Leaving the Secrets Behind
By Jeff Johnston
I held many secrets inside as I was growing up. Like the fact that when I was a boy I got involved in sexual experimentation with neighbor boys. This left me questioning my place in the world of boys, my sexuality and my identity.
I kept secret the pornographic literature I started reading in junior high. I kept secret the guilt, shame and fear I felt about these things.
I kept secret how I really felt about myself. On the outside I was an over-achieving, nice Christian boy. A good student, I was active in school and church. But I really didn’t like myself very much. I had a hard time connecting with other guys. Much of the image I tried to project was fueled by a desire to escape loneliness, fear and self-loathing.
And I sure wasn’t going to tell anyone the biggest secret – that I was becoming really attracted to men and that I was really struggling with what that meant. Was I a homosexual? Gay? Would I ever get married and have kids? What did God think about all this?
You see, I was also a Christian. I had put my faith in Jesus Christ when I was a boy, and I knew God’s plan for human sexuality, marriage between one man and one woman.
There’s an episode in The Simpsons where Marge tells Lisa Simpson to take all her bad feelings and thoughts and shove them way down deep inside, until she can stand on top of them. Then she should put a smile on the outside. That’s what I tried to do – shove every bad feeling or thought way down inside and try hard to do all the right things, to be a good, nice kid.
I even spent a couple years as a missionary in Australia, sharing the good news about God’s love and about how we could have our sins forgiven because of what Jesus had done for us by his perfect life and by his sacrifice on the cross. But I wasn’t really experiencing God’s love; I never felt very clean or forgiven. I worked hard at trying to shut down what was going on inside and trying to earn God’s love, but I didn’t know how to receive and enjoy what He gives so freely.
Then, when I was 25 years old, I went to a conference called “Hope and Healing for the Homosexual,” scared to death that someone would find out my secrets. That event became a turning point for me – one of those milestones that you look back on and think, “Wow, that really changed the course of my life.”
I learned at this event that I wasn’t alone – there were others in the church who wrestled with same-sex attractions. Some of them had walked away from homosexuality. I also learned that there might be some influencing factors in my life that had steered me toward homosexual thoughts and feelings, my early sexual experiences, for example. And I began talking to people about my struggle.
It wasn’t easy to open up and share about my same-sex attractions and behaviors and about the years of shame, fear and guilt. My road out of homosexuality wasn’t totally smooth, either. I struggled with porn for a long time and, even after I began dealing with the roots of my same-sex attractions, experimented with homosexuality.
But there were so many good things about this path I was on. People in the church reached out to me and walked me through some of those difficult times. In particular, there were a number of guys in the church who I learned how to connect with in healthy ways. They helped me stand against temptation, affirmed my masculinity, prayed with me and loved me as I was – while still encouraging me to grow.
God changed so many things about me over the years. He changed my identity – I realized that I wasn’t “gay,” but that I was a man, God’s son. I began learning to live in God’s grace and forgiveness, not in my guilt and shame. And my behavior began to change, too, as I experienced more victories over temptation and sin.
Along the way, my attractions began changing, too. I met a beautiful woman, fell in love and got married. My wife and I complement each other and belong together the way God intended, the way two men or two women never can. And from our relationship, we’ve got three boys who bring us deep joy.
I wouldn’t trade any of my life now for “gay pride” or for “being gay.” There is such freedom in living a life without trying to push down all those secrets, dark thoughts and feelings. There is joy in being a father and a husband. And there is peace in being forgiven.
Jeff Johnston is a gender and homosexuality analyst for Focus on the Family.