In Playing by the Book, 17-year-old Jake Powell deals with coming out, falling in love, and his religious faith while spending a summer in New York City.
We often hear how “angst-ridden” the teenage years are,” but “angst” hardly begins to cover it when you keep hearing your preacher say from the pulpit that anyone who acts upon same-sex urges is going to hell. So what do you do if these are the only sexual urges you feel? And the preacher making these claims is your father?
At the very least, I’d say we have the premise for a novel, one that took me eight years to write.
Growing up in a fundamentalist Christian household in a small Southern town, I was tortured by my same-sex attractions. There was such shame associated with these urges that I couldn’t discuss them with anyone—not my parents, not my preacher, not my best friend and not even my identical twin, who was having the time of his life in high school, having jumped headlong into the heterosexual dating pool.
So I turned to God, believing with all my heart that if I prayed and fasted and studied the Bible enough, He’d take these urges away. My heart aches for my younger self, who struggled in this way for nearly two decades without anyone to guide him.
And my heart aches for gay kids today who grow up in fundamentalist religious communities (of any faith) where homosexuals are lumped together with murders, adulterers, drunkards, fornicators, the greater populace of Sodom and Gomorra and everyone else who’s destined for hell.
Seeing so many well-adjusted gay high school students on Glee might convince these closeted gay fundamentalist teens that the secular world accepts homosexuality, but these kids are also taught that most of the secular world is going to hell. No amount of well-adjusted secular gay characters from Hollywood or elsewhere will persuade them that they aren’t going to hell too. Theirs is a spiritual journey, one that all too often ends in withdrawal, self-loathing, severe depression, self-destructive behavior, and, all too often, all of the above. They need a spiritual story or at least one that includes the spiritual aspect of this journey.
I wrote Playing by the Book so these kids might at the very least be entertained by the often-humorous story of Jake Powell, boy preacher, who successfully navigates this treacherous spiritual journey by the skin of his teeth and becomes a well-adjusted young man with a very bright future and an incredibly hot Jewish boyfriend in the process. My hope is that Jake will help these kids reconcile their faith and sexuality and come to realize that they are not fundamentally screwed.
S. Chris Shirley is an award-winning writer/director and President of the Board of Lambda Literary, the world’s leading non-profit organization that nurtures, celebrates and preserves LGBTQ literature. He was born and raised in Greenville, Alabama, and now resides in Manhattan. Playing by the Book is his first novel. Visit Chris online at schrisshirley.com.
Playing by the Book is now available.