Michael Fields is a perfect candidate for an “It Gets Better” segment. A closeted gay boy in Nashville, steeped in the Southern Baptist tradition, longing for love, Fields would become an openly gay man in New York City, deeply committed to the beliefs of his choosing and legally married to his longtime partner. Much took place along the journey that connects Mike, the boy, with Michael, the man—some of which he describes in his memoir, The Thousand-Petaled Lotus, which details Fields’ life from grade school through high school, with a hint of what was to come.
As a child, Fields, now 58, loved to visit the Parthenon in Nashville’s Centennial Park. “The Parthenon was a very special place to me when I was a child, and I always go back now to see Athena, now that she’s there.” In his own small way, he helped to fund the Athena installment. “When my grandmother would take us there—me and my siblings and my cousin—and when their backs were turned, I would take whatever money I had in my pocket and I would stuff it into the [donation] coin slot. I wanted a big statue of Athena.”
Not surprisingly, growing up gay in the Southern Baptist Church was difficult. “[Coming out to yourself], of course, was a very torturous thing when you’re part of the Southern Baptist Church…as a young adolescent, I prayed to Jesus constantly that He would cure me of being a homosexual…It’s not that I was praying daily,” he remembers. “I was praying hourly, praying half-hourly, praying just constantly because there was no way to reconcile what I felt myself becoming and what my religion said I was allowed to be.”
It wasn’t until late in his high school career that he began to examine his inherited beliefs, thanks, in part, to an influential teacher. “[My McGavock Comprehensive High School drama teacher] Kent Cathcart…is a devout Catholic and he is a follower of every religion ever known to man, on top of it,” Fields explains. “He really was one of those teachers—we all hope we have one—who introduces you to a world that’s bigger than the world that you grew up in. Because he was born and raised as a Southern Baptist in Nashville, himself, but he had gone to Columbia [University], as I would later go to Columbia…and to get his Ph.D. at the University of Southern California. He had gotten out and seen the world,” Fields recounts. “And so I began to, under his tutelage…question my religion.”
An interesting mix of metaphysical musings and a retelling of his burgeoning self-awareness, the memoir’s characters come alive, particularly those we meet during Fields’ high school years. Among the most pivotal moments, he remembers the night he met his celebrity crush, David Bowie, at Nashville’s Municipal Auditorium, where he served as an usher as a teen.
By the time he met Bowie, though, Fields had already reached a new level of enlightenment. “‘God Knows I’m Good,’ sang David Bowie, and God knew that I was good. God did not care what my religion was, and he did not care that I was gay.”
New York resident Michael Fields was born and raised in Nashville. He returned to Music City in October to speak at The Southern Festival of Books in support of his memoir, The Thousand-Petaled Lotus: Growing Up Gay in the Southern Baptist Church, which was released in June. I spoke with him by phone in anticipation of the Nashville event. For more information about the author and his work, visit www.MichaelFields.com