I remember very well my first day of driving in driver’s ed and I’m sure my teacher does as well. I got in the car and went through my checklist.
Seat upright? Check.
Hands at 10 and 2? Check.
I was ready. I turned the ignition of the maroon Ford Taurus and put the car in reverse. I was backing into my freedom while intently looking over my right shoulder to check for obstacles. I eased my foot on the break to bring the car to a gentle stop, smirking at my instructor as if to say, “Man, I got this!” He, with furrowed brow and clipboard in hand, seemed unimpressed with my backing prowess. Once the car rocked to it’s stopping place I grabbed the leather nob between the instructor and I and shifted down into drive with a proud smile because I remembered to stop completely before shifting so as to preserve the car’s transmission, a tip my father had given me. I moved my foot to the gas pedal and eased my way towards Southern High School Road eager and nervous about the experience to come.
As I pulled out of the parking lot and onto the road I was so flooded by excitement that my mind went completely blank. I very cautiously positioned the car between the yellow and white lines as I had practiced many times in my minds eye during the classroom portion. My instructor very calmly said “Scot, we are driving in the U.S, and in the U.S we drive on the right...” Suddenly it dawned on me that the lines were on the wrong sides of the car and before he could finish I jerked the wheel dramatically to the right, throwing my classmate who was in the back seat into the floorboard. I ran off the road on the right side threatening the safety of every mailbox for the next 200 yards as my instructor stomped on his passenger side brake pedal bringing the car to a screeching hault. It probably goes without saying that I was relieved of my driving opportunities for the day. In a panic I made a choice to try and get myself on track that proved to be just as dangerous as driving on the wrong side of the road.
This happens in life too. One day we wake up and realize that we’re on the wrong side of the road and we panic. We jerk the wheel of life, only to increase the risk. Our split second decision throws the people in our life around but we’re so wrapped up in our own experience that we can’t see it.
When I realized that I was on the “wrong side of the road” of my sexuality I also jerked the wheel. I made a vow that I was not gay and was not going to be identified by something that was so detestable in my community. So, in an effort to fight against this label I made sure I always had a girl at my side. From 12 years old until adulthood I have never been single for more than a few weeks at a time. I would go through this cycle of wooing a girl, get sexually involved with her, feel guilty, and then break up.
In high school I used girls to make me feel valuable. My home life was chaotic and scary so I would run to someone else’s house and look at porn or have sex with a girlfriend. The connection that was formed in me as a kid was being solidified with every sexual encounter. When things happened that I couldn’t control I ran and when emotions welled up that I couldn’t understand or deal with I would find comfort in sex. I had no idea what kind of damage I was doing to myself, to the girls who I was wrecking into, or to my future self who would struggle to maintain any kind of healthy relationship.
In college I began to believe that a wife would fix it. Somehow I thought the shame cycle would end if the sex I was having was in the context of marriage. The cycle came to include me buying a ring and proposing but would still end out of the same place of guilt. I was officially engaged twice but every relationship I was in I used the idea of marriage as a the proverbial carrot with which to draw in my potential mate.
When I was in the car that day I had someone who I could have reached out to for guidance. I could have slowly eased my way back over on to the right side of the road safely. I could have just stopped and collected myself. I didn’t have to be reckless and hurt others. I didn’t have to make rash choices out of fear that would hurt other people. All I had to do in that moment was ask the instructor what to do.
That’s what I want you to know. That if your life is chaotic and you’ve found yourself on the wrong side of the road, slow down and ask for help. The mailboxes on the side of the road,the people in your back seat, and you will be much better off. It’s hard to fight our impulses but take it from me...it is possible. You just have to reach out, and I hope you can find the courage.