“I just want somebody to care about me!”
“What are you talking about?! She shouted, “I care about you!”
Hands up in exasperation she stood staring wide-eyed and bewildered at the unrecognizable shadow of the man she married a decade earlier.
It was true, she did care about me. She loved me deeply. She knew me better than anyone else. Yet she did not know me. No one knew me. I was only beginning to understand how little I knew myself.
These are from the opening lines of my book Godly, But Gay to be released in 2019. Subscribe to my website to be notified when pre-ordering begins.
It was true. I had no clue who I was because my entire life was spent trying to be the person I was told God wanted me to be. I lived in pursuit of godliness...whatever that meant. No one could ever quite describe what that looked like. But I tried to do everything they said would make me more Godly. I read and memorized my Bible. I was in church every time the doors were open. I prayed on my knees every day. I listened to the preachers and heeded their words. I surrendered my life to God, often. I went to a conservative Baptist college. I married the woman who best fit the ideal wife I was taught God wanted for me. I raised three children. I became a pastor and Christian leader. People looked up to me, respected me, and loved me.
I was everything a godly man should be, yet I was gay and I knew those two could never coexist in that world. No matter how Godly I was I knew the moment anyone found out I was gay, I would cease to be godly. Thus the charade continued. No one must ever know. No one must ever suspect. I worked hard to hide my secret. I change my voice to be more masculine. I worked on making my mannerisms less feminine. I monitored my sense of style and fashion to make sure I was considered well-dressed, but not too well-dressed. I hid my taste in music and movies. I pretended to like the things that manly men were supposed to like. I laughed at the jokes that straight men laughed at. I perfected the art of being a godly man, husband, father, and pastor who did all the right things. I was miserable on the inside, impressive on the outside.
The more I tried the more I trapped and hopeless I felt. I became the person I created. A person who was familiar to me, meanwhile, Joel Barrett was a complete stranger to me. I didn't know him. I didn't trust him. I didn't like him. I only wanted to erase him.
Oddly enough, my journey to authenticity began in the office of my first ex-gay counselor. Part of the therapy involved encouraging me to begin allowing some select people to see the real me by bringing them into my secret. The goal was to help me begin being authentic and see that not everyone would be horrified at that Pastor Barrett "struggled with same sex attraction".
I had never allowed anyone to see the real me. He was locked away in a dark cage somewhere deep within like a monster that must never be released from his for fear he would wreak havoc on everyone and everything. In my commitment to get help, I took the advice of this counselor and began opening up to select people in my life. To my surprise not everyone recoiled in horror. Some, like my own family, and many church friends did, but others embraced me while I was in ex-gay therapy despite many later rejecting me once I no longer denied who I was. But at the time, I was grateful for some love and support in time of need. The more I showed my true self to the world, the more freedom I found. I slowly realized that I didn't want or need the conditional love of those who rejected me. I focused on those who loved the real Joel that I too was getting to know. My confidence at being me was growing and I was hating myself less and less. I found new friends who loved me just as I was and never questioned who I was or what my motivations or attractions were.
One of the people I chose to be real with was my friend Gloria who was just beginning her coaching business. I was her first coaching client. She began asking me questions like "What do YOU want?" "What would you do if nothing stood in your way?" "What do you know to be true?" "What are you really afraid of?" Questions like these went against everything I had ever known. I had been taught to die to self. I was supposed to sacrifice my desires for God's desires. I wasn't supposed to consider my own feelings. A godly life was a life of sacrifice and suffering. I was told the key to JOY was Jesus first, Others second, Yourself last.
With each question Gloria asked, I explored my own desires and gave myself more and more permission to be honest and transparent. It was a fearful thing for me to do. I wondered if God was upset with me for being so selfish. Was it right for me to consider my own feelings without them being shaded by what my others wanted? What about my church? My children? My wife? My friends? My parents and siblings?
Sometimes I was too afraid to even answer the question. I was scared that if I was honest about what I felt that I would enter a zone of no-turning-back. But with each truthful answer I met a new part of myself I had never known before. It was the part of me that I had locked away and silenced. At first I was scared of Joel, but as I got to know him I realized how beautiful he really is. He is a good person. He is fun and full of life. He is well-liked and respected with many close friends. He is good at the things he loves. He is kind, compassionate, intuitive and loving.
Today, all these years later, I embrace Joel and am one with him. Many from my past life don't like this Joel they didn't know before, but I no longer care what "they" think. I liked me. Each day I strive to live an authentic life not controlled by fear and shame. I believe authenticity is not a destination, but a daily journey of commitment to self to be who I was created to be. I believe I was given everything I need to be the best me I can be. That's my calling in life. If you believe in a creator, it is an insult to the creator to live your life as if the only way to be fulfilled is to strip away what he created. A tree is at its best when it is simply being a tree. Every creature in the universe is at its best when it is doing what it was created and endowed with the abilities to do. Human beings are no different.
I encourage you to be YOU each and every day. Give yourself permission to listen to yourself, trust yourself, know your heart, thoughts, desires, and needs. No one know this better than you. Commit to authenticity each day. It's a journey. Sometimes the old fear and shame come back to haunt me and then I remember where that got me. I love who I am today. I'm a better person and everyone benefits from it.
What's the next most authentic thing you can do for yourself today? Take that step today and tomorrow ask yourself that again.
If you'd like to receive a free set of thought-provoking questions that Coach Gloria and I have compiled to get you started in your own journey toward authenticity, drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with the word Authentic in the subject line. I'll send that to you. While you're at it, tell me about your own journey toward authenticity. I'd love to hear your story.
Joel Barrett, LGBTQ Writer, Speaker, Gatherer