Closets can be cruel things when they are used to hide:
-unwanted items
-unseemly garments
-and LGBTQ children

I was kicked into the closet,
and that closet became my home.
I was given a mask,
and that mask became my face.
I was left with my secrets,
and my secrets stayed safe
because I was kicked into the closet,
and that home became my prison.

I was kicked into the closet,
while others were given full rooms.
I was given a mask,
while others were given microscopes and binoculars.
I was left with my secrets,
while others were told that they could share;
I was kicked into the closet,
and that closet became my normal.

My grandfather, Chuck Rosa


Today marks the one year anniversary of my grandfather’s passing. Here is an entry from my private diary from one year ago. I wanted to publish it as a blog post back then, but I wasn’t ready to blog openly about being gay then. Now I want to share this. The first half is a poem and the second half is an unsent letter to my grandpa.

My grandfather died last night
He passed away
His spirit left his body
The man who gave to bring my mother into the world
The man who labored to give my mother food and shelter, comfort and support
The man who rejoiced to labor on the farm, in the university, in the Air Force, at the institute, at Habitat for Humanity

I was sitting with a textbook open
Just finish my studies for the night
And my cellphone lit up with a call from my grandparents’ home
It was past midnight
I knew it could mean only one thing
My mother’s voice
My mother’s tears
“Grandpa passed away tonight”
My mother’s father
My mother’s father
My grandpa

A man who always found a way to fix things
Now overcome by the cancer he couldn’t fix
A man who strove to focus on the family around him
Now joining the family he lost before him
A man who always tried to see the good in others
Now faced by the occasion of having his own good tested

Dear Grandpa,

My earliest memories of you are fond memories…and so are my last. I almost always saw your love for my mom, your daughter, when you’d greet her, spend time with her, or say goodbye. I also received lots of love from you too. My memories of you include you giving me and my siblings and cousins rides in the little wagon you’d pull behind your lawn tractor, you taking us to Lake Erie, you teaching us how to make a simple solar water heater, you building and letting us help you build a giant play house in our backyard, you building and teaching us how to build a swing set, you helping to remodel my parents kitchen and attic, you going on hikes and even several-day backpacking trips with me and my brothers, you taking my siblings on several-day bicycle trips. You always gave big hugs and often a kiss on the head or cheek. You always supported me in my pursuit of higher education, treating me like an adult when I became one. Thank you! You’re awesome!

I’ve heard from my brother that one of your last conversations about me included the statement: “Stephen’s not the athletic-type, is he?” While this was definitely a very fat-ist (prejudiced) statement, but I smile and laugh because it assures me in a bizarre way that you were still you even as your body began to fall apart and stop working.

A happier memory of mine that is especially meaningful to me right now is this conversation about LGBT people that you once had with your sister and me and two of my brothers almost a decade ago. This was a very non-prejudiced moment where you declared, “I’ve never met a gay person I haven’t liked,” and said something about how you didn’t really understand the political and religious arguments against LGBT rights and marriage equality for sexual minorities. You told stories of how, when you were in the Air Force under “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” you had to sit on a panel of some sort to decide what to do with an airman accused of homosexual behavior or something. You told about how in this situation you tried to be lenient, generous, and understanding because you felt like the military’s policies against LGBT people were stupid and unfair.

Your opinion and your kindness meant so much to me back when we had this conversation because I was a frightened young man who in his heart was pretty sure he was gay but who had very few people in his life who were loving toward LGBT people. Your comment—“I’ve never met a gay person I haven’t liked”—has stayed with me throughout the years as a flame of affirmation and hope. I wish I could have told you that I am gay before you passed away—though honestly I was afraid that you might forget all of your experience and be a bit homophobic; you had a way of being incredibly prejudiced at times and then alarmingly non-prejudiced the next moment. Makes me smile and shake my head just thinking about that part of your personality.

I love you grandpa! I know you made mistakes in life and sometimes hurt the people you loved the most, but I also admire how you were often quite humble to learn from your mistakes and always determined to carry on, to become a better person, to better understand the world, and to make the world a better place. I know your faith in God was challenged by your passion for science and by your unusual ability to be strong, independent, and helpful to others. My faith is weak too. I have my own doubts. But I know that your faith fueled your desire to do good and to leave a legacy of generosity. Thanks for being a hero!

I love you!

Voices of Oppression

I want to share a little bit about how growing up as a gay person in an anti-gay environment has affected me. In my August 2 coming out blog post, I shared how being closeted — or in many ways being coerced into being dishonest, secretive, and ashamed about my sexuality — felt like “the steady petrification and gradual implosion of my psyche and soul.”

It would be a lie if I told that that after I came out of the closet, I just always feel happy and I never face emotional turbulence. For me, coming out has been a process in which I’ve begun to feel happier more whole and more free, but also a process in which I’ve had to let my psyche and soul fall apart before I’ve been able to begin to rebuild on a foundation of authenticity and love. I’ve had to get in better touch with fear before I have been able to learn how to better seek out security. I’ve had to learn how to identify and wrestle with shame before I’ve been able to develop a better sense of pride. In a very emphatic way, I’ve had to allow myself to feel anger and sadness before I’ve been able to better appreciate joy and gratitude. I can now say that I’m proud to be gay, but it’s definitely been an interesting journey.

In November, 2014 I endured a specific incident that triggered an explosion of emotions and a flood of memories and voices from my childhood and teens. On that occasion, my brain cycled through sensations of anger, fear, loneliness, sadness, and shame. Those emotions swirled together and coursed through my body, short-circuiting my ability to reason. The piece of art that I’m sharing in this blog post is a depiction of what I experienced on that occasion.

Fear-Shame-GIAL-TraumaAcrylic paint, pencil, sharpie marker, on heavy paper.

I’m not ready to share all of the details of that incident, but the situation really angered me. Things about that situation seem to have mirrored many situations I had endured in the past. I was being threatened. I was being forced to violate my conscience. I was being forced to lie. I was being silenced. I was being punished for just being. Statements of affirmation were immediately followed by statements of condemnation. I felt unstable and attacked.

And then something snapped. I was overwhelmed by fear. I felt intensely unsafe. I felt compelled to rush out of that building and to run until I could hide behind an embankment, out of sight of where I’d just been. I was shaking and crying. Shame mixed in with the fear. I curled into the fetal position. Sadness swept through my body. At some point I tried to identify how old I felt in that moment, and I determined that I felt like I was 8 or 9 years old again. Voices crowded in on me. Voices from all stages of my life. The voices felt like dark clouds, and they pushed down on me like heavy blankets. I felt like I was being smothered.

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I heard the voices of religious leaders and of my parents.

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I heard the voices of kids who I grew up with. I could also sense the disgust of adults who I’d encountered over the years — adults who were too refined to repeat the words that their children were saying, but who communicated the same contempt in other actions and words or in silence, silence while their children mocked and bullied other children.

Fear-Shame-GIAL-Trauma copy
I heard the voice of my mother. Memories from my childhood and teens flooded in on me. Memories of me being forced into a mold that I didn’t fit into. Memories of feeling inferior and broken. Memories of confusion and loneliness. Rejection pressed in on me. Disappointment stole my breath. I wanted to hide even from myself.

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I heard the voice of my father. Memories from my teens and early twenties flashed through my memory. I felt unheard, trivialized, misdiagnosed, explained away.

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I felt betrayed by my parents and religious community.

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Rejection. Shame. Disgust.

Fear-Shame-GIAL-Trauma copy 2

I heard the voices of parents, coreligionists, and spiritual guides. Memories of sermons flashed through my mind. Memories of ex-gay counseling came flooding back. I felt betrayed.

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If quotations marks could be put around the word homosexuality, denying the reality of homosexual orientation and experience (see my coming out post), that meant that quotation marks could belong on either side of me too. I felt like I could be erased at any moment, at the will or whim of others.

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And then the voices went silent, and I was left only with feelings. I felt like a victim being blamed by my abusers for the abuse they’d inflicted upon me. Maybe I deserve what just happened to me?

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After a while, I lost sight of the faces of the people whose voices I was hearing. I couldn’t hear their voices anymore. Instead, I saw the image of a grim reaper looming over me. His voice was hideous. I cried and hugged my knees tighter.

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Eventually I felt numb. The world around me felt unreal. I felt unreal. Maybe this was all a bad dream that I was about to wake up from? Maybe I’d never been born at all? Maybe I was some sort of supernatural being who had imagined he was a human, and now I was learning I’d never been human?

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I didn’t wake up and find that everything had just been a bad dream. The memories of what had just happened cycled back through my memory. I still felt like I was being suffocated by a swirl of emotions and memories. The voices came and went. I felt lonely, insignificant, and despicable.

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And then at some point this word came to me. It was a command, whispered in my ear. It seemed like the logical intention behind all of the voices. I wondered if perhaps I was dying even in that moment. And I didn’t object. Death felt like a welcome escape from the pain of this explosion of emotions, a welcome escape from this trail of painful memories.


But I’m grateful that I did survive this incident. I’m grateful for my two friends who witnessed the triggering event, who came and extracted me from my hiding place, and who talked it through with me as best as they were able. As much as it was horrible and as much as I wish that none of these events had ever happened to me, in light of the fact that we cannot undo the past, I’m grateful that I experienced this explosion of emotions because it has enabled me to begin to rebuild my psyche from the rubble. I’m grateful that I’m alive and able to share my story. In liberation there is hope.

A Conversation with God


When I was twenty-four I taught English in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia for a year. I really enjoyed living in Riyadh. I had a good job. I got to see the world from new and interesting social perspectives. And in Saudi Arabia, I was alone like I’d never really been before. I was far away from my family and far away from the religious community I’d grown up in. While humans are humans and much of life is the same everywhere, Saudi Arabia and The United States are significantly different societies. Sometimes it felt like everything was different. In the solitude I got to face parts of me that I had mostly been running from.

One of the biggest things I had been running from for years and years was a pile of questions about my sexual orientation.

While I was in Saudi Arabia, I also had a crisis in faith. Up until moving to Saudi Arabia, I’d been a very devout fundamentalist Christian. In Saudi Arabia, the outward face of the religious landscape looked quite dissimilar to my religious comfort zone, which opened me to some unique insights.

I tend to think that observant outsiders can identify social ills in other societies clearer than they might be able to in their own societies. When you’re inside your culture, I think you tend to be hindered by local prejudices, privileges, and the tendency to feel that it is impossible for one individual to significantly reverse systems of oppression and injustice. Outsiders, however, can simplify; they can individuate social ills and see them without feeling offended or overwhelmed by guilt. As an outsider in Saudi Arabia, I observed the systemic oppression of minorities, the enshrinement of social inequalities, and the abuse of power. And it appeared to me that in many ways the fundamentalist Muslim religious system in Saudi Arabia hypocritically supported these forms of injustice and tolerated or even approved of the vacuums of secrecy, oppression, and abuse that existed within their society.

But more importantly, while I was in Saudi Arabia, I was startled by the parallels that I drew between fundamentalist Islam and fundamentalist Christianity. For the first time, I was able to really see or accept hypocrisy in my own religious community. I saw ways in which it seemed to me that fundamentalist Christians also supported vacuums of secrecy, oppression, and abuse. My trust in religion was challenged. My belief in God faltered. I slipped into practical agnosticism.

Before moving to Saudi Arabia, I maintained a regular practice of prayer, Scripture reading, church attendance, and theological study and discussion. While I was in Saudi Arabia, I pretty much stopped all of these things. I actually felt revolted by these practices. Instead of regular prayer, however, I still talked to God almost every day, mostly in a very casual way when I was feeling anxious, overwhelmed, or lonely.

Throughout that year, God didn’t really “show up” in any alarming or supernatural ways, but sometimes when I talked informally with God I felt comforted, as if by a warm but invisible human companion. Sometimes when I saw something beautiful or created something beautiful, I felt like I’d drawn near to something or someone supernatural and full of love.


And then there was this one time where I felt like God actually responded to me. On this occasion, when I talked to God, I felt like he replied. It felt like a real conversation. The first voice was my own voice, audibly whispering (probably with something in between a groan and a whine in my voice). The second voice wasn’t audible. It was like the silent voice that you use when you talk to yourself or read something silently. And that second voice felt like it was coming from deep inside me. In many ways it felt like that inner voice was coming from deep within my brain. It felt like the second voice was both something distinct from me and something that was a visceral part of me.

To this day, I am quite agnostic even while I publicly identify as a Christian. And to this day I wonder if perhaps my concept of God shouldn’t in fact be that God is in many ways the deepest recesses of my own brain. I’m still working all of that out.

I want to share that conversation I had with God, because the things God said to me surprised me and set me down a path of authenticity and psychological rehabilitation. This is how I remember that conversation going. I didn’t write it down back then, so of course it’s been changed by tricks of my memory, but this is something like how that conversation went:

Me: Dear God, why am I still so gay? Why haven’t you changed me? I thought you loved me? Why haven’t you made me straight yet? Why am I still so attracted to guys? Why can’t I stop? Why haven’t you stopped me? Why haven’t you changed me? I thought if you loved me you’d change me?

God: [Pause] Have you ever thought that maybe I do love you? Do you think I love you right now, just as you are?

Me: [Pause] I think you do love me right now. But…do you love me even though I’m still attracted to guys?

God: If I haven’t changed you, and I still love you, what does that say? [Pause] Yes. I love you even though you’re still attracted to guys. [Pause] Can I ask you a question?

Me: Yes.

God: What if I never changed you? What if I never make you straight? What if you remain gay for the rest of your life? Would that change anything about how you view yourself or the choices you make or the life goals you set?

Me: Oh! I haven’t really ever thought about this…not without a lot of fear. [Pause] But I thought you hate gay people? I thought you wanted to change me?

God: Remember, I love you just as you are. I love you right now. I’m proud of you, my son.

Me: I guess if I never became straight, if I assume I’ll always be gay, I think I’d live my life a lot differently.

But I can’t imagine being honest to people about my same sex attraction. Who will want to still be my friend? I mean, I’ve overtly lied to some of my friends and told them I’m not gay. I mean, in some ways it feels like my whole life feels like a lie. I mean I’ve been hiding and pretending since I was so young.

I’m tired of lying. I’d like to be honest about who I am. I think it would give me a sense of integrity to tell my friends about my same sex attraction, to not hide anymore.

But what if I’m not gay?!? What if things change and I become straight?

I want to make a vow to you, God! I will return to the US; I will go see a counselor; I will talk about my same sex attraction. [Pause] And if being open about all of this stuff helps me change and become straight, great! I’ll have this amazing testimony. And if I don’t change…I can’t even imagine that. But, I think I’ll be honest with my friends and family. I might even give it a try and use the word gay. I don’t know.

God: Just remember that I love you, okay?

Me: Okay. Thanks! I love you too.

And that was the beginning of a new chapter in my life!

[ ] as a daffodil, my dear!

First things first: This post gets a soundtrack, and only Diana Ross could provide the perfect song for it.

Yup! I’m coming out.
I’m gay.
And in the lyrics of Diana Ross:

The time has come for me
To break out of this shell
I have to shout
That I am coming out…

I’ve got to show the world
All that I wanna be
And all my abilities
There’s so much more to me
Somehow, I have to make them
Just understand
I got it well in hand
And, oh, how I’ve planned
I’m spreadin’ love
There is no need to fear
And I just feel so good…


A bit of my back story: I was raised in a very conservative, fundamentalist (Evangelical) Christian family and religious community where among the joys and traumas of childhood and adolescence and alongside the ways in which I was positively nurtured and educated, I received countless messages that ALL people were heterosexual and that homosexuality (as a sexual orientation, I guess) was not real but was the deception of immoral and atheist scientists. I also received countless messages that homosexuality (as a set of sexual behaviors, I guess) was shameful, unnatural, criminal, disgusting, dangerous, and wrong–across the board regardless of age, consent, or relational context—and that people who committed homosexual acts and never stopped or repented of them would be condemned to divine and eternal damnation. As a youth, I struggled to reconcile the contradictory statements I encountered: homosexuality wasn’t real, but at the same time homosexuality was a VERY real danger, a danger so real that homosexual people (who weren’t really homosexual at all) deserved unique social, religious, and legal stigma, taboo, and discrimination. That is a confusing set of beliefs for me to try to wrap my head around as an adult. How much more so as a questioning preteen!

As I passed through puberty, I became very aware that there ways in which I was significantly different from most of the boys around me. Gender norms didn’t fit me very well, and as I began to understand sexuality, I discovered that I was primarily sexually attracted to other males. The shame that I felt was overwhelming. As I moved into adulthood, I only let a few people know about my secret inner world in which I found men sexually attractive and rarely felt sexually attracted to women. The only viable choice that I could see, was to keep my sexual orientation a secret and to hope and pray that I might appear straight enough to avoid discrimination or harm while also hoping and praying that my sexual orientation might be magically changed and I’d become straight. I really wanted to receive the adult status attributed to being able to maintain intimate and romantic relationships with a person of the opposite sex. But for me, being sexually intimate with a woman felt so wrong, so unattainable, and so dishonest. I was constantly caught between my desire to be honest and my desire to be right (or righteous). It seemed like the only way to be right was to lie. Wrestling with this tension was exhausting.

After years of agony and what I might describe as the steady petrification and gradual implosion of my psyche and soul, in the fall of 2013, in the middle of my 25th postnatal orbit around the sun, I began to venture out into honesty and authenticity about my sexuality. I was tired of hiding, of pretending to be straight, and of being afraid of who I was inside. I quickly began to use the word gay to describe this aspect of myself and of my experience. “I’m gay” is now an important part of how I identify and a way for me to give words to how I’ve experienced the development, primacy, and permanence of my sexual attraction to men as well as unique ways in which I’ve frequently felt a mismatch between my inner personality and the gender roles and social expectations I have encountered around me. “I’m gay” only scratches the surface as to who I am as a unique individual, but it stands as a meaningful term I use as I relate to myself and to people around me. Accepting my sexuality has started me down a path of psychological and spiritual recovery and rehabilitation. On this blog, I’d like to begin to share bits and pieces of my journey in prose, poetry, video blogs, and visual artwork.

There are parts of my psyche in which tension and heartache are still very real, and there are parts of my soul in which real joy and real hope and real satisfaction with who I am are beginning to grow. It is out of these places of paradox that I want to blog about my life and the art I enjoy creating . But in order to share, I’ve got to first come out of silence and shame.

I’m coming out
I want the world to know
Got to let it show

Freedom To Fail

give me freedom to fail
freedom to learn
the space to discover
on my own
to observe, reflect, decide, and act
come along side me
assist me, advise me
share your resources
your wisdom and knowledge
but then let me run
on my own
free to fall, free to succeed
give me freedom to fail
freedom to learn

(c) S.A. Detwiler May 24, 2014

Unable to Fly

Back in September of 2008, I posted a poem by Rumi. That poem has echoed in my mind ever since, and just a few days ago it was stuck in my mind, but in that moment Rumi’s poem sounded so hollow—too cheerful and too confident— to me. So I sat down and re-worked my own, pessimistic heart-cry, following the content and form of Rumi’s poem. Here’s Rumi’s poem first and then mine.

Thyself reckon dead, and then thou shalt fly
Free, free, from the prison of earth to the sky!
Spring may come, but on granite will grow no green thing;
It was barren in winter, ’tis barren in spring;
And granite man’s heart is, till grace intervene,
And, crushing it, clothe the long barren with green.
When the fresh breath of Jesus shall touch the heart’s core,
It will live, it will breathe, it will blossom once more.

-Jalal-ud-Din ar-Rumi
translated by E.H. Whinfield

My soul feels so dead, and unable to fly;
Chained, chained, to the prison of earth under sky!
Spring won’t come, and on granite won’t grow one green thing;
I was barren in winter, and will be barren in spring
Because granite my heart is, though I saw grace intervene,
I’m crushed, and still barren, not clothed yet in green.
I felt the fresh breath of Jesus… once… touch my heart’s core,
But will I live? Will I breathe? Will I blossom once more?

-S.A. Detwiler

(c) April 3, 2014