This month I have the amazing Edmond Manning. Author of The Lost and Founds series. So without further ado I give you Edmond Manning
In the Name of the Father, The Son…
Until the age of nine years old, I myself didn’t know the word gay and I had no concept of sexuality. (Thus destroying the theory that all gays were molested as kids. Nope. Awesome touch-appropriate parents and relatives.)
But even before the age of nine—in the core of my very being—I felt I was different in a way that defied explanation. It’s very confusing to have that knowledge at such a young age and not know how to explain it. How does a person—a tiny child—know a thing that is not yet known to the brain or heart? It makes no sense. It makes no sense!
And yet…there you have it.
Before the age of eight, I was already slightly alarmed because nobody else was discussing this thing, this awareness, that I-am-different-and-not-sure-how. Why weren’t people talking about this awareness inside? Should I talk about it or keep it to myself?
I remember watching the original Bob Newhart show, the one in the 1970’s where Bob works as a therapist. Our family watched these episodes as first premieres (Nick-at-Night reruns were still a decade or two away). We watched in the same room, the kids lying on the floor, often bored with the adult humor but it was television. So we watched.
During a group therapy session, one of Bob Newhart’s clients (an angry guy named Frank) said aloud, “I’m gay.”
A sweet old woman with white hair pulled into a bun, a regular on the show, smiled wide and said, “Me too. When I wake up in the morning and the birds are singing—”
Someone cut her off and said, “No, it means…”
They whispered the meaning.
She straightened up in her chair and in a serious voice said, “Oh. That.”
Cue the laugh track.
The hair on my neck bristled and I knew—knew—that some topics were so dangerous you dare not speak them aloud. I already possessed the awareness of being different in some powerful way I could not define. And now I knew that some differences are significantly bad and should not be confessed. Not even in the friendly therapy offices of Bob Newhart.
Growing up in a small Midwestern town, I remained incredibly ignorant of diversity, not so much as a value preached against by small minds, but we just didn’t have any. I didn’t know any gays. Didn’t know any black people. No Russians, Hmong, and other important groups. Despite the lack of diversity in town, my parents preached diversity, and promised us they would not tolerate mistreatment of other-race people. But the gays? Well, they deserved whatever special hell God had prepared for them. Besides, they were mostly pedophiles. Gay people did not qualify as diversity.
Half of what I learned about being gay was from secret readings of my parents’ Catholic parenting books and every one of them said the same thing: gay is evil. Evil. Pray it doesn’t happen to your child. This made me really sad because I didn’t feel evil. I didn’t want to be evil. Apparently, I had no say in the matter.
When I was twelve or thirteen, I remember PBS aired a special on a New York City gay rights parade. For some reason, I was the only one in front of the television. Mom was in the kitchen. Siblings were elsewhere. I crept to the set, turned down the volume so it was only a whisper, and watched in horror as long-haired men wearing sun dresses crossed the screen. I kept my hand on the channel dial, ready to change it should I hear approaching footsteps. (Keep in mind these are the days pre-remote controls.) Drag queens, leather men, jockstrap-clad angry men…the horror I felt…I wasn’t one of those. That would never be me! I had no desire to wear women’s clothes or makeup!
My doomed fate to an evil, dress-wearing life should have greatly discouraged me.
By the time I realized what gay meant and fully realized how that upsetting word applied to me, I already had adopted a plan. A fool-proof plan. The perfect way to deflect suspicion and attention away from my sexuality. I would become a Catholic priest.
As a Catholic priest, nobody would question my sexual orientation—it simply wouldn’t matter. Townspeople would nod to each other and say, “That’s why he never dated any nice girls in high school. He was called.” My parents’ open disparaging of gays should have bothered me, perhaps crippled me emotionally, but it never did. Nope. I was going to be a priest. A priest! They’d be so proud of me…the pride and joy of the family. Of course, I would never have sex and that was disappointing but a small price to pay for never having to experience the trauma of rejection or coming out.
Nope. The priesthood was for me.
I sailed through high school with more confidence than I deserved. I never worried about people ‘outing’ me because what was there to out? I didn’t date. I didn’t keep a stash of dirty magazines hidden in the garage. I simply studied, read Charles Dickens books, and volunteered for a thousand school-related activities.
I clung to the priesthood plan for so many years that it simply seemed to be a fact. I didn’t talk about it with my family or friends. I would just one day triumphantly announce “I’ve been called.” Light might even shine down around me from the heavens above. Wasn’t sure about that part. I assumed in college that I would choose a major like Divinity or Theological Studies, a subject devoted to greater academic study of my imminent responsibilities.
But then, college happened.
As a freshman, I found my attraction to men problematic because it turns out other college students were on campus who were also attracted to men and they didn’t care who knew. They dated. They sponsored events on campus. They spoke in classes about their experience. They walked around the dorm cafeteria proudly. They made me nervous. What if they figured out my secret before I had a chance to loudly proclaim, “I’m going to be a priest!”
I stayed far away from campus gays.
Sophomore year, it suddenly became time to declare my major and a horrible realization crept over me. I didn’t want to choose Divinity as a college major. The idea Theological Studies bored me to tears. I…I did not have any interest in becoming a priest.
You might think I would realize this sooner.
The I’m-going-to-be-a-priest defense had been custom-tailored to fit me since the age of ten-years-old. It wasn’t an opinion, it was a fact. It was my Captain American shield. When my future arrived—in the form of picking a college major—it was only then that I realized I did not feel called to the priesthood. In fact, I had begun to think of Catholicism as rather abusive and unholy. How on earth could I represent such a messed-up branch of Christianity?
Terror gripped me and for the first time. I grappled with issues that my gay peers had being wrestling for years. I didn’t want to be gay! How could I possibly know if I were gay since I never had sex? What if I were making a big deal out of nothing because I didn’t even know for a fact if it were true? And the most horrifying thought of all: what if everybody found out I was gay? I had never worried about coming out. Or being outed.
One of the first things I did was talk to my parish priest.
Despite my growing doubts about the church and my role in it, I still volunteered a lot at the campus Newman Center and formed great relationships with the three priests who served the students. I made an appointment to see Father Rich, who I adored. Funny, compassionate, kind. He was everything you would want in a priest. For all the time I knew him, he never fell off his pedestal in my eyes.
When we met, I promised him I had something terrible to tell him. Something awful. He would hate me. He would despise me. I spent so much time prepping him on his emotional reaction, he later confessed that he thought I was going to admit to murder.
I finally spit out the words, “I think I might be gay.”
He looked at me and nodded, worry in his eyes. “Okay. And…?”
I was alarmed his face showed no disgust. No rage or hatred.
I said, “That’s it. I’m gay.”
He leaned back and took a deep breath. “Oh God,” he said. “You really had me worried for a minute. That’s it? You’re gay?”
His clearly underwhelmed reaction paved the way for challenging me on all the assumptions I had internalized about gay being a demonic practice. Father Rich explained that there were many views within the church on homosexuality and some of his best friends were gay. I was deeply stunned.
My conversation with Father Rich began a sharp re-education. My emotional growth as a person and as a gay man had been stunted by my proud insistence I would become a priest. I left our meeting realizing I had a lot of work to do.
When Meredith invited me to share a glimpse of myself that few people know, I immediately thought of how I grew up assuming I would become Catholic priest. The issue is long-resolved; the priesthood ain’t for me. It never was. But for all my pivotal formative years, I assumed I would become this man, a man who represented the word of God. God’s were the only words that mattered and I intended to hide behind them, unable to face a truth I had known from a very young age.
Edmond Manning writes unconventional fiction, blending surreal plots grounded in emotional realism, exploring how ordinary men achieve a state of kingly grace over the course of a single weekend. His fiction books, including King Perry, King Mai, and The Butterfly King received online acclaim and in 2014, King Mai was a finalist in the national Lamba Literary Awards. His non-fiction book of essays, I Probably Shouldn’t Have Done That, was a finalist in the 2013 Independent Book Awards.