I lost my family, friends and religion after coming out, but now I can be myself

In September of 2018, I was getting ready to take my own life. I was exhausted in trying to live a life that was not authentic.

It had been a difficult year: I had come to terms with the fact that I was gay and although coming out is a pleasant experience for many these days, it was not the case for me. 

By the age of seven, I’d already deduced that I was different from other children, based on the sense of attraction I felt towards my own sex. 

But I was being raised in a strict religious household by my Jehovah’s Witness mother. It was clear that the religion had a very negative view of homosexuality and the messaging I was fed from a young age was harsh, namely that homosexuality and Christianity were compleltely incompatible with one another.

I vividly recall my mother once saying ‘If any of my children turn out to be gay, I would never speak to them again.’ Those words have stuck with me to this day. 

I grew up in fear of who I knew I was on the inside and did everything within my power to try and eradicate my homosexuality and suppress how I truly felt. I pushed myself to become as involved in the faith as possible. I even prayed daily, begging for God to rid me of what I believed to be ‘a defect’.

I carried on as a ‘model Christian’, getting baptised as a Jehovah’s Witness at 17 and soon after, starting a romantic relationship with a beautiful girl who was part of the faith, and my best friend at the time.

As is the expectation as Jehovah’s Witnesses, we were engaged within a short space of time and planning to get married nine months after I proposed.

The period up to the wedding was exciting, and actually felt quite fulfilling. I genuinely believed that getting married could ‘cure me’ and that I would be able to live a ‘normal life’. I loved my fiancée dearly and felt content at the prospect of a happy marriage with her.

By 20, I was a married man, living a strict heterosexual, Christian lifestyle. I had everything I was told I needed in my life to be happy and for a while I was thrilled; I had a sense of achievement that I felt would finally allow me to exist without fear of judgement or sin. 

Those feelings were fleeting, however. By the end of our second year of marriage, my mental health began to deteriorate as I gradually realised that every part of my life was based on the desire to please other people and live up to their expectations of me.

It felt superficial knowing that there was no authenticity in my life, and that became soul-destroying. I was trapped – by coming out, I would lose everything I had been conditioned into thinking I wanted.

Not only that, but I would risk being cut off from the community I had been part of my entire life. This terrified me just as much as the thought of accepting my sexuality. 

The suicidal thoughts grew louder and louder until I eventually found myself ready to take my own life, bawling my eyes out. I considered it to be my only option. Happiness was not something I felt would be possible if I renounced my religion but equally, I was not happy with my current existence in the first place.

As I stood there, desperately clawing at the little strength I had left, it dawned on me that my life was so much more important than other people’s opinions. I knew that I needed to live my truth despite my beliefs, despite my marriage, despite the knowledge that I would be cut off from everyone I cared about.

Stripping everything back to the point where I was choosing between life or death allowed me to see that I was worthy.

Coming out was heart-wrenching. It took me a year from the day I attempted to take my life to decide I was ready. I initially told my wife who, despite being devastated, was loving, kind and understanding. We have since divorced and she has moved back to America to be with her family. We are no longer in touch but I will always treasure the 15 beautiful years of friendship we had.

I then came out to my father who cried with me and told me that he would always support me, no matter who I decided to love, and he’s been there for me ever since.

In contrast, other members of my community assured me that I could ‘be saved by the power of prayer’ or that I would be ‘cured’ if I ‘just got some hormones to help’. 

I was called ‘Satan’s puppet’, ‘selfish’, and also told that I was unrecognisable, which made me feel worthless and despised, but I knew in my heart that I was doing the right thing.

My decision meant that I was cast out from my faith. I had to move in with a colleague and no longer had the support system I had become accustomed to. Just as I had feared, I lost everything and everyone that had been my constant.

It’s been nearly a year since all of this has happened. I haven’t heard from my mother and sister since; despite reaching out to them several times I have received no response. I haven’t spoken to my best friends of over eight years either. 

Sometimes I mourn those relationships, grieving some of the most important people I have ever known. But when I reflect on what I have learnt in the meantime, I feel an overwhelming sense of pride.

After 24 years of living behind a mask, I can finally wake up every day and show the world who I really am. And since coming out, I have been immersed in an incredible community of kind and beautiful people that I met through social media and mutual friends. 

They have made me feel love in a way that I have never experienced before, who love me for me. That same man who was ready to end it all is now the happiest he has ever been. I’m 25 and divorced but I am so thankful for the journey I’ve been on and the person that I have become. 

As LGBTQI+ people, we are often alienated by the world around us and sometimes even those closest to us, but coming out allows us to search for family and belonging in our own ways. 

I now know that family is more than just a bloodline, it is about love and support. Its members understand you and your struggles. They will love you for exactly who you are, and that is something really special.

To anyone who is facing circumstances similar to mine, who is scared to live their truth: I promise you that your spirit and wellbeing is far more important than anything else.

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