Editor’s note: Last week, Dean told us of his childhood in a rural Midwest community, his time at Bob Jones University, his years of devotion to the fundamentalist churches where he served as a volunteer organist, and a string of sexless “dating” relationships with women that always ended just as things were beginning to get serious. Today, Dean shares with us, on a personally significant date, the events that led to his finally coming to terms with his sexual orientation within the context of his faith.
September 24, 2001 was a huge turning point in my life; the start of 16 months of major life-changing events. My brother died suddenly from a massive heart attack two weeks after the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. It was devastating. I eulogized him at his funeral, and tried to console my inconsolable parents and sister, and his wife and kids. I tried to live the Calvinist theology as I understood it, but I felt hollow inside. I ran the Marine Corps Marathon six weeks later in Washington, DC, running by the Pentagon where the plane had hit. Six weeks after that was the first concert on the renovated organ where I had no time to really practice on the expanded instrument, as the console was still being wired an hour before the performance. Six months later, the owner of the law firm where I worked died of cancer, which caused the firm to disband. Six months after that, I had major abdominal surgery removing two feet of my large intestine. I hoped that 2003 would be the start of good things, but it began a 5-year span where I had great struggles with either my church job or my day job or both. I completely squelched any thought of who I was and the attraction to men that by this time I knew was there. I began to take extravagant trips to faraway places to run away from what I could not admit to myself. I began drinking a lot and doing whatever I could to silence the nagging voice inside me telling me to be true to who I am.
In March 2006, I was told by the pastor of the church I was serving that the organ was no longer going to be used in worship services. After nine years of service as the Director of Music and Organist with no pay, I was no longer wanted. I had stood by that pastor through three church splits and had been fiercely loyal, which is a key component of my nature. I was told that he now believed the organ was the reason the church was not growing. Six years before this, the organ and my musical skills had been a source of pride for him and he was the one who convinced the leadership in the congregation to renovate and expand the organ. Now he had decided that using the organ for worship “stood in the way” of his having a huge congregation. So I left and began to attend and serve in a church plant by another BJU graduate, reduced to playing a portable keyboard. The dysfunction was great, but as church had always been a part of my life, I tried to make it work.
It was then that I became aware of a job opening for a full-time organist in Alabama, at a large Presbyterian church (PCA–Presbyterian Church in America—the very narrow Presbyterian denomination). I decided to apply and got an interview. I should have seen some warning signs, but this was my dream! To only make music for a living was what I had always wanted. Being single, I was asked on the phone when I initially talked to the music director if I were gay. I said no. When the church flew me down the first time, he asked again, and the search committee asked — just less directly. I said no. When they flew me down the second time, the music director and several different people asked me at least FIVE different times if I were gay. No, no, no, no, no. By this point I was closer to admitting to myself it wasn’t true, but I wanted this job. I knew I could play the game the same way I had always done. As there was no other applicant who could fit the narrow requirements, I was hired. I moved there in November… and then the nightmare began.
The next five months were a living hell both musically and personally. The music director was an extremely difficult boss, and would berate me in front of the choir and privately. After one particularly intense tirade in front of the choir during rehearsal and continuing the next day in his office, I resigned. To only receive harsh criticism from this authority figure obliterated any self-confidence that I had. The church paid for my move back to Denver, but I arrived defeated and dejected. I hated the music director for ruining my perfect job, but I felt like I was being punished for hiding my attraction. Because I had lied about my identity, I believed that I deserved every bad thing that happened to me. I had ruined my perfect job. If those feelings of attraction to men would just go away. I had prayed for years for that to happen, yet it never did. I returned, dejected, to the awful BJU church plant, which had become even more dysfunctional in my absence. I hated life completely. Music, which had been my source of artistic expression and great joy, was taken away from me. I found another paralegal job, but I hated the firm and the attorneys I had to work for. Then the economy tanked, so I forced myself to be thankful I had a job, but hated the abuse I dealt with each day.
Eighteen months after I returned from Alabama, I decided that I either had to get another church job, or give up music forever. A church setting was the venue where I felt most comfortable expressing the music inside of me. I found out there was an opening at a small Presbyterian church (this time PCUSA, the more open and “liberal” Presbyterian denomination), and so I applied. I got a call from the pastor who was a woman. I interviewed with her, and even though we didn’t see eye to eye completely on music, there was something there. I met with the search committee, and even though it was a small electronic organ, and I would have to direct the choir—neither of which thrilled me—I felt drawn to the church. I played a service as a candidate, and became more convinced this was where I was supposed to be. Both the search committee and the church’s session unanimously approved hiring me. So I started working there in September 2008. Choir rehearsals started, and I noticed there were these two women who always came in together. One had been on the search committee. I noticed another two women who also came in together—one sang in the choir (she had also been on the search committee) and the other sat in the sanctuary with their two little dogs during rehearsal. Slowly I figured out that they were couples. I started to notice in the pastor’s sermons that all people were accepted there. I kept noticing how these two couples were completely committed to each other, even through really difficult events in life. The one couple especially befriended me and had me to their home for meals. They were just like any other couple — arguing about little things, but obviously they loved each other and were committed to each other. Though I had been acquainted with a few gay people over the years, for the first time in my life I now had a gay couple as close friends.
About a year and a half after starting this church job, I was able to leave the horrible paralegal job I had and move to another firm. For the first time in nearly ten years, I liked both my day job and my church job. I was at a point in my life where I couldn’t ignore who I was and finally had the energy to really look at myself. I went to a counselor to try to figure out why I was so uncomfortable with myself. Who was I really? She told me to listen to that voice inside. After fighting and fighting and fighting within myself, on the 9th anniversary of my brother’s death, September 24, 2010, at 47 years of age, I said the words out loud “I am gay.” At the same time, the pastor did a study of the Enneagram (personality types) in her sermons relating Biblical characters to what personality type each was. I embarked on a study of where I fit in that discipline. I began to understand why I reacted to situations the way I did; why I craved acceptance from authority figures; why I was so loyal; why things had to be done neatly and in order. I began slowly to accept that I was exactly as God had wanted me to be. I began the process of coming out to people that I thought would be accepting and supportive.
I still have a long way to go — coming out to more of my family and friends, believing that I can find a suitable partner and be part of a fulfilling relationship — completely accepting myself. I don’t know what is in my future, but I know that I am finally, for the first time in my life, in the process of becoming comfortable in my own skin.