David’s Story - Part Four: “I thought I just needed a heterosexual relationship.”
With his Christian beliefs, David believed that through a good and faithful marriage he could overcome his homosexual feelings. While he was married, David went through a painful process acknowledging to himself that his homosexuality could not, and would not be denied.
As well as becoming a Christian minister, I thought I just needed to move into a heterosexual relationship. I got engaged to my girlfriend and we were married about six months later. I remember making statements in my wedding speech thanking her because she had helped me overcome some really difficult things and she had supported me in getting to this place.
Inside I was terrified and I just went into some level of denial about it. I had no idea how this was going to work. I remember we shared hugs and closeness and lying together, and at times we did have some good sexual experience, but at a core level there was always something missing. Deep down I yearned to be close to another man. During the course of our relationship this need grew and I struggled to be sexual in our relationship. At times I found myself attracted to other men, thinking about them a lot, imagining being close to them, and I tried to suppress it.
I went to see a range of different counsellors to get support and try to overcome these feelings. My wife and I both saw a number of counsellors over the years to try and work out how we could manage it. We were also at that stage of life where I was the minister in a busy church with a Christian school and our children had come along. Much of the focus was around holding all this together. My wife and I worked well as a team in ministry and no-one would have known the deep internal struggle that we both carried.
I had also started training as a counsellor, in part because I needed skills to help manage the complex pastoral issues in the lives of people in my church, but also because it would help me understand and resolve the internal conflict around my sexuality. I remember in this training in a small group representing my homosexuality with a piece of paper. When asked by the trainer what I wanted to do with it, I said that I wanted to pulverize it, destroy it. I saw this part of me as so terrible and destructive, and that it caused so much unhappiness in my life. But this began the very long road of self acceptance of my core self.
The positive aspect of being involved in counsellor training was that I found the support of many beautiful, skilled people who accepted me, every part of me. I was involved with a group of senior counsellors and supervisors that met for the common purpose of developing a relationship counselling training program. We’d go away on weekend retreats, and that became a really trusted place for me to be able to talk about the journey of my sexuality. It was quite life-giving really.
I went along to those retreats and really agonised and batted out where I was up to in terms of my internal struggle around being married and being gay. I valued my wife and kids but there was also my homosexuality. That was there and growing and real and it was not expressed. Just over four years ago, at one of those retreats I knew I was getting to the point where I couldn’t contain this much longer.
I was withdrawing from my marriage, distancing myself from the relationship, and I’m not proud of some things I did then. I was becoming angrier, less patient, and beginning to feel really unhappy. We had stopped having a sexual relationship for at least a couple years, we were also sleeping in separate bedrooms – that was also because we struggled with light sleeping, and it was easier to sleep alone. And there was a kind of growing discontent in the relationship. I was feeling trapped, and I was exhausted emotionally. I had been investing so much in work, which was partly a distraction, but I was getting to the point where I couldn’t continue doing that.
This yearning, this desire to be in the company of men ‘of kind’, it was becoming so strong, it was really hard not to do it. I did find some opportunities to explore that connection with men in personal growth courses for gay men. I didn’t feel comfortable or entirely good about that. Really up to that point I had worked hard to be open and transparent with people, and with my wife about what was happening for me. I was trying to keep all that contained and to hold the integrity of what I was doing.
I think as much as anything I needed to check it out, to know, to have some experiential sense of being gay. I was wondering, “Is this what I need, what I’m looking for? Is it worth giving up 21 years of what essentially has been a caring relationship? Do I really want to give up a connection with someone who continues to care about me and love me, even when I’m becoming less pleasant and less available?”
I went on a retreat with my fellow counsellors, and I put all this out there, and I asked them to represent the inner voices in my head. They knew my story well enough and they played out the parts. I was there dialoguing with these parts and trying to address them, and confront their challenges and to appease them. It was like inside, there was all this conflict going on, all this noise, and I was constantly trying to deal with it. I began to have that dialogue about what was actually going on for me and I knew what the words were, and they came: “I can no longer not be my true self.” (or “I can no longer not be”) It was a huge relief to admit this to myself and others. I was utterly exhausted, utterly depleted, I had nothing left to give. I had tried my hardest for so long to make this work and I couldn’t do it any longer. I could no longer not be myself.