Mapping the Swamp: Charting Sodom in 2018

Veronese, Lot & Daughters Fleeing Sodom
The dawn of 2018 marks twenty years since a life-changing event that changed me from obnoxiously pro-gay to staunchly pro-chastity. To draw from an overused allegory, I would like to say I fled Sodom twenty years ago. You see, on January 2, 1998, I was rushed into surgery in a Bronx hospital, about a mile from the apartment I lived in. I had a cancerous tumor that was severely malignant. Rushed into emergency operative care, I experienced a level of pain greater than anything I had ever felt prior. The vicious nurses, whose faces I will never forget, hounded me until I agreed to be discharged. They threatened to prevent my father from seeing me if I did not leave the ambulatory recovery hall and go home. I do not know why they were so determined not to admit me to the hospital for recovery, but I left. It was exceedingly cold that night and my apartment was a fifth-floor walk-up I barely reached.

I was twenty-seven years old. Up until that time in my life, I had never had any strong inkling that homosexuality was wrong. I called myself homosexual though I had known since the beginning that I felt strong attractions toward women. Membership in the gay community, even back then, brought with it certain advantages: shortcuts to jobs, fabulous if not glamorous social events, easy sex, endless wit and diversion. By 1998 I had made peace with the physical act between two men, which I never came to like very much. I used poppers and got myself extremely drunk to get through it, trying wherever possible to avoid the most unpleasant act of them all. 


My radical left-wing family, full of Marxists and contrarian intellectuals, loved having gay and lesbian friends. A gay brother was somewhat challenging because there were moments when the darkness and evil in the gay community came into view through a brother's experience, in ways that would not happen through a friend's experience. I had gotten sick and hurt, once needing to beg for money from siblings because of things going wrong in my world. But for the most part, they applauded homosexuality and me as long as I spared them the details of what I was really doing in the gay life. My religious communities had never been very pious, always wholesome liberal Catholics who preached about helping the poor and fighting injustice, never about chastity or sin.

All that changed in January 1998, because I realized that in immersing myself among homosexuals, I had denied myself membership in any functional community. Many gays I met during my days in homosexuality were undoubtedly good people, but they acted horribly because that was the reality of the world in which we lived. Everyone was distracted and determined to live by unwritten rules about what gay men should and should not do. Gay men should work out, be trim and muscular, be sociable and funny, host parties, and maintain a self-sufficient prosperity so that nobody has to be troubled by anxieties or guilt. Gay men should not be needy, express loneliness, fall into envy or resentment, bother others with their problems, or voice any doubts about whether this Sodom in which we lived was really perhaps diseased and dangerous. Drugs and HIV surrounded us but we had a whole language of euphemisms to deal with overdose, death, and addiction without troubling people. Goodness existed inside these people's hearts, but it was buried under layers of fluff and silliness. Gay life was fun because it was so shallow and empty, so untroubled by the doldrums of domesticity, nagging, or judgment.

Or at least that is what I thought. Even though the paragraph above sounds vacuous, even dystopian, it held a charm to me and many others...as long as we did not collapse. The cancer caused a collapse of sorts. I had to go on sick leave from Nickelodeon and faced months of difficult recovery. After January 2, the doctors determined that there was a 33% chance that the cancer cells had spread through my lymphatic system into my lungs and other organs. A sweeping procedure that would involve me being on life support and having massive removal of lymph tissue was one option. The only other option was waiting for the January 2 scars to heal, and going through life with a 33% chance of death.

Gay people completely abandoned me. Not just the gay men, the lesbians too. The "trannies" did too. Nobody came to visit me. My roommate moved out to stay with his boyfriend so he wouldn't be troubled by all my baggage and sorrows. Both he and his boyfriend had contracted HIV and were struggling with poor health, in addition to fighting because each claimed the other infected him. I lay alone each day in a bare apartment in the Bronx, looking up at three framed sketches that comprised the only decor: one of Aretha Franklin, one of Gloria Estefan, and one of Alanis Morissette. It was the 90s.

I decided to transfer my medical care to Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo. It was an emotional gamble for a number of reasons. I had grown up in Buffalo but left as a teenager, when my mother died. My relationship to the gay community in Buffalo was bound to be complicated because my mother, now eight years deceased, had practiced medicine and had done a lot of work with gay and lesbian patients. She herself had been in a relationship with the same woman for my entire childhood. Her partner was warm and kind but had children of her own. I knew that if I tried too hard to lean on my mother's lover, it would strain matters. But my father was in Buffalo. It made sense for me to go there.

So I went up to Buffalo. I said farewell to New York City. My next surgery was in early April, 1998, a daunting procedure that would require me to walk around with hundreds of staples in me for weeks. Brought to live with my father and grandmother, I found quiet solace talking to my "Lola" (Filipino for grandma) and looking through her carefully preserved photo albums. History came alive in the photographs she collected and collated. My grandfather had died in 1955 but Lola never remarried, still speaking of him with all the love and devotion she might have shown as a young bride. My cousins, aunts, and uncles on my father's side were not quite like my mother's relatives. They pulled together and helped one another. They did not have the cold barriers and bouts of alienation that afflicted my sibling relationships. 

They were what a family should be like. In fact, they were like families that existed everywhere based on an old, true model: a man courts a woman, marries her, makes children with her, and keeps a list of obligations to provide for his wife and offspring. As simple and unadorned as that was, it was beautiful. And it was something that would not exist where there were homosexuals.

My fondness grew for the father I'd never been close to. I had no memories of his being in the house I grew up in, as a child, but now all that history seemed to be washed away. Something changed dramatically inside me as I had rare moments when my father told me I made him proud. I'd never put much stock in such patriarchal ritual, but now it mattered. I knew my brother was the apple of his eye and nothing could change that. My brother had grown up in a close relationship to my dad and had, in many ways, performed the role of son better than I could have when we were children. But I asked my father, was it true that I made him proud? Even back then, when I was a child? It meant a great deal when my father said yes, he was proud of my accomplishments in high school. Even though I was a poor athlete (which was important to my father) and never cut a presentable figure back in the 1980s, my father was happy that I had made good grades and become something of a leader to my peers.

The vice president who oversaw me at Nickelodeon was fairly surprised when I told him I was going to resign and register for graduate school at SUNY Buffalo. This too was a gamble but I assumed I had almost nothing to lose by living with my dad and grandmother and taking literature classes. I was not really set on becoming a professor but I had always loved languages and literature, so this felt like a reasonable plan. The incoming Master's students in the fall of 1998 included people I generally liked (though I have lost contact with all of them). While I hobbled about, still recovering from the cancer, I plunged into the richness of the literature I had always loved. Without the daily hustle of gay New York, just within the quiet of study in my dad's house, I enjoyed new silences. I felt something lifting from me. I began to wonder much more acutely what God wanted from me.

On Main Street, heading toward Transit Road, there was a glass chapel, open 24 hours a day, full of candles and a statue of a Catholic saint. Sometimes I wonder if it is still there. Often I would drive down there, no matter the weather, at the late hours. I would go at two in the morning, and kneel before the candles. Visions filled my head during those hours and stories came to me, which I channeled into my own unpublished creative writing. It worried me that I did not know whether it was God or a demon filling my mind, but I felt stirred and driven. The female beauty of the saint in her porcelain robes would call me to reflect on the Catholics' fascination with Mary. The thought occurred to me on one such night, women had always been there. I had been scared, nervous, tongue-tied around women, because I'd been told by everyone I was destined to be gay since I was an early teen. But that did not change the fact that women were part of the world, and most importantly, part of God's plan.

Open your heart to them, I heard. See the beauty that is there before you. In 1999, I looked up one day in a seminar and realized a beautiful woman was sitting across from me. She had come from a faraway country and knew nothing of the cultural markers that would have given away my "gay" identity before. One day, she asked if I could help her with some of her studies. We got to talking and my heart felt open to her. Her gaze revealed a sense of longing. I felt it. It made me nervous and scared, but I did not flee from it. A harsh winter descended onto Buffalo as Thanksgiving approached. Knowing she had nobody to spend Thanksgiving with, I invited her to come to my family's house for dinner.

She came with a Japanese friend, her roommate, another graduate student. My Filipina grandmother, still remembering the war she'd suffered through, made a few unkind remarks to the Japanese friend. I offered to drive the girls back to their apartment. In their apartment, filled with wine, I lost my inhibitions. I made my move. I let myself fall in love. We have been together now for nineteen years.

Not long after we first connected romantically, I became reckless and bought two airline tickets for me and her to fly to Los Angeles. We stayed with an old college friend and fell deeper in love as we saw the sights of California. Not long after that, we were engaged. And we married soon after.

When I reflect on how it all happened, I often find the sequence of events that began twenty years ago mysterious. How did it all happen? How did such a change happen in me? Later I felt the call from God that I had to bear witness to the mercy the Lord showed me in delivering me out of homosexuality into the happy life I have now. Yet even when I went public with my story, after I had already become a father, I still felt grave doubts about what my witness meant. Could I fairly advise other men to get out of homosexuality? Did it make sense for me to tell them to do what worked for me?

All these doubts darkened my witness at first once I came forward as a professor and scholar. But the darkness has gradually withdrawn for one simple reason: I know what my witness is. My witness is in the Bible, in the story of Sodom.

Everything written in scripture testifies to the glory of the Almighty God. Each letter of every word is in scripture for a reason. It is not casual coincidence that the story of Sodom stands above other tragic or doomed cities for the graphic detail and narrative intricacy, as well as the totality of God's destruction. Nineveh and Babylon carry a great deal of meaning in the Bible but neither was utterly "consumed" in fire the way Sodom was. While Joshua's accounts indicate that God directed the Israelites to eviscerate whole cities, none of those cities matches Sodom's recurring eloquence as a symbol.

In my recent devotionals, I stumbled upon something that I don't recall other people having noticed. So I share it here. Sodom is not only "mapped" into the scriptures in Genesis 19. It comes before and is constantly invoked after Genesis 19. In Genesis 14, there is a striking mention of Abram's military service to the King of Sodom during a complicated war. Abram wanted to save his nephew Lot. Many kings are warring and Abram must fight for Sodom in order to save his nephew. But after the war has been won for Sodom, the King of Sodom asks Abram what he might give him to repay him for his military service. Abram says that he does not want even one sandal strap or anything from the King of Sodom, lest anyone say that Sodom made Abram rich. 

Even before the gut-wrenching sexual drama of Genesis 19, we see that Sodom's problem is well-known and obvious to Abram even in this earlier juncture. Melchizedek has appeared just before this exchange in Genesis 14, stating that Abram was blessed by the God most high. So Abram, having received a certain blessing by God, states that he cannot be tied in any way to the King of Sodom. We know, in Genesis 18, that Abraham does not necessarily assume everyone living in Sodom is as polluted and evil as the king is. In Genesis 18, Abraham bargains with God, begging him to spare Sodom, first asking if God will spare the city should there be fifty good men. Then the minimum of good men goes down until all that is needed are ten good men, and the city of Sodom will be spared.

Both Genesis 14 and Genesis 18 reveal clues about the meaning of the Sodom story, which I fear people have missed. Taken together, the two accounts show us that Abraham, working with God's blessing and a deep relationship with God, differentiates between the leadership and the people of Sodom. The corruption depicted in the Sodom story is at first catalogued, economically, such that the depravity of the leadership might not extend to the people.

But then in Genesis 19, we see that even if only the king of Sodom was corrupted at first, now the failure of the common people of Sodom to resist the corruption has corrupted all of them. In this state of total social failure, God has no choice but to eliminate everybody touched by Sodom's sin. The need for complete dissociation is driven home, of course, by the fact that Lot's wife is turned into a pillar of salt for looking back at Sodom. The mere fact that she would feel any loyalty or affection toward people so thoroughly degraded and unholy implies that she is unfit to survive the destruction of the city. 

As I was doing my devotionals this past year, I spent quite a bit of time reflecting on the statements in Ezekiel 16, where Sodom appears plentifully as a trope. Ezekiel prophesies that a time would come when Sodom would be restored to its former power and prosperity. Why? Apparently, to shame Israel and Samaria. It would be God's way of saying, "look, even this evil people you have always used as a byword, is prosperous and rich, and I will make you see it, because I am so furious with you."

There is so much to say on Sodom and the many other references to it in the Bible, so I will spend several "Mapping the Swamp" entries on a careful examination of Sodom. But at least one important angle on Sodom revealed itself to me when I contemplated my own history with homosexuality.

There are many pro-gay heretics who wish to uncouple homosexuality from the Sodom story. Sometimes they do this by making the problem rape but not necessarily same-sex rape, or they say that the Sodomite homosexuality is not the same as homosexuality today, or they point to Ezekiel 16 and highlight that Ezekiel says explicitly, "the problem of Sodom was that it was haughty and full of surplus, she cared not for the poor and was inhospitable."

But it finally became clear to me that homosexuality is infused throughout all of these problems. I was immersed in a homosexual world, where nobody could ever doubt or question the rather preposterous supposition that men sodomizing each other was normal and even good. The sex act between two men is objectively horrendous. It is repulsive, unclean, unpleasing, and violent by nature. I loaded myself on drugs and alcohol, possibly triggering cancer (I'll never know), in order to convince myself that this sex act was good and it was who I was.

But God created men and women for each other. Male bodies cannot consummate sex with each other, no matter how visually appealing two men might find each other. When a man sees a handsome man and wants to have sex with him, this is like a person seeing a delicious food to which he is fatally allergic. The sex act, which nobody wants to talk about, is degrading. The degradation becomes all-consuming because it is a lie at the center of one's life, and more and more of one's life must be structured around maintaining this lie. Social relationships are suddenly rerouted or restructured so that the "homosexual" can avoid confronting the reality that what he does is disgusting.

This is what I saw in the gay world I was immersed in. People were not nice. People were not loving. The relationships were turbulent and often cruel. And to replace authentic kindness and mutual pleasure, people turned to other forms of status so that they could win partners and influence. They became very focused on money, looks, luxury, popularity. They became hostile to anyone from outside their world looking in and questioning or criticizing. So the various Sodom stories fit together like a puzzle.

It makes sense that Sodom became utterly degraded and irredeemable as men became more open about having sex with each other. Even someone like Lot, who was not, it seems, engaged in this activity, abetted and excused it. We know because his daughters were engaged to men who were among the crowd seeking to rape the male visitors in Lot's house. Those who say Genesis 19 is really about rape miss some of the nuances. The Sodomites surrounding Lot's house were insisting on Lot bringing his male guests out for the crowd to see. There is an invasive and totalitarian nature to their desires. They cannot brook any dissent from their culture of depravity. They ask whether the visitors have "come to play the judge." Why? They know that anyone in the city who questions what they do might unravel their entire social order simply by pointing out that their abuse of each other's bodies is revolting. Let us presume that many of the men in the crowd did not necessarily want to have sex with these two men--after all, how could they all sleep with them, logistically, in one night? Their presence in the crowd, as a crowd, does not necessarily imply that all of them wanted to engage in such sex, but it does indicate that all of them approved of such sex and wanted to virtue-signal to peers that they would not object to such things happening.

It makes sense that Abraham would insist on having no financial ties to this society at all, and would be eager to get Lot out of the city. Because their need to drag everybody into complicity with their disgusting behavior is so all-encompassing, there is no careful way to bargain or strike compromises with Sodom. Their sin is unique because it requires complete eradication after a certain point. We see in Romans 1, Paul's description of a slow descent by way of homosexuality into complete and total depravity. Perhaps in Genesis 14 Sodom was not yet totally beyond salvaging. By Genesis 19 there is no hope, for not even ten good men stand in the entire city.

This does not mean that not even ten heterosexuals lived in Sodom. It does mean that one could not find even ten heterosexuals who were not pro-homosexual. 

And that is a bad sign for today's gay community. For even between 1998 and 2018, I can see how this community has changed. I can remember when I felt unhappy in the gay life but I did not feel the need to combat the gay community. I remember a time when I was unhappy but I did not worry that everyone in the gay community was as unhappy as I was. I was certain that they could carry on, even flourishing, without dragging other people into problems.

By now, however, the gay community is not what it was for my mother's generation. It has morphed from a gay community into a pro-LGBT community, which is actually the entire country. Homosexuality has Sodom-ated the United States. And the invasive, brutal, violent, and uncharitable nature of the gay community is now the political totalitarianism that threatens to destroy the country's frail social order. Like the men of Sodom surrounding a house lest two men sleep inside the city walls without being available and approving, the LGBT community invades institution after institution to "out" new prospects, brainwash them that they must be gay, ban any counseling or means for them to veer out of homosexuality, and expel and punish anyone who disagrees.

We have become Sodom. I have been a witness to the gradual collapse of what might have been defensible about gay life in the 1990s. There was a time when that lifestyle was full of mutual support. People tried to be loving and identified with whoever was vulnerable and downtrodden. Those days are gone now. What we have now is a pro-LGBT political sphere that is abusive, cruel, and swollen with riches.

This is, I believe, the Lord's mercy in an unexpected way. Just as Ezekiel tells Israel and Samaria that Sodom would rise and shame them with her ill-begotten prosperity again, so we have seen all of society given a chance by God to prove themselves faithful servants to Christ. The rise of a new Sodom with worse tyrannies than the original city helps believers like me to see why we must be like Abraham and allow no compromise. There is no negotiating with homosexuality because it is utterly unsustainable and encompassing. To perpetuate itself it must create a culture full of cruelty, repression, and intimidation. 

I have seen, over the last twenty years, the stark prophecies of Sodom come true once more. I have had to abandon all my 1990s friends, not just the gay ones. All of them touched by pro-gay tolerance are insufferable now. Even when I tried to strike a balance, to say, "my story is my story," they could not accept that. Some made gestures of support on those terms, but when the vicious LGBT activists came after me and my job, none of those pro-gay friends would stand up for me or stand with me. Not one. 

I will reflect on this more in upcoming weeks. The Swamp we fight is vast and extends beyond "Sodom," but Sodom is a huge part of it and needs a lot of careful analysis of its own.

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