By Daniel Borgen, PQ Monthly
When I was young, during some of my most formative years, in the gray and tan Pentecostal church on Glisan my parents and I attended, I spent a lot of time searching for myself during altar calls. Altar calls were arguably the most important part of the church service—it was the time you really got your soul right. You made yourself vulnerable, elders gathered ‘round you, laid hands on you—usually on your forehead, sometimes on your chest, and whispered—maybe yelled—spiritual directives and various verbal missives in your ears. Spittle sprayed in your ear, sweat beaded up on your forehead, dripped down your back, your soaked underarms stained your new blue shirt—altar calls were a production and you were the star.
As an angst-filled, hormonal teenager, these moments provided an emotional catharsis that felt really good in the short term—in the moment, I felt relieved, pleased to have done what I was supposed to do, thrilled I’d “gotten right with God”; but altar calls wreaked havoc on me in the long term, when I was alone in the dark and I couldn’t sleep. As an angst-filled, closeted teenager, those dark nights were filled with dread. Had God told someone my secret? Were the elders on to something? (Insomnia became the rule, and not the exception.) I knew my entire world would collapse if anyone knew my big gay secret, and it took all the effort I could muster to keep that truth under lock and key.
During many an altar call, elders channeled the Almighty and gave me a definitive glimpse into my future. I would be a missionary one day, and I would marry either Julie or Amy, two girls I attended church with. Either of them would make great wives, they’d be dedicated to me and to mission work, and we’d spend years in Central America or maybe even Africa. Marriage was a routine theme, as one obviously couldn’t find fulfillment, in Pentecostal terms, without a spouse. It was a very Christian version of “The Bachelor.” These were the ideas that formed my earliest thoughts on marriage; it was nothing I was interested in, because for me it meant I’d be trapped, forever, with missionaries and altar calls and nosy elders.
A few years after I graduated high school, tried my hand at Bible College, and eventually came flying out of the closet at breakneck speed, I met Michael. He was my third boyfriend, and also the most handsome man I’d ever met. He lived in Oregon City with his parents, drove a big red truck, listened to country music, and worked for Wells Fargo. He had black hair and blue eyes and was so wholly different from anyone else I’d known romantically—prior to him, most boys I fooled around with I’d met at The City Nightclub (during my top secret weekend getaways) or on blankets at Peacock in the Park (we were all club kids and we all craved a good time). Michael was different—he camped, loved the country, didn’t care much for the city, made me watch horror films, and he wanted to get married someday.
To me, then, clearly, the thought of Michael and I marrying—even in a distant future that was so vague I couldn’t conceive it—was utter insanity. I could barely hold his hand in the movie theater, I was so terrified of what people thought. Even after we’d dated awhile, and he’d playfully mention it now and then, I bristled at the thought. “You’re nuts,” I’d tell him. “Two men can’t get married.” “Not yet,” he’d reply. “But they will someday, just you wait.” Eventually, Michael got to me, because I started to think about it too.
After he and I ended—and after weeks of listening to Toni Braxton’s “Un-break My Heart” on repeat—I really started to fantasize about marriage. It wasn’t ever about conformity for me, nor was it about wanting something just because straight people had it. It was about marching the man I loved down to a private beach, inviting my best friends, making the most beautiful flower arrangements anyone had ever seen, exchanging some well-written vows, and having a party. Obviously, it wouldn’t be Michael—or even Jacob or Alan or anyone who came after him—but it’s still something I think about. Maybe a beach, maybe a backyard, maybe in wine country—a lovely little celebration with all the people I love. Perhaps it’s one too many Julia Roberts movies, too many pop ballads, a lifelong “Days of Our Lives” obsession—it doesn’t really matter. I want it.
On June 26, 2015, the day the Supremes handed down their decision legalizing marriage for same-sex couples, I thought about Michael. That sweet, soft-spoken boy from the country with the big truck and love for Trisha Yearwood knew all along that it would happen. Michael, the guy who’d force me to spend the night in tents and who loved beer but didn’t love the nightclubs—I bet that boy got his wedding. (I spent a fair amount of time scouring social media to find out for sure—alas, he’s a ghost.) On June 26, 2015, I cried. I cried for Michael and for me and for all my coupled friends and for everyone who wants to get married. Though we still have so much work to do, I marvel at how far we’ve come.
In the meantime, I have several weddings to attend this summer.
Michael 1, Church Elders 0.