A note before you read this: I do not mention names or names of places in my posts for a reason. Please don’t ask me for such details. While this was one of the worst times of my life, I do not wish ill-will on the church mentioned or its clergy. They have blessed a lot of people. Their way works for a lot of people, and I accept that… but it did not work for me. I can only pray that their minds and hearts be opened should they encounter more autistic, or LGBT people.
Enter my freshman year of high school. I had become the sound crew chief in the drama department, I also ran sound for all of the choir concerts and assemblies. I was getting good grades. I had a lot of friends and I thought I had found my niche in the world. I had a very influential teacher who taught me more in one year than all of my other teachers through my school career ever had. She didn’t teach me math, reading, or science. She taught me how to be a functioning member of society, and the only reason she could get through to me was because she could speak my language.
In the autism presentations I give, I emphasize strongly how important it is to learn an autistic person’s language, use their highly focused interests to make them interested in school work. For example, I speak sound. I understand things in technical sound engineering terms. Talk to me about emotions, innuendo and social cues, I’ll be completely lost. The aforementioned teacher told me once while I was having a very bad day, “OK, view the world around you as various channels of input. Sometimes, you get a bad signal and you have to fix it.” Suddenly, it all made sense. I was able to understand the “life gives you lemons” teaching for the first time, and it didn’t stop there.
At the end of my freshman year, I was running sound for the Baccalaureate service, after which a local church was providing lunch for the teachers as a thank you for several years’ use of the auditorium some time back. The woman serving the lunch was a heavily involved member of the church, and told me that her church needed help with sound. Having already had bad experiences with church sound, I shrugged it off and went about my business tearing down so I could get home and get some rest before finals the next day. The following week, I was asked to run sound for the dance team’s summer camp. It was something to do, and got me out of a non-air-conditioned upstairs bed room for a few hours in the heat of July. On my way home, I stood at the bus stop and waited. Something in me decided to give the church lady a chance. The church itself was two blocks up from the high school, so I walked.
Upon entering, I was instantly recognized by the lady from the lunch, who greeted me with a friendly smile and a handshake before introducing me to the lead sound guy. I was expecting some half-deaf old fart. The guy that walked into the lobby was a short, skinny dude full of tattoos and piercings, wearing a punk band shirt and girls’ flare-bottom jeans. I remember thinking to myself, “OK. This could work.”
The guy led me up to the sound booth to show me the system. Now, a lot of people don’t believe in love at first sight. For an objectum-sexual person, it’s especially rare, but the moment I laid eyes upon that broad, dial-laden control panel, my heart sang. I’ll never forget the joy I felt. That soundboard and I had an instant connection, a bond that I thought could never be broken. In a few weeks’ time, I became one of the top three engineers at that church, working over 40 hours a week. They told me they accepted me. This church was different. People wore regular street clothes, the musicians were hardcore rockers, and the pastor wore jeans on stage. These people would never turn their backs on me.
Love does stupid things to people. I opened my heart to the people, and trusted them with things I had never told another human being. I told them of the overwhelming joy that they had given me by introducing me to the love of my life. I told them how I thanked God everyday for their organization. I told them of my gender identity issues. I even told them of my strong belief in animism, and my objectum-sexuality. When I looked at that soundboard, when I watched her meters sway to the beat of inspiring, uplifting music… you ever get that feeling where your stomach tickles, and tears of joy come to your eyes? That feeling where your feet feel funny, and for a brief moment all of time stands still? That was how I felt when I was with her, and that was my greatest undoing.
It was the first week of school, the same week of my birthday. That Sunday, I was asked to be a part of a service called “Drop your Rocks”. In it, the pastor had eight people up on stage representing eight different things that people judge the most. Each person in the congregation had a small stone under their seat, and was asked to lay the stone at the foot of the person who represented that which they’d judged most in their lives. I was labelled “Different”. Throughout each of the six identical services, people hugged me, loved on me, told me that I would always be accepted. A woman even climbed up on the stage and told me that I taught her how to love her daughter that day.
That story is important to remember as I go on with this because just three days after that very service, I walked over to the church after school and began to set up for that evening’s youth service. The new lead engineer came up into the booth with an uneasy look on his face. He began to explain that they were switching to a broadcast model, and that the sound team was being reorganized. Reorganized? I thought to myself, my mind knowing full-well what he meant, but my heart refusing to accept it. He meant that I was no longer a part of the crew. He asked me to leave right then. I had no ride home, and my dad didn’t get off work until 9:00 PM. That in itself was the least of my worries, however. They had successfully ripped my heart clean out of my chest. I was never allowed to see the love of my life again.
I don’t remember much after that. It was a pathetic blur of tears, heartbreak, and the endless questioning: why? What did I do wrong? Was I not a good sound engineer? They had all told me I was a great sound engineer. My skill level was apparently not the issue. I sobbed so hard, I couldn’t stand on my own two feet. I remember falling to the ground in the lobby, completely… broken. Through sobs and tears, I demanded to speak to the worship pastor who headed up the music department. They gave me a meeting time, and like clockwork, I showed up to defend myself and my love. The worship pastor proceeded to tell me that I was no longer allowed in the sound booth because I had the soundboard in my heart and not Jesus. I tried to explain that I was autistic, and that autism causes obsessive behavior. I also asked him, “Do you not love your wife? You do, but you still have God in your heart. I have God in my heart more than you could ever know, but I am in love with the soundboard much the way you are in love with your wife. It’s different. It’s not idolatry.”
The pastor told me that if I ever told anyone that I was “kicked off the sound team” that I would be kicked out of the church for good. Well, if that was how it was going to be, fine. I wouldn’t ever go back.
Shortly after, the choir director told me I was done running sound for her as well. Through the duration of my senior year, I had lost just about everything. I was still getting OK grades. I was going to graduate on time, no problem at all. I had become an empty shell. Living day to day, not really knowing why. I spent a lot of time in the counselor’s office because there were times in class when some subject would bring up everything, and I’d just break down. I’ve never been through so much hurt in my life. Even amidst all the bullying and harassment, none of it hurt so bad as the way that church treated me, and tears still well up, even now as I write this.
There’s a few lessons to be learned here. Like the vast majority of what I write, it all comes down to this: do not judge people. You never know how you hurt them when you do. I would give a million dollars to that church if it meant I could see her again. I would go to the ends of the earth and back, but bear in mind… I can do all things through Christ Jesus who strengthens me. By the grace of God, I have been able to recover. That event didn’t shake my faith. I will always follow my Rabbi. I had lost faith in churches, but I didn’t lose my faith in God. I had lost my faith in intimate relationships, but I did not lose my faith in God. To this day, in the words of Kelly Clarkson, “Because of you, I never stray too far from the sidewalk. Because of you, I learned to play on the safe side so I don’t get hurt. Because of you, I am afraid,” I do not let myself get attached to anything but God, for He is the only one in life I can truly rely on. He will never leave my side. He will always have my back. Some will say this is a good thing, especially for a clergyperson. However, sometimes I wonder if I’m missing out on something wonderful in life: the power of love. God gave us the ability to feel that emotion for a reason. Just because I don’t feel it for human beings doesn’t make it any less valid. I will always be objectum-sexual. I have been since I was a child, clinging not to friends or members of the opposite sex, but to my sound equipment, and the sound equipment I worked with since the first handheld tape player I got for Christmas as a first grader.
My breakthrough finally came when I graduated high school and moved back in with my mom. She told me that I was fine just the way I am. It was exactly what I needed to hear. Shortly after, I joined a Unitarian Universalist church, where I had a meeting with the minister in which I told her everything before I even became a member. I learned that the best thing to do is to always be yourself no matter what. If people don’t like it, don’t try to change. Move on, and you will find your place. The UU church restored my faith in organized religion, and I had a new outlook. I joined the sound crew and the choir, and everybody there knew everything about me and still welcomed me with open arms. Contrary to popular belief, open and accepting communities can and do exist. With this newfound faith, I was ready to seek another calling outside of sound engineering: ministry.
– To be continued.
– Fr. Ford