Hi there. My name is Rand Duren and here you will read about my life plus a few other topics. (Haz click aquí para leer mi historia en Español) I wanted a place to tell my story, hoping that it will serve as encouragement to a least one person out there. I lived my life trying to fight something in me, something I didn’t choose. I pleaded with God for him to change because I was taught that I couldn’t be a gay Christian. Then one day, things changed, for the better. Here is how everyhing happened…
I was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where I lived with my parents and brother for awhile before moving to where the rest of my family lived, a coastal town in the northwestern corner of the island, Isabela. It is in this small town that I was raised. That’s where I went to school, where all my friends were, where I lived until I left the island as an adult and moved to Dallas, Texas. I had a happy childhood.
My dad was a great man, who you will read about around here every now and then. American, handsome and very intelligent. He moved to Puerto Rico when he joined the Air Force and married a beautiful woman with whom he had two boys and a girl. He then met my mom, a gorgeous Puerto Rican with long hair and big brown eyes, while she worked at a jewelry store. I’ve heard stories about how sparks flew when they met. Mom was a former beauty queen in my hometown and somewhat of a free spirit. My dad seemed to have had a sweet spot for those. I grew up with my mom, dad and my older brother, spending more time with dad over the weekends since he worked in the capital during the week and had a place. I loved going to the city, where he worked. I think that’s when my love for traveling and city life started, planes constantly flying over us. Very different to what I was used to, at least back then.
I enjoyed my childhood, looking back I have very fond memories. I didn’t excel in sports growing up, even though I loved volleyball. I made the team while in elementary school and to this day I wonder if it was simply the result of mom pulling some strings. Not that I was horrible at it, there were just some kids that were slightly better. I was a smart kid who, to this day, never loved studying. But even without spending hours buried in a book I got good results. Once, I won a reading marathon in school and went on to compete against other contestants throughout the island. A high point in my childhood for sure. Maybe it was mom’s involvement that made it such an event. I didn’t win nationally but it sure felt like it. The school threw a party in my honor. I received a bunch of trophies and for some unknown reason there was even a fashion show, now I know why some of the designs in that show never left my mind. I felt like a celebrity. From then on some people knew who I was and that made me feel good. It gave a boost to a my self esteem and helped me handling some things that were to happen later in life. My childhood was good. I was loved and I am very thankful for the way I was raised. It was not conventional all the time, but it could’ve been worse.
Arriving at junior high was interesting. Can you believe I lived within walking distance to all my schooling back in Puerto Rico? So even though there were a lot of unknown students, there were some people I knew from earlier years. New friends came along and looking back I am very thankful of how formative everything was. Scanning through old memories I can now see how every little thing that happened helped mold me into who I am today.
I had my first girlfriend at the end of seventh grade. We were a couple for a little more than a year. She was and still is a very beautiful girl. I thought I was in love with her. My junior-high brain thought I would some day marry her. That was the first of about three official girlfriends I had. It felt great to be in public with a girl. I felt empowered by it, and here is why: Behind close doors, I was daydreaming about boys. And some kids in school somehow had caught that. The “tu eres pato” (you’re gay) shouts eased up when I had a girlfriend. They didn’t end, but my girlfriend once told me “if you give them attention by acknowledging their insults, they will keep on doing it.” I stopped paying attention, it worked for me.
Maybe they kept on calling me gay as an insult, but I really didn’t care. In any case, I was a winner here. I had a girl while they spent their days surrounded by other guys looking for someone to verbally assault.
I didn’t have a girlfriend in high school, but was always surrounded by girls. High school was fun. I never came out during my school years mainly because I didn’t understand what was going on. Was I gay? Or was it a normal thing for a straight guy to be attracted to men? It was confusing. I mean, I liked girls; especially their hair, their fashion, how fierce and fabulous some of them can be. You know, just nothing to do with sexual attraction. It was a hard act to balance. I was always sold on the idea of a typical love story. Who doesn’t want a fabulous wedding? Well, I sure wanted one. That was the problem. I wanted the relationship, the wedding, the kids in the future. All of it. But, I wasn’t attracted to women. I played the game. I hid my strong attraction for men, because it wasn’t normal. It wasn’t accepted. As a man, I had to marry a woman.
This became my struggle. I tried to fit a mold. The mold of a straight man. I had my checklist ready with all the things I had to do in order to be that model straight man. Sometime around junior high and high school, I became an evangelical Christian. I was raised catholic, did my first communion all dressed in white with my shiny white shoes. I went to retreats and events, but there was something refreshing about this new Christian experience that started when some friends invited me to church as a teen. The music was contemporary, there was dance and an atmosphere of celebration. People had personalities, the messages were descriptive and vivid. Even talking to God felt different. There was something very alive in prayer and waking up early to go to church events was a thrill (most mornings at least). I went in head on. It felt great to be part of something. Teenage years can be very difficult if spent in loneliness, this experience gave me a place to fit in. I became a youth leader soon after, helping in organizing events in our town and around the island and preaching very often.
I preached about many things, but I stayed away from talking about homosexuality as much as possible. I didn’t feel I was fit to preach to others about how bad homosexuality was when for some unknown reason I felt attracted to men.
I was very involved in church. I was Jesus in a Church play — a chubby version of Jesus. There came a point when I was so involved in church that I was doing something church-related every day of the week. Mondays, I led a teen cell group. Tuesdays, visiting new youth that had recently visited the church for the first time. Wednesdays, prayer service. Thursday, youth rehearsals for dance and worship teams. Friday, youth services. Saturday. events at other churches. Sunday, teaching bible school before services.
It was tiring, but it was enjoyable. I loved the kids in my youth group and to this day I keep in contact with many of them. While in church I had two girlfriends and in those relationships marriage was always on my mind. Again, mainly because of the need to fit this mold that society had for me. It was even stronger now, when not only society said “you must follow these rules, marry a woman, have children, fit the profile,” but Church was going a step further, telling me that not only was being attracted to men wrong, but it was a sin, worthy of God’s ire and that it would end in my banishment from God’s kingdom. A harsh reality that I didn’t not want to be a part of.
So, I hid my attraction for men and kept on going as the man I was expected to be, even though my heart was consistently broken by the fact that something I didn’t have a hand in choosing was strong enough to keep me away from God’s tender love.
I was burned out. I was the Youth Pastor at my church while it went through a nasty division. Roughly 75% of my youth group left to a new Church that was quickly formed. Even though the whole event was revolting, the atmosphere at church after that division was refreshing. The man who became the new pastor had been a very close friend since I first joined the church. He was my pastor. He never knew I was gay, or if he knew it was a topic that never saw the light of day. Not long after he started leading the Church, he suddenly passed away. It was a painful shock for everyone. I missed my friend. I was there every step of that process, very close to his family and to the church leadership as we worked on keeping the church focused on looking ahead. Having gone through all that in a short period of time made me long for a break. I needed some space.
I headed to Dallas in the summer of 2005 to immerse myself in the summer term of Christ for the Nations Institute. The school, a sort of Christian college I first heard about while traveling in Israel, had a high emphasis on missions and spiritual warfare. I was no stranger to these topics — my church back in Puerto Rico was all about that. I went for the summer and it was my plan to go back, but that didn’t work. After going back to Puerto Rico, I lasted two weeks there and enrolled in the program to acquire my diploma in practical theology.
I enjoyed this time in school, mainly because it’s where I met some of my closest friends, but it was hard. If I had been told being gay was wrong before, it increased exponentially here. I prayed, fasted and submitted myself to be delivered from homosexuality. People prayed, I prayed. I wanted to get rid of this attraction that was “keeping me from God”. I even attended a class taught by a man who was a “pro” in delivering others from demonic possession because I was made believe that there was a demon of homosexuality living in me. It was hard to understand all this. I loved God, I was giving everything I had to follow Him as I had been taught all along yet there was a demon living in me.
My best friend was the first person I ever told about my “struggle” with homosexuality. He was cool. Many nights we prayed together for God to rid me of this, among other things. He knew I was hurting and his encouragement filled me with hope that I could some day get past that, or at least the hope to keep going. I attended conferences where ex-gays would talk about their former gay lives and it just made me more curious as to what it would be to live as a gay man.
A couple of years after graduating from Bible school, while at work, a friend asked me if I was gay. My answer turned from a “no,” to an “I don’t know.” Something started changing, I wasn’t sure what.
I prayed to God a different prayer. Instead of crying out for God to rid me out of my “gayness,’ I broke down before him. “God, all my life I’ve been struggling with this. I didn’t choose to be attracted to men. I wasn’t abused when I was a kid. I had a fantastic, healthy relationship with my dad. I feel like I’ve always been fighting. Am I to live condemned and away from you, because of being gay,” I said. Then, I just said: I’m gay. That was that. I feel like the barrier of guilt and condemnation that for most of my life kept me away from experience God’s love came crashing down. Free? It felt like it. It was very unexpected. By seeing myself with no filters I was able to get all the filters I had placed on God aside as well. I was overwhelmed by the sense that God didn’t hate me or wanted to destroy me. He loved me, in all my homosexual gayness.
My life changed. I lived in Christian circles long enough to know what many Christians will say about my story. I know how many will doubt when I say I felt closer to God after I came clean. I know how many will try to pity me because I turned out to be something other than the “man” they thought I was, or because I have become something else. But, there is no need for that. I am sure of who I am and what I have experienced. And while I didn’t get to choose to be straight or gay, I do get a chance to live my life in a fulfilling way, not giving attention to those who doubt me because of not understanding an area of my life.
It took me 28 years to come to this realization and I am glad it happened this way. My years in Church have served me to see how condemnation-heavy their message can be, it also served to show me a merciful God who is more interested in loving us than in pushing us away.
Yes, I’m a gay man. But that is just one small part of who I am. I love music, and dabble in pop culture. I use social media a lot. I have great admiration for drag queens. My idea of a great night is the furthest thing to spending it dancing at a gay bar. I don’t walk around covered in feathers or make up, but sometimes I get crazy with scarfs and have been known to rock a pair of heels when in the company of close friends. I play video games but would rather spend my time watching TV . I like trying new things and traveling. I’m a designer and have designed covers for books and music albums. I have worked for one of the wealthiest Christian ministries in the world (not a great experience, but I met great people), and I also worked for one of the biggest tech companies in the world as a trainer; oh, I also worked as a web administrator for a very famous international non-profit. Now, I work as an editor and producer for the entertainment section of a large news organization and I love every second of it, mainly because I get to write about Pop Culture.
I’m a normal person. I will write as a guy with similar needs, desires, passions and longings to millions around the world. Gay or straight. This is my story.
Here are some posts I wrote when I was going though some of the events described above…