In 1995, I ran away from home. I was 53 years old.
My life has been a saga of trying to figure out what was wrong with me, trying desperately to find a fit and find myself. I had a relatively happy childhood. Growing up in the 50s, I was naïve and protected. Living on a ranch during my kid years was one of the best things I could ask for.
My parents grew up during the Clutch Plague and were young adults in WWII. They had to focus on making a living and getting by so they didn’t have much time or inclination for affection. But we always had a garden and ate well. There was no talk about sex. I never heard the word queer or homosexuality or gay, and I didn’t know there was such a thing as same sex attraction until I went off to college.
I knew something was different about me as I grew up but I didn’t know how to interpret it. I thought I must be a freak. I didn’t even understand what was happening when I had an erection. Showering after gym class terrified me.
Getting married was the worst mistake of my life. I was immature and clueless—married too soon to the wrong person. Even in our courtship, we argued a lot about stuff I can’t remember. Since I was a ministerial candidate, I thought things would improve over time with prayer, but it only got worse. By the time our second child was born, I was so angry with my wife and marriage that I burned all her love letters in a 50 gallon drum. She had regular meltdowns over the most trivial things, and I was depressed most of the time. There was no one to talk to, and the possibility of being known and outed—to chance the shame and rejection, kept me emotionally isolated and cowed – was unthinkable.
After going to several counselors and therapists over several years, I realized I wasn’t going to be able to fix my marriage. I was trapped. My wife knew that if I left, I would lose everything—my ministry, friends, family and income. And her bet was that I wouldn’t abandon ship. There came a time, however, when I was so angry and depressed that I decided I had to do something. So, while she was gone on a trip, I moved out.
The truth is, I was afraid of her – not because she would hurt me physically, but because of the trauma of dealing with her toxic anger and retaliation. When I filed for divorce, my life flew apart just like I thought it would. Only it was worse than I imagined. I was relieved of my job because I filed for divorce. (I worked for the Baptist denomination, which disapproves of divorce). I lost friends who had no idea about what went on behind our front door.
I had to figure out what to do with my life. After 6 months of accumulating a stack of rejection letters, I found a little dysfunctional church in North Florida that was as desperate to have a pastor as I was to have a job and still be in the ministry. It was a tiny country church with a part-time salary, enough to get by.
Then something earth-shattering was about to happen. I decided it was time to consider my sexual orientation. Up to this point there were no options. I was feeling tense conflict between my spirituality and my sexuality. I was fragmented and felt tormented. I needed to figure it out.
One day as I was flipping through the Christian Century magazine, my eye was drawn to a classified. It advertised a retreat for gay Christian men. My first thought was “I must be misreading this.” I was shocked. But the print didn’t lie. I tried to calm myself down, breathing deeply letting the reality of what I just read soak in. I made the arrangements and told no one. No one. I got time off for the weekend and prepared myself for more stress as I faced this new adventure.
The retreat was in the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania. I was one of the first to arrive. I was welcomed and then given instructions on making a mask with glitter and feathers. Momentary panic! I couldn’t imagine myself doing this!
After the retreatants settled in we had a nice meal together and then met in a large group. There were 100 of us—all men—all shapes and sizes, colors and denominations. Forty of them were ministers or priests. We were divided into 10 groups for sharing our stories. When I shared mine, I didn’t leave anything out: no one knew I was there, I was terrified, etc. But it was therapeutic and I enjoyed hearing the stories of the other men.
Later, we were told to pick one person from each group to share their stories with the larger group. My group picked me. I felt like I had just been asked to take off my clothes. I did some fast self-talk. “Could I do this?” I thought to myself.
The ten of us were seated in a semi-circle in front of the rest of the men who were sitting in concentric circles. We were given 5 minutes to tell our stories. There was a lot of laughter and profound silence as we shared. After all of us had finished, we were given a standing ovation.
In my 71st year I revealed my orientation to my grown children. They didn’t take it well. Both my son and daughter had embraced a level of religious conservatism that didn’t allow the possibility of same-sex attraction or the expression of it. It was a sin just to be gay as far as they were concerned.
Over the years things got worse and attempts at understanding and reconciliation were roundly rejected. The tension between us continued to increase. They wouldn’t allow discussion about any of it. My attempts trying to be a fixer upper of my family met more resistance. For years I have tried to work through all this family “stuff,” but it has been in vain.
I have tried to accept my own responsibility in all of this – thinking and processing it all —and I know I made many mistakes. I hurt my family by some of my responses to their toxicity, and I hate that.
In the past couple of years, I have accepted the reality of my life and the inability to have relationships with my kids. It took me a long time to get there, but I am at a good place now. I just celebrated my 80th birthday and my faith has healed much of my pain and rejection. I have forgiven my grown kids and will always love them and pray for them, and I’ve forgiven my ex-wife but haven’t pardoned her. But I decided to forgive myself. And I have found myself, and am now living my truth and loving who I am.
A minister, married for almost 33 years, closeted, frightened, coming out to his grown children at 71. Consequently estranged from them, but at a retreat in 1999 experienced a powerful liberating weekend that changed everything.