Author's note: This piece is very personal, and it is my journey. This is the first time I am fully sharing about coming to terms with my sexuality.
When I was growing up, we had the perfect backyard to play "hide and seek". Some of it was wooded towards the back of the yard. We had brush and clumps of trees throughout the yard. At one point, there was a shed that wasn't used, and there were always cars and a boat in the yard. Of course, when we got older, hide and seek became "manhunt" throughout our neighborhood. Some of my fondest memories of my childhood and teen years.
My life has somewhat been a game of "hide and seek". I hid who I was for a number of years, and then I sought who I was and who I wanted to be. It took a significant life circumstance to make me come to some important realizations about myself. Realizations that had been suppressed for years.
What Was I Hiding From?
I knew for sure by puberty that I was attracted to men. I had girlfriends throughout high school, but I would still have secret feelings and attractions. In my senior year, I began dating my ex-wife. We were married with a child right out of high school. In my early twenties, I became involved in a church, so that was our life. House in the suburbs, four kids filling the house with laughter and joy, and church on Sunday. That became our life. It would fall apart seventeen years later. All while hiding the fact that I was gay.
Why Was I Hiding?
My reasons for denying who I was are complex.
I have known about myself since I was young that I wanted a big family. When I was coming up, gay rights weren't what they are now, and gay people couldn't adopt children. I fell in love with my ex-wife, and we built a life together.
Another reason I was hiding was that I wanted to be successful in ministry, and the church I was a part of denounced homosexuality. In my twenties, I went on a retreat with a few other guys from church. The one I shared a room with liked to talk and was all about brothers building each other up. I confessed to him that I had same-sex attractions. He told me I was talented, and if I wanted to go anywhere in ministry, I would keep that to myself and never tell anyone else. I was to remain in constant prayer about it.
Probably the biggest reason I hid was because, to be completely honest, I didn't want to be gay. I prayed daily for almost two decades that God would remove this "sin" in me. To be gay was not equal in society's eyes. Gay people were viewed as less than. Between the teachings of the church and society's norms, I internalized a lot of homophobia.
I was living a tortured life. It became too much. The thing is, I would have had support from my family if I had come out when I was younger, before the big wedding and house in the suburbs. We have other gay people in our family- two aunts and an uncle. I resented what my life had become.
In short, my wife had an affair. Our marriage had been dead long before, but it still hurt deeply. We tried to work it out for a week, but it was very evident that it wouldn't work, and our marriage was over. I also started feeling like she took the easy way out, yet here I was, denying my true self to keep things together. That said, I was unable to love her the way she needed to be loved for five years before our marriage died.
I had a breakdown and attempted suicide twice. (It feels so strange to say that sentence. I don't identify with that person anymore.)
I had lost everything. My marriage, my kids, my sanity, my truck, my house, my friends…all of it. After my hospitalizations, I lived with my mother and aunt and slept on their couch for months. When I finally did get visitation with my kids, they would spend every other weekend with me at my mom's. The only thing in my life that seemed worth living for was my relationship with my kids. I had to rebuild my life from the ground up.
With a good counselor's help, I learned to forgive myself and give myself patience. I learned how to deal with internalized homophobia and accept myself for who I was—a gay man. Forgiveness for my ex-wife would come later. The counselor helped me to look at the horrible events that transpired as an opportunity. An opportunity to build my life without hiding. A chance to do the work to become the best version of myself.
And that is what I set about doing.
I was sitting in the parking lot at Dollar General, having a meltdown because it was the third store I went to looking for a specific item. The whole time I had been staying with my mother, I was having flings with men to satisfy my physical urges. Nothing serious, and no relationship on the horizon. (Or so I thought). I did the whole dating app thing as a still closeted person. Dove first into the hook-up culture. That is what I had assumed the rest of my life would be. I would get my place, rebuild my relationship with my kids, and focus on that. I had resigned myself to hook-ups with no real meaning. I was going to focus on my kids and still stay closeted.
But my meltdown in the Dollar General parking lot opened the floodgates, and I couldn't hide anymore. I calmed myself down and drove back to my mom's house. I called her at work to ask if we could talk when she got home, and she said yes. She asked if everything was okay, and I said yes; I just had something to tell her. I was crying at this point, and she came out and asked me if I was gay. I said yes. My mom was the first person I came out to. We cried for a minute and then hung up. When she got home, she hugged me and reminded me she loved me no matter what. Over the next couple of days, I came out to the rest of my family. My Auntie and my sister said they always knew. My brother asked me if my opposition to gay marriage and homosexuality in the past was genuine. I told him no, I just couldn't come out and support those things because of my role in the church. I came out to my best friend, who was like a brother to me. He was shocked and stopped all contact with me. I came out to my ex-wife, and she hugged me and said now you don't have to hide anymore. My coming out experience wasn't traumatic. I was supported and loved by my family. I did lose quite a few Christian friends over it. I came out to my kids, and they handled it pretty well. I was now an out-of-the-closet gay man.
My Life Now
Shortly after coming out, I started dating a man who would later become my husband. Nine years later, we are still going strong. We have been married for five years now. He helped me rebuild my life. He became a fantastic stepfather to my children and has a unique bond with all of them. Together, we built a home for ourselves and our kids.
I often think back on my life and wonder how different it would have been if I dared to face who I was earlier. I don't stay there too long. If I had done anything differently, my kids wouldn't be here, and I might not have met Mark. I still carry around some guilt for hiding for so long. I am so moved by young queer people coming out as soon as they know, having the courage to live their truth.
Oh, and I won the game of "hide and seek".
I found me.
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