Updated: Oct 11, 2019
“You dream of colors that have never been made
You imagine in songs that have never been played
They will try to find you and your mind
But only the curious have something to find
It’s foreign on this side — and the truth is a bitter friend
Reasons few have I to go back again
Your first dawn blinded you, left you cursing the day
The entrance is crucial and it’s not without pain
There’s no path to follow once you’re in
You’ll climb up the slide and then you’ll slide down the stairs
It’s foreign on this side — but it feels like I’m home again
There’s no place to hide, but I don’t think I’m scared
There’s no place to hide, but I don’t think I’m scared”
—“This Side”, Nickel Creek (verses 2 and 3)
You know how when you rip a bandaid off, it hurts like hell but it’s what you have to do to really heal and move on? That’s what I’m doing right now.
Is making a public statement like this on social media or devoting an entire blog post to coming out of the closet super necessary? No, not really. Not in any objective sense. I recognize that there is a lot more to any human being than who they fall in love with and who they date. In fact, I wasn’t planning to make any statement on the matter until an engagement announcement or something like that, but here’s where I find myself: I’ve recently taken a volunteer leadership position with Q Christian Fellowship, one of the largest bodies of LGBTQ Christians in the world, and only seek to get more involved with that ministry and others like it. I will be attending their conference in January. QCF occasionally posts my involvement and I really am proud of the work I’m doing for them. But it’s gotten to a point where it now just feels conspicuous that it’s all out there and I’ve not said anything on my own website about it. I’m not ashamed of who I am.
So does this change anything in what I’m doing? No, not at all. In an observable sense, the only thing this changes is if I ever talk about dating, there’s another guy. If I get married someday, it’ll be to another guy. I’m still exactly the same person as I was and really, it’s just a 20-something version of the happy-go-lucky boy Jim and Beth Fenton raised. And I know that nothing has changed or should change now that I’ve drawn your attention to the fact that I’m gay, and here’s why: Despite saying nothing publicly, I’ve made no attempt whatsoever to hide that I’m gay on Facebook or Instagram for the past year. In fact, it’s said “Interested in: Men” on my Facebook profile and I’ve had a pride flag emoji in my Instagram bio for literally 12 months and not a single person has sent me a hateful message or seemed to engage with me any differently than they normally would. The great news for all of you is that treating gay people like people is possible! You’ve been doing it and you didn’t even realize it!
I’ve had an inkling that I wasn’t straight since about 6th grade in 2006, but only started accepting it over a decade later in my final semester at Wheaton, in 2017. Being that Wheaton doesn’t exactly have the most wonderful track record on engaging well with their LGBTQ students, I chose to sit on knowing this about myself. I didn’t even process it out loud until a year later over the phone with a dear lesbian friend in January 2018, who is a fellow Wheaton alum (She considered me safe enough to come out to while we were in school, and a couple years later, I returned the favor).
I came out to my parents a couple weeks later and my siblings and close friends about a month after that. There’s no good casual way to slip “I’m gay” into conversation for the first time in a longstanding relationship of any kind and it always feels clunky pivoting the conversation to the topic. So — sorry. Only about the clunky pivot, not about being gay.
But I do recognize that in sharing this information explicitly, there are people who grew up with me or watched me grow up in my evangelical communities who will now want to cut me off entirely or worse, make me their mission field, and truthfully — that does make me sad, but it has made me much more sad thinking about who in my circles have only supported me because they didn’t know about “the whole gay thing.”
And if you are one of those friends genuinely concerned about the fate of my soul — I recognize your concern and theoretically appreciate it, but I do not have the emotional energy left to engage with the non-affirming talking points and counter argue in an attempt to justify my existence to you. I want you to understand it’s impossible for me to remain emotionless when hearing people talk about ‘the issue of homosexuality’ in the church because, like I said: I’m a person. I’m not an issue. Issues don’t have feelings or live lives or have a story that differs from the one you tell. People do. I’m in the process of joining Presbyterian Church USA which is an open and affirming denomination and I love my Philadelphia church. For the first time in my life, I’ve found a church home on my own volition.
If you’re wondering why I didn’t realize “the whole gay thing” sooner — it took a lot of undoing my understanding of myself and the presuppositions I held about life and sex and self to get there. I definitely did not wake up one morning and think “I want to like boys now! Guess I’m gay!” — if you recall, I was bullied in middle school. The other boys had identified me as the gay kid in the Phys Ed locker room (is there any more disgusting place than a middle school boys’ locker room?). It got pretty bad and going to school each day in 7th grade was a traumatizing nightmare that burrowed deep inside me. Essentially, the line of logic from my bullies was, “Peter is different from us — therefore he’s gay — therefore he’s worthless” and even though I knew they were wrong, I assumed that meant their entire line of logic was wrong, when in reality they were only wrong about the worthless part. Heading into 8th grade and then as I entered high school, I made it my mission in vain to prove I was straight — in such a way that would mean those assholes were wrong and I was worth something.
So when I went to college, I spent considerable time trying to establish who I wanted to be: a “strong biblical man” who one day would be a “husband/father/pastor” with a “smoking hot wife” and “at least four kids.” That’s not a bad life aspiration in and of itself (though maybe a little misogynistic on the “smoking hot wife” thing) — but it’s just not who I am. Whoever told me “you get to reinvent yourself in college” and whoever said “if you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth” when I was in earshot should have just kept their mouth shut. These two mantras led me to spend all this energy projecting this image of myself that I wanted to be that I never really got to know anyone else or myself during the first year and a half at Wheaton.
At around 9:30pm on February 23, 2015 in Wheaton, Illinois, my life changed irreversibly. By sophomore spring, it had become evident to me that I could no longer go on living the way I was if I was going to go on living. I’d been so desperate since being in that 7th grade locker room to be loved and accepted by my male peers that I’d spent so much time pretending to be somebody I wasn’t and hoping reality would catch up to my imagination, but in the process I’d pushed people away and truly forgotten who I was. I made a vow to God and myself that night, when the nightmare was over, that I was going to discover who I really was. I had no more presuppositions about Peter Fenton and was willing to rediscover him piece by piece.
So what has rediscovery meant? First, I read How to Win Friends and Influence People. I realized I didn’t want to go to grad school right after college. I gave myself freedom to give comedy writing a fair shot as my real career — and both The Thousand-Year Rose and See Amid the Winter Snow have premiered since that day. I started really liking my personality and taking a genuine interest in others. And it was all happening organically, one happy little discovery after the other, and realizing that I exclusively fall in love with men was just another piece of the puzzle I discovered. I’m a spiritually and mentally healthier person for it and it’s all been part of the journey of (I hate to use this phrase, but) “letting go and letting God”.
I don’t anticipate my presence on Facebook, Instagram, or my website will become “The Big Gay Blog” or whatever now, since that’s not my primary brand of topic or comedy, but yes. I’m a proud gay man. I’m a proud Christian man. I’m just a person doing my best, and so are you. I have a wonderfully supportive family and the friends that have stuck with me are truly the best. I say we can move on now. I’ve been waiting for a long time :)
Suggested Material in Place of “Having a Concerned Conversation with Peter”
God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines
Torn by Justin Lee
Unashamed by Amber Cantorna
Letter to My Congregation by Ken Wilson
“Hey Jesus”, a song by Trey Pearson
Does Jesus Really Love Me? by Jeff Chu
Queerology, a Podcast by Matthias Roberts
Suggested Material for Life in Affirming-Post-Evangelical-But-Not-Necessarily-Gay Christianity
Faith Unraveled by Rachel Held Evans (anything by RHE, actually)
Parenting Forward by Cindy Wang Brandt
How the Bible Actually Works by Pete Enns
The Bible for Normal People, a Podcast by Pete Enns and Jared Byas
Good Christian Fun, a Podcast by Kevin T. Porter and Caroline Ely