Recommissioned Mechanical Pencil Dream

In a recent dream, I am in the living room of RandyThomasHQ. All of my favorite furniture was replaced by metal folding chairs pointing toward a wall where a teacher (me) would soon be standing. There were only a few people around. Two of whom were visible. They were not people I actually knew or remember in real life. There was an older man next to me and a woman (nondescript brunette) arranging the podium and some papers on it.

mechanical pencilThen, the man abruptly takes my right arm with both hands and shoves it up into the air. As he was forcefully speaking I noticed a plastic mechanical pencil in my hand. The man declares, “These hands must be recommissioned to their original calling! Lord put these hands to your use!” Everyone, all maybe five of us, in the room seemed happy.

That scene ended with a series of pictures I can’t really explain. But in them I truly believed the Lord was giving me clear affirmation to boldly share my story before coming to know Christ, during my time in the Ex-gay movement, about life beyond the Ex-gay Movement, as well as everyday life stories in and among community.

I want to bring the Lord honor and praise by humanizing the issues and loving others regardless of who they are.

God’s Grace and Gay Men

aids ribbonIs it possible that Jesus goes places that the Church is sometimes afraid to?

AIDS as a social issue has been used to scare some people and stigmatize others. Over the past 20-plus years there have been valiant efforts to humanize the AIDS issue with regard to African American community, drug abusers and orphans in Uganda. The thing is, when it comes to gay identified males … the corporate Church has been estranged and reluctant.

As the AIDS pandemic first hit, we in the Body of Christ missed an opportunity to express God’s servant heart and grace. In this redemptive void, a few stepped forward to stigmatize homosexual men. Even today, the overarching consistent message coming from the Christian community has been one of stigmatization and warning.

Certainly, it’s very appropriate to educate and “warn” about the dangers of sexual activity that could further this disease among many other STD’s and relational pain. But I did not and do not think it is appropriate to stigmatize a large group of men whom the Lord loves, dismissing them as unworthy of our love.

Flashback.

The year was 1988. I had just left a popular gay bar in Nashville, and it was very late. I was with the serious party people, as usual, who stayed until the club closed. We were a mess and looking to get in more of a mess. There was a local fast food burger joint everyone not fit to drive ended up at. I was there often.

However, this night in particular stands out because it was the night I learned Ron had died.

An Extra Seat At The Table: Unconditional Love & Hospitality Makes a Difference

While the following didn’t happen over Thanksgiving it is an example of loving Christians going out of their way to invite almost complete strangers into their home for a meal. “Back in the day” they didn’t live up to my stereotype of them and as a result, rocked my world. I hope this Thanksgiving you will be inspired to make room at your table for someone you hadn’t thought of in a while; someone who just might need a good meal, welcoming hearts, and warm fellowship.

“Randy, you GO to that bible study!” was the somewhat loud but completely serious voice coming from the phone. It was my Mom. She had called to see if Bruce had called me yet. Bruce was a guy I used to work with at the grocery store. He was a stoic kind of silent guy. He was built like a tank, awesome laugh, and would do just about anything to help anyone out. Honestly, I had a crush on him for a while when we worked together. The reason my Mom was calling is because he looked her up on the phonebook and called her asking about me. Apparently he had prayed and I was on his heart.

Bruce is SO Christian.

So as my Mom was exhorting me to go to the Bible study, I told her, “sure, I’ll go.” She thought that was a good thing. I was thinking of Bruce’s good looks and only wanted to go so I could hit on him.

Sorry to be crude but … it’s true. I was only willing to go because of lust.

“We Do Recover” – God’s Not Limited to Sunday Morning

Over 23 years ago, God used a 12 step program, specifically my home group “We Do Recover,” to save my life.  I am so random (thinking, processing, doing) I couldn’t do the 12 steps … in a row. I jumped all around them. I know many 12 Steppers would say that I never really worked the program because you can’t do them out-of-order. Ok … then I didn’t. But I sure did take whatever step I landed on seriously.

I was a 12 Step Hopper.

I wanted to share a story about how God revealed Himself to me in the midst of my 12 Steps Journey. During that season, I was pondering the second and third steps. They read:

#2 Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

#3 Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

I began investigating various religions to see if they would “fit.” I definitely had a consumerist view of spirituality. It had to be what I wanted, preferred, made me feel good. I didn’t want any God that might actually have His own opinion. Even worse, I didn’t want a God that had His own opinion and disagreed with me.

Heh …

Reflections From My Past as a Gay Waiter in Light of Recent Abuse

wait staffFrom the WTVM report:

The man works at the Carrabba’s Italian Grill near 107th Street and Metcalf Avenue. His mother also works as a hostess and she was very upset by what was written on the back of the check earlier this week after he waited on a couple.

“Thank you for your service, it was excellent. That being said, we cannot in good conscience tip you, for your homosexual lifestyle is an affront to GOD. (Homosexual slur) do not share in the wealth of GOD, and you will not share in ours,” the customer wrote. “We hope you will see the tip your (homosexual slur) choices made you lose out on, and plan accordingly. It is never too late for GOD’s love, but none shall be spared for (homosexual slur). May GOD have mercy on you.”

Yeah, may God have mercy on you because apparently those that claim to know Him aren’t bothered with the whole “mercy” concept.

Religious Notes as “Tips”

During the late 80′s, I waited tables at an Applebee’s restaurant right next to Vanderbilt University in Nashville. I would wait tables and party and wait tables and party and sleep (maybe) then wait more tables and party. I was a mess but I was a good waiter.

God Used a Drag Queen to Save My Life – Paying It Forward

This post is long but I personally consider it one of the most important posts I have ever written. I appreciate and thank you in advance for reading. I have used Mella’s stage name, real name, and picture with permission. Thank you Mella :)!

My first 19 years of life were kind of messed up. Let me explain.

I was not raised in the church and while I did claim to be Christian, I had no clue what “salvation” actually meant. I truly thought Jesus and Moses were cousins. I imagined John the Baptist as some type of primitive hippie. When I was a kid, I would look through the bible my father had left behind when he left us, and the pictures always stood out to me. I loved those pictures.

Even so, I grew up hating Christians.

I hated them, from the self-righteous mockers in the pulpit of a church I visited for six months as a 6th grader to the televangelist that equated my newly embraced (at 13) gay identity to being a “pedophile in the making.” I detested Christians and their condescending, arrogant, and ignorant sanctimony.

“Coming Out” got me “Thrown Out”

Then, at 19, my Mom discovered something that would upend both of our worlds. While she was doing laundry, she found an invitation in my pocket to a gay Valentine’s Day party. There was no mistaking that it was quite the gay affair. 

My mother, the only person I respected at that time, gave me my first theology lesson concerning sexuality. She informed me that God hated fags and I was going to burn forever in hell. This is ironic because when I was a kid she told me when no one else in the world loved me, she and God would. Well, apparently that wasn’t completely true if I was invited to a gay party.

Sidenote. I must say that today I have a much better relationship with my Mother. She’s an amazing woman and she knows now that God does love me. But back then, a false application of the gospel was the only spiritual response she knew to the issue of homosexuality. Knowing that she truly is incredible and loving, you will see the actions I am about to share with you as “jarring.” It should be jarring because it was a horrible night.

That night Mom yelled, “YOU HAVE ONE HOUR TO GET OUT OF THIS HOUSE! You can keep what you shove into your car but you will never come back here. This is not your home. You are to never come by the store (we owned a clothing store) and never talk to your brother again!”

Numb and terrified, I hurriedly shoved my clothes, knick-knacks, stereo, everything I could put my hands on into my little Aries K car.  On the 59th minute of that final hour I left the house and stayed away for over five years and have never lived with them again.

I lived out of that little car for the next three weeks.

The Lord Sends A Unique Messenger

Mella on stage.

Mella on stage.

Then one night, my boyfriend Jeff (a toxic relationship that lasted about 18 months) called me at the convenience store I worked at and said he told a mutual friend about my plight. This friend was a drag queen named Carmella Marcella Garcia, Girl!, and my boyfriend told Mella all about my situation. And Mella, George Timothy Reed off-stage, told my boyfriend to tell me to get my ass over to his place immediately. So as soon as I could, I drove over to his condo. On the way there I slid on some ice and hit a tree. It only dinged my car a little, but it served as confirmation that my life truly, in every way possible, sucked.

When I showed up at Mella’s, door I was as desperate as I have ever been in my life. I hadn’t had a shower in a while and my car looked like a refugee camp on wheels. I walked to his front door ashamed of how I looked, how I smelled, how nobody would have me, and ready to give up. It was the only time in my life I truly considered suicide.

So yes, I am able to sympathize with young gay teens being bullied, abused, and left homeless by religious intolerance. I know what it is like to be desperate, alone, and confused to the point of contemplating suicide.

Mella opened the door and he was obviously getting ready for a show. With arched eyebrows, some kind of thing on his head to pull his hair back, a muumuu (I think it was a muumuu type of dress) he welcomed me into his home.

… in Jesus name.

Yes, you read that right. A drag queen invited me into his home in Jesus’ name. He said he welcomed me because he knew that was what his Lord would want him to do. He also cooked me a wonderful down-home southern meal. He couldn’t join me because he was in a hurry to get to the club for his show. I don’t think I said much except “thank you.” I wasn’t a talker at that point in my life. Very shut down in many ways. All Mella said was,

“God loves you and we have to look out for each other, especially when people hurt and hate us.” He said, ”I am not going to charge you rent except to ask that someday down the road you return the favor for another young gay person who might be homeless and helpless just for being who they are. Now go on and get some of that good food!”

As I prepared my plate I wept. Here, 26 years later as I write this article, I can still smell those beans and the cornbread. I sat down at his table and forgot about how I smelled and the chaos in my newly dinged up car. I forgot about hellfire, brimstone, and my crying mother.

For the first time I felt unconditionally accepted. For the first time I considered God as kind of cool. Staying alive might actually be worth it.

Surprisingly, when you are desperately hungry and dirty, it’s not difficult at all to eat and weep at the same time.

I was a substance abuser and because of that I didn’t stay long in Mella’s house. I moved on and was transient for the better part of the next two years. Eventually I joined a 12-step program (still hating Christians) and that program was used by the Lord to save my life yet again.

Love you George. Thank you.

Love you George. Thank you.

The Lord is quite resourceful in intervening in people’s lives who are hostile to the Church and maybe even Him. I have always remembered Mella’s kindness and would eventually thank him many years later. In fact, he gave me permission to use his real name and pictures for this article. The Lord used a good man from Brownsville Kentucky, George Timothy Reed, affectionately known as Mella to millions, to save my life.

Mella, you will always be in my heart as a result.

Eventually, I became a Christian—because Jesus made sense—even though I didn’t like Christians. I knew He had saved my life through the compassion of a drag queen and the 12-step program. I knew I was in desperate need of a Savior.  God opened my eyes to see Him, He opened my ears to hear Him.

Some of my core beliefs about identity and sexual behavior changed dramatically after turning to Christ on May 31st, 1992. As a result, I do not use any kind of sexuality label as a primary or secondary identity and I’ve lived a celibate life for the past 21 years. And, without any shame or idealization, I genuinely do love my life. I am honestly content regardless of circumstance.

Well, most of the time :)

Yes, I was a little too gung-ho on a few things throughout the years, but hopefully I have and will learn from those mistakes. I was once shut down but since knowing the Lord, I will never be silent again.

Regardless, I’ve never forgotten that icy cold day where the Lord had mercy on me and brought me out of a spiral that might have led to self-destruction. Throughout the years I have had the honor of returning Mella’s favor in various ways.

Of Life and Death

Flash forward from 19-year-old Randy to twenty-five years later and 7 days away from my 45th birthday. Today, life is good, I am so grateful to be alive. My walk with Christ is deep and rich. I have been blessed to do a lot of traveling. The Lord has also reconnected me with my biological father and that side of the family. My wonderful nieces are the most fantastic young ladies you could ever meet. I have also seen much healing and reconciliation with my Mother and family. My church family is an incredible group of life-giving people as well. In Christ and His abiding love, I am nothing but blessed.  Suicide is not on my radar. The thought of suicide saddens me. It angers me that not enough is being done about it. Especially when it hits close to home.

Along with honoring Mella, another reason I am writing this article today is because of Michael. On January 31st, 2013, I found out that he, a former partner and 23-year-friend, had committed suicide. I wept for three days and still have moments when I have to simply stop what I am doing and mourn. I love Michael for many wonderful memories and our life-giving friendship. I will always love Michael. He was part of the 12-step program I went to for help all those years ago. We were partners briefly before I became a Christian, but even with all the transitions in life, Michael’s unconditional love and friendship was a deep blessing to me. His committing suicide was a devastating shock to all of us who love him, and the only comfort I had was knowing that Michael had placed his faith in the Lord.

Recently, I had a dream that Michael came to me, held my hand and sang. I woke up with tears streaming down my face and verbalizing the most mournful one word question of “Why? Michael … Why?” I have to accept that I may never know the answer to that question until I see him again in heaven.

I had plenty of wonderful support from my church family and Christian friends concerning my mourning for Michael. Yet, there are no Christian materials anywhere close to the excellent secular and gay suicide intervention resources. The lack of resources from the church on how to intervene when someone is suicidal and how to care for survivors or people who lost a loved one is deafening and tragic. Sure there are some resources, but suicide is usually treated as one of many issues, or one article in myriads of other articles. There aren’t any singular projects that rise to the excellence and level of the secular resources I found.

Dear reader, are there any suggestions you’d like to make? If not, that’s fine, but we need more than just quoting a Scripture here and there. That can actually be really hurtful. Christians need to admit life can be hard, or they won’t be willing to create materials to help with suicide. Let’s get this reality out of the closet.

If I am wrong please correct me.

As I typed the above paragraph I think the Lord clearly stated, “I am saving lives through the secular efforts just like I saved yours through a drag queen’s compassion.”

Let’s Preserve & Nourish Life

To return Mella’s favor, and in honor of Michael, I am going to make a large (for me) donation to one (maybe more) of the secular organizations listed at the end of this article. I will keep the name of the organization private for several reasons. I implore you to join me and please contribute in some way, shape, or form to help others save lives.

To my Christian siblings, consider the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on the religious response to the culture war in the United States—forty million on Prop 8 alone. Five years later, I personally believe that forty million has proven to have done nothing but harm. I am not condemning those for supporting Prop 8, at all, but . . . are you just as fired up to try and help prevent suicide? If not, why not?

Consider this: suicide is the third leading cause of death for 11-19-year-olds today. 11-19-year olds!! While I am not condemning people for supporting or not supporting Prop 8 or any other public policy initiative (I vote too!), I think preventing teen suicides, and suicides in general, is much more important than the next public policy battle. Too many people are overwhelmed, lonely, abandoned, bullied, and confused. Please ask the Lord to give you eyes to see how to help nourish and preserve life among those around you.

When gay young people, like I once was, see that the only concern the religious community has about homosexuality is to bully through stereotypes and stigmatization or rally around the next public policy battle, is it any wonder they don’t look to us as they are teased at school or thrown out on the street for being gay? Is it any wonder they, like the 19-year-old Randy, found their first acceptance and identity within their local gay community? When I was homeless, suicide was an option, but talking to a Christian minister was not.

How have we as a church contributed to that alienation? Let’s make amends. Now.

Please join me in supporting at least one of the various resources listed at the end of this post. Even if you can’t actually give money, please pray for them as they seek to save lives.

When I write my check I will do so in honor of a living, compassionate, drag queen named Mella, who wasn’t ashamed to mention the name of Jesus in my desperate time of need. I will also do so in memory of a dear and beloved friend, Michael, who after much pain and tribulation in this life is now singing with our Savior.

Helpful Resources:

Important note concerning Mental Health Officers - A reader of this blog messaged me privately saying, “if someone thinks that someone else is attempting suicide – you can call any police department and tell them you need the mental health police. It’s much more understanding than regular cops. They arrive in plain clothes and are armed with counseling skills, but have authority to force someone to get help.” I had never heard of mental health officers but it would make sense.

3:30 AM Snapshots and God’s Love

It was a summer night in 1986, 3:30ish in the morning. The bars had just closed, I was buzzed and sitting quietly in the back seat as my friend Rick was giving Kevin ( in the passenger seat and not his real name) and I a ride to our respective homes. Rick’s partner Gary was in the back seat with me. He was quiet too.

Kevin however was anything but quiet. Kevin was through the roof loud and mad as hornet about everything and everyone. Kevin smoked cocaine. They called it free-basing back in the day. And even with my drug filled past that was something I was never a part of so I might not be describing it accurately. All I know is that when Kevin “free-based” he was hilarious on stage (a female impersonator) and a nightmare (meanest person you ever ran across) off stage.

Sister

With my dear friend AmiraI posted this on an earlier iteration of this blog a few years ago and it needs to be added to this final reboot of RandyThomas.Co. Let me know what you think!

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Twenty years ago I moved to Texas for a change of scenery. My fellow waiters at a restaurant I worked at all threw a huge party for me at a gay restaurant in Nashville. I loved them for that because I was the only openly gay person on staff.

Literally 18 drinks, one joint and no sleep later I climbed aboard a Greyhound bus with two suitcases and $35 to my name. Yes, there is a country song about that (not me specifically) somewhere. Stoned/drunk out of my mind I passed out on the bus next to a Catholic priest.

That was a sight I am sure.

I got to Dallas and hit bottom on the substance abuse and partying. Did not take long to find the scene there. Initially, I had been living with my Aunt and Step-uncle.  After a few months I had just moved in my apartment and immediately spent my rent money on going to clubs and partying.

I was desperate and accepted a job as a telemarketer. That is where I met Amira. Amira and I immediately connected as kindred spirits. She invited me to go dancing one night and I was mentally registering that we would probably go to a gay bar or some cool “anything goes” bar, have some drinks and dance the night away. The next day however, that dream got dashed.

“Randy, I am looking forward to go dancing with you. I think you will like my friends.”  I responded, “I am looking forward to it too. It will be great to get out, meet people and unwind.”

Amira, “I think there is something you should know about it first…” a little red flag went up in my mind, “… there won’t be any drinking or drugs at this dance.”

I was confused and said something like, “oh … why?”

Mike Had Big Hair and Heels, I Miss that Guy

IMG_0084This is kind of a rough post from my partying past. It is really kind of raw and may be difficult for some to read. Even so, I hope you do and your feedback is always welcome.

This is the house I lived in for about 18 months. I rented a couch, not a room, for $40 a week most of that time. I was there from the Spring of 1988 till the fall of 1989 and most of it was a blur.

I waited tables to earn enough money to party, partied till I was out of money, slept in someone else’s bed or on my $40 a week couch … mostly the couch, Then I would wake up in time to go back to waiting tables and repeat the cycle for a year and a half.

During that time I drank 5 out of 7 days a week, did more drugs than I ever thought I would. Especially after I pledged to never do any drugs my freshman year in high school. I was also involved in a very abusive relationship.

It was during that time I did my own share of terrible things to make ends meet, to get drugs … to be a part, to appease my partner … it wasn’t just a blur … it was a dark blur.

My house mates were all gay. There was another waiter, for the sake of this post we will call Mike, who had hair that was a hybrid of Duran Duran and Flock of Seagulls. Even though he was not transgendered, he liked to wear heels and sing loudly around the house. Then there was the cab driver who was the actual “landlord” of my couch. He was a conniving *#$&@!* but left me alone for the most part after I refused to sleep with him. Then there was the guy in the basement apartment. He was in the process of leaving his wife and I never talked to him … not once. My room mates said he was “confused” about his sexuality and mean. So I just steered clear. He had no desire to be around us either.

During that time I lost my car, had a stalker read poetry to me over the house phone after seeing me out at the bars … more than a few times. No one knew who he was. I also nearly overdosed on prescription meds on a road trip to Louisville Kentucky. Got into a brawl with my abusive partner in Atlanta. I finally fought back and it ended with him in the hospital and me sleeping on the floor in the ER hallway…and then on the floor in his room for a week … in the same clothes. He tried to punch me through a plate glass window after I threw him out of our hotel room. The EMT’s were astounded that even though I was drunk and high I was able to do emergency first aid. My tourniquet and willingness to get in there to apply pressure at the right points saved his arm.

Traumatic to say the least.

Needless to say, our relationship changed when I finally fought back. We went and partied a couple of times but even then, I met him there and left without him. I recently found this guy on Facebook and he is a shell of who he used to be. I don’t miss him and I did not send him a friend request.

There was a Christian who tried to reach out to me and I will save that for another post. But other than Bruce the Christian, there wasn’t a lot of “Light” in my life during that time.

At the same time, I felt like I was free. Even in all that darkness … I thought I was finally free. After feeling shut down my whole life, not allowed to speak, not allowed to be myself … what was presented to me was presented as my only options and I simply didn’t have any healthy coping skills at the time.

Back to Mike, the guy with the hybrid Duran Duran/Flock of Seagulls hair, he knew there was unrealized potential in me. He was hardly perfect and slept with a lot of guys but he did actually have a conscience. Oh and he hated my abusive partner and told him to never step inside our house or he would kick his a*. Mike tried numerous times to convince me to leave him but I wouldn’t listen. So that is why I always went out to meet up with my partner. Mike and I never slept together because right off the bat we were kindred spirits and would call each other “Sister.” When we were around each other we were too busy laughing to entertain any other thoughts.

That might be alien and offensive to some of my Christian brethren. Please don’t feel alienated or offended. At the time, to have another person willing to claim me as a sibling … well … brought some measure of joy to my heart. Mike was one of the first people I ever felt accepted by.

One night Mike and I went to a drag bar and for some reason the performers were running late for the show and the DJ started playing the song “Sister” from the movie The Color Purple. Mike got up, grabbed my hands, and drug me up near the stage and we did some sort of pseudo waltz while he sang the whole song, loudly, along with the music. I was mortified at first but just ended up laughing and laughing … and we spun and danced.

Mike definitely saw himself as Shug (the very extroverted, no inhibitions, entertainer) and me as Celie (the abused shut down but innately beautiful heroine). As we spun around with him singing and me laughing so hard I was crying, the crowd cheered during the impromptu performance and wildly applauded once the song was finished.

Of course the Drag Queens made fun of us for stealing the show but it was all rather crazy and at the time … I loved it.

Looking back on it now, I don’t recognize Mike’s shut down “Sister” that I used to be. I can’t believe I lived on a couch … a couch! … for that long. The Lord has healed my mortally wounded heart, affirmed my own godly extroversion, and stewarded me to Himself as my completion. He allowed me to make amends and learn healthy responses and taught me to love and trust Him with the stewardship of life. He has revealed my gifts, strengths and weaknesses. He has claimed me as His own and placed me within a spiritual family full of light, love and transcendant joy.

But when I look back and think of Mike, who I haven’t seen or heard from in 23 years, I smile. Yes, he was just a little less screwed up than I but his pastoral heart to defend those without a voice; his protective heart to defend the weak, his ability to look past my insecurities and lovingly challenge them … I can look back and affirm as expressions of some of the innate gifts God has placed within him.

When I look at the picture featured in this post, I can choose to remember all the dark times or I can choose to remember Mike. I choose to remember Mike. I have no idea where he is at or what he believes today but if the Mike I knew were to show up at my door in his heels and big hair screaming “Sister!!!” I would give him a great big bear hug and say, “I’ve missed you brother, we have a lot to catch up on…”

Send Me An Angel

abstract 3Back in the day I used to sneak out of the house and/or call in sick to work to go hang out at the gay bars. I started going to them when I was seventeen. Initially the euphoria and my naiveté mixed very powerfully. I thought I had finally found a refuge for my aching heart.

As any traumatized slightly neurotic seventeen year old looking for any semblance of escape would be prone to do.

It wasn’t legal for me to be in the bars, even way back then. They had raised the drinking age a couple of years before I turned 18. Yes, it used to be lower than 21. Back then I think people had to have strong drink in order to put up with all the dinosaurs and lack of electricity. ::: grin :::