My mother is a compassionate, loving, caring woman who adores her family. She is also a Christian. My father is an atheist who is successful, fun loving and amazingly caring, with very high moral and academic expectations. My parents divorced when I was very young. Despite popular belief, this is not why I am gay. I was born that way.
Being a gay teenager was fraught with frustration and confusion: not knowing where I fit in, wondering how my sexuality would be perceived, dealing with bullies, strategizing about how to maneuver close friendships whilst maintaining a safe distance. Everything was hard work and I particularly did my best to avoid questions about sexuality. I dated women, which helped to maintain the illusion, but eventually they wanted to be intimate and I couldn’t pretend to feel something I didn’t. I ‘experimented’ with my male friends, but that led to an overwhelming sense of shame and guilt.
After graduation, having emotionally manipulated my high school friends to a point that was probably unforgivable, I found myself very lonely, confused and depressed. A classmate from high school invited me to Church. I went. I would stay for the next 3 years.
Similar to most Churches, it was a place of love, acceptance and people striving to live a good life in Jesus. It was all about morals and ethics and it was a place where talking about sexuality was mostly inappropriate. It was just what I needed.
I immersed myself in the Church culture. I drove bus loads of university students to Church on a Sunday nights, I volunteered two days a week as a young adults leader, I became a hotel chaplain for Schoolies week on the Gold Coast and I did my best to feel like a valued contributor. I probably was. Despite this, I always felt like people looked at me and thought ‘he’s probably gay’ and I wondered why no one ever spoke to me about it. I lived with a group of Christian guys, all amazing people; all fighting their own demons. I still speak to some of them.
On the surface, I had everything under control. I would readily give advice for people who were broken and suffering, without being able to acknowledge my own brokenness and suffering. I prayed for a ‘cure’ and hunted down teachings from Exodus International, a group who ‘specialised’ in changing one’s sexuality (they later shut down after admiting it was impossible and wrong). I did stop before it was unhealthy, mostly because I got disheartened with the lack of progress and change.
On occasion I would hear sermons on sexuality. I sat through a sermon where the visiting pastor said “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve” like it was a really clever way to sum up how God feels about homosexuality. The crowd clapped, they cheered, they called out ‘amen’. I shrunk in my seat and wanted to disappear. I could feel my whole body, red and hot with embarrassment. Like he was talking directly to me. I actually thought that was God convicting me of my sin. I sat there as a pastor I respected talked to me about sex with animals as though it was the natural progression of accepting homosexuality, implying that if I ‘gave in’ to my sexual preference, I would inevitably desire physical intimacy with a dog. Nothing has confused me more than this conversation.
When I took my first job, I was faced with an environment in which it was impossible to hide from myself. I made friends with people who were candid about their thoughts on God, on religion, on me. As a person who had been running away from myself, this was confronting and difficult to navigate. It was just what I needed: it was my ‘you’re not fooling anyone’ moment.
I became very good friends with a woman from work who was openly lesbian. She made the decision to move to Melbourne to check out the arts scene. I was incredibly jealous of her boldness in following her dreams, but mostly just jealous that she had found an escape. I knew it would never be acceptable for me to come out, so I started to plan my exit strategy from the Church.
My first step was to move to a smaller Church in an alternative, Bo-Ho part of town which had a smaller, quirky congregation. I thought that I would find acceptance in this environment. I didn’t. Despite the fact that there seemed to be some gay people attending the Church, I soon found out that homosexuality was not accepted even among this diverse community. A friend would later tell me that he had been given the choice between “choosing” to be gay and singing in the choir. Church leadership were concerned his sexuality would affect the rest of the congregation if he sang while simultaneously acknowledging his homosexuality. In fact, he was told by a Church leader that although he was ‘allowed’ to come to Church, he was not allowed to serve at all. That Church leader was later charged for stealing Church finances. Eventually I just stopped going to Church at all.
Around this time I moved in with my best friend at the time, a Christian raised in a strict, conservative family. He was vocal about his rigid beliefs and, upon reflection, this made everything even more difficult for me. I knew I couldn’t speak to him about my turmoil; he simply wouldn’t understand. And if he did, it would not matter. His beliefs made it impossible for him to support me. I felt isolated and lonely.
I made a decision to visit my friend in Melbourne for a long weekend. On our first night out, she got me drunk and we started talking about my sexuality. I confessed to being at least bi-sexual. She seemed satisfied with my progress in being able to admit even that. Over the rest of the weekend we spoke at great length about sexuality and how I would handle my own. I had never felt such freedom: Someone finally knew. Someone who approached me with genuine concern and who loved me. Someone who created a safe place for me to admit who I was. She didn’t try to fix me. She didn’t tell me it was wrong and she didn’t tell me it wasn’t what God wanted. She just loved me. I remember my palpable despair at the airport as I thought about how I had to put that freedom back into a box the second I touched down at home.
I lost my job 2 months after I found my freedom in Melbourne. There wasn’t even a pause: I packed up the car and within two days, I was leaving my friends, my support network, my upbringing, my life, my family and my inner-city pad. I had decided it was time to find me.
From the moment I arrived in Melbourne, I determined I was going to be nothing but true to myself – and I was. Whenever anyone visited, including my parents (who were coincidentally in the city on the same weekend) I openly came out to them. Telling people was hard at first. In some instances, it was painful – my ex-house mate in Brisbane told me I “would never find anyone like me in the gay community” and that “gay people don’t exist”. But over time, as I became more comfortable with myself, I started to enjoy telling people. I would try to predict their response and was often proven very wrong. Melbourne was good for me.
These days I continue my spiritual journey with a keen interest in all religions and ways of life. I have a compassionate and protective family who I now appreciate more than ever and learn to love more and more every day. I have a very blessed life and I am very grateful for that.
I still have a strong desire for the Church to be held responsible for what they say. I want them to publicly apologise for the hurt and suffering of LGBT people who have sat in their congregations. I want them to meet with families of those who have been lost as a result of suicides following months and years of self-torture in the name of God. I want justice. Not for me and my story, because actually mine is quite tame. But for all the others that are still going through the brokenness and reconciliation with their families.
Christians will tell me my view is extreme. They will tell me that ‘not all Christians are like that’. My response is – What are they all like? Because in my experience there was very little done to provide an alternative view for the vulnerable few in the audience that I was sitting in. It was my pastor who said these things. It was my Church. It was my friends’ deafening silence. My Christian brothers’ and sisters’ silence. Mine.
We need to change, we need to be different, we need to do our best to understand. We need to approach our fears with curiosity and we need to show compassion. Deep compassion. We need to listen. Because not everyone will have the courage to move to Melbourne and start again. For some, they would rather die.
by Daniel Bird
Daniel is one of my best friends. He is an incredible man that I had the pleasure of meeting almost ten years ago. He is the smartest, sharpest, most brilliant person that I know. He is incredibly talented, unfathomably hilarious and immovably loyal. Our friendship has been one of the best legacies of my time in Church.