Charles was born in Thailand when his parents were doing missionary support work; this interview by Katherine Kittredge took place in 2000.
My father’s parents ‑ my father’smother died when I was probably about six seven? somewhere between five or six ‑ somewhere along in there, so I have just a couple of very vague memories of her, but my father’s father I definitely have lots of memories of. He used to really like to golf, so we would go out to the golf course and the big thrill was to get to drive the golf cart so we’d always fight over that. And, you know, I remember him and he died when I was in … early college, I think my sophomore year of college, my grandfather died. But my grandfather remarried.
I knew them fairly well. But they weren’t necessarily particularly pleasant people to be around all the time. Especially my grandmother was kind of difficult to get along with. My grandmother I think in particular was kind of unhappy and had a tendency to be emotionally manipulative and kind of underhanded that way. I remember when that grandmother would visit my parents, that it was almost guaranteed that at some point my mother would cry from frustration or having her feelings hurt or whatever. So I really don’t have as fond memories of those grandparents. But that’s from my mother’s side of the family and they weren’t particularly religious so it wasn’t like they were incredibly strict in that sense, it was ‑ as they say now ‑ my grandparents had Issues.
My father’s mother, whom we called Gaga, she was a great cook, and so was the woman that my grandfather married after she died, so there was always going to visit my grandfather, and his wife would have cooked some enormous spread with five different kinds of pies for dessert, and you couldn’t possibly even eat a small fraction of what had been prepared, so that was always the great part about visiting them. And my grandfather ‑ he was definitely fairly strict and a very devout Church of Christ ‑ he was an elder in his church and stuff like that, but I do remember the whole family going out golfing, with my brothers and my father and I going out golfing and just spending time with my grandfather. He was incredibly energetic for his age up until the last couple of years. He was in his early 80’s, he would talk about going to visit the “old folks” in the “old folks home.” So I guess my least favorite part about visiting my grandfather was he was strict, he did have opinions about things. Gaga, or Louise, I [she] was [ ….. ] my step‑grandmother, or whatever the appropriate term would be}, and she was extremely generous and stuff, but she was also a little bit on the fearful side. She was a school teacher for a while I think, but she didn’t seem particularly bright, and was kind of afraid of anything new. So sometimes talking to her could be frustrating. She knew what she knew and she didn’t really want to know anything else.
On my mother’s side I think that my grandmother, whom we called Memom was the best with little kids, but then after a certain age she had a lot more of that manipulative stuff and was less pleasant to be around. So I do have some fond memories of her when I was like five or six going out and seeing her garden or stuff like that. But it became clear the older I got how unhappy she was and she seemed to make people around her unhappy as well. My grandfather ‑ her husband ‑ always just seemed very passive and pretty tired. My mother says that after he came back from World War II he just wasn’t the same person anymore ‑ that he had just sort of given up. So I don’t feel like I know him particularly well.
I think looking back on it as a child my mother was depressed a fair amount of the time when I was little, and that since then she has spent some time in counseling and therapy and stuff like that and is a lot more on top of things now. I think a lot of that [depression] came from her mother, and from her father as well, that she talks about how she felt really abandoned by her father when her father went off to World War II, and then when her father came back it wasn’t like he was back at all, because he was emotionally remote and inaccessible. And then her mother really as far as I can tell just doesn’t know how to be nurturing or know how to be good to someone else or how to really care for someone else exactly. So I think my mother carried a lot of that with her. She I think was really hard on herself.
My Dad was extremely self‑disciplined and very methodical in what he does. He’s also a pillar of the community in some respects; he’s very active in the church that I grew up in and also [… ] used to be head of the clinic half of this large multi‑specialty hospital in Temple which is kind of like one of the big businesses in town; one of the central draws for Temple. He’s extremely responsible, but he doesn’t communicate his emotions very well. I don’t think he’s very in touch with them in general. But he is definitely big on the self‑discipline, and being responsible, and doing your duty and doing the right thing, and managing your resources wisely and all that kind of thing. My mother I think is much more emotional in general, and also was more flexible and more open to different viewpoints and different ideas and stuff like that. As far as my father’s concerned, there’s right and there’s wrong, and that’s all there is to it, and that if somebody disagrees with him, that’s probably because of a lack of experience; that eventually that person will become more experienced and see the right way of doing things, and just for now it’s just lack of maturity or lack of experience or something like that.
I think that certainly from my Dad ‑ my Dad and I are fairly different as far as basic outlook and stuff like that, but I think that growing up my Dad really tried to instill in me a sense of self discipline and being responsible and doing your duty and stuff like that, so I think now I tend to be very exacting on myself and perfectionistic about the stuff that I do. I think that’s very much from my father and I suspect that he got that from his grandfather, because [he was] also much the same way. My father came from several generations of Church of Christ families and I think that he very much grew up in that kind of environment. My father’s family I think on both sides had been in Texas for several generations, and he grew up very much in small town Texas life, with fairly insular communities where everybody knows everybody and everybody knows everybody’s business and stuff like that. I don’t think that there was much foreign cultural heritage left on that side of the family since they had been in the United States for a number of generations. I don’t even know how many it goes back. But they were very Texan, definitely.
On my mother’s side, my mother’s maiden name was Schmidt, and [her] father was ‑ I think he was actually born in Germany but they moved over here when he was very young, so he didn’t actually speak German. Or at least he wouldn’t speak German. But he definitely understood it and could follow other people speaking German. But my mother’s mother is part French and part English, and so she’s not German. But I don’t think that my mother really inherited a lot of French or particularly English culture from that. I know that my grandmother cooked German food for my grandfather a lot, so my father grew up eating potato soup and sauerkraut and all that kind of stuff. So there is a little bit of German heritage left, but not a whole lot. My mother’s parents were Methodist. I don’t know what their religious background was before they got married, but my mother was raised as a Methodist.
I think that from my mother I got more of the being open to new ideas and wanting to relate to people and stuff like that. And some of that…. I think that since my mother was depressed when I was really young. I would try and do things to cheer her up, and I think that some of my orientation toward people and trying to make people happy, for better or for worse, comes from my early experiences with my mother.
I think my parent’s approach to religion is fairly different, but I think it’s important to both of them, so it’s hard to say if one of them is more religious than the other. It’s also hard for me to know for sure if my mother had married someone else ‑ someone less religious ‑ what she would have done. But I think that both of them are fairly religious or have a real interest in religious or spiritual kinds of things.
[As far as rituals and celebrations], I think it varies among different Church of Christ congregations. Some of them are really ‑ are more hard fine than my family was, and wouldn’t celebrate Christmas or Easter or anything like that in the same way as the surrounding culture ‑ so there would be no Christmas songs, no Christmas tree, no nothing. But the branch of the Church of Christ that we were involved in was more liberal in that respect, so we did have Christmas and Thanksgiving and stuff like that. But my parents tried to incorporate whatever religious meaning in with that, so that if we were on vacation somewhere for Christmas, that we would have a family church service, with communion and everything all on our own and sing songs and all that kind of stuff, so that it was always clear that the religious meaning behind Christmas or Easter or whatever was definitely stressed and that was considered a fundamental part of things. So that’s something that definitely seems a little different than some other families ‑ that if we couldn’t go to church we would have a church service on our own and do the whole thing pretty much just among the family. Other than that I can’t really think of any traditions or rituals other than the ones bound up with church and the various services and we would always have on Wednesday nights, for I think most of the year, we would have pot luck suppers where people would bring stuff in the evening so there would be a lot of socializing time while people ate in the Fellowship Hall of the church, and people sat around and talked for a while, and then eventually they would start the Wednesday night church service.
[When I was born,] my parents were in Thailand, and they were doing ‑ they weren’t actually missionaries themselves exactly, but they were doing missionary kind of support work. My Dad was working for a ‑ on a malnutrition study in Ching Mai (sp?), Thailand, and he was working with some Church of Christ missionaries in Thailand at the time. My mother was pregnant with twins in Thailand, in Ching Mai, and she already had two sons and so my twin brother and I made numbers three and four. So I think that was a stressful time for my parents. But they managed OK, partially because since wages are so low there they were comparatively rich and could hire servants to help raise my brother and I, and also do things like go to the market and get stuff every day and things like that. I remember my Mom talking about being wheeled into the delivery room in Thailand and the sheets weren’t white because they didn’t have any bleach, so they were kind of, you know, beige‑ish color and then looking up on the wall and seeing some geckos, which they encourage in Thailand because they eat the mosquitos and the other bugs, but I remember her saying she thought she was going to, you know, she was going to die, and that was going to be it, because things were just too primitive. But she delivered us OK, but soon after we were born my twin brother got very sick. They thought he was going to die, so my parents tell stories about like [how they used to] sit next to my brother at home with an IV in his arm and pick off the ants and things like that that would try and come and feed off the sweet IV liquid. There’s a picture of my twin brother and I that was taken because they thought he was going to die, and they wanted to have one picture of both of us. So. But he recovered and pulled through, and did fine, but I think that was hard on them.
We moved back [to the United States] when I was two or two and a half, something like that, so I really don’t remember anything about it ‑ the only thing I really remember is that ‑ the woman who was the nanny for the twin brother and I actually came back to the United States with my parents. Her name was Tassenai :(sp?) and I kind of vaguely remember her a little bit. I think when I was 4 or something like that she got married and moved away. I think she stayed in the United States at least for a while. I don’t really remember too much [of this period]. I mean I remember when we first moved back to the United States we lived in Dallas for a year, and I sort of vaguely remember moving to Temple, which is where I lived until I was ‑ until I went off to college. So I sort of have a vague memory of that and I have just a couple of memories, Like I had a leg brace for a while and I vaguely remember having that, and apparently that was when we first lived in Dallas. Apparently at the time they were much more concerned about someone having a foot that turned out or turned in or whatever, and I think they were worried that that wouldn’t correct itself. Apparently now they’re a lot more low key about that kind of thing so they figure Eh, you know, it’ll get better
[After we moved to Temple] my neighborhood varied a lot [in its religious background]. My Dad was a pediatrician, before he moved into more the hospital administration stuff that he did later on, but our neighborhood was made up of ‑ there were a fair number of doctors in our neighborhood, and the doctors came from different parts of the country, so like right next door was the Reineerstons (sp?) and the Reineerstons weren’t religious at all, and definitely came from a different background than we did, but it varied a lot even in our neighborhood. I think that in Texas as a whole there certainly are a lot more fundamentalists or evangelicals or whatever you want to call them, and certainly people are more tolerant of them and it’s more of an accepted thing, but on the other hand it’s certainly not like every person is [fundamentalist]. [My family was different] only in matters of degree rather than being completely different. Because at church all the other families were Church of Christ too, and that was a big social event, so I don’t think […. ] I felt like our family was particularly bizarre or anything like that.
Most Church of Christ churches have ministers, but the one that my parents went to ‑ at first it was for financial reasons, but later on they kept with the tradition of not having a single Minister, but different people take turns preaching, so that they still have the traditional structure in the Church of Christ of having elders who decide ‑ who meet and decide the big issues and plan things out and things like that, and then there are deacons who are the next level down, who actually carry things out or may be in charge of different tasks or whatever, but my Dad was almost always an elder in the Church, I think pretty much continuously. So sometimes he would preach and sometimes other people would preach. That was interesting. It made for more varied preaching than having one Minister or pastor who always would speak every single time.
I’m sure every kid feels this way ‑ I felt that my parents were always stricter than all of my friends’ parents, that I had to be in earlier, that I couldn’t go see all the movies that my friends could see, and we didn’t have Cable (horror of horrors) and all that kind of stuff. I definitely felt that my parents were stricter than a lot of my friends’ parents.
Also I think church played a really important part in my family, and also socially, growing up. We always went to church three times a week, Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday evening, and we were also encouraged to be involved in the youth group at church, which did other activities ‑ sometimes had a weekly meeting or at least had little fun trips and activities, things like that. So I think church was pretty central to my family’s social life as a whole. We also had neighborhood friends and we’d play neighborhood football and games and stuff like that and our house was often ‑ often we had kids over at our house or we would play out in our yard or whatever. It was [a central place] ‑ though that varied from time to time, The other thing I remember is that my older brothers would have their friends over, so my twin brother and I, being younger, would always want to do whatever they were doing, which I’m sure annoyed them to no end, so they would try and find ways to get rid of us, or distract us, or get us to go do something else so that they could play with their friends.
I think I was generally encouraged to try new things. I think that ‑ thinking about school and things like that ‑ my parents definitely had expectations that we would do well and that we would be involved in things like band and go on science field trips, and all that kind of stuff. So scholastically certainly I think we were encouraged to do as much as we could and [… I encouraged to try new things. In general, I think my parents were really good about setting boundaries and stuff like that, so there were certain things we were allowed to do and certain things we weren’t allowed to do and it was very clear where those were. So in some sense we weren’t encouraged to do things like stay up late on a weeknight or things like that.
I think I certainly feel like I was nurtured more by my mother than my father ‑ although my father certainly made time for us and for example, growing up, my father, like every Saturday he would alternate spending a few hours on a Saturday with one of his sons, and you could pick what kind of activity you wanted to do, and it was supposed to be a fun time and you could go fishing or go on some little trip or something like that with Dad, and so he definitely made time for us, but often, it seemed like during the week he would come home really tired from work and just not be that available in the evenings. So I definitely think I felt more nurtured by my mother growing up, in that she was definitely more emotionally available in general, and I think that’s a common experience, that one’s mother is more nurturing, especially on an emotional level.
Like I was talking about earlier, my Dad definitely passed on values of fairness and self discipline and pulling one’s own weight, and definitely the Protestant work ethic, that you need to work, and you have to work, and that’s part of having a fulfilled life in some sense. My Dad was definitely into the work now, play later kind of thing ‑ that you put off any rewards in order to do one’s duty or do what one needs to get done. I definitely feel like I inherited that, and kind of a sense that fairness is important on some level. I think that even though I have mixed feelings about it, I also took on the values that religion is important and should be a fundamental part of one’s life. Even though I struggle with that now, I still think on some level that’s pretty deeply ingrained. From my mother I think I took on some of the values of my emotional life, as far as being interested in other people and wanting to understand other people and help other people and things like that.
Growing up, one thing that I’m more aware of since I moved to the Northeast is how different ‑ how fundamentalism is much more foreign to the culture here than it was in Texas, in that some people here have stereotypes about fundamentalists and what they think, and that they’re all stupid, and stuff like that. One [way] that my own experience I think is different is that it was clear that my parents loved me and cared about me and they weren’t trying to be mean to me or anything like that, they were just doing what they thought was best and that included being strict and having firm guidelines and limits and certain things weren’t allowed and all that kind of thing, but I think that my parents went out of their way to try and communicate that that was always for our own good, rather than ‑ they weren’t just being mean by not letting us go to a particular movie or come back at a certain hour or whatever. My parents definitely set limits on the amount of TV we could see, so we could watch an hour a day or something like that, and we had to choose the program in advance and it had to be an OK program to watch and all that good stuff.
I have a feeling that my mother being depressed definitely had an effect on me. I can remember feeling sad or down a fair amount as a child, but I don’t think I really understood why I felt that way or what was going on. In high school I definitely had a few words with my Dad, where he wanted me, to ‑ I remember one time, and this is really silly, but one time I had borrowed some small amount of money, like twenty dollars or something, from my Dad, and he wanted to know ‑ he wanted to make sure I had a plan in place to repay it. So I was like, well, I’ll repay you as soon as possible and I’ll get it done, and he was like, OK, but you need to have a plan in advance, to plan it out. So we completely locked horns over that issue. Eventually I said fine, I’ll pay you back a dollar a week or 50 cents a week, some miniscule, tiny amount that made my Dad perfectly happy and then the next weekend I washed cars or something and earned enough money and paid him off the very next Saturday and that was it, but the point was he wanted there to be a plan in place and I was like, well, I said I’ll do it as soon as possible so I will. There were a few times like that. Definitely my father was the person I had the hardest time getting along with, and I think that made things a lot harder. I think that, like the Saturdays that I’d spend with my father, he’d say OK pick whatever you want to do and that’s what I’m happy to do and blah blah blah blah and so I’d try and pick something ‑ something that I wanted to do ‑ and then I would expect him to be happy with that choice, but on some level I could tell that if I wanted to go down to the arcade and play video games, that even though that was what I wanted to do, that that wasn’t what he wanted to do, and so I think I fell in a bind of trying to choose something that would make him happy and there being some disconnect between what he said he felt and what emotion he actually showed. Since I think he’s not that in touch with his emotions, that made it really hard for me, because it was easy for me to project negative feelings or whatever since he was very critical in many ways of the job we did on things. You know if we didn’t mow the lawn exactly right we’d have to go out there and do it again and clean it up. So that we were definitely held to fairly high standards. Even when we’d done our best that didn’t mean that we had met the minimally acceptable standard.
One thing that was hard was that in fourth and fifth grade my twin brother and I participated in a gifted and talented program, and that meant switching schools, and going to a school that was way on the other side of town. So that was pretty traumatic, to leave all my friends behind, and stuff like that, and then when I went back to sixth grade, then the friends I had made in the gifted and talented program most of them went out to other schools and so it was sort of like starting over again twice in a row, so that was kind of tough. I remember feeling pretty attached to my teachers at various points ‑ some of them I liked more than others. I remember in 4th and 5th grade, in the gifted and talented program, we had ‑ there was one main teacher ‑ she was very animated and lively and related well to the kids. I remember liking her a lot.
It was very disruptive socially, and my parents had to drive across town. Also it was hard abecause the school that they put the gifted and talented program in was a 90% Black school, so I think that made it socially difficult because there were these over‑priviledged White kids in this primarily poor Black school, so I think we got picked on a lot early on by the other kids partially because they felt like we were so entitled coming into their school and we’re better than you and blah blah blah. So that part was kind of tough at first I think. I did like the program itself. Although it was kind of problematic because they didn’t have any kind of accelerated program or anything for middle school, so when I went back to middle school it was like all of a sudden I was back a whole year in math, in science, and stuff like that where we’d already learned how to do all the way up through simple algebra and here we were back repeating stuff again. I think we probably could have skipped ahead a grade but I think my parents felt like socially that would be awkward and that they wanted us to be in a program for social reasons. I think I felt like scholastically it was a waste of time.
Looking back on it, some of the best parts for me [about being a teenager] was some of the friendships I made. Like my girlfriend in high school, even though I wasn’t necessarily that sexually attracted to her, she was a really close friend, and we spent a lot of time talking about things, and hashing things out. So I do feel like that was one positive aspect, that I did have good friends and that they were really important to me, and that we explored ideas and talked about life together.
I think in general I definitely liked school. I think sometimes I felt frustrated, either because things moved too slowly or just I think I was ‑ it was easy for me to get my feelings hurt. So if the teacher yelled at the class, I felt personally responsible even if I hadn’t been the one talking or doing whatever had caused the upset. In general I did really well in school. I think I had trouble with handwriting early on. So that part was frustrating. But in middle school I talked my parents into getting us a computer and after that writing papers was a lot easier. It was a big deal for my parents, and it was a big financial thing. But I waged a many month campaign to get ‑ I think I hauled my older brothers ‑ and I was so successful at phrasing things in ways that really met my Dad’s criteria for a responsible investment and investing in our future.
I think [the culture I grew up in] has been a major part of [my life]. I can still see the effects of my upbringing now. You know, I definitely find myself really putting lots and lots of energy into work, or being really perfectionistic about aspects of my life, or feeling like I should be more involved religiously than I am now. Even though I no longer feel like I’m a member of the Church of Christ or subscribe to it, I still find that other, less extreme, mainstream churches I think on some level I find a little bit unsatisfying because they’re not as all engrossing. The Church of Christ was definitely both one’s church and most of one’s social life and all that. So I very much see the effects of my upbringing now. I really never was very aware of social class really, and actually meeting J. T.’s [my partner’s] family made me more aware of social class than I’d been before. I mean, I think I grew up thinking everybody was middle class, and that was just the way things were, and I didn’t give it a whole lot of thought. My parents in general had conservative middle class values, and that definitely had an effect on who I became.
One thing that I’ve struggled with is it seems like that, looking back on it, that the fundamentalist approach or mind‑set or whatever is very suspicious of anything that’s enjoyable. So I think one thing I learned, even though I doubt that that was my parent’s intent, was to be very suspicious of anything that I enjoy doing or anything that’s fun or anything that I like. It’s sort of like life is supposed to be painful and a lot of work and unpleasant, and if it is pleasant then it’s probably something wrong that you shouldn’t be doing anyway. So it’s kind of a catch‑22 there ‑ that, well, I can’t do anything I want to do, because if I want to do it then I shouldn’t be doing it, so … And also just being suspicious of popular culture as a whole, that I think fundamentalists often have a feeling of us vs. them, that fundamentalists see themselves as an oppressed minority, that popular culture is out to undermine their beliefs and to lead them into sin and temptation and stuff like that, so that’s another area where there’s a dualism where outside culture is led by Satan and is out to get you. I think it’s difficult to completely overcome one’s early upbringing, and so that’s still something I struggle with ‑ trying to allow myself to enjoy things and do things that I enjoy without either being perfectionistic about it or feeling like Oh, I can’t do this because it’s fun.
Certainly [fundamentalists] are more literal than more liberal or mainstream or whatever churches, but I think it’s also a matter of degree, where it varies a lot among members of a given church. Definitely, the Church of Christ is very conservative when it comes to the role of women in the church, or what to do about gay people and lesbians. In the Church of Christ it often seems like the issues that they’re arguing about are the same issues that were being argued about 50 years ago or something like that in our culture as a whole. So one wonders if 20 years from now ‑ or 50 years from now ‑ they’ll be arguing about things that are big issues today in society as a whole.
The experience that led to my being baptized ‑ I was really feeling depressed and down and it had been getting worse for weeks, and then when I was at my nadir I did feel like ‑ that there was something with me, comforting me and that I wasn’t completely alone ‑ that experience. On some level that has [stayed with me], but it’s hard with ‑ I think I suffer from perfectionism and a lot of guilt feelings just from my upbringing. The way I live my life now is so far beyond the pale of my upbringing that I think that that’s a big issue for me and I still haven’t figured out how to deal with it. I do [feel like I have inner strength], and I guess that some of that comes from my upbringing, just as far as even if my parents didn’t always ‑ even though I had problems with my relationship with my Dad, I did feel like I was loved and a worthwhile person
In the church of Christ people don’t get baptized until they’re adults, or at least your teens, so typically that happens usually between 11 and 15 or somewhere in there, so I waited until I was I think 15 or 16 before I got baptized, because I definitely didn’t want to rush into it and I wasn’t sure what I thought about it. But finally I decided that I did want to get baptized and I did believe in God and all that good stuff, and so had the baptism service and the church my parents went to was a very small church, and so baptisms didn’t happen all the time, so as it turned out my Dad and I went down to the church and emptied out the baptismal … it’s almost like a little tiny swimming pool or whatever, almost a jacuzzi sized thing, and so we had to empty it out and scrub it out and wash it and fill it up and get everything all set up so I could be baptized. My father actually baptized me.
It was definitely meaningful. It was a good experience I think, and it’s not something I regret having done. I think even back then I was a lot less of a literalist than most of the people. Like there was one guy in the church who I remember one time wanted to engage me in a debate about evolution vs. creationism kind of stuff, and he was definitely in the camp that thought that evolution was ‑ didn’t make any sense, and it was a bad theory, and it went against what the Bible said and blah blah blah, and I remember thinking “What is this guy’s problem? I mean, the Bible wasn’t written to be a scientific document, and if you read it that way, then it doesn’t say how creation happened, it just said that it happened and God intended for it to happen, and there it is. And so I remember even back then thinking, geez, there’s clearly more than one interpretation to things, and that it’s not necessarily threatening that that’s the case. And certainly that wasn’t the view of among all the people that went to the Church of Christ.
I think that getting baptized was pretty significant to me. The whole religious experience and feeling like OK, yes, I do believe in God, yes this is important to me. That kind of thing was pretty significant. I think well into college that that part of my identity was really central and important to me. I think some of [that] changed in college when I intentionally tried to break out a little bit and rebel a little bit from my upbringing. I think in some ways I felt like I was too good a kid, that I was always doing the right thing and not really figuring out who I wanted to be myself, or whatever. I think part of that changed and also eventually coming out as a gay man definitely ‑ although I’d already kind of made a break from the Church of Christ by then, I think that definitely kind of forced the issue, because that’s so far beyond the pale from the Church of Christ that it’s just not reconcilable. I think that it was a gradual process that started …. I’d always been more liberal in my interpretation of what the Bible had to say, feeling OK that there were multiple interpretations for things and that there were different viewpoints for things, all that was true from early on ‑ but I think it was ‑ it started in college that I really tried to create some space between myself and my upbringing, and tried to explore things
I felt like I never knew for sure what I wanted to do, and that was sometimes frustrating. Like my Dad talks about that he knew he wanted to be a doctor from a very early age, and he set out to be a doctor and he was a doctor. That seemed all very straight forward and for me, I felt a lot more like I was in a morass of generalities and well, I could do this, or I could do this, or I could do this. So I got my bachelor’s degree. I majored in Computer Science, English and Psychology and then stopped. The way it worked at my school was that you didn’t ‑ they had concentrations and not majors, so everybody got a Bachelors of Arts degree on graduation no matter what you did. But with special dispensation you could sign up for ‑ if you met all the criteria for more than one concentration you could do that. I was always taking one extra class. So it worked out that I could meet the criteria for these three other things. I just followed the stuff I was interested in. Like the Computer Science one, for example, that was definitely in my last year I figured out that I had almost enough credits and if I took computer science classes my last semester I could finish that, and that turned out to be very lucrative later on, compared to undergraduate English or Psychology degrees. So it all worked out. But I didn’t plan it in advance, I was just taking the courses that interested me. I think I first declared my major to be Psychology, and then I added the English and then I added the Computer Science.
I definitely felt like that it was intellectually really satisfying and stimulating, and I guess at each point in school they always told you in fifth grade that when you get to middle school there are going to be a lot of smart people there and you’re really going to have to work to keep up with your peers, and at the end of middle school they said well, in high school it’s not going to be easy any more, so I think college was the first time I felt like things were fairly challenging and that it was interesting enough to completely hold my attention. I went to a small liberal arts school in North Texas called Austin College. It’s in Sherman, Texas. It has a good reputation in Texas as being one of the main liberal arts schools. I think at the time just didn’t realize that I could basically go wherever I wanted to. It just really didn’t occur to me and also I really hated filling out college applications. I did visit several different college campuses in Texas, and that was
definitely the one that I liked the best. Just the feel of the school. I also think it was good
because you could get individualized instructions and your professors knew who you were and you could get time with them, you weren’t just student number 5,227.
I think one thing that has an effect on me that’s different than people graduating from college now is that when I graduated that was during a recession, and most of my friends got temp work if they were lucky. Otherwise they were unemployed or only employed part time. So there was a real feeling that we’d been told that Oh, when you graduate from college the sky’s the limit and blah blah blah, and then when we got there there just weren’t that many good jobs available. I graduated in ’91. I felt like I lucked out. After [a] psychology job, I got a reasonably well paying programming job. It wasn’t a great job, but certainly I was getting paid a lot more than at least than anyone else that I knew. So I think that the whole feeling that Oh, well that less is a possibility and we might never be as well off as our parents ‑ that that had an effect. Some people talk about being really angry about how Oh, well security may not be there ‑ even though we paid all this money and to me I sort of expect it not to be there, and expect to have to deal with things. I think that’s a very different experience than people graduating right now. Granted there aren’t jobs for everybody, and there are a lot that demand people with certain skills, But I do think it’s a different experience in that it has an effect on people when you get out on your own and suddenly nobody wants to hire you. I feet like I personally was lucky, but my friends and my roommates at the time were really struggling.
Right after I graduated I went to work in a ‑ as a mental health tech at a psychiatric hospital, which is sort of the psychiatric equivalent of an orderly. So I did that for only a few months before I started to run low on money. Then I switched to computer programming just because I couldn’t make ends meet otherwise. I think I still miss some of the personal interaction that might be involved with doing therapy or something like that, but I like [computer science] pretty well, and aspects of it are very rewarding. I think part of [what’s important to me in work] is knowing that I’m doing a good job and getting to solve problems creatively, so I do software development now and it’s important to me to know that I’m doing a good job and that I’m implementing things well and that they’re aesthetically pleasing and that it solves the problem at hand. So a lot of what I get out of work I think is just the feeling of accomplishment, of knowing that I did a good job. I also enjoy interacting with my co‑workers and helping out people at work who are stuck or who need more information, etcetera. One thing I like about my current job is that all the people there are excited about what they’re doing, so it’s not just the daily grind or shuffle in and put in those eight hours and shuffle out.
I think eventually I’ll want to do something else. I think I might want to go back to school and get a psychology degree or something like that. I really don’t want to go back to school to do any more computer science stuff. Just because I find that a little dry past a certain point. So I think that at some point I might really want to go back to school. I might be 50 by the time that happens….
[But the mental health technician] was just not a good job for me. I was assigned to float between units, and that also meant I got to go and put people in restraints whenever people needed to be put in restraints. And I found that gruelling and very wearing too, and it was hard to feel like I had a handle on things and was doing a good job. That was one of the few times in a work situation where I felt like I just wasn’t valued, and that I couldn’t get enough information to do my job well. People just didn’t ‑ there wasn’t any way to know in advance, you just had to do the best you could, and you got yelled at if you did the wrong thing. It was very strange for me. But then I first ran out of money and plus that was around the same time that I got unengaged to my fiancee. That whole experience was really hard on me ‑ that I got unengaged to my fiancee, and she responded by slitting her wrists and calling me and telling me about it. She wasn’t seriously hurt, more along the lines of a suicide gesture than a suicide attempt, but that really tore me up. And then I ran out of money and I wrecked my car and my apartment got broken into. It was just like one bad thing after another. So that year in particular I really was very depressed and I felt like I could just barely keep on going. Things have gotten better since then, but I think it was at that point when I really felt like ‑ I was also living in Dallas, and I didn’t have many friends there, and I felt very isolated. At that point I definitely felt like that I was alone and I had to be responsible for myself.
One thing I learned from that ‑ from 1991 ‑ that I kept going even when there were so many things going wrong in my life, and I did feel like I was forced to feel some spirituality at that point. It might help that [indecipherable] as bad as that year. Things took pretty good in comparison I also think. I think that the expectation [in the fundamentalist church] that things are going to be unpleasant and hard work is sometimes ‑ somewhat helpful because at least one isn’t disappointed, one isn’t expecting it to be easy. But certainly there are down sides to that as well. I definitely felt like in 1991 when my string of ‑ when I ran out of money and changed jobs and blah blah blah ‑ that all that ‑ that it was definitely a lot of self discipline that kept me going. Although in retrospect I wish I had just collapsed for a while and taken a breather.
I came out as being gay a year or two years after that. But that was definitely the point at which I said OK, well clearly I shouldn’t date women any more; that a) I’m not that interested and b) I’m just going to end up hurting them. I’m sort of thankful that my fiancee was such a mess emotionally, otherwise I might have actually married her, and then that would be a worse situation.
I certainly think that given my religious background and upbringing it was really hard for me to come to terms with being gay. That was certainly problematic. And then I just wasn’t motivated in the same way as most of my peers were towards dating. So I did have a few girlfriends, and I was eventually engaged, but that was just ‑ more responding to social pressure and feeling like it was something I should be doing. I did honestly like the girls who were my girlfriends, but there just wasn’t much sexual there. I think that was hard for me. And it was hard ‑ I think at some point I realized I felt like there was something wrong with me because I wasn’t completely girl crazy. And I hadn’t figured out that I was boy crazy or whatever the equivalent is. So that was kind of worrisome at the time, even though I didn’t let myself consciously be aware of it.
I was just beginning to come out [when I left Texas], so I wasn’t out at work in any kind of global sense. I certainly didn’t feel like ‑ I think I felt like that perhaps I could do it, but there would definitely be some kind of social costs involved. That I didn’t think I would be fired, or that I would be treated badly, but I think that at the very least there would be a period of social adjustment and people didn’t know how to act around me and was I still the same person. But I think just in general in Texas people are less accepting of it. Even if they’re tolerant they’re not accepting. They may put up with it, but it’s not like here [the Northeast] where it’s just like some minorly interesting personal eccentricity‑, and that it’s fine with people, they don’t particularly care. But in Texas it’s more of a big deal than that. Some of the differences [between Texas and the Northeast] are because I live in Cambridge, and that’s a very liberal place to begin with, and I think that large cities are more accepting of diversity and gay people anyway. But I think part of it is regional in that fundamentalists play a much bigger part in the culture in Texas and some people are going to be less accepting.
J.T. and I met through work, actually. And we met in the company cafeteria in Waltham, when I was working on a two week project [in the area]. And he looked at me and smiled at me over the salad bar. I thought Oh, well, that was nice and I didn’t think a whole lot more about it, and then he followed me out of a company meeting a few days later and was like smiling at me in the elevator while I was talking with a friend of mine, and I thought Hmm, I wonder who that guy is. And anyway, eventually I tracked him down and sent him e‑mail about being gay and Christian, and do you want to have lunch ‑ I had read some of his questions on one of the company mailing lists …. so I think there were several things that attracted me to J.T., but part of it was definitely that he was so comfortable with being gay and so clearly OK with that, and yet still had ‑ he hadn’t sacrificed his beliefs or a religious side in his life, and I found that attractive and I thought he was cute physically too.
[These days], I do go to the church J. T. goes to, it’s an Episcopalian church and it’s fairly gay‑friendly, but I still find myself struggling with if I were a serious Christian then I would be doing more. I haven’t actually been in a while, and I sort of feel like I’m just taking a break from things, but I think that’s a difficult area for me, because on some level I feel like my upbringing is too much with me, and I feel like it’s ‑ just sort of a hard time reconciling being gay and being Christian, and also a less extreme approach to Christianity than the one with which I was raised.
I feel like I’ve been given a lot as far as ‑ and this is entirely off the subject but you talk to some people like my friend John who was one of my roommates in Dallas who was so angry that he graduated from college and wasn’t able to find a job and so he just felt like that the straight white men were the oppressed minority, and that everybody was out to get him and stuff like that and you talk to some gay people and they feel the same way about being gay, that that makes them the self‑righteously angry, empowered victim for the rest of their lives, and anything that happens to them is unfair, and whatever. I guess I just feel like I’ve been, in general very lucky with ‑ that my parents paid for my education, and I came from a good solid home and I have access to a lot of things a lot of people haven’t had access to, so I guess I feel very lucky for all those things. All those things that I’ve been given. And I do feel lucky that I was at the right place at the right time to find a good job soon after school and that I really got a good education. So in most ways I feel very privileged and lucky.
I still feel like I’m struggling with a lot of issues and trying to reconcile things that I haven’t been able to ‑ so I don’t feel particularly at peace with myself I think that […] I’m still struggling with being too critical and being too negative about things. I think it’s hard for me to see the positive aspects of myself and give myself credit for the positive things I’ve accomplished and the positive aspects of myself. Right now I feel like I’m so caught up in that struggle that it’s hard to take a step back and be very objective about myself I definitely feel like I’m certainly a lot more accepting of the fact that I’m gay and feeling OK in many ways about that part of myself. I also feel that my world view is certainly a lot more complex than it was when I was very young and I like to think a lot more complex than my father’s world view. Just as far as we were talking about before about there being a multiplicity of different views and that different people have different perspectives, and not everybody has the same perspective, shockingly enough. And that you can’t always ‑ I think in some ways I thought if all people could just understand each other then there wouldn’t be any conflict or anything like that, but I don’t think it’s that simple anymore ‑ that two people can understand one another’s view and still be locked in conflict, even understanding the other’s perspective, so I think it’s more complex and more mixed than maybe I thought it was.
[In terms of important choices], I think as I said before deciding to get baptized was really important, and also just choosing where I went to school ‑ that my life certainly would have been a lot different if I’d gone to [indecipherable] Christian University, which is the Christ university. I did [consider that], but not for very long. I decided that wouldn’t have been a good place for me. And also deciding to come out I think, was clearly really important deciding that I’m not straight, I’m gay, and there it is. And that still brought up other issues that I’m still struggling with, but on the other hand I feel like that was such a relief to not be fighting against that part of myself and to make the first steps toward accepting that part of myself as well.
I think it’s always a hard question [whether I have made any mistakes in my life] because to me that’s a lot like asking if you have any regrets, and well, even the mistakes I’ve made contributed to the person I am now so it’s hard to separate things out and think Oh I wish I’d done this and I wish I’d done that. Clearly I’ve, looking back I wish I had been less enmeshed with my fiancee, that I’d been able to see dangerous times earlier on that I’d been honest with myself earlier about being gay ‑ but I do feel like I was doing the best I knew how to do at the time. If you make mistakes, you make mistakes. Hopefully they weren’t [indecipherable].
I may be fortunate or I may be unfortunate but I have to deal with it either way but I don’t expect life’s gonna be fair and deal with things as they come up These days the biggest challenge has been trying to reconcile my upbringing and my self‑criticalness and try and not let that completely control my fife so that I’m able to do things that I enjoy doing without feeling guilty about them and also able to express my feelings without feeling too constrained or too self critical or too negative.
I think something I’m still learning about myself that’s fairly central, is self acceptance and that that’s something that I’m still figuring out and re‑learning in different parts of my life.