November 22, 2010

My Perspective #1: Hands and Holy Oil
(Serious Reality)

[Ed. Note: I'm SO happy to have Edwin writing for the blog, Everyone. Say hi to Edwin!]

Someone once told me that one of the most influential forces in life is a personal story. It’s better than literature because it’s current; it’s better than rumors because it’s honest; and it’s better than theories because it’s real—at least when it comes from me. So yes, my slot on this blog will be used as public pages of my diary. I know what you’re thinking: “How creative considering that the heading of this blog is ‘Our Lives.’” Rest assured, however, that my posts will be more than regurgitations of events. I plan to delve deep into my experiences to discover the ways in which each of them has shaped the perspective of Edwin C. Yet convinced? Ask anyone who knows me and they’ll tell you that once I start talking, I don’t stop. And sooner rather than later, the hot mess struggle bus that is my life will reveal itself in the form of absurd hilarity and serious reality. I hope that you’re down for the ride.

It was a Wednesday morning in early October of my senior year in high school. I was forced to come out to my mom by a cousin of mine—I’ll save that story for another time. It stands as one of the most difficult experiences I’ve ever had. My mom and I were on the back porch of my uncle’s home. We sat side by side on the steps with our knees up to our chests like two 1st graders at the end of afterschool activities waiting to be picked up by their parents. I thought I’d look my mother in the face as I spoke, but the shame was made too real by the seriousness of her gaze. I tried to start slowly, but before I could utter a sound the tears were streaming down my face; my legs began to shake, my lips started to quiver, and my heart was beating at a pace faster than I could imagine. To say the least, I was terrified beyond belief. Somehow I got it out in what I’m sure was more gasping for breath amid sobbing than an articulation of my feelings. Anyways, her initial response was everything that I wanted to hear. “You will always be my son. I love you no matter what, Don’t cry because I am here for you.” I thought to myself: “Yes! Yes! This is going much better than…” And before I could finish that thought, she dropped the bomb: “But I do not accept this part of you. And don’t worry because I know that you can change.” There it was, what my pessimistic mind had foreseen—the feeling of rejection. I was almost instantly sick as my heart sank into my stomach. It was like she had given me a cup full of hope and joy and wacked it out of my hand just as I began to drink it. Can I say that I was taken by surprise? No. But was I hurt? If only you knew.

I grew up in a black church that is in a predominately black city called Camden, NJ. My family is pretty much the typical crazy and dysfunctional family. One of our main struggles is that we rarely ever talk about our issues and problems. We sweep it all under the rug and KIM (keep it movin’), as my friend Anthony would say. So after I came out to my mom what did she do? She looked for a quick solution by handing me off to my Aunt, who at the time was an assistant pastor at the church we attended. I’m sure they would have liked to just sweep this one under the rug, but this dirt was too sticky and gross to KIM. They needed something quick to loosen it up a bit. So they found Mr. Clean in the form of the church pastor. Yup, that’s right. My mother and my aunt took me to church to be prayed for. I should tell you that they didn’t spring this on me by surprised that next Sunday. My Aunt warned me in a prior conversation that I’d be going for prayer. During that same conversation she told me that I had demons inside of me and that I needed to repent for the sins I had committed. The pastor had similar sentiments as she prayed for me at the front of the church that Sunday.

If you’ve ever been to a black church you might recognize what I will attempt to describe next. It’s a point during the service at which the music is ringing loudly in your ears, the congregation is speaking in tongues, and the clergy is “laying hands” on members of the church who desire prayer. On this day, I desired no such prayer, but I received it anyway. They whipped out the vegetable holy oil and rubbed it on my forehead. The pastor leaned into my body and put one hand on my back and the other on my heart, and she began to pray. She pressed forcefully on my chest like an EMT trying to revitalize a stopped heart. I remember her screaming in my ear as if the combination of her physical pressure and yelling would scare the demons out. Then she moved her hand that was on my chest to my forehead and began to physically shove my head back as if she wanted to force her prayer for me into my mind and down my spine. She yelled things like: “I rebuke you demons,” and “Lord he has so much potential.” By the time it was all over I had been traumatized. Not knowing how to react, I turned around and headed for the edge of the back pew. I cried like a 1st grader whose parents forgot to pick him up after his afterschool activities. In a way I guess that’s how I actually felt. At a time when I needed her most my mom seemed to have abandoned me. I felt unloved, confused, and forgotten. How could she forget to pick me up? How could she forget to love me no matter what? How could she cause me so much pain?

I found the answer in what happened shortly after I sat back down when I realized that my mom was sitting next to me also crying. I can recall thinking to myself : “Why is she crying?! I’m the one who was humiliated in front of the entire congregation!” It wasn’t until a few months ago that it dawned on me. My mother was crying because she was just as confused, hurt, and dejected as I was. She had no idea where to turn or what to do either. She had never dealt with something like this before, and had probably never imagined it. So like most Christians, she did what she knew best by turning to God for help.

So how has my perspective changed as a result of this experience you ask? Well for one, I’ve come to realize that I had such a bad coming out experience not because my mom isn’t a good mother or a good person. It’s not that she doesn’t love me enough or care enough about my experience. I had a bad coming out experience because my mom made misinformed decisions and had misguided actions, which turned her love for me into harm. I can’t blame her more than I can blame each experience that she’s had that constitutes her perspective. And I can’t blame my Aunt any more than I can blame the religious institution that taught her to say those hurtful words to me. Does that completely absolve them of how they’ve scarred me? Absolutely not. Do I place all of the blame for my experience on “the church?” Absolutely not. However, I’m doing my best to understand how people who care so much about me could do the things that my family has done. What’s important here is that for as much as I want them to understand where I am coming from, I need to do my best to understand where they are coming from. With that said, the end is to accept and love me for who I am or not, which is solely their decision to make. My perspective and understanding may change, but who I am won’t. And as for my relationship with the church and Christ, let’s just say that at first I blamed both for my pain, and as a result hated anything to do with them. Looking back on it now I can see how my experience eventually brought me closer to Christ than I’ve ever been.

Unfortunately, my feelings toward the Church are still stained by many of the leaders who hurt me with their actions and words then and now.

I bumped into someone on the quad yesterday after coming from church that said, “I had no idea that you’re a Christian.” It’s interesting how few people on this campus know how spiritual I am. I think it’s because my relationship with Christ has had to become so personal in order to stay in tact. I’m sure it won’t always be this way, but for now this is my perspective.


  1. Edwin,
    You've been—since before I even went here—one of the people I respect most at Duke, and (depending on whether or not we count Cole) the first gay man I met on campus, which is of course an element of the respect thing but not the whole thing.
    And this is sort of exactly how I'd expect your first post to be: super-mature in ways it's still impossible for me to be. Though I don't really have any extant Christianity in me, (and this, independent of issues sexual) there's a lot of spirit left and I'm glad you came out of this "in tact."

  2. Edwin,

    Aside from being one of the most adorable and attractive people I have ever known, you're also one of the strongest, bravest, courageous, and most intelligent.


  3. Edwin, I am sure you know this and have heard it a million times, but the Lord loves you exactly for who you are. I do not presume to know you very well, but, to me, you are truly a model Christian and a model friend. Your ability to show and give love to everyone around you is truly inspiring, and I am in awe of your courage and bravery in the face of what must have been a truly confusing and tumultuous experience. May God continue to bless you and give you all the strength you need to continue being you. You are very loved!

  4. Edwin,
    I don't know you well, but you have only ever been a positive impact on my life.
    That's all I've got.

  5. Edwin, thanks for sharing this with us all! Your experiences sound like something I'd always heard of through the grapevine/seen on television, but I never knew someone who actually went through something like that. Your ability to be so confident in who you are and so honest, especially given your mom, aunt and church's reactions is really indicative of your strength. The fact that you don't harbor bitternes impresses me to no end. Many others could not forgive in the way that you have--and not just about sexuality.

    I'm excited to read what you will write in the future, too.

  6. Edwin,

    This was wonderfully written; thank you so much for sharing this story. Like Risa said, some have only heard of stories like this and I think it must be very meaningful for people in the Duke community (LGBTQ, allied, or not) to hear this story and connect this experience to a face (and a face that is very visible, loved, and respected in the Duke community). Thank you for having the honesty and courage to share and to be that face.

  7. Edwin,
    I am so proud of you and your honesty to share your experience with strangers. Revealing one's coming out story is always telling and provides the listener with a glimpse into the difficulties of being true to your sexual identity. Your story was horrifying but nonetheless, it was a graceful guide to others who are attempting to take this momentous step. This is a wonderful introduction and your contribution to this blog is immeasurable. Thanks for continuing to inspire me and others with your life.

  8. Edwin.Alan.Coleman.
    Thank you. You were the first person I "came out" to on campus/shared my concerns with about my religion and sexuality. I can never thank you enough for being so understanding and kind with me. I love you. <3

    Anddd I cannot wait to read your posts.

  9. Thank you all so much for your support. Honestly, I wouldn't have been able to write this with out the love you have given me from the start. Seriously, I owe a lot of where I am in my journey to the love of my friends. You've all been my family, and will always be.

    Endless Love,
    me <3

  10. Edwin,

    I am absolutely depressed that this year is the first year I've been able to meet you. That aside, I am so glad that I did. I'm so glad that you, instead of completely blowing up at your parents had the strength to see the good inside of them, regardless of the actions that were taken.

    It's so important to be able to keep your ties between your communities. You can be Gay, Black and Spiritual and you are the proud light of all three. This post is wonderful and I can't wait to spend more time with you over the rest of this year.

    Welcome to the Blog =)