Coming Out Stories Gallery - Tom
Along the way, there were many clues that should have tipped me off. For instance, I never dated, kissed, or did anything sexual with any girl. What's more, I had no desire to--not even to somehow put up a front. One time, a very nice girl named Marie asked me to dinner and a movie and so I went, as friends. I was shocked to come to school on Monday and find that people thought that I had been on a date with her. That thought had actually never even crossed my mind, though it did explain why she seemed to want me to kiss her when I dropped her off at home.
I sometimes wonder how I could have been so clueless, but I am not sure I would have been able to keep going if I had admitted it then. I grew up in Texarkana, Texas, which is not the world's most liberal and diverse place! I had never met another person who said he or she was gay. No one ever talked about homosexuality, even in church. Sure, I had been taught that the Bible condemned it, but I cannot even remember where I learned that. It was as if being gay was SO bad that religious people couldn't even have the words pass through their lips or as if gay people just didn't exist.
My freshman year in college was the first time that my armor of self-deception began to crack. One day, my friends were looking at the new Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition, and I was horrified to realize that seeing these beautiful bikini-clad women had absolutely no sexual appeal or effect on me. As the semester went on, I increasingly became aware that I was much more interested in many of the guys in my classes than I was in the supermodels. There were a couple of evenings when I just could not get them out of my mind and was so plagued by guilt that I felt like my world was falling apart.
Not knowing how to cope, I told a therapist at school that I thought I might be gay. I hoped she would tell me that there was a pill I could take to make it go away. She told me that there was nothing I could do to change it, so I got rid of her and found another one! She told me that I wouldn't really know until I dated girls. Now I realize that was a ridiculous statement, but at the time that was much closer to what I wanted to hear, so I was able to keep my self-deception going.
Other circumstances had also contributed to making my first year in college a very bad one. So, the next year I transferred to UT Austin and found it much more enjoyable. When I left American University, I guess I somehow thought that I had left my sexual perversions back in Washington, D.C. I don't remember being as distracted during my first year in Austin as I had been the year before by guys at school or by thinking about being gay. Instead, I became bothered by some intense doubts about my faith. I would doubt and question and analyze why I believed in God and whether or not God was real until I just wanted to scream. I've since realized that doubting is sometimes a way of avoiding having to deal with the issues that faith may bring up. So, I think that most of that doubting about God was really related to my homosexuality. After all, if I convinced myself that God (or at least the Christian God) was not real, then I wouldn't have to worry nearly so much about being gay.
As my doubts grew more intense, so did my religious activity. I started going to the Baptist Student Union regularly. I thought that if I just pretended I didn't have doubts that they would go away. Later that year, I even volunteered to lead a Bible study, motivated at least in part by thinking that doing so would help keep me from succumbing to homosexuality. Ironically, it was on a retreat with the Baptist Student Union that I realized even more deeply that my attractions were real.
On the first evening, we reenacted the Passover dinner and the leader asked us to hold hands with the people beside us. When one of the guys took my hand, it was almost like electricity. Looking back, I'm sure he was gay because of the way he looked at me. Just the touch of his hand was so intense that it distracted me throughout the rest of the dinner. Later that night, as I went to bed, seeing another guy in the bunk next to me undress had such an effect on me that I knew I would not be able to keep my homosexuality hidden forever.
By the summer of 1995, I had come to the point of despair and had to talk to somebody. I told my Southern Baptist pastor and got a fairly good response from him. He asked me if I believed in Jesus and believed that he lived in my heart. When I said yes, he said that we didn't need to maximize it or minimize it. When I asked him what I could do to change, he gave what was the most honest answer I've ever gotten from a conservative Christian. He said he didn't know that there was anything that I could do, but that I should just keep coming to church, reading the Bible, and praying to keep my relationship with God alive. After that, I was in church every time the doors opened, hoping deep down that God would reward my faithful attendance by curing me. Later in the summer, I came out to my aunt, because one of her sons is gay and she had repeatedly said that he could change if he wanted to. I desperately wanted to be straight and so she seemed like the perfect person to help me find out how to become straight. She sent me a counseling group in Georgetown, known as LifeGuard Ministries, whose slogan was "Offering Freedom from Homosexuality through Jesus Christ." After my experiences in D.C., I knew that secular counseling would not help me to get rid of my homosexuality.
After returning to UT in the Fall of 1995, I began attending LifeGuard and initially felt it was very beneficial. I can’t say that I ever felt much relief from my homosexual desires, but LifeGuard did at least bring me to a place where I didn’t loathe myself quite so much and where I could be open and honest with some people about what was going on in my life. It also made me feel better to think that I was actively pursuing a goal that was in line with my faith, i.e., becoming an “ex-gay.” For the first time, I was surrounded by people who openly admitted that they shared a struggle similar to mine. Having people with whom I could discuss spiritual subjects and how to “overcome” homosexuality did help to lift an emotional burden off of me, but in some ways this also made things more difficult. Though I had long struggled with these issues, they had previously not been in the forefront of my mind. Being in LifeGuard seemed to give them a new prominence in my life and therefore often caused me greater guilt and feelings of not measuring up.
As far as I can remember, there was not a specific event that caused me to begin changing my mind about LifeGuard. Sometime in the middle of January 1996, however, my attitude did begin to change. I think at that point, though I was grateful that I had dealt with some issues of shame and secrecy, I had become very frustrated. If anything, my newly-found ability to be frank and real with myself and others had only led to an intensification of my homosexual desires. Then, in early February, I became romantically involved with another member of the LifeGuard group. Shortly thereafter, he and I both stopped attending, though I believed at the time that LifeGuard's methods had not failed but rather that I had just not been devout enough.
The decision to stop attending LifeGuard, as well as my ongoing relationship with my boyfriend, made life very uncomfortable for me. Almost daily, I felt as though there were two great forces in my head which were constantly fighting one another: my homosexuality and my desire to live the type of life to which I believed Christ was calling me. For several years, I had tried to no avail to turn off my homosexual attractions. Therefore, I began instead to try to turn off God in my life. In addition to dropping out of LifeGuard, I stopped attending church, stopped reading the Bible or religious books, stopped praying, and stopped listening to Christian music. This was painful for me because these things had been a large part of my life since childhood.
This ongoing decision to try to take God out of my life brought me much misery. In addition to the guilt I felt myself, I also got a large dose of shame and condemnation from the same aunt who had previously been so supportive when I was willing to deal with my homosexuality on her terms. She told me repeatedly that I was going to destroy my life by continuing in the “lifestyle.” Just hours after my grandmother’s funeral, she cornered me and told me that my struggle represented a battle for my soul and that I must repent or face eternal punishment. What she refused to understand, though, was that I had tried hundreds of times to “repent” but that I had never become any less gay and neither she nor anyone else had ever been able to show me how to do so.
In January 1996, I had moved into a large house with 13 Christian students who held orthodox views on homosexuality. Although they all knew of my orientation, they were supportive since I was attending LifeGuard. When I stopped attending, it did not take long for them to find out. Soon, my comings and goings became suspect to them, and I began to feel isolated in the house. I felt as though they were watching me when I left, and they gave me very strange looks when I brought other guys to the house--something that my straight friends particularly did not appreciate! After a couple of weeks of this kind of behavior, I began to feel that I was not even welcome in my own home.
Additionally, since I was no longer suppressing my feelings, I had an increasingly difficult time having conversations with my mother for fear that I would somehow relate to her an activity that would reveal my orientation. I really don’t like lying and had become evasive to the point where there was nothing of substance left to talk about. The two of us have always been close, and my sexuality and issues surrounding it probably represented the only major secrets I had ever kept from her. Not being able to be honest with her caused me a lot of grief.
I was very scared to tell her what was going on because she had once told my brother and me when I was about twelve that we could always tell her anything, just not to ever come home and tell her that we were “queer.” Words like that leave an indelible impression upon a child who somehow knows they have special relevance for him, and they haunted me each time I thought of coming out to my parents. Though I felt deep down that they really would love me anyway, I just couldn’t be sure and wasn’t prepared to find out otherwise.
In the midst of the emotional turmoil my sexual orientation caused, school became an afterthought. I often felt guilty about not being motivated to do enough studying or because I couldn’t bring myself out of bed in the morning because of how bad I felt. One day, a professor asked me to come to her office and asked me what was wrong. She said that my class attendance was sporadic and my work far from my potential. When I told her I was having difficulty reconciling being a Christian and being gay, she suggested that I withdraw from the University so that the upheaval would not permanently damage my transcript. That was one of the best pieces of advice a professor ever gave me.
Free of the pressure of school, I began working full time and focusing on trying to make sense of my life. I began meeting a few other openly gay people, both through my boyfriend from LifeGuard, and off of the Internet. One of them took me to Lobo, which sells porno tapes and a variety of gay books. While looking through the books, I saw a book called "What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality." I was very tempted to get it and read it, but I told myself that was just my sin nature trying to justify being gay. I was convinced that Satan himself had taken me to that store so that he could tempt me to read the book and lose my soul. After all, I thought, how could anything but false theology be sold in a porn store? Finally, though, I decided to read the book just for amusement--to see how this author could possibly think homosexuality was biblically okay.
Reading the book had a very unexpected impact on me. The first one or two chapters talked simply about what the Bible was and how to interpret it. That was probably the first time I had ever read a coherent opinion that said that the Bible had to be read in its historical context, rather than literally as if it were written today. When I finished the book, I wasn't convinced, per se, but I had decided that I had been wrong that the subject was crystal clear. Daniel Helmaniak's book had done two things I didn't think were possible: given me a viable alternative perspective on homosexuality and the Bible and given me the courage to continue exploring.
A couple of months later, I finally came out to my mom. Though I did it intentionally, it really happened on the spur of the moment. Several weeks before, I had told her that I had withdrawn from school because of intense stress and she had accepted that. That night, though, as I talked to her on the phone she made a statement about when I went back to school the next semester. I told her that I wasn't sure I was going back then and that I wanted to wait until the stress in my life calmed down. She became concerned, sensing that something more than being overworked was bothering me, and pressed me to tell her what was wrong. I hesitated for a few moments and then decided the time was right to tell her. Although it was not easy for her to hear, she told me from the first moment that she loved me and always would.
To be sure, there were many tense moments, awkward silences, and heated conversations in the months that followed, but my parents never once treated me as anything less than their beloved son. Still, the pace of their progress often frustrated me. I not only wanted my parents to love me unconditionally, I also wanted them to understand and accept this part of me. In retrospect, I can see that my parents (particularly my mother) actually handled the situation extremely well and made steady progress in understanding and accepting, particularly given the church, the culture, and the generation in which they had been raised. At the time, though, I really didn't understand that they had to work through all of the issues over time, just as I had.
Soon after coming out to my parents, I began attending University Baptist Church (which had gained fame for ordaining a gay deacon). UBC was a wonderful place for me at that point in my life, and it helped me to bridge the divide between my Baptist upbringing and the theology approving of homosexuality. I met many wonderful people there and for a time felt very spiritually nurtured there, through my interactions with both other gay Christians and affirming heterosexuals.
By the beginning of 1997, I had come to a place of relative peace. I no longer questioned whether it was possible for me to live as an openly gay Christian, though I still had many questions about how to do so (i.e. Is it sinful to have sex with someone you're dating, etc.) With the inner turmoil at a low, I enrolled in UT again and had my best semester to date. I continued meeting new gay people and became much more comfortable telling others about my orientation. I still wasn't out to everyone, but I was well on the way. I began attending meetings of some of the LGBT groups on campus and meeting more and more gays. After struggling with eventually joined one of them, known as University Alliance.
By the Fall semester, I had become an officer in UA and was responsible for the logistics of most of our meetings. In that capacity, my name appeared several times in the student newspaper, which effectively put an end to my days in the closet. Of course, news travels fast in small towns, so it wasn't long before people from my high school who were at UT began telling people in Texarkana that I was gay. This made my parents uncomfortable at first, but I had decided that I didn't care who knew. I had also come out to many of my high school friends and even some of my favorite teachers from high school.
Each day, I was becoming more and more involved in University Alliance and gay happenings on campus. In late October, the president resigned and I was chosen to be his successor. With this new responsibility came an ever-increasing visibility and it wasn't long before I began to wonder why I had ever cared if people found out. Having come to terms with myself, I saw UA as an opportunity to give something back so that others might not have to experience all the pain I had. One of the greatest joys of my service in UA was the opportunity to help others deal with their fear and questions and struggles related to coming out and/or their religion. I developed several good friendships, both through e-mail and through personal interactions. I can name at least three people whose lives I believe I significantly impacted by providing them with support.
The gay friends whom I had met when I was first coming out were very surprised at the changes in me. In retrospect, it really does seem quite amazing how fast it all happened. After all, in less than 6 months I went from being a scared bystander at meetings to what some people jokingly called "big fag on campus." I think that I had waited so long to begin dealing with my sexuality honestly that when I finally did so I was determined not to waste any more of my life living a lie. All the while, I continued to struggle to work out how to practically be a gay Christian.
Increasingly I found that though I was very loved at UBC, the church simply did not focus on the kinds of issues that were important to me as a young gay man. Larry Bethune, UBC's pastor, told me that because the church had only recently begun tackling this issue that I might find some more support at MCC Austin. I began attending both churches every week and came to value them both for their unique identities. Over the next couple of years, I began seriously considering--and reconsidering--many of the aspects of my faith, particularly as it related to sexuality. Of course, that is a story in and of itself, so look for my soon-to-be-released "Testimony of Hope" for more details on this part of my journey.
My last couple of years in college were very exciting and very trying at the same time. They were a time of activism, self-examination, and personal growth. I continued in my role as president of University Alliance, learning much about how and how not to lead people, how to help other people as they struggled with their sexuality, and learning a lot about myself and my gifts. I continued to study and struggle with issues about what I believed and how to best live out my life as a gay Christian man. I also developed some incredible friendships and relationships during this time, getting to know other gay people, as I had not before. My biggest regret is that despite all of this, I did not date much at all and did not focus enough energy on my social life and building myself a support network.
When I graduated in May, 1999, I was able to say that during my college years my life had been transformed for the better. I had come to accept myself and, indeed, to cherish the fact that I was gay. Far from the gloom and doom I had feared, I had come out to family and friends and had gotten an almost universally positive response over time. Indeed, on graduation day, my parents and my brother invited my boyfriend along to lunch. I had also been given an opportunity to help others and to make UT Austin a better place for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered students yet to come.
From the depth of my despair in 1993, I could not have even imagined the joy and peace and wholeness that I would experience in those six years. You see, though much of what I have recounted here is a record of sad and trying times, out of them has come most of the blessings I now have in my life. For some, being gay is a struggle that they would gladly toss aside. For me, being gay has been the greatest blessing of my life because it has forced me to learn and experience so much that I might not have ever done otherwise. Perhaps the most important of those lessons has been that no matter what I have faced, God has been with me and has used each of those situations to bring a fullness and richness to my life that I could have never imagined.
If you are struggling with your sexuality, I hope that my experience has brought you some hope. Remember that no matter where you are, or what you've done, God has never and will never let go of you. The journey may not always be easy, but God will always be faithful. If you will not give up, God will bring you to places you never even dreamed possible. My prayer is that you will so experience the love and grace of God in your struggle that you will look back with wonder and awe and say, "The years I wrestled with my sexuality were the most blessed of my life because out of them has come a richness and wholeness of life I never even imagined." God is ready to meet you in your journey and transform your life. May you have the faith and courage to make it so this day!
If you need someone to talk to or just someone to listen, please drop me a message at Tom@alumni.utexas.net.
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