This story details explicit gay sex between men, teens and boys. If you find this kind of thing distasteful, or if you are underage wherever you live, then stop reading this now, and delete this file. The story is completely fictional; the author does not condone or encourage any of the acts contained herein.
By: Tim Keppler
Edited by: Bob Leahy
"We celebrate accomplishments like this, Evan. We've been all over the place and done all kinds of things based on this kind of achievement. What do you want to do?"
I've just received Evan's first report card since his adoption was finalized, and it is fucking stellar. He has A's in English, History, Math, Biology, and Spanish. He has an A- in PE. This is a PERFECT goddamned report card.
Evan starts to shrug, and then catches himself. "You've given me so much. I really don't need anything more."
"Yes you do," I say, looking at him sternly. "You need a reward for this. You have straight fucking A's, Evan. That's an enormous accomplishment. And I didn't even have to spank you to get you to do it," I say with a laugh. Evan knows that I spank Jason, Kenny and Dinh regularly. He's heard it through the bedroom door – the crack of the razor strop as it connects with ass flesh, the gasps, the occasional screams, and the crying. The first time he heard it, it freaked him out. He had no idea what was happening. All he knew was that someone in the bedroom was "in a lot of pain." That's what he said to Jason when he found him in the kitchen, slicing Shitake mushrooms. Evan urged him to go and intervene.
"What day is it?" Jason asked, casually, continuing to slice Shitakes.
"Ahh. It's Dinh's day. Dinh is being spanked. He's a lot noisier than Kenny or me when he gets spanked. He likes to scream. I think it intensifies the experience for him."
"Spanked? Who's spanking him? Why's he being spanked?"
Suddenly Jason realized that I haven't covered this with Evan. He dries his hands on his apron, and motions Evan to the table where they sit down. "Tim spanks Dinh, Kenny and me about once a week. He spanks us because we want him to. At the beginning of our relationship, he spanked Kenny and me to assert his dominance. But, it hasn't been about dominance in years. Our roles have sort of evolved. Labeling Kenny and me as submissive, and Tim as dominant is way too simplistic. Tim is dominant in some things, and submissive in others. He's complex. There are things you'll never get him to do because they frighten him. Simple things. Have you ever seen him answer the front door?"
"And you never will. It frightens him not knowing who's out there. He's profoundly shy. So, Kenny and I protect him from the outside world. On the other hand, he's very wise, and very shrewd. He's a very `political' animal, but he has to control the political games he plays in...or he won't play. But I've sort of wandered away from your question. Why does he spank us? For Kenny and me, he does it because we want to...lose control, and a spanking helps us do that. It's an emotional release for us, and he shows his love for us by helping us to achieve that release. It helps us drop our inhibitions. Dinh is a little different. Dinh craves dominance. I think he likes to feel that he's being taken care of, that he's not in control. I think he likes to pretend that the spankings aren't consensual," Jason said with a laugh, "even though he demands way more of them than Tim really wants to give him. I know that probably doesn't answer your question, but it's as close as I can come. You can ask Dinh and Kenny about it, or even Tim. You shouldn't feel weird about asking stuff like this. You're part of a family now. You can ask anyone anything."
Three hours later, Evan found me in the office, and came in, plunking himself down in one of the leather chairs. "Why'd you spank Dinh this afternoon?"
I smiled. "Dinh is almost operatic in his shrieks, isn't he? I can only spank him when the boys are away so we don't worry them." Getting up from my chair behind the desk, I moved to the office door, leaned out, and called Dinh's name. He bounced out of the kitchen, all smiles, hugging me briefly as he breezed past me into the office and into the other leather chair. "Evan has a question," I told him.
Evan looked at Dinh, and then down at his feet. He paused. "I was...umm...wondering why...you let Tim...spank you?"
The way he phrased this – "let Tim spank you" – made me want to laugh outright. But I restrained myself, and waited. Dinh didn't restrain himself. He began to giggle furiously. "It's not like I let him. It's more like I make him. I can't really answer the question. I don't know why, and I don't think I want to know. If I did, I might feel self-conscious about it, embarrassed. I don't want to intellectualize it. All I know is that it makes me feel really good, really warm. It reminds me how much I love Tim. Can I go now?"
I nodded, and Dinh bounced out of the room, shutting the door behind him.
I stared across the desk at Evan. "Does this bother you?" I asked him.
"Not really. I was...concerned when I heard Dinh screaming from the bedroom this morning. But, if everyone's happy, why should it bother me?"
I noded. "You build relationships around satisfying the needs of your partners, whatever those needs happen to be. In the case of Kenny and Jason, their needs are pretty straightforward. They need to emote. They need to be able to jettison their inhibitions so they can express themselves, so they can love all of us more completely. In Dinh's case, he needs to feel that he's cared for. Once a week, he needs to see me as a strong, but caring disciplinarian, someone who's in control of his life. I love them all, and will do whatever they need to be happy and comfortable. Spanking seems to be what they need. So, I spank them."
Evan nodded slowly, pensively. Finally, he looked up at me. "When you spank them...umm...what do you use? Your hand? Or something else?"
"No, I don't use my hand. It hurts my hand too much," I said with a laugh. "And a hand is basically a blunt instrument, like a paddle. They tend to cause more damage than pain, believe it or not. You want something smooth and whippy, something wide enough that it won't leave welts and wheals. I use a razor strop. It's like a belt, but a little thicker. It delivers a lot of sting without much actual damage."
"What do you mean by damage?"
"Well, with paddles you can cause a lot of bruising. You can even draw blood. I spank to cause just enough pain to get the guys sobbing, and it doesn't take much. Like most guys, they were brought up not to cry. Guys aren't supposed to cry. It's a sign of weakness. But, sometimes crying feels really good. So you have to give them an excuse. The excuse is pain. If I cause them pain and they cry, then the crying is okay. They know all this consciously, by the way. They understand that the spanking is a game we play so they can overcome their inhibition against crying. You'd think they'd just get on with it, that they'd just cry. But they can't. So, I spank them. Why all this interest in the philosophy and mechanics of spanking? Haven't you even been spanked?"
"No. Never. If my Mom was upset with me, she stopped talking to me. She made me feel like she didn't love me anymore, which she probably didn't anyway. But, she never spanked me."
I nodded. "Well, have you got what you need?"
"I guess," he said, getting up out of the chair. "Thanks for being open about it."
"I'll be open about anything with you, baby. Just ask." He nodded, and hugged me.
So, when I sit with him, prodding him to tell me what he wants to do as a reward for straight A's, he finally asks if we can go somewhere.
"Of course," I reply. "Where do you want to go?"
I'd like to go everywhere. I haven't been anywhere. I've never been out of the
Bay Area. My history teacher was talking about having grown up in
course we can go there. I was hoping for
Evan giggles. "I'd...umm...like to go July, July 19th. I want to save this one up. I want to go three months from now."
"What happens on July 19th?"
"Gay pride. I've never actually done anything very gay. I've never seen a parade. Can we go to the parade?"
"Umm, yeah. We can do that. But, don't you want to celebrate sooner than that? We can go to the San Diego Gay Pride parade in any case. That doesn't have to be a reward. What do you want to do this week to celebrate?"
He pauses for many, many seconds, staring at the rug in front of him. Finally he looks up. "I'd like you to spank me."
This answer completely surprises me, and I honestly don't know what to say. Finally, after almost a minute of turning this request over in my mind, I finally ask, "Why?"
Evan is flushed, and a little embarrassed, but finally responds. "I don't know. I don't really understand it. But, Jason and Kenny do, and Dinh. They all feel better about themselves when they're spanked. I just want to understand it."
"But, do you feel bad about yourself? What do you feel bad about?" I'm utterly confused, and trying to understand.
"Sometimes. I feel bad about my Mom. I feel like, if I'd been a better son, maybe she wouldn't have...left me. And sometimes I feel like maybe I've intruded on your family."
Now I want to spank him, to punish him for believing that he's an intrusion.
"You will never be an intruder, Evan. I love you...we all love you way too much for that. If you have any doubts about that, then we need to talk because I'm obviously not showing you the love you need."
Evan looks shamefaced for several seconds. "I know you love me," he says. "I know you all love me. But that doesn't stop me from feeling guilty about the way I've come into your lives. I love you, too, by the way. More than you'll ever know."
"So, why am I punishing you again?" I ask. "You bring me a report card with straight A's, and what you want as a reward is a spanking. Tell me again why I want to do that."
"Because I want to understand. Because maybe it'll make me feel better about myself. Because I want to understand."
I give him a long, skeptical look.
is somewhere else I'd like to go," he finally says. "The South by Southwest Music Festival is happening in
"And if I don't spank you?"
"If you don't spank me, I'll make do with San Diego Pride," he says with a smile. "I won't deserve anything else."
"So, you're going to blackmail me into spanking you?"
"No, that's not blackmail. It's motivation," he says, giggling. "Please, Tim. Just do it. I want to understand."
"It'll hurt. It'll hurt a lot. You know that?"
"I know. Lots of good things hurt," he says with a grin.
I stare at him pensively for a long, long moment. "Okay. When do you want to do this?"
"Umm...how about now...before I lose my nerve?"
I nod. "Go to my bedroom, get naked, and wait for me."
I honestly don't know what this is about. He's trying to bill it as idle curiosity. He wants to understand why Kenny, Jason and Dinh like to be spanked. I think there's more to it than that. Does he really feel guilt about his Mom? Does he really think that if he'd been a "better son" she'd have stayed with him? Can anyone be that stupid? Maybe. If he really does think of himself as an intrusion on our family, then he really does need to be spanked! I've no idea what this is about, but after twenty minutes of pondering, I head to the bedroom where I find a naked Evan sitting on the edge of the bed.
I've never seen Evan naked before. I expected him to be meatier than he is. Maybe it's the full face that's misleading, but he's actually quite slender. I know I'm not supposed to say this (or feel it, for that matter), but he's actually quite beautiful. There's elegance to his body. He's a little gangly, I guess, but his skin is perfect, if a little too white for my taste. But, hell, I'm a little too white for my taste. What does it mean when you're attracted to your son? I guess it means that you're human.
"You're sure you want to do this?" I ask, yet again.
He nods, but looks...frightened. "How much will you spank me?"
"How much do you want to be spanked?"
"How much do you spank Jason and Kenny?"
"Until they're sobbing. With Jason that's about 12 strokes. With Kenny it's about 18."
"Until they're sobbing," he ponders.
don't have to do this, Evan. There's no good reason for me to spank you. Why
don't you get dressed and we'll head out to
Evan is pensive, but ultimately shakes his head. "No. I want this. Spank me until I'm sobbing. Please."
I nod resignedly. "Lie down on the bed on your belly." He does. "Scooch down a bit and spread your legs a little. Good." I get the razor strop from the closet and lay into him. The first stroke draws a gasp of surprise. I don't think he thought it would hurt as much as it does. After five strokes his instincts click in, and he starts trying to cover his ass with his hands. "No hands, Evan. If we're going to do this, you're going to have to take it. No covering up. If you want me to stop, I will. But, no covering." After ten strokes he's starting to squirm a bit, sniffing. After 15 strokes he's crying, and after 19 he's sobbing, and his ass, his lily-white ass, is deep crimson. It's at this point that I drop the razor strop and carry him to the chair in the corner. I hug him. I kiss his neck. I hug him some more. Still he sobs. After twenty minutes or so he starts to wind down, and it's now that I begin to understand what this is about. Evan whispers to me what amounts to the story of his life, a biography so deeply disturbing that I have to work to keep from crying myself. His "mother," the woman who walked out on him, wasn't his mother at all, I learn. She was one of a series of women, mostly addicts and whores, who had "adopted" him along the way. He could name them. There were five. Each abandoned him at some point, passing him along to someone else to care for him. His real mother dumped him on an aunt when he was about two years old. The aunt stayed with him until he was five and then dumped him on his grandmother. She died two years later, and he ended up with a neighbor lady whose major source of income was prostitution and whose major expense was heroin. He stayed with her until he was 11, when he ran away because some of the men she brought home were abusive. He ended up with another addict, and ultimately with the woman who most-recently abandoned him. It was at this point he decided to try to make it on his own and found the derelict house on Singletary. He'd concluded that he was unlovable, destined to be serially abandoned. He decided not to burden anyone else with his presence.
As he tells me all this, he continues to cry and I continue to hold him. I've had an inkling that he has self-esteem issues, but I had no idea that they were this serious. He feels "unlovable," and "worthless". After being discarded five times, he thinks of himself as trash, and has been expecting me to throw him out since he came to us. The actual legal adoption shocked him, but didn't convince him. He's been waiting to be dumped back on the street since his first night with us. I find this last revelation devastating, and we basically exchange roles. I begin to sob, and he holds me, stroking my back. "I would never... I will never...let you go. You are mine," I choke. "Mine. I will never, never let you go. Never!"
The minute he hears this, he starts to sob again, and we're both awash in tears, clinging to each other. All this reminds me of an Enrique Iglesias song: "Somebody wants you / Somebody needs you / Somebody dreams about you every single night / ... / That Somebody's Me". How am I different from the parade of prostitutes and junkies he's lived with in the past? Love. It's that simple. I don't want anything from him. I just want him to flourish. Not survive. Not live comfortably. Not even excel. I want him to blossom, to thrive, to cast deep roots and draw sustenance from life.
We continue to hug for maybe another quarter of an hour, and finally break apart. "Kenny was right," Evan says. "He told me that being spanked opens him up. It makes him feel more vulnerable. It makes it easier for him to talk about what he's feeling. I needed to tell you all that, but I didn't know how. I didn't know how to get it out, or even start the conversation. I've never told that to anyone. Not even the women I lived with know all that. It feels really good to have it out. It feels like a burden's been lifted off me. I just feel so...light." He's smiling. He looks really happy.
Me? I'm a little skeptical, and a little worried. "I'm glad you've told me this, both because it's really good to have a sense of where you've come from, and because I sense this is a story you really needed to tell. I love you, Evan. There's nothing you can say to me that'll change that. But...I'm wondering...if maybe you need professional counseling to help you feel better about...yourself."
He thinks for a moment or two. "No," he says. "I don't think I could have told all that stuff to a stranger. It would have taken months and months, maybe years. But...I'd...umm...like for us to do this again maybe. Could we? It's a little weird, I guess, but it seems to...umm...help...me. I feel so much lighter right now, so relieved. Could we do this again...umm...sometime?"
Oye vay es mir, I think, giving him a squeeze. What have I done? "Sure," I say. "Why don't you come tell me when you're ready? We should probably hold off until your ass gets a little less rosy, though." I say, giggling.
"Is my ass red?" he asks.
"Umm...yeah. Just a little," I say with a snort.
jumps off my lap and goes to view himself in the
full-length mirror to the right of the bedroom door. "Wow! It is pretty
spectacular, isn't it?"
"Your complexion is very fair. You go crimson very fast."
"I guess. What'll I do about PE?"
giggle. "I'd change in one of the toilet stalls if I were you, because your ass
is likely to be a conversation piece. And if you tell anyone that your
newly-adoptive father did this to you, you'll be in a brand-new foster home in
a matter of hours."
Mostly Youth Renewed handles kids dealing with
issues related to coming out, but occasionally we get adults. The previous
administration would send them away. They'd send them to
the case for Thao Ngô.
Actually, technically, it's Father Thao Ngô, but we'll get to that later.
get back to the Center from speaking at a high school in
"Mr. Ngô," I say, approaching him. "I'm Tim Jensen, the managing director here. I understand you've been waiting to speak with me. I'm sorry you've had to wait for so long. Why don't we make our way back to my office? Can I offer you something to drink? Tea? Coffee? Water?"
"A cup of tea would be very nice," he says. His accent is decidedly Vietnamese.
him to my office and then go off to make a pot of tea, returning five minutes
later with a pot of Jasmine tea and two cups. I like the aroma of Jasmine tea,
but, honestly, I prefer something a bit more subtle when it comes to tea.
Oolong is nice, or even
I feel like a psychologist back here. I purposely took one of the windowless
offices when I joined the Center. No, that's not true. I actually gave the best
offices to the volunteers as an incentive to stay with us. I took one of what
we had left, which has no windows. It's rather dark, and that's fine with me. I
like small spaces. I like them a little claustrophobic. Not everyone does, but
I do. The closeness does give the office sort of a weird vibe, though. I feel a
little like Sigmund Freud must have felt in his office in
you for seeing me," Mr. Ngô says. "I am Thao. I'm a junior priest at the Most Holy Trinity catholic
church here in
Oh, Christ, I think to myself! How the hell did I end up with a priest in my office? I make a mental note to talk to Jimmi about doing a little better job screening my visitors.
"How can I help you, Mr...? How can I help you, Thao?"
"I don't know. I'm not sure you can help me. I'm not sure that I can be helped." I give him a long quizzical look. So far he's told me nothing. I don't know what to say. So, I wait.
been a priest for five years. I graduated from a local seminary five years ago,
and was assigned to my church soon after. I was born in
The word pisses me off...instantly. Recruiting is what christians accuse us of. It's how they describe what I do. If I save a teenage life, if I prevent a teenage boy or girl from committing suicide, I've somehow recruited him or her into the "homosexual lifestyle". By easing someone's pain, I become a pervert. Yet, by seducing a youngster into their medieval mythology, christians become saints. The minute he says the word, he knows he's made a mistake. I guess he can read it on my face. He begins to backtrack.
"I try to reach out to youths, much as I think you do, trying to comfort them."
"And do you have much comfort to offer?" I ask him. "Are gay kids comforted by what catholicism has to give them?"
He knows I'm angry, and drops his head for a moment, staring at the carpet. Then he looks me in the eyes. "No. Mostly, not. We talk a lot about loving the sinner and hating the sin, but, truthfully, there is little love for the sinner. That's why I'm here."
I stare at him blankly. I have no idea what he's talking about. My anger has ebbed and turned to irritation. I'm waiting to understand why this man is sitting in my office.
"Jesus says nothing about homosexuality. Did you know that?" he asks.
"I probably did once, when I cared about christianity, which was probably never. I'm much closer to the Buddhists and the Unitarians than I am to either the christians or the muslims. I'm not big on extremist religions. `I do not like green eggs and ham / I do not like them Sam I am'."
Dr. Seuss is a cheap shot, and one that completely misses the mark with this guy who isn't especially well connected to American popular culture. I regret it the minute the phrase is out of my mouth. Still, it's gotten me beyond my irritation so I can wait passively to understand what this visit is about.
Thao nods. "Yes. Catholicism is rather extreme in its social views. Abortion, homosexuality, birth control. It is these views that have caused me to struggle with a crisis of faith. This is just one of many struggles," he says with rueful laugh. "You see, I am also gay."
At last. We've arrived at the nub of the problem. "Indeed? Is this something you realized before becoming a priest, or is this a recent revelation?"
"It is both, I imagine. I became a priest for all the right reasons. I longed to help people, to minister to the sick and infirm, to help those in my community lead a better life. Did I know at the time that I was gay? Probably. I knew I was different. I had not put a name to it. But it did not matter, did it? I was embracing a life of celibacy. What did it matter if I was gay or not?"
Herein lies the logical disconnect to the catholics' current witch hunt. Rather
than using psychologists to purge gay people from their seminaries, mightn't it
be a better use of parishioner dollars to purge the perverts instead? Catholics
say they love gay people, right? It's the sin they abominate. But these gay
people have committed themselves not to sin by acting on their "intrinsically
disordered" desires. Ratzinger and his ilk (sorry, I
meant to say pope Benedict – the holy fucking father),
are intent on tying the perversion of their priests to homosexuality. They can
hardly let a day go by without a press release from the vatican
expounding on the evils of faggotry. It's utter hypocrisy. Were the abusive
priests faggots? Almost certainly, but that's not the point. They were first
and foremost perverts, and those come in every flavor, shape and size. I mean,
the whole notion of celibacy in the first place is pretty absurd, isn't it?
Can't you imagine all these wizened saints sitting around a table discussing
how best to have their priests prove their fealty to the church? What is the
ultimate sacrifice? "Well, let's make them cut their dicks off," says
"And have you been celibate?" I finally ask Thao.
"I have," he responds, earnestly, "but...I have also fallen in love."
Well, there's a complication. "To another man, I assume?"
"Yes," he responds. "And...I do not know what...to do." He's crying now. I move from my chair to the couch where Thao has been sitting. I sit down next to him and hug him tentatively. He turns and latches onto me, hugging me with a vengeance. Thao looks to be in his early 30s, but I'm lousy at judging age. Curiously, he looks more Filipino to me than Vietnamese, but the accent is unmistakable, as is the name. He's maybe 5'7" tall, and slim. He's dressed in jeans and a white t-shirt with a logo on the front that I don't recognize. He's actually quite cute, but I can't reconcile thinking of a catholic priest as cute yet, so pretend I didn't say that. He got my name, I discover later, from his bishop, McGrath, whom I remember meeting at a conference a year or so ago. He took over from Pierre DuMaine, who was a real prick. McGrath was interested in the Center and what we do, but I hadn't expected to hear from him once he found out what we do. Thao had confided in him, confessed his feelings for men, and his love for one man, and the bishop had suggested that Thao come talk to me. He must be very different from DuMaine, knowing what I'm likely to say to Thao.
"So, what are you going to do?" I ask him, softly.
"I don't know," he whispers. "I don't..." He winds down.
"Who's the guy you've fallen in love with, if you don't mind me asking?"
"He's a minister. I met him at an interfaith gathering. He's Unitarian. We went for tea, and have been out several times since then, dating I suppose you'd call it. He is very sweet, but has made it clear that he wants something more than an occasional date."
"That's understandable, right?"
Thao nods. "Yes."
We pause for a long, long moment. I'm really not sure what to say to him. I'm not sure what will be best for this particular guy. So, I dive in to explore that. "You said you became a priest to help people. To help them...do what?"
"To help them survive, to help them become more comfortable with themselves, to help them spiritually."
"And what does spirituality have to do with catholicism?"
This wasn't a question Thao was expecting, I think, but cuts to the heart of his dilemma. John Milton, the 18th century poet once said that "A man may be an heretic in the truth, and if he believes things only because his pastor says so, or the assembly so determines, without knowing other reason, though his belief be true, yet the very truth he holds becomes his heresy." Translation: Question authority. This makes sense if you're a Protestant. It's the basis for the religion as a whole. But, at the end of the day, what it suggests is that morality and spirituality are personal issues. Why do you need the catholic church to be a spiritual entity? Why do you need to be catholic to help your fellow men with life's dilemmas? Why do you need the pope to tell you who's worthy of help and who isn't?
Thao flounders with this question for many moments before looking up at me, lost.
By now it's nearly 6pm, and I'm hungry. I decide to take a page from Kenny's playbook and use my family to try to sort this guy out, much as Kenny did with Michael. "Do you have plans for the evening?" I ask.
He shakes his head.
"Come have dinner with me, with my family. We can talk some more over a good meal."
He nods slowly. We make our way out of the Center, and I lock up. I walk to work nearly every day, but Thao has driven here. So, we take Thao's car to the house. When we arrive and walk in the door, the aroma of fish sauce and lemongrass is everywhere. It's a Dinh night. I'd forgotten that. Dinh is making Vietnamese pork chops with egg and crab cakes and shredded pork skin over broken rice. This meal is absolutely delicious and Dinh makes it very well. I take Thao to the kitchen and introduce him to Dinh and Jason, both of whom are cooking. Then we move to the living room where we find Kenny and the boys, who are working on spelling words for a test that Kevin will take tomorrow. I have specifically not introduced Dinh, Jason and Kenny as husbands. I don't want to overload Thao with too much moral ambivalence on our first meeting. It doesn't take him long, though, to piece it all together. "You have relationships with all three adults?"
"We have relationships with each other," I correct.
He nods, and as he does, Evan bounces in the door. He is ecstatic about a math test that he got back during the final period of the day, a test on which he got a perfect score, thanks to a lot of help from Kenny. I introduce him to Thao and he makes his way to his room to change clothes.
"How many children do you have?" Thao asks.
"Four. Ian, my eldest, is married now and lives with his husband. The rest live here. Evan's adoption was just finalized last month. He's the newest addition to the family."
Thao nods. "And where do they all come from?"
I take him though Ian's history, and then Kevin and Kai's. Finally I talk about Evan, and he looks close to tears. "Evan's story is very sad," I say, "especially for a kid as sweet as he is. I was very, very lucky to meet him. He has honestly given me more than I've given him." What I was hoping, in inviting Thao to dinner, is that he'll look at us and draw several conclusions. First, I want him to understand that you can be spiritually connected to others without being affiliated with an organized religion. In fact, I think it's much easier to be spiritually connected to others if you establish those connections yourself rather than waiting for your church to tell you who to love and who to hate. Second, I want him to understand that you can help others without affiliating yourself with a particular sect. If you want to help others, just do it. Finally, I want him to understand the level of suffering we can alleviate, without the aid of the almighty church. I want him to talk to Evan and to understand what he's been through and how his life has changed. Don't get me wrong, I'm not painting any of us as saints. Truth be told – and I'm not especially proud of this admission – I adopted Evan mostly because he's so sweet rather than because he needed help. Would I have helped him if he'd been unpleasant? Maybe, but probably not as much as I've helped him given who he is. The great charitable collection pots have never really worked for me. Charities like the Salvation Army and the Christian Children's Fund that do all those late night ads aimed at weepy frumps watching Leno, telling you how much your 50¢ a day can achieve, have never resonated with me. I need to put a face to my good will. I need to know who I'm helping and how. Evan is a face. Youth Renewed is a face. And now Thao Ngô is a face, and, make no mistake – I do want to help him. I want to help him by radically altering his view of the world and the role he can play in it. I also want to help him by convincing him to come work for me, to come help others like himself who are struggling with their faith and sexuality. But, I have to fix him first. I know that probably sounds very controlling, but I can't have a catholic priest ministering to the needs of gay people, can I? But what could be better than having an ex-catholic priest ministering to the needs of spiritually-starved gay kids?
So, when dinner makes its way onto the dining table, I'm careful to seat Thao next to Evan and, sure enough, what I hoped would happen does happen. Thao asks about what it was like living on the streets, and they're off and running, chatting non-stop for nearly two hours. Kenny and Jason know this drill and don't interrupt them, chatting instead with Kai and Kevin about school while Dinh and I chat about grad school. Dinh tells me that his courses are more theoretical than anything he took as an undergrad. He finds that a little unnerving. It's both fascinating and unnerving because he's not sure how to excel. As an undergrad, he was pulling straight A's. He's not sure how to do that now. I tell him to talk with his professors, to establish relationships with them, and to use Kenny. Kenny knows pretty much every academic in the comp sci field throughout the state, and many throughout the country. He's a wealth of information. "I want straight A's," I tell him. He smiles and nods. He knows that. And he knows the consequences for disappointing me on this one. The trouble is, Dinh may want those consequences more than he wants the straight A's. We'll need to quash that notion if it becomes an issue.
After dinner and dessert, Dinh, Evan and Kenny clear the table, and Jason herds the boys into the bathroom for their bath. By this time, they mostly bathe on their own. We plunk them into the bathtub where they splash around for a while, soaking off the grime in a sea of bubbles. Kev helps Kai wash his hair, and after half an hour or so, one of us goes in, hauls them out of the tub, gets them dried off, into pajamas, and ready for bed. They pad out, kissing everyone good night, including, tonight, Thao, and off they go. We've worked at getting them onto a fairly-rigid schedule. No arguing and no dispensations. They're in bed by 8:30 every night without exception. Amid all this activity, amid all this washing up (of dishes and boys), Thao and I make our way to the living room where we sit and chat over tea.
"Evan is quite remarkable," he says. "He is a very-resilient young man. And he is very grateful for what you have given him. He feels very lucky."
"I know. But as I think I said before, I'm the lucky one. He has brought great meaning to my life, and great joy. He's given me someone to care for. Not that I was lacking in people to care for, but Evan needed to be rescued, and it's been gratifying to be able to do that, to be able to reclaim a soul headed for oblivion."
Thao nods. "I wish I could say that I've been able to do that, but I do not feel that I have."
It's time to make the pitch. "Do you believe in god, Thao?"
He looks at me, surprised. "I am a priest."
"That's not what I asked. I asked if you believe in god."
"Yes," he says, nodding.
"And is yours a catholic god? Is he an old testament god, a fire and brimstone kind of guy who will prevent souls from entering the kingdom of heaven on technicalities like not having heard the last rites? Does he hate faggots? Or is he more likely to forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us?"
He pauses. "Mine is a forgiving god."
"And what about the god of your church? Is Ratzinger's god a forgiving god?"
He shakes his head. "No."
"Is Ratzinger's god going to forgive you for being in love with a man? Is Ratzinger going to cherish you as one of god's children, or is he going to hunt you down and try to drum you out of the church?"
By now, Thao is staring at the floor, forlorn.
"What're you going to do, Thao? It seems to me that you have three options. You can continue to hide your relationship with this guy you're in love with, meeting secretly. Or, you can stop seeing him (though you probably can't stop loving him). Or, you can leave the church and look for opportunities to do good works in some other way. Option one probably isn't going to be viable for very long. You said the guy you're in love with is a Unitarian. Unitarians don't have any problem with homosexuality. My experience is that love doesn't last long when one lover is out and one lover isn't. At some point he'll get tired of having to hide your relationship and break it off. So, ultimately, you're left with options two and three. You can either break off your relationship with this man, or you can break off your relationship with the catholic church, a church whose god is not your god, as you've just admitted. Maybe you can find another god, like the god that lives in the hearts of the Unitarians, although I don't think you'll find many of them who'll describe that spirit as `god'."
He nods. He's very close to tears, and still staring at the floor.
"And maybe, rather than ministering to people who would banish you from the church if they knew about your feelings for the guy you're in love with, maybe you could come work for me. Maybe you could come help me minister to the sick and needy, to the teenagers who are right on the brink of suicide, to the boys and girls who are being bullied by their classmates and teachers. Help me minister to kids who are struggling with unsympathetic parents and facing the same issues you're facing now – reconciling their religious beliefs with their sexual identities. Maybe that's how to achieve a level of fulfillment, by helping kids who are vulnerable come to terms with who they are. I can't offer you a huge salary, but I can offer you a place to live and enough money to live relatively comfortably. And, I can offer you a surfeit of souls to rescue and an abundance of satisfaction in rescuing them. If Ratzinger's god doesn't treasure you, Thao, maybe it's time to look for a god who does."
Thao leaves maybe half an hour after this conversation. He seems very sad, almost despondent. He's struggling with his demons. But, three days later, on Monday, I find him back in the reception room of the Center when I get back from lunch. I hug him when I see him, and lead him back to my office. "How are you?" I ask.
"Better," he says with a wry smile. "A lot better, actually."
"Good," I say, reassuringly. "You seem...more at ease."
more at ease. I'm much more comfortable. We rotate sermons between the three
priests at the church. Yesterday was my day, and I invited my bishop to attend,
which he did. I talked about Jesus, about his response to the Pharisees in John
8:7 when they brought him the adulteress, "He that is without sin among you,
let him first cast a stone." Then I talked about Christ's admonition in Matthew
7:1, "Judge not, that ye be not judged." And then I talked about
"Then I came out to the congregation, and resigned my post as priest in the presence of Bishop McGrath."
"So, I hope you were serious about your offer of a place to live and an opportunity to work with you. I'll need both, and soon. I have to be out of the parish housing by Wednesday."
I am absolutely stunned. I'm dumbfounded. I can't speak, and am probably crying. I'm not sure. I move from the chair I've been sitting in to the couch, where Thao is sitting, and hug him. I hug him for several minutes. I am just so proud of him. I'm proud that he's done this thing, and proud that he's done it so publically. It took bravery. It took guts. This is exactly the guy I need working with us. He has the stomach for this job. He's got the courage to get it done.
Finally, I move back and just stare at him, wiping my eyes. "Congratulations on your emancipation," I say. "I'm so honored to know you. The job is yours. Let me show you the room."
Thank god we brought all the furniture over for Evan. We have a ready-built bedroom for someone who I imagine will appreciate it. "The room is a little bare bones and a little outdated from the perspective of style. The furniture is `60s Danish Modern. It was my Aunt's. Still, it should be comfortable."
When I swing open the door, Thao is aghast. "Bare bones?" he says. "You have no idea. This is wonderful! When can I move in?"
"Now," I reply. "Jimmi, the office manager, has a set of keys for the center that we can get on the way downstairs. I can introduce you to everyone in the next couple of days. I'm so pleased, Thao. You bring such credibility to this job. I just can't tell you how happy this makes me!"
I honestly don't have the authority to hire anyone on my own. He'll need to be vetted by the board. But I don't anticipate any opposition, and if he is, they can kiss me goodbye as well. As to his salary, we'll pay him out of the salary that I refused. He needs it a lot more than I do.
Published first at: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Nemo-stories/