For much of his life, Greg Chapman felt less than fully human. But when he stopped judging himself against other people’s beliefs, Chapman found a new acceptance of himself and a stronger bond with God.
What do I believe? That the stories I tell myself shape my truth, my soul and my life. I was raised to be a good Baptist and to be a patriotic American. I was raised to believe Catholics were idol-worshippers, liberals were communists and that black and white never mixed. God filled the background, ready to condemn me into Hell. God saw everything bad about me, knew every wayward thought. I was born with original sin — I had no chance. At the same time, being a white American provided me a sense of privilege, of being one of the “better” people.
As I grew older, I began to struggle with my sexuality. Every day I battled against demons driving me to impurity. I resisted and then I would succumb to unholy thought. I came to believe that I was an abomination, a thing hated by God. In search of a wife, I tried a dating service. Defeated, I waited for someone to take pity and love me. The idea of faking who I was to satisfy others turned my stomach. I came to believe that if I punished myself enough that God would show mercy and cure me of my wrongness.
I drove myself deep into depression. I remember my Bible group talking about how they kicked someone out for refusing to stop being gay. My blood chilled and my heart hiccupped. I remember my family asking me what was wrong with me. Why wasn’t I dating? My sense of being less than fully human festered. I stopped going to church. I gave up on ever being loved. By age 35, I had no more than a few hugs as the lifetime sum of my physical intimacy. My skin cried in deprivation. I had no hope except that one day things might improve if I endured. And then they did.
I started to change the basic stories of my life: that I’m bad, alienated from God, a freak of nature. I started to love myself and to believe the Divine did so as well. As that belief strengthened through the repetition of story, I began to love others and I was loved back. The racism I grew up with faded. The more I loved myself, the more beauty I saw in everyone else. The more I healed, the more I viewed the Bible and all of our great myths as stories told by others, and I looked more and more to my heart to find the right one for me.
In six months, I joined with my life partner of five years and counting, became an Episcopalian, and replanted my political beliefs. And this I believe: the right story is the one that helps me to love myself the most, to create the most, to love others and to support them in their creations. For it is for those awesome experiences that I believe we are here. So I’m gay. And now, after decades of struggle, I tell a good story about it.
Greg Chapman lives a few miles from the Houston hospital where he was born. A corporate tax accountant by profession, Chapman also enjoys writing and is working on a novel. He says composing his essay was a healing experience because it helped him explore the defining moments of his life.
Independently produced for NPR by Jay Allison and Dan Gediman with John Gregory and Viki Merrick. Photo by Nubar Alexanian.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.