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Up on the Rooftop
by Michael J. Nicosia, M.Div

In hind sight I see how I've always been attracted to men, since early childhood, but I had never put a label on it…even in the heat of sexual fantasies over teen magazines and men's underwear shots in department store catalogs, I never put two and two together.  But when I was 21 things changed - I met Tom.  He was gentle, caring, spiritual, funny…and gorgeous!  Amazingly, my feelings weren't "sexual" at first; this was different and new.  I was in love, totally and obsessively.

Such feelings made me grapple with what they meant about me.  It was so painful, to love so deeply and yet so secretly.  I went to a small prayer chapel on campus and cried my eyes out:  "What's going on?  I don't understand!"  Part of the pain came from the conflicts between what I was feeling and what the Bible says about homosexual activity.  But that was the whole point; these were feelings!  I was in love, and what could be wrong with that?!

In heart-wrenching prayer I opened the Bible at random and came to the story about Peter on the roof top (Acts 10:9-16) where he has a vision:  a sheet is lowered from the heavens, filled with all of the animals that Jewish Law said were unclean, and a voice tells him, "kill and eat."  Peter objects, "O LORD, far be it from me to eat anything that is unclean!"  I heard God's response to him as if they were words spoken to me:  "Who are you to call anything that I have made, 'unclean?'"  This new awareness led to a more inclusive church in Peter's day.  This same passage led me to self-acceptance as a beloved creation of God, and made me realize that the whole of my being (including my being gay) was created as good, in the image of God.

And so began my journey of self-discovery.  I left that small chapel to go for a walk -though the insights of the day left me with a spiritual high, the accompanying emotions had drained me.  Not a block away, I happened on a flier tacked to a lamp post:  "The Homosexual Question," a debate scheduled at a local church for that very night!  I looked up to heaven and said with a knowing smile, "You want me to go to this, don't you?"

It was amazing.  The church was split right down the middle, "ex-gays" on the left, "gay Christians" on the right.  I was there, open to both sides, knowing that God was leading me somewhere.  Both sides spoke of God's love and mercy, but the ex-gays saw this in terms of their liberation from evil desires and sinful activity - never once mentioning love for another person.  (Getting to know some of these people in the weeks that followed, I was struck by how unhappy they were.)  Those on the gay Christian side celebrated who they were, and talked of love and respect and mutual commitment between persons, blessed and directed by God.  I knew on which side my feelings for Tom fell.

Meeting these people led me to a variety of faith communities.  While at school I hooked up with the Metropolitan Community Church in town (a inter-denominational group of gay and lesbian Christians).  When home during summer vacation I attended Mass at Dignity-Integrity, a group of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered Roman Catholics and Episcopalians.

I eventually shared my feelings with Tom.  Being straight he couldn't return my love.  Most painful was that my self-disclosure distanced him as a friend too.  I was a mess!  I talked it over with several priests….  The first said not to worry; being an artist, I just liked the angularity of the male body over the curves of a woman's; I wasn't gay - it was just an artistic preference!  Priest #2 said, "Of course you're gay!  So what's the problem?"  Priest #3, who was chaplain on campus, saw me as "on the fence," and it was his job to make sure I got off on the right side - like it was some sort of choice!  Priest #4 (I talked about it a lot!) was my spiritual director and leader of the charismatic prayer group that I attended regularly; I had picked up on some condemnation from a few people in the group, and he assured me that he would condemn any spirit of judgmentalism.  He focused on my dignity as a child of God on a journey of self-discovery like every one else.

Some of my brothers and sisters in Christ, however, couldn't get past their narrow interpretation of the Bible, and I felt that I couldn't be myself with them.  Being authentic is crucial in prayer, so I stopped going to prayer meetings with them and focused more on my relationships with the people at Dignity-Integrity.  You have to go where you can be and become more fully "you."

I have a faith community that supports me, and which I support.  Now that I have grown in my self-awareness and in my faith, I can even comfortably share with those who don't understand how I can be gay and Christian.  With compassion and gentleness, I can help them to better know our loving and merciful God.

Michael has served the Community of Dignity-Integrity/Rochester on their Chaplaincy Team since January 1997.

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