How Trinity Broadcasting Tried To Erase Me

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Paul & Jan Crouch pictured on the set for TBN’s flagship show, “Praise the Lord!”

Samantha emailed me from the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN), “Paul Sr. told him to pull your show from the air immediately.” Everything I dreamt of doing since I was a kid was coming to a forced end. Not by just anyone either. It was from Paul Crouch Sr. himself. Someone I grew up watching on TV and idolizing. Most evenings, after dinner, our family would tune in together and watch TBN’s flagship show, Praise The Lord! Hosted by the founders of TBN, Paul and Jan Crouch.

On this show they would showcase the biggest names within the Charismatic Christian movement – Benny Hinn, Karen Wheaton, Jesse

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Left to Right: Jesse Duplantis, Benny Hinn, John Hagee

Duplantis and John Hagee were some of the biggest crowd pleasers. Benny Hinn and Karen Wheaton were my personal favorites. My sisters and I even played a game we called, “Benny Hinn”. The rules were simple – if you’re Benny Hinn you get to make the other person fall over by waving your hand over their head. We played as if we possessed the same powers we believed God granted to Benny Hinn. When you live in the middle-of-nowhere and you’re a devote Pentecostal family, these are the games you come up with. Everything else is too worldly.

 

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A separate email from another friend I had at TBN read, “They edited you out of the episode you starred on.” I was a guest on one of JCTV’s original productions called, Cruise With A Cause. This was a reality show that was taped onboard of a one-week Christian cruise to the Bahamas. I was the emcee for the cruise and was also onboard filming for my own show that week. This reality show was as dry as the Christian cruise. It was painfully vanilla. Being edited out of it should have come as a relief.

It didn’t hit me how much the news from that email would hurt until I saw the newly edited episode myself. This wasn’t just a horribly vanilla Christian reality show. For me, it was directly connected to the faith community I grew up believing in and loving. A community I desperately sought acceptance from.

About two years after coming out, I was back living in Indiana. It was the Spring of 2010 and I had just moved into my then boyfriend’s apartment in downtown Indianapolis. I finished setting up my TV in the living room, plugged in the antenna then turned on the TV. As I flipped through the over-the-air channels, JCTV flashed on my screen. I’m not sure if I believe in coincidences. Looking back now, this definitely was not one. Not only was that horrible reality show Cruise With A Cause streaming on my TV that very moment, so was my episode. The episode I was edited out of. My immediate thought was, “No way.” Stunned by this happenstance or perhaps Divine appointment, I decided to make myself comfortable. I sat back into the couch and watched to see if they really did edit me out.

On this episode, they were setting up one of JCTV’s staple on-air female personalities on blind dates with some of the other Christian entertainers on the cruise. I was one of her four blind dates for the episode. Sure enough, they edited me completely out of the entire episode. They wanted to erase my existence from their network. That was painful for me to accept. The leaders of the world I grew up believing in and loving intentionally chose to forget I ever existed since I revealed I am gay.

This wasn’t the last time something I loved tried to erase me. It’s something that has been happening to me since I was a kid who liked playing with Barbie dolls and putting on my sister’s dresses. For me, it was fun to play pretend, but, to the adults around me, it was a threat. A threat to their social status. A threat to their hard earned position in heaven. A threat if anyone else found out this child is queer.

I know I’m not alone in this.

There are countless other stories, like mine, about LGBTQ people who have been erased from the memories and archives of their faith communities. The deletion of our queer existence doesn’t occur only after we leave our beloved faith communities. It happens while we’re there. It starts with trying to get us to forget who we are. This is done through ex-gay counseling like I went through. It’s also done through what seems like normal correction. For example, I was physically and verbally disciplined every time my dad caught me playing with my sister’s dolls. Playing with my sister’s dolls became an act of defiance and great courage.

From a young age I was taught through physical, emotional and spiritual abuse to hide the most honest and genuine parts of myself. The unhealthy habits this created in my life are still unfolding and I’m learning to identify them. However, as the unhealthy habits reveal themselves through these stories I’m sharing and the book I’m writing, one question keeps emerging: Can you see me now?

How I Lost Myself – Part 1

Dreaming Of A Bigger World

I dreamt of the day I would get to ride the school bus. I was still in pre-school as I watched my three older sisters get picked up and dropped off every week day. I wanted to speed time up so I could ride the big yellow bus with them. I was incredibly curious about the world they were experiencing. I wondered if they were learning how to draw a turkey by tracing their hand too or if they got scratch and sniff stickers at the end of their day. I had so many questions.
IMG_3208I was so excited about riding the school bus that I would have dress rehearsal for it. I would put my backpack on, walk to the end of the driveway and wait. I stood there knowing one day my bus will come and all my questions will be answered.

My first day of kindergarten, I was ecstatic. I was FINALLY going to experience the world I was incredibly curious about with my sisters.

The bus doors opened, I stretched my little right leg up to reach the first tall step. As I hiked my way to the third and final step, I heard the radio sweeper for “Thuuuunder Country 105.5” echo through the yellow, hollow, metal tube – bus number 24. It was the only radio station we were allowed to listen to. I sat in the seat directly behind the bus driver – next to the person who would become my childhood best friend, Craig.

The bus doors slammed shut and our forty minute journey to school, through the backroads of rural Indiana, began.

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Leaving Home

It felt like there should have been a band playing a celebratory song in our driveway as the bus drove off, along with my mom and dad waving enthusiastically. But there was no band and my mom and dad weren’t there to give me an enthusiastic send off. My dad worked third shift as a forklift driver and my mom worked first shift in a welding factory. So, by this time, dad was in the shower getting ready for bed and mom had already been at work for about an hour.

One of my earliest memories on bus 24 was when Dolly Parton’s song, “I Will Always Love You” played over the radio. I absolutely loved that song. Every time it came on the radio I would come alive. I would sit up on my knees and belt the song out, “Aaaand IiiiiiiiiIIIIIIiiii wiiill always looooove youuuuu.” I would forget and not care where I was. I became enraptured with the song – every time. It felt natural to serenade the entire bus. What I realize now is that my queerness was showing and it made others uncomfortable.

It made Danny, in particular, uncomfortable.

I’ve only seen Danny’s house once. He was picked up before me every morning and dropped off after me on the days he made it to school or wasn’t suspended. The sense I got from Danny, even as a kid, was that he was from a family that was depleted in every way – emotionally, spiritually, financially.

Danny didn’t like my singing. He didn’t like anything about me. However, Danny and his brother, Seth, did like to pick on Craig and me. Craig was smart about it though. He kept to himself and Danny would end up leaving him alone. I was the opposite of Craig. I couldn’t stand how mean and abusive Danny was and I didn’t want him to get away with it. No matter how many times my mom told me, “Let the Lord fight your battles for you, Azariah.” I rarely missed an opportunity to stand up to him. When he would come for me, I would serve it right back to him. Often to the point that Danny would beat me up while reminding me I was nothing more than a faggot. The defiant queer in me was showing and that had to be beaten into submission. There’s nothing more threatening to the false masculinity he was learning at home than a naturally defiant queer like me.

Danny’s bullying slowly chipped away at me though. The last time I worked up the courage to be me, was the day I wore mascara to school. I loved how it accentuated my eyes. As I got out of my seat that morning to exit the bus and begin the school day, I started to feel overwhelmingly nervous. Fear ran wild with thoughts in my mind, “Everyone is going to notice. Danny’s going to beat you up again. Tell the bus driver you’re sick and you need to go home. If I talk to the bus driver, he’ll know I’m IMG_3198wearing mascara and tell my parents.” My blood felt cold. My heart beat was accelerating and the cold feeling was quickly making its way from the center of my chest to my arms and legs causing me to physically shiver in fear. I kept asking myself, “Why did I do this?” It was in that moment I accepted the lie that I had to butch it up and bottle up my queerness if I wanted to survive. I kept my head down as I exited the bus. Once I made it into the school, I quickly made my way to the least busy restroom and washed the mascara off the best I could. I was learning there was no place for my queerness in this world. I also learned mascara doesn’t wash off easily.

I found my closet and I had no plans of leaving any time soon.