New beginnings

New beginnings

I grew up in Newcastle and did all my education there. I always knew I was gay, not quite understanding what that meant, and I became a Christian in my early teens.

I think it was partly because of the influence of one of my brothers that I explored Christianity. I suddenly had an amazing social group so church life was a very positive experience for me in many ways.

Most of my time was with a Baptist Church in Newcastle. Like most gay Christians, I felt I needed to be healed or suppress who I really was.

There wasn’t a regular sermon against homosexuality, but there was definitely an anti-gay cultural influence. The whole love the sinner but not the sin philosophy was a popular one back then.

I studied education at university and got a full-time job in a Christian school in Sydney. By that stage I was so trained in my head as to how I should act that the sexuality wasn’t really an issue. I just pretended that part of my life didn’t exist.

One of the most confronting experiences was when rumours started that a student who was nearly finished school was gay. It was handled poorly and even today I feel sick that I didn’t do anything about that. Here I was, a gay teacher, and this student was almost being crucified and there was nobody supporting him.

After I went to another school in Gosford, I decided I had to accept who I was, but I did it in a half-hearted way. I chose to have a separate identity in order to maintain my regular Christian life as well as my gay life.

I created this character to use when meeting guys. I lied about the character’s basic points. The basic first three questions that everybody asks you -“ What’s your name? What do you do? Where do you live? -“ were the things I lied about. Beyond that I still spoke of stories to do with me.

I maintained the fa?e for a good 10 years, from 1996 until just last year. I was tired. It was getting harder to make sure the web of deceit connected correctly.

It made me feel sick and still does when I look back at it. There were some really amazing people I met with whom I could only go so far.

My friend Vanessa had been encouraging me a lot to make a change as she could see the false identity was really screwing me up. I told her about the Freedom 2 B[e] meeting I was about to go to and she said, If you don’t give your real name I’m going to personally come up and kill you.

With that motivation, I sheepishly walked in and told them my real name. I had been emailing the convenor quite a bit as Alex, my false name, and he said to me, So you’re Iain, then looking out the door expecting an Alex to walk through. I had to say, That’s also me.

Freedom 2 B[e] was set up for gay and lesbian people from religious backgrounds. Going to the meetings helped me first realise I wasn’t alone.

I came out on 8 December last year at the school I had been teaching at on the Central Coast. It was the end of the school year and I came out with a speech to other staff. The speech went through several drafts.

The first one was a very therapeutic fuck you all version but that was never going to be said. In the final speech I pointed out a couple of things that many Christians incorrectly assume about gay people, for example that sexuality is a choice.

There was a range of reactions, and I was really quite surprised there wasn’t any anger. I felt absolutely fantastic. I thought, Why didn’t I do this earlier? but I don’t think I would have done it as well if I had done it earlier. I also came out to my family and friends that weekend.

I was at a big Christian wedding a couple of weeks ago. It was the first occasion after coming out that I saw a lot of these people. I was mentioned in one of the speeches in front of all these Christians. The speaker said I had changed her life from black and white to beautiful shades of grey.

I have resigned from the school and I am moving to Sydney to connect with like-minded people. I am no longer the judgmental Christian I was. I am still a Christian but I am a very different one. At 37, I now have the chance to start a new life without trailing an alternative life behind me. I’m really looking forward to it.

For more information on Freedom 2 B[e] visit its website.

Interview by Ian Gould

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