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When Denial Was My Only Option


Drew Payne

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(This is part of a continuing series about how I tried to come out as gay in an Evangelical Christian environment. If you haven’t read my other essays in this series, please find them here, they will put this essay into context)

 

Spring 1985

“I don’t believe you’re homosexual,” he said. “I believe you’re bisexual, mostly heterosexual, and this is a phase you are going through.”

I just nodded my agreement, what else could I do?

We were sat together in the tiny study of his house. He was the curate of the church I attended, in suburban Liverpool. It was an extremely Evangelical church, everything was right or wrong, no grey areas, from a very simplistic reading of the bible, but it was also the place I was desperately trying to belong to. I wanted to be accepted by this congregation, these people, because I believed they were my only chance at finding friendship. But there was a secret stain on my soul, I am gay, and back then Evangelical Christians saw it as a sin so bad it was only punishable by hell (I know many still believe that).

I was eighteen then and so deeply closeted. I had locked that closet door and wasn’t letting in a spark of light. No one could know I was gay, if they did I could risk losing all of my friends, and I was lonely enough. The thought of being friendless was terrifying. But my secret was eating away inside of me. There was the fear of being found out but there was also the isolation. There was no one I could talk to and be my real self with, I had to constantly monitor what I said, again and again I had to pretend to be straight, again and again I had to hide so much of myself.

I longed to be open with someone about my sexuality. (Deep down I longed for a boyfriend but that was too much to express. But I still believed that if I had gay sex, it would be a sin that would condemn me to hell forever). I was so deeply depressed, but back then I didn’t even recognise that, I found it was just my normal, melancholic personality.

Several months before that day I hit a watershed moment. I saw an advert for an organisation called the True Freedom Trust (TFT), in the back of my Christian youth magazine, they claimed to have an alternative to the “homosexual lifestyle” through Christianity. I had been seeing its founder, HM, since then for counselling. He said his belief was just being gay wasn’t a sin but any kind of gay sex was, the only “acceptable” lifestyle was that of celibacy. I jumped at that, when I first heard it, it was my fire escape from hell (Though as time passed, it proved nothing of the sort).

HM said that I needed to confide in someone, at my church, about my sexuality. He suggested my church’s curate. I was unsure but was convinced by HM. HM said he had met the curate and he was the right man to support me. I wasn’t sure but HM said this was the right thing to do.

The curate was a middle-aged man who had trained for the Anglican ministry after a life of low paid jobs and then a long time in adult education. He had deeply Evangelical beliefs, which he would talk about at any opportunity, especially his views on sex, which were just as Evangelical. He talked about masculine Christianity and for Christian leaders to be strong and real men.

I screwed up what little courage I had, this would only be the second person I told about my sexuality, and asked the curate if I could see him. There was something I needed to talk to him about.

On a weekday afternoon, I visited him, at his home, sat in his tiny study with him, and I told him I thought I was gay. I actually said I thought I was homosexual and that I’d been having homosexual feelings. That was when he told me he believed I wasn’t, that I was just a confused heterosexual.

I was stunned, this wasn’t the reaction I had been expecting, or even fearing, and I had no answer for him but to agree with him. How could I have argued? What could I have said? I didn’t have the strength, back then, to tell him that I don’t have a heterosexual bone in my body, which is what I would do now. I just agreed with him, because that was what I was sure he wanted me to say, and in that I wasn’t wrong.

Then he told me he’d had of vision of me, a vision given to him by God. He saw me dressed in a suit and tie, not wearing my glasses, with my hair short, neat and tidy, taking a girl out on a date to the cinema. If I followed this vision then I would truly find happiness and be the man God wanted me to be, he said.

I felt a terrible kick of fear. How could this be a vision from God, it was so wrong. Without my glasses I am very short-sighted, which makes most activities difficult, at best. My hair is thick and curly and in any style that is short, it rebels against it, sticking out at odd angles, it is never neat when short. I hate wearing a suit and tie, even then I did. Suit jackets show off my round shoulders, I’m never comfortable with a tie pushed up to my neck, and shirts never stay tucked into my trousers. My mother always complained about how badly suits hung off me, but I am just genetically unsuited to them. But taking a girl on a date, that was the most confusing part of his vision. Was he telling me to stay and follow the TFT’s ex-gay counselling? I was begging God, each night, to turn me straight, but that prayer went unanswered, every time. Did the curate’s vision mean I was failing? His words felt like a command, telling me the way I should be living, but a goal I was falling so far short of.

I didn’t argue with the curate, I didn’t tell him what he said was certainly a lie, when he called me heterosexual, but I couldn’t. I had such a negative view of myself, I hated so much of myself, that denying myself and agreeing with him was all I could think of to do.

As I left his study, and his home, I again agreed with him, he said I wasn’t gay, only a confused heterosexual. He was so wrong.

I felt so betrayed, after seeing him. I had gone to him for help and support but he’d denied me that by denying what I said to him. How could he have turned it into such a lie, something that was so untrue? (Now, with the benefit of hindsight, I realise that man was deeply homophobic. It was his homophobia that drove him to deny my sexuality and to come up with that ridiculous vision of me. But I didn’t know that, back then)

After that afternoon, the curate behaved as if I had never told him I was gay, he just ignored it as if I had never said a word to him. He carried on talking to me about me finding a girlfriend and his preaching, at church, got increasingly homophobic. I got the message though, he didn’t want to hear any more about me being gay.

The impression was made, did anyone at church want to know I’m gay? No they didn’t. I had to stay firmly closeted because being gay was something to be ashamed of. Not what I needed to hear at that moment.

 

Drew

 

Find the next story in this series here

Edited by Drew Payne

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57 minutes ago, chris191070 said:

Unfortunately that's how it was all those years ago.

Unfortunately, for some people, it's still their experience now. That breaks my heart, not what happened back then.

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