Justin’s Story — My Double Coming Out
ORIGINALLY POSTED January 12, 2013
REPOSTED October 11, 2016 FOR NATIONAL COMING OUT DAY
I am gay.
I came out of the closet fairly late among my friends, at age 32, about ten years ago.
I don’t regret coming out for one microsecond, and I truly love my life now. I am happier than I’ve ever been and my life really is filled with joy every single day. If you know me, you know I’m someone who savors life and has huge love in my heart for the people around me.
But let me tell you, coming out was a massive heartbreak as well, I’m not going to lie. In fact, I’m about to tell more truth than I think I ever have in one sitting. I’ve never told this full story before, and my aim is to let you peer deep into my heart, if you’re willing to look. Come on, it’s not THAT long.
My family converted to Christianity just before I was a teenager, and I accepted Christ and became born again around age 10 or 11. We lived in Southern California, and went to a very large church. I was a true believer, studied my bible cover to cover, prayed, everything.
I made some very close, lifelong friends through that church through my late teens and early twenties, who I love dearly to this day.
I became very heavily involved in playing music at that church with these lifelong friends, all of whom are true believers. Have you heard the theory that if you put ten thousand hours into something, you become an expert at it? I put in that many hours to music and Christianity, maybe even twice that between 17 and 32.
I spent fifteen years playing music at church, and I truly loved every second of it. I wasn’t phoning it in. I poured my creativity into it and got good at it after a few years of playing at church and in bands out at clubs and venues all over Southern California.
If you’re not a musician, I hate to say it but I’m sorry for you. The feeling of playing music, especially with the caliber of people I was playing with, is indescribably rapturous. Your brain fires on all cylinders and an unspeakable happiness wells up in you. When it’s going right, your heart actually beats together with the rhythms, and at the same time it wants to burst right out of your chest.
It was that rapture and that desire to keep playing better and better music, along with fear of rejection and losing my friends was what kept me in the closet for so long.
I know, and I have always known that I was lying to everyone. But this is the honest truth — I always believed God could change me into a straight man. I begged and pleaded for years and years and years and years. I thought if I had a girlfriend, maybe I would come around.
I tried that a few times when it naturally occurred, but my nature never changed.
I even had sex with a few of them, but that didn’t work either. In my mid-twenties, I made a decision to live with my condition and just never come out. I would keep my mouth shut, have a celibate life, and the price for that is I could never apologize to all the friends and girlfriends I had lied to for so long. At least I had my music and my friends and a pretty great life.
Thing is — I was so insulated that I didn’t really even know what it was to come out. I certainly didn’t have anybody encouraging me. It wasn’t because I feared for my soul — I had slowly stopped believing that part what I heard from the church pulpit in my mid-twenties.
My friend Lance told me once that being a Christian is only about how you treat people. That powerful thought radically transformed me, although now I’d change “Christian” to “good person”.
This isn’t what you usually hear in church on Sunday. If they got this through everybody’s head, I don’t think there would be anything left to say the next Sunday.
I don’t know what happened around age 32, but something started to become clear — I couldn’t go on like this.
My youth was slipping away from me, and I was tired of lying and pretending I was straight. I also slowly realized that I needed to have real love in my life, and that some of the words I’d been hearing in church just never had the ring of truth, especially about gays, no matter how hard I tried to force them to in my mind.
One night in LA, thinking hard about moving there from Orange County, I met Brian at a music show through my close friend David Larring. He was a complete sweetheart, and a fast new friend. This was in the days of MySpace, and I looked him up when I got home. He was gay, and a Christian. Oh my God. My heart started beating fast, I remember the moment so clearly. How does this work?!
I went out on a limb and asked Brian if he’d help me with apartment hunting with me the following Saturday and we had a long, fun April day driving all over LA with the windows down and music blasting.
That evening, I suggested we tell each other our life stories, which we did. After watching a DVD that night, Brian said to me, “Is there anything you might have left out of your life story?”
This was it. The moment. I had about three seconds to pull the trigger or miss this opportunity. I vividly remember the dryness in my throat as I said for the first time to another human being, “I’m gay.”
It was so quiet, that he made me repeat it, a little louder the second time. What a crystal clear moment that I’ll never forget as long as I live. Wow. Life Pivot.
He immediately gave me a huge hug, as I waited for the realization to sink in that along with a new life of freedom and happiness, I would probably lose my friends and my music. I spilled my guts over the next hour, and to his credit, Brian asked me if I needed a mentor or a lover. I said both.
He told me he had come out a little late too. He had even been married for a little while, being a good midwestern boy, before he had to end it and come out to his family. I was glad I never lied to myself quite THAT much.
I had never fallen in love before, but I did that day. He convinced me that if I was going to come out, I had to come out. I had to figure out how to tell my friends and family, even as I prepared to move to LA.
I told David Larring first, who said he knew something was up, and that he’d always be my brother. Well, I thought, that went well, even though it was tough. I told a few others in my circle. One of them, inexplicably went and told the music leader at my church before I could, who promptly fired me after playing on the main stage for seven years.
Okay, saw that one coming, mostly, and I was prepared to stop playing. After that, word spread pretty fast. I’ve never heard another word from 95% of the people I knew there.
A few of my closest friends, Eli and Beth, and both Joshes told me they loved me no matter what, and I know they do to this day.
But this is where the heartbreak started to set in. The people who still kept a dialogue open with me did love me, but loved me in SPITE of being gay. I knew this was a radical new experience for them with someone who was always damned from the pulpit, to a special place in hell for disgusting freaks. I hoped they would come around eventually. I was just figuring everything out too.
I made a concerted effort to tell the rest of my group of friends — I owed them that much, although I know I missed directly telling a few to my discredit.
A few responded that they suspected for a long time, but loved me anyway. I got a few that said they loved me but couldn’t condone my lifestyle. Some people just never responded. Some just unfriended me.
But zero of them said, “and?”, “so what?”, or “how does that change anything?”. Ok I take it back, this was my amazing sister’s reaction, but nobody else’s.
When I’d run into people around LA, I’d introduce Brian and there would be a few moments of super awkward introductions and smalltalk, then an excuse to get away from us. As time went on, I realized most of my friendships were gone forever.
This was what put my belief in God to the test. If God’s love was as everlasting as they’d always said, surely some friends would come back and say they were wrong, that my gayness didn’t matter to them at all.
That never happened. Over the next couple years I got some heartfelt apologies, from Jenah, Kirsten, Carolee, and some efforts to reconnect. But the heartbreak of losing so many people never went away, not even close.
I have moved on in my life as one does. But within the first year of coming out, I moved on from my belief in God as well. When I needed love and acceptance, I got almost unilateral abandonment.
I know I lied to these people for years about my sexuality. It was despicable and I don’t expect forgiveness for that. But wait — isn’t forgiveness at the center of Christianity? Doesn’t it make sense that God’s forgiveness would flow back to me through at least some of them? Yes, but it didn’t.
Seven years and two long term relationships later, I’m just now trying to put my relationship with my Mom back together. She is as true believer as there ever was upon the earth. She said she’s known I was out since 2006, but we have never spoken about it until a few months ago.
She loves me unconditionally I know, but I can tell she still just tolerates me being gay — she doesn’t accept me.
I’ve told her many times that my partner Andy is part of the family now and that I love him with my whole heart. I’ve told her I need her acceptance, and that means her asking about him once in a while. She could even start by mentioning his name. Once.
We’ll see what happens, but not one “How’s Andy” yet.
For the record, my Dad has been amazing, even though the first few weeks after I came out were filled with silence. My Aunt Eve has gone a million billion light years out of her way to make up for some of the damage. She never misses an opportunity to ask about Andy, and to let me know I’m 100% loved and accepted without question in her book.
Ultimately, staying in the closet so long and thereby lying to everyone was the defining moral failing of my life, and I still feel regret about it.
Being gay is not a moral failing, however. It is not something we choose any more than straight people choose to be straight.
Why would anyone choose to be a homo anyway? Completely shunned by most of society, rejected by just about everyone as disgusting? No thanks.
No, we love who we love. Preachers who say we’re choosing to be gay are all speculating, not speaking any kind of Truth.
Morality and sex have nothing to do with each other. And preachers who go on and on about it know it deep down.
I realized that Christianity’s greatest strength was in shaming people about their everyday sexuality, straight or gay, and preachers know that too, and they abuse that strength.
That’s the fatal flaw.
I realized church leaders wield this power in terrible ways to keep people in pews.
That meant the great effort they spent preaching about sexual immorality only served to turn people’s innermost desires against them.
And that meant none of it was good.
And that meant it was being used for evil.
And that meant none of it was real.
And that meant I no longer believed. In anything supernatural. I just don’t think there could possibly be a God at all, and there never was. My entire life has borne that out, and I have thankfully been a godless atheist since 2007. The good qualities I talk about — love, respect, acceptance, and charity don’t come from God at all — they come from people.
What I do believe is back to what Lance said so long ago. Being a good person comes down to how you treat other people, not whether you believe in God, and I will keep saying that until my dying breath.
What I will do is continue to treat people the way I want to be treated, which is pretty well. With pure love, and true acceptance. With empathy and respect. I hope anybody who knows me or used to, will be honest enough with themselves to see these qualities in me, because they are integral parts of my character.
Since I moved to New York in 2009 I have had the joy of making countless friends who have the same outlook as I do. They are good people because of how they treat others. I love so much being able to throw parties and have people come over to my house to laugh with until we make snorting sounds, friends who would do anything for me.
I wrote this on January 12, 2013 after reading an open letter to the LGBTQ community from Mike Erre, posted on my friend Josh Thomson’s Facebook wall. It was an apology on behalf of the church for its treatment of gays in modern times. It was sparked after a preacher came under fire for some old remarks about gays, and voluntarily withdrew from participating in President Obama’s second inauguration.
In the comments, most people agreed with his main message. This is amazing to me, because I don’t think the reactions would have been the same even five years ago.
I just want to say a couple things about that letter, then I’m done. I appreciate the sentiment, and I think it’s real. Unfortunately, the writer can’t let go of his power to shame. Why should he? He’s a preacher and that’s what preachers do. It’s why I can’t bring myself to believe in any of the Christianity he’s preaching.
He says “I do think transformation is possible”, meaning he’s sorry for how we’ve been treated, but we can still become straight. What about the reverse? Is it possible he could ever transform into a homo? Oh, I guess that’s not what he meant. What nonsense. That kind of thinking just has no basis in reality.
He specifically asks for forgiveness, and I can’t say it that part doesn’t make me respect him a lot for being one of the first. It’s definitely a step in the right direction. We have been wronged, rejected and abused, but we aren’t unfeeling perverts. We’re just normal people who fall asleep on each other’s shoulders at night like everybody else during good times and bad.
My biggest issue with that letter is it’s still entirely based around telling people what morality is, as if they needed to hear it from him. Good people, of which there are a lot in this world, don’t. They know as I do that morality is how you treat other people, and has nothing to do with all the Jesus-y stuff he’s going on about. It has nothing to do with sitting in a pew and listening to some music and preaching, or praying, or reading the Bible. It has nothing to do with church at all or even following Jesus. Nothing.
I hope by my words I’ve shown that I’m not a bitter person, just somebody who wants to try and bring a little love and honesty back into the world.
I hope I’ve shown that I haven’t come to any decisions in my life lightly. I’ve done my best to act on major revelations as they have come to me, much later in life than most people.
To any old friends who read this, I miss you. If you do accept me in the way I talked about above, but haven’t ever told me that, please send me a message.
Thank you for reading.
UPDATE 2016: Andy and I are getting married! In Texas! November 19, 2016. He is the love of my life, and we have only grown closer every minute we’ve been together. My mom has come around a little bit — she’s met Andy and asks about him now. But as far as I know, she’s not coming to the wedding.
I have a life that is bursting with love and joy, and I wouldn’t change a single thing about it. I love my friends, my work, my city, and I can kind of feel myself turning into one of those people who dances all night, and often.