It happened in the back of an adult bookstore.
In the control room for the private arcade booths to be exact.
I was 18-years-old and just moved to Nashville, Tennessee. I graduated from high school that June of 2004. I moved to Nashville to start what would be a short-lived career in Christian entertainment. It was everything I dreamt of doing since I was a kid. I was living in a city, sharing a tour bus with some of the biggest names in Christian music and working for a TV show. I thought because I was working on a Christian show my parents would be proud of me. I was championing the name of Christ alongside my brothers and sisters in Christ.
Despite feeling like I was fulfilling my dreams since I was a kid, I was deeply struggling with accepting myself as a gay man.
Living in Nashville was the first time in my life I was truly on my own. I was ready to explore and experience life. I wanted to experience everything I couldn’t while growing up in my extremely conservative and religious Hoosier home. So, for me, it meant going to the adult bookstore.
There was an adult bookstore not too far from where I was living in Nashville. I found a spot to fit my 1986 Lincoln Town Car in their small and awkward parking lot. The store was on a busy street and I was nervous about drivers seeing me as I walked in. I wondered if people driving by did the same thing my parents would do as we drove by the adult bookstore on the way to visit my grandparents in Michigan. Whether on our way to my grandparents or on our way back home, my mom and dad would never fail to stretch one arm toward the adult store and pray. They would start by speaking in tongues for a moment. Then, in English, they would pray for God to open the eyes of the people who go there, set them free, and shut down this wicked establishment. God never did shut it down.
I waited in my car for the traffic on the busy street to die down. As soon as I saw a break in the traffic I quickly got out, kept my head down, and walked in. To the left was an older male cashier with a mustache and mullet. He gave a friendly hello and told me to let him know if I needed anything. The last thing I was going to do was ask for help. I didn’t want to raise any attention to my presence being there.
I perused through each aisle. Slowly and discreetly looking for the gay section. Judgmental thoughts swirled through my mind as did the adrenaline. I found the gay section and kept slowly walking by thinking I was being discreet. That’s when he came to the aisle I was in, “What are you looking for?” Having a conversation was the last thing I wanted to do. “I don’t know. Just looking.” I replied quickly and quietly. I was just an 18-year-old kid who had moved out of his religious parent’s house two weeks prior. My experience outside of the Christian bubble I was raised in was virtually non-existent.
I was 10-years-old the first time I went to a movie theater. My parents never wanted us to go because they believed demons resided there after a movie played and could possess you. My dad insisted that my mom return a box of Lucky Charms to the store because the word “lucky” somehow translated to “Lucifer”. I remember arguing with him to keep the Lucky Charms because of the delicious marshmallows. My life growing up was sheltered to say the least. I was ready to see what this secret gay world was all about. What I really wanted was to meet someone else like me and know that I was not alone.
The cashier continued, “Follow me. I want to show you something.” I was young and a people pleaser. I didn’t feel comfortable following him but I did because I didn’t want to seem rude. Some call it Midwestern niceness. It’s not really about being nice, it’s about wanting to be liked.
He took me to what felt like an “employee only” area. There were six video monitors. He started telling me about their arcade, “We have six different viewing booths. These are what’s playing in each booth right now. What do you like?” I started to feel uneasy and grew fearful of his intention. “I don’t know. Stuff with guys in it.” I could sense he wanted something more. Something I didn’t want to give. He kept changing the video on the screen asking if I like this one or that one. He coerced me.
I left quickly and never went back to that place.
Questions started to flood my mind. Did I want that to happen? How did I let that happen? Why did I let it happen? I felt like a failure again. I started to feel like I deserved it for going to a place like that.
I begged for God’s forgiveness.
I will write about this in greater depth in my book, My Gay Agenda.
Be love. Be you.
– Azariah Southworth