I’m from Troy, Ohio

Illustrations by Brian Ness.

I was born at Stouder Memorial Hospital in Troy, Ohio on April 24, 1980. My parents John and Beth were 24 and 26 years old, I believe. One of my earliest memories is of helping my mother pack my dad’s lunch. She would give me and my brother small pieces of paper to write notes on. We would write a note, put on some lipstick and kiss it, seal it inside a walnut shell with a little bit of glue and put it in his lunchbox. I think, back then, that my parents really did love each other. I had a largely happy early childhood.

Brian Ness's illustration of me with lipstick getting ready to SWAK a note.
SWAK.

I spent my formative years growing up in the country. We lived in a farmhouse in the middle of miles of corn, wheat and soy bean fields. My brother and I used to make forts in the corn fields. We would walk out 10 or 20 rows into the field, and then knock down corn in a 10’ by 10’ area. We’d thread the knocked-down stalks between the standing plants, making ourselves almost invisible from the outside, and then we’d hide from passing cars and tractors.

I used to sneak out on the landing of the stairs at night to watch Magnum P.I. Dad usually caught me. My parents gave away our TV when I was 7. After they got rid of the TV, I became an avid reader. The first real books I remember reading were C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. I loved those books, and re-read them many times. After that, I voraciously devoured any reading material in the house that wasn’t of a dogmatic, religious nature. I loved history and biology books, and my Ranger Rick magazines, but my first love has always been Fantasy Fiction.

Growing up on a farm, with a farmer’s ethos and cares, I and my siblings became lovers of the outdoors and all things wild and beautiful. We had a Nature Preserve called Bruckner Nature Center about 5 miles from our house. Ariel and I used to bike there as much as Mom would allow, and we’d ride our bikes all over the country roads near the house. We discovered all sorts of amazing ditches, culverts, crooked trees and terrifying dogs. I don’t recall a time in my early life that we didn’t have a pet, or animals. We had dogs, cats, wolves, chickens, sheep, rabbits, pheasants, quail and once, a cow.

Brian Ness's illustration of me, Dad and my brother at Sprague Lake.
Fishing.

My father worked at a meat packing plant until I was 7 or 8 years old. During those years, we could afford to vacation in Estes’ Park, Colorado, at my great-aunt Catherine’s cabins. The Rocky Mountains became my measure of beauty, adventure and grandeur. When I was very young, I remember seeing the ice-covered tops of Long’s and Hallett Peaks, and the Twin Sisters. Their sheer enormity and grandeur made me feel so amazingly insignificant. In later years, the power that wrought the Alluvial Fan boggled my mind, the morning sun tinting the clouds flowing from the Continental Divide down into the park captivated my senses, the geological forces that created the colossal cliffs and verdant valleys fueled my insatiable curiosity, and the trails, steep slopes and wily trout gave me and Ariel something to test ourselves against.

My first sister was born in 1987. Betsy was, and continues to be, a shining star in our family. Her beautiful curls, unforgettable innocence and indelible artistic talents at once made me feel incredibly privileged and rightly inferior in so many ways. I cherish the memories of her childhood almost as much as I cherish the amazing woman she is becoming.

Around the time my sister was born, my dad lost his job at Dinner Bell to plant closures. I struggle to remember exact times and dates now, but I think the strain of the job loss started the rift between my parents that continued to grow over the following years. Sometime after losing his job at Dinner Bell, Dad took a position at Fulton Farms. He worked there until the mid 90’s.

In 1990, our brother Sam joined the crew of Akins boys. I remember Sam as a quieter, more contemplative kid. He definitely had a stubborn streak a mile wide, though. It was also apparent early on that he’d end up the best looking of all the Akins boys – he had an athlete’s build as early as 6 years old. Over the years, he’s developed into the kind of athlete every coach wants on their team, and the decent, laid back, fun kind of kid that so many parents only wish they had.

My sister Bekah joined the family in 1992. Bekah is a dreamer. She is so much like me, but much more outgoing and energetic, and maybe even a little frenetic from time-to-time. She has the most incredible imagination I’ve ever seen in anyone – she started writing a book about a world called Birchglass before she turned 13. She also has a lot of the same artistic talent that Betsy has. I think one day she will make a formidable creative writer.

My family attended Grace Bible Church in Springfield, Ohio. One of the other families that attended GBC was closely related to the family on whose truck farm dad was a foreman. They had a daughter named Katie who was almost a year older than me. As annoying little brothers are wont to do, my brother liked to tease me about her… “Katie and Aaron, sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G!” For the life of me, I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to kiss Katie in a tree. She was pretty – certainly – but why even play with girls when other boys were so much more interesting?

In 1994 my brother Matthew was born. He was one of the most beautiful, happy babies I’ve ever seen. He had deep blue eyes that just pulled you in, and he was a joy to take care of and play with. A couple nights before Christmas, I was babysitting. I think my dad was taking my brother to wrestling practice, and mom was shopping. I put Matthew down for bed, and was giving the other kids a bath. Dad came home, and went in to check on Matthew in the bedroom. The scream that came from that room still echoes down to me through the years and nearly stops me from breathing. We spent Christmas in shock, and planning the funeral. The coroner ruled the cause of death SIDS. At the graveyard I remember thinking that for someone so small, the casket was so big. Years passed before I could sleep through the night – every cough, sneeze and sleep-mumble from one of my siblings would have me running on tip-toes to check on them. I remember lying my head on my younger sister’s pillow one night for almost an hour just listening to her breathe. Fear petrified me: I literally couldn’t make myself leave.

I think Matt’s death, whether they would ever admit it or not, had a deep, scarring impact on my parents marriage. It was the beginning of a very dark chapter for me, as well. Somewhere between 12 and 14 years old, I came to understand that guys loving each other and having romantic relationships was evil (we read the Bible all the way through one year, and I was introduced to the insanities of Leviticus). In a Conservative Christian home, one might think that I should have understood that without any need to read it. Honestly, that wasn’t the case. My parents really never discussed sexuality with us at all. Until I was 15 and found an anatomy book at the library book sale, I had no concept of the realities of human reproduction or sexual contact, and didn’t really understand that I was a homosexual. Reading James Dobson’s monthly newsletter finally helped me understand exactly how evil a person I was – homosexuals like me were the downfall of every major civilization since Sodom and Gomorrah. I came to blame myself for all of the bad things that happened to me and my family, including my brother’s death – God was punishing me for being attracted to other guys, and I had to find a way to change. I constantly worried about losing my salvation: head under my pillows, I prayed and cried myself to sleep night after night, asking God to help me, and to spare my family.

My brother Boaz was born in 1996. Bo, as he quickly became known, was a respite from pain, and the beginning of the end of the cloud that had been hanging over us since 1994. Yes, the first 6 months were hell – the critical period for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is birth to 1 year, but after 6 months, the fear wore off. It quickly became obvious that Boaz was tracking right along with my personal physical development as a child. Betsy tells me he’s my clone, but he’s much more mischievous, quick-witted and funny than I am. I am at once excited and terrified for him. Of all of us, he’s had the least stable childhood.

My father left Fulton Farms sometime in the mid-90’s, and started as a manager at a local Meijer store. We started to see a lot more of him at home, and I think he finally realized that my mom was no match for Ariel and I when it came to the daily battle of wills over our home school work. They finally gave up on home schooling us in 1997. I had never been inside a classroom in my life, but one day that summer, my dad informed me and my brother that we would be attending Dayton Christian High School in the fall. As I recall, I was terrified, and I flipped out on him, telling him he was going to ruin my life.
It was quite possibly the single best thing he and my mother ever did for me.

That fall I started at DCHS as a Junior. I was on the wrestling and track teams. At first I was too scared and too busy catching up to do anything besides scramble around. After the first term, though, I started to realize that DCHS was crammed to the doors with really, really attractive guys. Sometime in the second term of Junior year, a speaker came to talk about how terribly sinful sex, porn and other vices were. Beginning then, and over the next 2 years, I renewed my commitment to becoming straight. I prayed, and prayed, and prayed, but it was a useless struggle.

Freshman year of college I fell in love with a friend in my dorm. I didn’t even realize what it was until summer break, when I realized that every day I wasn’t around him was pure hell. That summer was the worst period of depression I’ve experienced in my life. I still can’t listen to Matchbox 20 without feeling empty and depressed – Mad Season had just come out on CD, and I played it all summer. My friend didn’t come back to school that fall – money problems. It was probably a good thing; I don’t know what I would have done if he had. I think summer was when I realized that I was not going to be able to change myself. I started researching homosexuality that fall, and the more I read, the more my life made sense. I found out that I was far from alone; I found out that not all people believed being gay was a terrible sin, and I started to talk to other gay people online, some of whom I am friends with to this day.

My roommate was a good Christian guy. I loved him like a brother – he had dragged me out of my shell freshman year, and to this day, I owe him a debt of gratitude for all he did that year. The first semester of sophomore year, however, he found out that I was gay via a poorly cleared browser history. He didn’t confront me, and he didn’t tell anyone. Instead, he started emailing me anonymously, telling me he knew about my “problem,” and wanted to help. I know now that he meant well, but I have never been more terrified in my life than I was during the couple of weeks it took me to figure out that it was him. Once I figured out it was him, I was still terrified, but it didn’t seem like he’d really told anyone. I started avoiding him as much as I could, and switched roommates at the end of the semester. I hardly spoke to him at all for the next 2 years.

By the end of Senior year I knew I was gay, that it wasn’t going to change, that I didn’t really care, and that I was rapidly coming to reject modern Christianity. I graduated from my private Christian college, Milligan College, no longer a Christian. I spent the next two years trying to work up the courage to come out to my friends and family, and finally did come out to most of them in 2005 and 2006. My friends are largely accepting or tolerant. My family, however, is not nearly so receptive. My relationships with them are strained and avoid discussion of anything that might bring “it” up.

After graduating from DCHS in the spring of 1999, I left Ohio and moved to Johnson City, Tennessee, where I attended Milligan College. I graduated from Milligan College in the Spring of 2003. I entered the Master’s of Information Technology program at East Tennessee State University that Fall, and took classes for about a year and a half. After that I ran out of money, and into problems with my student loans, and dropped out. I worked as a contractor for the ETSU’s IT department for about a year and a half, and picked up a lot of practical experience in Network & Server Management.

One day in 2006 a friend sent me a message. The company he worked for in the DC area was looking for a Systems Administrator. I submitted my resume, and 3 weeks later, I started work. I started work at MarketResearch.com on May 17, 2006. Here in DC I have found a group of friends who truly accept me for who I am. Being Gay does not define me, but it is part of who I am, just like the fact that I was born in Ohio and that I work on computers.

Brian Ness's illustration (interpretation of Me in a DC area park, I think).
In the Park.

While I worked at MarketResearch.com, the company grew by about 100% in all areas: personnel, revenue, office locations, and infrastructure. I started out as the singular Systems Administrator for the entire company (that included 3 offices and a collocated data center!). By the time I left, I was Sr. Systems Administrator and Infrastructure Management Team Lead. I had a small staff of Systems Administrators that worked under me, and we maintained the IT infrastructure for 5 offices and two collocated data centers.

I left MarketResearch.com in May of 2011, after receiving an offer from Teaching Strategies, Inc. in Bethesda, MD. I’m enjoying my work at Teaching Strategies; I think we’re really making a difference in the world, and the work is exciting. I’m building a team again, and we are starting to build up an infrastructure that will be able to support the company’s growth.