Thirty years ago during a bull-riding practice session, I met a handsome steer wrestler from Wyoming. Buck was taller than me, and very handsome. We travelled around the intercollegiate rodeo circuit and saved money by sharing a hotel room with other college cowboys – shacking up four cowboys to a room, two in each bed. More than once, when left alone in our hotel room, Buck tackled me on the bed to wrestle naked.
I was not a willing participant. I was as homophobic as they come. Not only was I verbally homophobic, but my life was still absorbed by religious indoctrination and guilt. Buck’s wrestling attempts fueled my sexual fantasies, but also gave me an extreme dose of emotional distress. At that time, words like ‘fag’ and ‘queer’ came easy to me in the company of others, but in the privacy of my unspoken mind, I characterized my secret homosexual desires as ‘gay’ – a much gentler term for the desires that I didn’t want – and a stark contrast to the epithets I used in public discussions of other homosexuals. Everything I believed about homosexuality had been learned from my father and my religious upbringing with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and none of it was nice.
Two years prior to meeting Buck, I had run away from home to escape a miserable life and my stepmother, Fluffy. Running away had the unintentional consequence of abandoning the Witness religion, but at the age of eighteen when I met Buck, I still carried most of my religious intolerance with me. I knew I was a homosexual, but there was no chance I would ever act on those desires, even when confronted by another cowboy who wanted to wrestle naked. Religious guilt wouldn’t allow me to go there. The Jehovah’s Witnesses had assured me that God hated homosexuals.
So here I am, thirty years later, and I still know that most organized religions don’t like me. Most people who go to church on Sunday tend to think less of me. They know nothing about my years of prayer when I believed that God would cure me if only I prayed a little harder, and they have convinced themselves that my homosexuality is an activity, not an identity. Some Christians believe that I didn’t pray hard enough, or in the right way, to change an identity that I did not want, but they are wrong. I gave prayer everything I had. Prayer did not cure me of my desire to wrestle naked with Buck.
A few years ago, not unexpectedly, my best grandmother died. On the day of her death, I felt an overwhelming and unexpected urge to write a book and put a neat and tidy little wrapper around my memories of her, and to connect them to my memories of Buck. I wanted to contrast the love I felt from her as a child with the angst I received from religion. I wanted to spill the secrets of my childhood.
Over several years of writing, friends and family members occasionally asked me why I was doing it. “I don’t know,” I often replied. Sometimes, I explained that writing was just an overwhelming urge I couldn’t suppress. Every once in awhile, when feeling empowered by the book’s progress, I was bold enough to answer, “I had the sort of childhood that people write books about.”
So the book is now completed. It took seven years. Many times over the last few years, I’ve heard the suggestion that writing a memoir must be cathartic. It isn’t. You can’t change the past. Nothing has changed from writing my book, except for the knowledge that it might be helpful to others. I like to hope that someone might read my story and be saved from a religious experience like mine – a religion that I now view as a cult. Perhaps readers of my book will examine their lives and ponder their moments of intolerance. Perhaps they will show a little more love to their children.
As many memoirists will attest, writing about one’s own life isn’t just about purging old memories. Sometimes, it’s about connecting them and drawing conclusions. It’s about sharing history and experiences and hoping that they might, in the best of intentions, change someone’s life. A few days from now, when Cowboys, Armageddon, and The Truth: How a Gay Child was Saved from Religion is released, I expect that readers won’t wonder why I wrote it. The answer should be self-evident.
Title: Cowboys, Armageddon, and The Truth by Scott Terry
How a Gay Child was Saved from Religion
Publisher: Lethe Press
Genre: GLBT, Memoir
Length: 248 pages
Cowboys, Armageddon, and The Truth: How a Gay Child Was Saved from Religion offers an illuminating glimpse into a child’s sequestered world of abuse, homophobia, and religious extremism. Scott Terry’s memoir is a compelling, poignant and occasionally humorous look into the Jehovah’s Witness faith — a religion that refers to itself as The Truth — and a brave account of Terry’s successful escape from a troubled past.
At the age of ten, Terry had embraced the Witnesses’ prediction that the world would come to an end in 1975 and was preparing for Armageddon. As an adolescent, he prayed for God to strip away his growing attraction to other young men. But, by adulthood, Terry found himself no longer believing in the promised apocalypse. Through a series of adventures and misadventures, he left the Witness religion behind and became a cowboy, riding bulls in the rodeo. He overcame the hurdles of parental abuse, religious extremism, and homophobia, and learned that Truth is a concept of honesty rather than false righteousness, a means to live a life openly, for Terry as a gay man.
Read my review of Cowboys, Armageddon, and The Truth Monday October 1st.