In 2014, Andrew Caldwell was introduced to the world via a viral video in which he proclaimed his deliverance from homosexuality at an annual COGIC convention in St. Louis.
“I was already fighting for deliverance,” he told me in an interview two years later. “That night I said, ‘God, if you’re real, I want you to show me.’”
It was truly a spectacle. In a loud, purple top with a giant mustard bowtie and matching handkerchief hanging out the pocket of his patterned suit jacket, he screamed what seemed an impossibly even louder, “I’m deliver’t! I don’t like mens no more!”
The absurd pageant prompted reactions from nearly everyone with an internet connection ranging from congratulations (God can deliver all who ask!) to fervent belittlement.
Most of us, especially those of us who support or exist within queer communities, were incredulous and thought the whole thing a sad charade. Sexuality can’t be changed, we are told, and even if it could, his flamboyant mannerisms and speech patterns which he retained – despite promising to no longer carry a purse and switch – after his “deliverance” obviously pointed to his inherent homosexuality. Caldwell’s desire to be freed from gayness and the COGIC convention’s exploitation of that yearning was widely understood rooted in his own internalized queerantagonism and a hatred of the sin of queerness he believed to be grounded in biblical authority.
But the idea that sexuality is static and/or necessarily indicated by mannerisms, accent or dress is rooted in the very same queerantagonism and hatred many of us claim to be against.
Comments on a video posted by Caldwell on April 12, 2016 to Facebook.
Sometime before Caldwell came out to the world as ex-gay, I had a similar coming out experience of my own.
It was not my first time coming out – nor what I usually respond with when folks ask about my “coming out experience”: the three-page letter I wrote to my parents at 19. Many other “coming outs” have happened between and since, and I’m sure there will be many more in the future. It’s amazing how often queer folks are forced to “come out.”
What does that mean, anyway? When I hear the term, I think of the shedding of skin. Of snakes and roaches. Of conniving, unwanted animals.
I hate the expression.
I’ve heard “inviting in” used instead, though that actually reinforces some of the reasons for my disdain. For me, “coming out” references a specific and fixed location within my identity that I have never known. My “coming out” experiences were always more a reorientation of a journey rather than stepping out into or bringing others into any particular locale. So, let’s say sometime before I saw the video of Caldwell I reoriented my sexual orientation. I too wasn’t gay anymore.
I have been sexually attracted to people I perceived as male for a long time, and I am usually perceived as male by others. My attraction to people I perceived as men seemed to always be so much stronger than the attraction I had for people I perceived as women, and I have only been in serious relationships with men in my adult life. So, for a while, “gay” just made sense.
But that was only as long as I ignored so much of my reality that was becoming increasingly apparent. Though I was generally more sexually attracted to people I perceived as men, those people did not always turn out to be men. Being “more” sexually attracted did not mean less potent sexual attractions did not exist, and other standards for attraction outside of what was sexual became more and more important in my intimate life. Further, I discovered that the male gender did not fit me.
To acknowledge all of these things together – the expanse of gender outside of the male/female binary; for attraction, sex and intimacy to be different things – demanded a new understanding of myself. For those reasons and many others I won’t get into here, identifying as “queer” just made more sense, and I left “gay” behind. My dating practices changed accordingly.
I wasn’t convinced that Caldwell had left gayness behind, too, but it remains fascinating how many dismissed the possibility and on what basis.
Many people cling to the idea that sexuality always stays along a predetermined course. When asked what he thought of the idea that sexuality cannot change, he insisted, “I know if I can change, (you) can change, too.”
No, I don’t believe God (or anyone else) can change your orientation overnight for you, but I do think a person as unconventionally masculine as Caldwell is able to be things other than gay. Though the specific ways it is influenced are not well-known, science is very clear that sexuality is not inherently static and that it and gender expression are two different things. Because I think this fact is important in giving everyone the freedom to find themselves and their sexuality in a way that is liberating for them, I was interested in how his existence was a statement about these realities.
But when I asked him about how he feels about crossing gender boundaries, he responded, “I’m all man… men are not meant to wear women’s clothes. That’s why God created men and women, Adam and Eve.”
“I want to be loved. I want to love on people… People think that I’m a joke.” – Andrew Caldwell
I came into the interview with Caldwell under the impression that he was a fraud (which is also a crime for which he happened to be arrested prior to the video, in addition to being sued for defamation for claiming a past relationship with NFL veteran Kordell Stewart). The character he presents, of a feminine ex-gay obsessed with “reading” and outing other celebrities (and then admitting he makes these stories up) was part of an elaborate ruse set up by the world’s greatest troll. There is no way he could not be aware of bending gender and how that goes against his commitment to becoming the “man” God wants him to be. He had to be purposefully using terminology created by and associated with the queer community with such abundance because he knew it would confuse folks who can’t separate speech from whom a person fucks.
Through that lens, it was easy to develop a weird sort of appreciation for him even though he seems first and foremost obsessed with celebrity. He’d done an impressive job of indirectly exposing the ridiculousness of violent queerantagonistic theology by making ridiculous the process of trying to make sense of his attachment to it.
It’s this theology that is all about converting gay folk, unless you came out on the other side of your conversion with a gender expression like Caldwell’s; a theology that many Black queer religious folks have worked tirelessly to present alternatives for. He reveals that this theology is not concerned just with a “sin of homosexuality,” but the necessity of keeping in place a gender dichotomy that in turn leads to a gender hierarchy. He redefined “flamboyance” by rejecting it when it was placed upon him and masculinity by claiming it when it was not, harkening me back to the ball-room scene, where queer people have imagined and performed gender flipped on its head (literally) for liberating purposes for decades.
I loved what he was doing to shake up static conceptions of sexuality and how worked up people would get that he did not fit into their silly boxes.
But the more I talked to him, the more unsure I became.
At no point did he waver from his conviction that queerness is inherently wrong, even when I suggested I was in on the joke. “It’s not just homosexuality (that is a prevalent sin) in the church,” he insisted, “my goal is to let people know you can stop stealin’, you can stop killing.”
When I asked what he’d say to young queer people harmed by the insistence on only straightness being spiritually “right”, he fell back onto the familiar idea of “love the sinner, hate the sin” that demonizes queer identities: “you have to separate yourself from sin. You have to separate yourself from liars… I’m coming out from amongst (the queer community).”
He insisted that he had left “the lifestyle” behind and never did he humor any alternative to the idea that women and men are meant to be completely and irreparably different. He gave no room for operating between or outside of those two exclusive concepts, even as he, in my mind, existed in some ways outside of those binaries: “I’m not gonna be around no man that has on heels and tights.”
Perhaps this is some elaborate game that he’s playing, but if he’s actually being honest about his feelings and intentions, then his real message is not a damnation of our oppressive conceptions of gender expression or static sexuality, but that queerness is inherently sinful, and there is no denying the evil of that message. If we take him at his word then, though, we also have to take him at his word when he told me “(the) week (of COGIC) I almost killed myself, too, I was thinking about taking some pills.”
Belief in the idea that queerness is sinful is real. The harm of that belief is real. It is a harm that Caldwell may carry within himself. It is the harm that many queer people register when they are confronted with the idea that sexuality is changeable – an idea that has been weaponized to eradicate them when it can just as easily be the thing that affirms them crucially. When it can and should be an acknowledgment of the freedom, tenderness and joy in queerness that I would choose over and over again if given the chance.
The idea that queerness is sin is harmful, but there is another harmful message that is its sibling. The message that sexuality is static is a lie. The message that sexuality is understood through gender expression is false. It denies me and those like me legitimate existence. It ends this wonderful journey of self-discovery before it even begins.
Caldwell told me about his commitment to defining his own identity: “I’m going by my heart, and you ain’t going to change it and ain’t nobody else going to change it.”
If there was no other time he was completely truthful with me, I hope this one moment was one of honesty, and I hope he isn’t looking for a queer-loathing God to change his heart either.