A Note To My Seventeen-Year-Old Self
17-year-old me was in a lot of pain, was about to face hell on earth, but unconditional love found its way and liberated my heart.
On RuPaul’s drag race, the final contestants for the season finale stand in front of Momma Ru and asked a question while she holds up a photo of them as kids, “What would you say to (insert age)-year-old you?” When they answer, it gets me every single time. Their pain, joy, innocence, hardship, and eventual success are inspiring. To know that kid in the photo went through some hell is difficult to imagine. But seeing their success and resilience as adults is encouraging.
I have, up until starting to write my memoir, always stayed as far away from that exercise as I possibly can.
The above photo is my Senior High School photo, taken 37 years ago in 1986. I was 17 at the time. By that time, I was being physically and/or emotionally abused daily. I totaled a car (rolling/flipping it three times), lived through many other traumas and hardships, plus sneaking into gay bars (fake ID), and
dating being sexually assaulted by a 36-year-old. My naive, traumatized brain thought I was in love. But nowadays, we know what was happening, and the 36-year-old was a statutory rapist; our last night we spent together, I tried to stop him, but he wouldn’t. My learned helplessness kicked in, and it was horrific. I couldn’t admit this to myself until I acknowledged how it affected my sex life (deep down, FEAR and dread of sex) after coming out—still trying to process that.
Young Randy in the photo above would be thrown out of the house in February of the following year for being gay. I would be homeless and transient for the next two. I would abuse too many substances and make bad decisions at the bars at every chance I got. I would also have sex with men to get drugs or a bed to sleep in if they let me stay.
I would eventually try to numb the nightmare with religion and get caught up in the “exgay” world. I went from being a traumatized gay teen to a traumatized religious zealot. I was in the stained-glass closet but flying first class on Delta. I went from eating throw away food at a convenience store I worked at, to lobbying face-to-face with Senators, Congressional Reps, and the White House. I was part of “secret” religious-right meetings in DC, speaking all over North America and Great Britain. I would go from not knowing how to balance a checkbook and living out of my car to being the Vice President of a non-profit overseeing a staff of twenty-four (paid and volunteer) people.
Until coming out in 2015, my whole life was lived, experiencing a myriad of hate-filled efforts to try to divorce me from who I truly am… including myself. Along with my abusers, I became my worst enemy by accepting The Gospel According to Conversion Therapy. It became so engrained I started promoting that toxic ideology to others, and becoming a pariah to the LGBTQ+ community.
At 45, I would suggest, support, and help close down that organization because of tragedy opening my eyes (among many other factors) to the truth it was all a sham. I think anyone who has lost someone they love to mental illness (suicide) will relate to the dynamic that causes within to do a gut-wrenching deep soul reckoning. The loved one’s death challenges everything you believe in. Eventually, as a result, I came out of the stained-glass closet at age forty-seven, thirty years after that first photo above.
Now, instead of being in a constant state of fear, anxiety, and self-loathing. I am at peace and deeply in love with my husband, daughter, furkids, family, and chosen family. I am surrounded by the best friends a man can have.
So, I would say to 17-year-old me, don’t let other people’s hate and your own existential fear lead and define you. However, trust that inner “knowing” and be true to your passions. You will be tempted to get the attention and admiration you are desperate for in the wrong places. Don’t be fooled by praise for a version of you that, at your core, you know is inauthentic. You have a good, passionate heart. When you find your voice, don’t let it read someone else’s script or sing someone else’s song. And once you come out, stay out. Your love for the Divine will be stronger outside the church closet. The nightmares you experience will fade, and eventually, your dreams of love and family will come true: to know and be known for your true self; you will love and be loved. So don’t let your fear of the future define your present.
You can trust in unconditional love. It does exist even though you have yet to experience it.
Beyond The Stained-Glass Closet by Randy Scobey is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.