(The following is an excerpt from the memoirFWD March: Living in a World of Music and Motionby ;Blue Devils Drum and Bugle Corps choreographer and coordinator George Scott Chandler, pictured left.)
My refuge was always the music department. The junior high school band director was a wise gentlemanly figure named Herman Scott. He was respectful, taught us well, and genuinely cared for all his students. He would clarify his proclamation that we were acting like fools in our moments of noisy rambunctiousness. He would, in his dignity, let us know that he meant fools with a "ph," not fools with an "f." He was not going to let any moment lower his standards of respect for any human being, no matter the age, and somehow this ever-so-slight change of lettering altered the implication.
The music program would keep me in school throughout my education and I would bet there are a multitude of students all around the world who could say the same. Band, and particularly marching band for me, provided a place to reside as part of a team. I could express my talents, my enjoyment--and the discipline of this particular focus worked well for me. Even with the conflicts, music would keep me showing up for school each and every day. The safety of the music programs I experienced also allowed me to explore the art and theatre departments. It broadened my horizons, gave me dreams and began to offer me a method by which to learn how to control myself. It guided me to new parts of the library and as a result, the world outside my hometown. I could dream of other places. I could dream of theatre, or dance, or painting. It became my realization that no matter how some people were attacking me throughout my daily existence that there was a forward motion taking me somewhere beyond.
I proceeded one foot in front of the other.
My freshmen and sophomore years of high school were revolving more and more around church and religion. I was becoming more aware of myself and even though I didn't fully understand what being gay meant I was certainly aware of my feelings. So I retreated into church and its many activities. For some reason I never suffered at our own church, even though I'm sure the judgment existed. In addition to uncles that were pastors, I would witness some church members that I still consider truly spiritual, caring, genuine examples of what our religion professed.
I prayed nightly, as so many people have, to be delivered from my so-called "affliction." I knew that if I was diligent and disciplined that all these thoughts and feelings would disappear. Until, that is, several of us decided to attend a weeklong revival/workshop for teenagers at one of the larger local churches.
The Life Action Singers came to town and after a fee, provided us with a workbook and a series of lessons each day -- and we were allowed to miss school for the week. One particular day we entered the church sanctuary to the music of Elton John. I was immediately thrilled. Were they actually going to approve of this secular music that I obviously enjoyed? Were they going to embrace some kind of youthful exuberance from the outside world? Was thisOK that we listened to this? Of course we all did anyway. Well, nothing could be further from the truth. That day's emphasis became a bully pulpit that would proclaim our wrongful ways and the perils of popular music. And it did not stop there. At one point the evangelical speaker, full of stereotypical fire and brimstone, made an unforgettable statement.
"... I know some of you are homosexuals. I can see it on your faces. Your faces are red right now because you know I'm talking about you!"
I was mortified. I was totally horrified, ashamed, and degraded. Here I was, amid my unspoken struggle, sitting among some of the very same people who had made my life a living hell, listening to an authority figure supposedly speaking the word of God and throwing the biggest stone at me. Could this be right? Is this kind of public humiliation really what being a Christian is about? I couldn't move. My stomach pain returned. And I was flooded with the very guilt that this inane egomaniacal bigot had desired. My face is so red right now. I was crushed and it was building up inside of me. At the end of the sermon the offer was made, as is common, for members of the congregation to come forward and get guidance and counseling in the choir room behind the baptismal pool. Different teens, for a multitude of reasons I'm sure, made their way down the aisle to the back where the counselors waited. I finally gave in. I made my way to the strains of the music specifically designed to provoke this kind of response. Theatre anyone? I made my way to the choir room and collapsed into a chair and began to cry. Everything from the past and the present was manifesting in my anguish. I was a ball of confusion. I looked at the counselors, some consoling other teenagers, some waiting with Bibles in hand, and I glanced at a clock on the wall through my hands as I sat alone and cried. I sobbed and knew that one way or another this was going to be a release.
No one ever came over. I waited.It was half an hour to forty-five minutes, but it felt much longer when
I finally looked around the room to discover that there were still some of these so-called disciples talking among themselves.
Not one of them ever came over.
Let the swearing begin. Don't repeat what you were really thinking. I was angry. My life changed that day. My thoughts about God, or a higher power,or the universe, or whatever this thing is that is bigger than all of us, did NOT change one bit. But that very moment would begin my journey, as difficult as it can be, to aspire to just be a better version of myself. I may not have known what I was feeling, but I knew that I was worth more than this kind of treatment. And I knew that whatever God is, God made me just as I am.
And I am not alone.
Excerpt from the memoir FWD March: Living in a World of Music and Motion by George Scott Chandler. Available now in paperback and Kindle editions at Amazon. Follow him on Twitter @schandler13.