I can remember feeling different in elementary school. I didn’t know what I felt was called gay, but remember the first time I recognized the feeling. I was watching the Disney animated version of Robin Hood and there was a scene when Robin Hood is flirting with Maid Marion. When I saw that moment in the movie I remember thinking “I want a boy to talk to me that way.” What I also remember is the shame flushing over me.
What fears or “lessons” (from church, culture, parents) made staying in the closet feel like the best option?
I come from a big family with lots of cousins. I always played with the girls, barbies and playing house felt natural but it was the rebuff from the adults and older cousins that taught me that was wrong. I also never remember an explicit message of ‘don’t be gay’ but there was messages of dont be a sissy, stop standing that way, dont sound like that. [I received] LOTS of “be a man” messaging.
What was it like to live in the closet while married? What parts of you had to die so that you could stay alive?
Living in the closet was a constant internal battle. I wanted to marry because I desperately wanted children and to have a stable family life. At that point, being out and having a family were not possible. While I was married and in the closet, the constant state of hypervigilance was exhausting. Every action as a good dad or husband was internally questioned as “am I really a good person?”. The guilt and shame compounded over time to an unbearable weight and it was debilitating. It was this weight that ultimately led me to have thoughts of suicide.
How did you find the courage to come out and what gave you confidence to step into that courage?
I actually didn’t find the courage to come out. I was outed and it is absolutely the best thing that was ever done to me. After it happened, I started the journey to figure out who I am and try every day to Live Out Proud.
If you feel okay sharing, what might be some of the things you would do again in terms of preserving your relationship with your ex-wife?
Once my ex-wife found out, I made a commitment to start being honest and while that was hard, I definitely would do that again. It makes you face things you might not like about yourself but you also grow so much from being honest.
My ex-wife and I were also adamant that this would not impact our children, we would not have an ugly divorce. We wanted to maintain the life my kids had come to know as much as possible for our children, like their schedule, as well as making sure that I was a part of their daily routine. Taking the kids to school and being with them on Saturdays never stopped.
If you feel okay sharing, what might be some things you’d do differently to make coming out easier and nurturing your relationship with your ex-wife more effectively?
I would have worked harder to ensure that I wasn’t responding to everything out of guilt for what I had done. I would have been more reassuring of myself that I had done everything I knew to do when I was in the closet. I was working within what I thought was best for my family therefore I didn’t need to carry guilt or shame for as long as I did.
What have you gained, personally and relationally, now that you have come out?
I have learned that I am enough, I am worthy to be loved and I am worthy to love a wonderful man. I have come to understand that my gifts from being gay are God-given and that they need to be used to make the world better.
If you could speak to the version of you preparing to marry or the version of you who is married, what might you tell him?
This is the hardest question…as I don’t regret getting married. I have my children and my ex-wife who is one of my best friends. It sounds trite, but as I sit and think about what I would say to the version of me getting married is: “Your love for her is real, it is not quite the romantic love it should be, but it is real. You will have a wonderful life, so know that you are worthy of the life that will unfold in front of you.”
We can find and reshape what resiliency looks like throughout our life. Sometimes facing the most difficult choices and challenges that we will deal with in our lives can manifest a more intense security in the world. Thank you Kirk for showing us that in your story – the ability to integrate worthiness in your life after being outed and reclaiming the truth of the beautiful life that can continue to unfold is deeply inspiring.
This article features an interview with a guest contributor, Kirk Barnett. Check out The Lighthouse to learn more about Kirk and his work.