Jim Costich June 30th, 2019
It had to be May because I was sitting in my two rope swing hanging from an apple tree covered in blossoms and honeybees. I remember looking down at my Buster Brown’s swinging higher and higher, sun filtering through the leaves and singing at the top of my four-year-old lungs:
“Praise him, praise him all ye little children. God is love, God is love.”
My father was my primary caregiving parent along with my paternal grandmother and I grew up first and foremost in the Episcopal Church of my grandmother. The God of that religion is indeed love. Anything in religion’s ugly stories of a biblical past were considered the foolishness of ancient humanity. My father loved me with an unconditional love and told me his father loved him that way, with a protective and easy-going mastery. After all my father was born in a snowstorm and getting to the hospital was an impossibility so his father delivered him. As a child I was taught that I would grow up to be that kind of man and that God was just like that. This is a nice rendition of a hymn that I sang all throughout my childhood only I had a few more verses about stars, planets and spheres-the heavily cosmological version. I’ve been a geek from a very young age.
My career as a church musician began as a child. So did my insistence on questioning everything. A romantic friendship with another boy led me to accompany him to his Bible school of a totally foreign religion when I was ten years old. It was my first introduction to a God of hate, jealousy, wrath and fear. I would later learn that most of the Christians in the United States worshiped this God at these kinds of churches. Little did I know that just a few blocks from the Episcopal Church I attended there was another gay boy sitting in a Pentecostal church hearing right from the pulpit that he was damned to an eternity of burning punishment more hated than the foulest criminals, rapists and murderers. He would become a church organist, my partner for eleven years and we would raise two children together before he suffered a mental and emotional collapse so that his damnation started long before the grave. He and a Presbyterian minister he worked as an organist for lead a gay men’s support group for those raised in the evangelical and Southern Baptist churches that had abused them in ways that made my blood run cold. What did they know about a God of love? That was just a cruel joke to go along with the sadistic abuse that started when they were just little children, and still woke them up in the middle of the night. The Episcopal Church started ordaining LGBT and heterosexual female priests in 1973 when I was just sixteen years old. These religions were both called Christian but that’s where the similarity ended.
Through the 90s and into the 00’s I was up to my ears in the exploding gay choral movement. I had the chance to sing some of the most breathtakingly beautiful music that’s ever been written. Some of it religious. This is the kind of stuff sung by candlelight in spaces with echoing reverberation that makes you feel like you’re floating in midair unsure of where your voice stops, and the others start. Please listen to this. It became one of the signature pieces RGMC sang. I can still sing along.
My best friend in college was convinced by a bizarre new group called “Campus Crusade” that God loathed him for being gay. I held him for hours one night while he sobbed after trying to have sex with a close female friend and failing. He said that if he couldn’t even have sex with her there was no hope of him earning God’s love which he had come to believe could only be obtained if he could copulate with a female. The degradation was hideous. I laughed at them because their knowledge of theology and the Bible displayed such abysmal ignorance I could send them off in a state of confusion without even trying. But my friend was constantly impaired with pot and couldn’t think his way out of a paper bag. He lost his God of love and replaced him with the God of loathing. He died in the first wave of AIDS in 1983. When we get to the last line in the Biebl “Ave Maria”, pray for us now and in the hour of our death, I think of him and choke up. It only comes out through my eyes, my voice remains clear. Sometimes I am gripped with grief but sometimes I am gripped by something else, a slowly simmering rage.
I’m an intersex gay man in my 60s. I’m sterile with undifferentiated gonads and ambiguous genitals which puts me in a physical state that is right in between male or female. I’ve been taking hormone replacement since my early teens so I wouldn’t suffer with the diseases that result from hypogonadism. I am romantically and sexually attracted to those most like me, man/male and neither romantically nor sexually attracted to those least like me women/female. Please join me in two more installments on the experience of religion and intersex begun here.
Part 1 of 3.
More is to come.