IN 1994, in his third year of university, Jesse Jackman went to live in Japan for a semester on an exchange program. Closeted and already feeling isolated, far from home his loneliness only got worse.
In despair, Jackman remembered when, years earlier, a teacher from a nearby school came to speak to his school assembly about being gay. It was the late 80s, and a big deal for the school to give their students a positive message about homosexuality — for a 12-year-old Jackman, even having no one to share it with, the message gave him hope.
“I wrote to him, terrified that he was going to write back, scolding me somehow, and saying that it wasn’t okay that I was this way, and I had to change… so I sent it and I dreaded having sent it the instant I put it in the mailbox,” Jackman recalled.
“About two or three weeks later I got a wonderful handwritten letter back from him, saying, ‘I understand your feelings of loneliness and your feelings of despair, don’t worry, there’s hope’.”
The teacher gave Jackman his phone number and said that if he hung on in Japan, once he got home he would find support.
Jackman never made contact with him again.
“I was so heartened and terrified by receiving that letter that I never responded and I never reached out,” he said.
“Instead, that’s when I connected with my friend in Japan who was a religious fundamentalist. The only way that he could see to help me — and I really do believe he was trying to help me — was to get me to devote my life to my lord and saviour Jesus Christ.”
This friend, another exchange student, was the first person Jackman ever came out to face-to-face.
He joined the same local Christian church in Japan his friend was attending, and tried as hard as he could to believe.
“I wanted it to be me so much, because that would mean that I wouldn’t be alone any more,” Jackman said.
“So I faked it. But I faked it so well that I convinced myself that it was real.”
When Jackman returned to the US, he dove head-first into the church with his friend, and ended up in a conversion program at an ex-gay ministry.
After a year filled with anger and shame, Jackman got out. But it was another three years before he felt able to begin safely exploring who he was as a gay man.
Even years later, Jackman didn’t tell anyone about what had happened. His partner Dirk Caber only found out recently, and in fact it was Caber moving into Jackman’s apartment that prompted the revelation — while cleaning, Jackman found an old folder full of notes from the ex-gay ministry’s conversion group he had been in. Finding the courage to confront what had happened to him, 20 years later, Jackman wrote about it and shared it with the world for an article in the Huffington Post.
“I feel like I lost three years of my life — my gay life — and I’ll never get that back,” he said.
“So I’ve been working to make that up ever since. I think I’ve done a pretty good job of that. But part of the reason I do what I do, with the outreach and the activism, and to an extent the porn, is I’m not just trying to prove myself as a gracious citizen of the gay world, I’m proving to myself that I’m a good gay man and a worthy gay man.
“It’s a battle, every day, every single damn day. I may never win it. It may be an uphill climb forever. But it’s worth the journey.”
RELATED: Closet Case: Dirk Caber
**This was first published in the July edition of the Star Observer, which is available to read in digital flip-book format. To obtain a physical copy, click here to find out where you can grab one in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra and select regional/coastal areas.
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