I have no idea how this is my first Pride Month post ever. Better gay than never, right?
I’ll start out by admitting, for the first time in my entire life, that Burger King saved my gay life.
Back in 2009, at the heat of major personal conflict between my religion and my homosexuality, I used to go to Sunday night youth group at a local church out in rural Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This church was a little different than others I attended before. There were no strongly preached agendas against being any part of LGBT. They didn’t damn you, seclude you, or tell you that you needed healed. They did what most churches do and ignored our people.
A longtime friend of mine took me to Burger King prior to youth group for dinner. I hadn’t eaten yet and her and her parents liked to feed me a lot since my mom and I barely got by between visits at the local food pantry. Most of the time I stayed safe with their chicken fries but this time I ordered a Whopper. It was the first Whopper I had ever tried, and it went down quick and easy with the amount of grease soaked into the patty. I should’ve known when the lukewarm patty felt especially squishy while I chewed it that I should have stuck to the chicken. Always chicken. Still thankful, I scarfed down the fast food as they drove us to youth group in their fancy Toyota Avalon.
Once her parents dropped us off, her mother went in for a kiss but my friend groaned and settled on a hug instead. I waved at them and smiled as we funneled into the church like cattle.
I kept my head low, feeling exceptionally unworthy and awful as the burger uneasily settled into my stomach.
To put things into perspective for you all, this day followed only a week after being caught indecent in a car by the police with my 19-year-old boyfriend when I was only sixteen years of age. It was a mess. 100% consensual, but an absolute mess with the police, detectives, and my close family getting involved. That’s a different story for a different day that I will tell you how you can read about it in a moment. Back to that fateful Sunday night…
We took our regular seats in the back of a modest church room, darkened and lit up with colorful lights to keep the ‘youthful’ facade of the service. My body burned up in my seat as I fought internal dialogue that rang inside my ear as the electric guitar strummed loud and raspy. Being gay is sinful, I told myself. You’re a disgrace. What is wrong with you? Do you really want to shame everyone you know? Why are you like this? Where did you give up on yourself and let these feelings in?
It went on as the tears welled in my eyes, seated in that uncomfortably padded church chair that interconnected with the line of chairs we sat in. I wasn’t literally alone but I felt the most alone. Isn’t this where God said he’d meet me? At my lowest of lows? That’s at least what all the grown-ups told me. Everyone else had it so easy. Where was God for me, now? Maybe you’re not good enough to be a Christian? Maybe you’re not good enough to be a human.
I sat there on that chair as the service continued for an hour. By the end, between my stomach sporadically rumbling and cold chills that scattered across my skin like lightning across the sky, the room spun as I felt a scream building up behind my teeth.
“With our heads bowed and eyes closed, I’d like to invite anyone up to the cross who would like to lay whatever is burdening you at His feet.” The youth pastor set the invitation. Stomach in knots, blood feeling frozen through my veins and saliva building up in my mouth, I had to move or else I felt I’d literally explode. I was the first one to walk up to the cross, knelt down with my arm over my stomach from the pain boiling inside of me, and I left my identity there. This was it. This was where I went to get fixed and started my new “cleansed” life. I did what everyone else had done before.
I left youth group not only with this “new light of mine” but an overwhelmingly ill feeling that now reverberated through my bones in violent waves.
At this point, I assumed I was dying and going into diabetic shock or heart failure (two things I never experienced before but only imagined I knew what it felt like). I ran from their car, ignoring their farewells, and burst through the door. As I ugly cried from the pain surging throughout my body, my mom waved at me from the kitchen as she spoke to her mother on the phone.
“Hey, Vaughn just got home, can I call you back in like fifteen minutes? O-okay, mother. Okay, alright. I’m getting off the phone now, goodbye!” She tossed her cell phone onto the couch and walked down the hallway to the bathroom door. “You okay, sweetie?” She asked.
Knelt down as I was twenty minutes ago at church, my head rested against the toilet seat as my hands gripped the sides of the toilet and blew chunks of Whopper. I sobbed and felt the sudden urge to go to the bathroom at the same time which is an absolutely horrifying feeling.
It was at that moment, sixteen-years-old, gripping the side of the toilet, vomiting rotten fast food at the end of the worst week of my life, after trying to pray the gay away and cleanse myself into straight-culture, that I realized there was nothing wrong with me. It was the first time I accepted myself for who I was. I knew that the God I believed in would be okay if I was gay. As I threw up my dinner, I mentally expectorated all the awful things I said and damned about myself only minutes beforehand.
As much as that sickness was simply food poisoning from an undercooked Whopper, being gay was simply who I was. There was no praying away or changing that.
The most important thing? Wildly love yourself and others. Whether it’s your first PRIDE Celebration or one-hundredth, love everything that makes up every piece of your identity. Wear it with courage and strength, wear it loud, and welcome every color on our beautiful spectrum as you’d welcome family or a friend. At one point in time, we’ve been at our lowest. Whether that time is now or it already happened or it hasn’t happened yet. Be kind, love everyone, and cheer each other on with unfiltered PRIDE.
As Mesadorm wrote in one of my new favorite songs (you can listen below)..
“We’re all living day to day, trying to get along together”.
Remember how I said I’d tell you all how to read more of my story? SURPISE! I wrote a memoir! Here’s a little blurb about the book…
PRISAMTIC is the transparent memoir of Camarda’s struggle to reconcile both the death of his father and his independence as a gay man, and explores both the vibrant and darkest parts of the years he spent suppressing his identity. An empowering exploration of dysfunctional family ties, toxic love, mental illness, and debilitating grief, Camarda embarks on a journey to rebuild his identity and come to terms with his new, refracted normalcy.
PRISMATIC is now available for pre-sale at the link below.
As always, I’ll leave you with a song. I love all of you beautiful people, and Happy PRIDE Month <3.
Song: Easy by Mesadorm