speaking out through others. Remember it when you hear a name called, a minority attacked, any blind unreasoning assault on a people or any human being. He's alive because, through these things, we keep him alive."

      As much as I get angry at the people that have so much hate in them, I also feel sorry for them. It is so sad that so many people go through life condemning people that they don't even know, simply because of their sexual orientation, race, religion, etc. What is really sad is that in regards to sexual orientation, so many people condemn homosexuals and don't even realize that they could be talking about a friend, family member, coworker, neighbor, etc. Is it any wonder that so many people like myself choose to remain in the closet and find coming out so difficult? What gets me are the people who complain about seeing two guys simply hold hands or something like that in public, but they go around flaunting how they're married or have a girlfriend, or something like that. I still remember when I was in my local Kroger and saw a guy with his wife in the aisle ahead of me. He had his arm around her back and leaned over to give her a kiss. At the same time, his hand moved down and he squeezed her rear. So, some people believe that I'm not allowed to show affection towards another guy in public, but I have to be forced to watch straight couples make out in public.

      Looking back, I wish I would have had the courage to come out sooner than I did, but considering my situation(s) in life at times, coming out wouldn't have been wise.

      In regards to the incidents with Tom back in high school, I don't believe for a second that he made me gay. I believe that he made me realize something about myself that I hadn't discovered. While his actions were most likely just bullying or picking on me, I do find myself wondering at times why he chose to do what he did since straight guys don't normally go putting their hands on another guy like he did.

      While my family has been generally accepting of my being gay, there have been incidents that have me wondering. In one case, my parents, brother, and his wife came down to my place to take me out to dinner. On the way back, my dad kept telling me to look at a girl on my neighbor's front yard, trying to get me interested in looking at her. I countered by asking him why he was trying to get me to look at my neighbor's underage daughter. Mom told him, "Just drop it. We talked about that."

      A really ugly incident happened on the Saturday before Easter in April 2010. According to my mom, the day before, she'd been babysitting my 4-year-old nephew. When my brother came out to pick him up, Mom asked my brother if he got Easter off at the sheriff's office. He told her, "No, but I do get N----r Day off." My nephew then said, "Yeah, he gets N----r Day off!" They thought it was funny. I didn't. At dinner, the scene repeated with my brother repeating what he'd said, and then my nephew repeated it. They took offense that I didn't find teaching a 4-year-old a racial slur as being funny. They even tried to justify it by saying, "It's okay. We know black people." Since they know a gay person, I've been wondering since what they say about me and people like me when I'm not around.

      So, after all that I've been through in life, how am I holding up?

      Smokey and Casey have become best of friends and share everything.

      In April 2011, I had the supplies I needed and began painting. On Monday, April 29, 2013,
KLW Art was launched. While I haven't sold any paintings (as of July 2014), I'm still hopeful that the paintings will sell before long. Mom, however, keeps telling me that I can't make a living doing paintings. I ignore her when she starts in talking like that.

      Even though I'm still working full-time doing tech support, I'm pushing my way through that as it'll be worth the wait when my paintings begin to sell. Even though my employer is one of the big promoters of Gay Pride in Columbus, they don't advertise it at work like they do other events. Issues at work have gotten worse, though. Two weeks before Christmas 2011, the manager of our department was let go in a reorganization of a couple departments, including ours. Soon afterwards, one of my two team leads left the company. On January 10, 2012, we were told that we could have no personal items (including pictures of kids, family, pets, etc.) at our desks any longer because we had an atmosphere in our department that had become "too jovial". Shortly afterwards, one of my coworkers was fired and arrested for contacting who he thought was a 17-year-old girl online using the company's computers. It turned out to be an undercover police officer. Shortly afterwards, our other team lead was fired as well as another coworker. Since then, other coworkers have either left the company or moved to other departments. Lots of changes have happened since then. While there have been some improvements, 2012 was a wild rollercoaster ride at work.

      The way I see it, it's just one more reason to start selling my paintings.

      In May 2012, Dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He was scheduled to go in for radiation implants that August. My mom and brother were going to be there. I wanted to go as well, but I was unable to get the day off work. I was told that we were on a PTO (paid time off) freeze at work.

      In September 2012, things took a downhill turn with my family. Mom had kept trivializing issues going on at work for some time and then kept trying to downplay my plans for going into business for myself. She then revealed that they (my parents, my brother, and his family) had all been lying to me about some things for over a year and a half. My brother had even been coming to my website to "spy" on me and then kept complaining that I had family photos online, even though they were just photos and no personal information. Even though he'd been visiting my website for some time, he never called or even e-mailed. According to Mom, they didn't tell me things because he was afraid that I'd post what they tell me online.

      In March 2013, Dad was given a clean bill of health, being told that his cancer was gone. In July, Mom said that he had quit smoking. However, on a stop by their house in August, I pulled into the driveway just as Dad was stepping out of the garage and lighting up a cigarette. Later that December and in April 2014, I found a pack of cigarettes in the garage. Both were smashed.

      After graduating from Heidelberg, I lost touch with several friends who I had wanted to keep in touch with. Back then, the internet and social media wasn't as widespread as it is today. As a result, when people moved, contact was often lost. My friend Karen had been one of several friends I'd tried to locate and get back in touch with over the years.

      On the evening of Monday, June 23, 2014, I heard some difficult news. Karen had passed away on February 1, 2003. She'd had knee surgery and contracted an infection that had taken her life. Before she died, she had told her mom that her four years at Heidelberg had been the best of her life. When she was buried, she was wearing a Heidelberg sweatshirt.

      Needless to say, I was quite upset by the news. I'd wanted to get back in touch with her so badly. While I knew she was watching from heaven and knew about my being gay, I wanted to come out to her in person, not by her finding out this way. I'd also wanted to apologize to her for asking her out during our freshman year. There was so much that I had wanted to tell her. I didn't want to believe that she was gone.

      That following weekend, I was on the phone with Mom and told her about Karen and how I was planning on going up to the cemetery east of Cleveland where she was buried. Mom interrupted and turned the conversation to her crusade that she'd been on for some time to get me a new vehicle, even though I was perfectly happy with my Jeep. She just changed the subject from my telling her about Karen and went on and on about their neighbors, the weather, helping me get a new vehicle, etc. She literally talked about a half hour with me not saying a word. When she asked if I was okay, I sighed and said only "Yeah" since I was on the verge of breaking down. She then took on a "that's life" attitude towards Karen and then went on again on other topics. Like with Curt and again with Chessie, Mom had shown her true colors.

      Since then, I've cut down on calling them to let them know how I'm doing. The way I see it, with everything going on at work and my trying to steer my life where I want it, I just want to distance myself from their negativity.

      On Saturday, July 5th, I made the drive up to the cemetery by Chardon, Ohio, where Karen was buried. I knew what section of the cemetery she was located, but with more than half of the headstones being in-ground markers, I had to do a bit of walking to locate her. After finding her marker, I got the flowers I'd brought into the in-ground holder, grabbed my new Bible and an old rug I'd brought along, and sat next to her grave and talked for about an hour.

      Rather than drive straight home, I detoured west to Tiffin, driving around the Heidelberg campus to reminisce, picked up a pizza for dinner from AJ's Heavenly Pizza (best pizza in Tiffin), and then headed to the new railfan park in Fostoria to have a tailgate dinner.

      While the trip helped, I'm now filled with so many questions. Why do the good people in our lives have to get taken away so early? Karen had been 29. Curt had been in his 20s. Dale had been 16. Chessie hadn't even made it to his fourth birthday. Why is it things in life seem to be going so well and then go so horribly wrong? There are others, but they're too numerous to mention right now.

      As far as what the future holds for me, I'm not sure, but if I've made it this far after everything I've been through, I believe I'll be fine.

Kevin L. Wagner

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