It was 1983 and I was about to graduate from a Christian college. I was terrified of the future because of my big, scary, dark secret. Finally, with a mixture of fear and shame, I scheduled an appointment with the school’s director of counseling. I told him my secret: I was attracted to other guys. I also told him that more than anything, I wanted to be free from those desires and live a normal life. He assured me that such change was possible, but would probably take about a year of therapy. Since I was due to graduate, I was referred to a Christian counselor in the city where I would soon begin seminary.
The new counselor, a sincere man with an MSW degree, also affirmed that change was possible. We began a counseling relationship lasting one year. “I’ve never met a homosexually-attracted man who had a good relationship with his father,” he told me. “Hmmm,” I thought, “my Dad and I have always been pretty close.” I told him so, and the counselor began a process of deconstructing my relationship with my father. He explained that my inability to bond with my father resulted in a quest to repair that relationship through bonding with other men. He was the expert and I was desperate, so I believed him. Thus began a journey toward becoming ‘normal’ that lasted nearly twenty years.
My story is similar to many others I've heard. A childhood centered in church and family. A growing awareness that I was attracted to guys, not girls, coupled with systems of massive denial. My identity was centered in being a good boy, an obedient son, a committed Christian. Inner nudges toward ministry set me on a path that included a Christian college and seminary - places where being gay was just not an option. I couldn't imagine a life that didn't include a wife, children, and the respect of others for being a Christian role model.
Being a pastor and practicing spiritual disciplines did nothing to diminish the power of my innate sexuality. I eventually got married to a remarkable woman, hoping the Christian counselors were correct that it would be a sign of my 'healing.' No doubt a very bad decision, though I'm deeply grateful for the two wonderful children who came out of our marriage.
In 2001 the unthinkable happened. On the day after my 40th birthday, I met a man with whom I experienced an overpowering emotional connection. Until then I assumed my attraction to men was only physical and that periodic encounters with men had been a kind of addiction, but not related to who I really was. A very brief 'fling' with this man ended when he challenged me to be completely honest with myself. A gay, Jewish agnostic man demonstrated greater integrity than this married Christian pastor, and his words began what ultimately resulted in my coming out.
For over a year I committed myself once more to finding my 'true identity in Christ' as a heterosexual, or at least as a homosexually abstinent male. I cashed in everything. I told my story to my superiors in the church and surrendered my ordination credentials. No job, no income, no stability. Just incredible pressure and an understandably distraught wife. We attended a 10-day intensive counseling program in Colorado at great expense. I entered reparative therapy... again... realizing on some level that the treatment was sub-standard if not bogus, but hoping that God would honor my efforts and finally fix me.
Throughout two decades I sought reparative therapy and other ex-gay treatments and methods. Prayer, fasting, inner healing, accountability groups, medication, and 12-step groups. Even a scary exorcism attempt with lots of shouting. Since none of it made any difference, I became pretty despondent and hopeless over time. And because so much of it focused on environmental causes of homosexuality, my relationship with my parents suffered greatly
By Nov. 2002 I couldn't pretend to believe any more that the counseling was helping. I asked too many questions one day and received a lengthy tongue lashing from the counselor for my lack of faith. So I stepped back from a lifetime of effort and committed myself for the first time to pursuing the truth about myself and homosexuality. For 8 months I suspended judgment while studying social and biological sciences, scripture, and theology. I submitted to a psycho-sexual evaluation with a bona fide sex therapist to determine whether I was 'bi' or truly gay. I came to believe that the 'addiction' was a compulsion rooted in the fear and shame I experienced because of my attractions. Further, I believed the compulsion could not be resolved until I came to fully accept myself for who I am. The day I was able to first utter the words "I am gay" in late spring, 2003, was one of the hardest days of my life. I wept in the arms of my wife. And with her began the excruciating discussions that resulted in the decision to separate and divorce.
Life is coming back together. I developed a home-based art business that sustained me for a few years. Then in 2004 I was received into the gay-affirming United Church of Christ denomination. In 2005 I was the first openly gay man called to serve a UCC in my region of New York State. Though I've lost a couple of close friends as the result of identifying as gay, most friends - and all of my family - have been strongly supportive. My children - ages 13 and 11 when I came out to them - have struggled in various ways with the changes, but they love me and we have a strong relationship.
Before my mother passed away from cancer in 2004, she told me over and over again that she loved me unconditionally. My father and I have a better relationship, and I regret the years I blamed him for my homosexuality. I’ve met a man who I love deeply, and we have been partnered since 2005. He, too, is from an evangelical background and attended a Christian college.
If someone had told me a few years ago that I would one day be an out, proud gay man, I would not have believed it. While the losses and challenges of life seem great at times, the benefits of peace of mind and inner integrity are much greater. I am grateful for the work of grace God has done in my life.