The closet is a complicated place. It hides the truth, creating an isolating and lonely reality. Time and pretence build layers like a callus, increasing the pain and discomfort. The longing to fully bring one’s whole self into the world is constantly weighed against the risk of rejection. This was my reality for close to twenty years.
Many people realize at a young age, they are queer. I grew up never hearing the word gay or homosexual. I felt that I was different and often questioned that feeling but didn’t have any language to describe it. I married when I was nineteen having no idea I was gay, or as was said in those times, “light in the loafers.” I desperately wanted to fit in and belong.
Conformity was a big deal. It was ingrained throughout my childhood. This wasn’t about fitting into the world. It was about being an insider and disciple within a unique group of believers who called non-believers outsiders. Anyone straying from the mold of this Christian sect was condemned and ostracized.
I became a born-again Christian at age ten. I stood to my feet to profess my love for Jesus during a gospel service in a community hall in Lashburn, Saskatchewan. I received probably the most expensive gift ever given to me by my parents, a leather-bound Bible, and hymnbook with onion skin pages. I parroted the church lingo, recited Bible verses, and polished the family’s meeting shoes every Saturday. I was ‘in.’
Baptism further immersed me. I was fourteen when two preachers lowered me into the murky waters of a dugout in a farmer’s field near Didsbury in central Alberta. Singing and praying completed the ritual. It was another step in my salvation. I belonged.
The realization I was gay happened on a Saturday morning while reading a Vancouver newspaper at age twenty-one. It was the personal ads titled “Men Seeking Men” that brought the wave of realization over me there were others like me. This set me on a course of concealing my true self for almost two decades.
Emergence from the closet I sought protection in sent shockwaves throughout my circle. I was suddenly the puzzle piece from a different picture. My sense of belonging was shattered.
The church asked for a negative HIV test to allow me to fully participate in future services and advised me against being near children as it made parents uncomfortable. Instead of going to church the next Sunday, I tearfully took my leather-bound Bible and hymnbook and threw them into the dumpster behind my twelfth avenue Calgary apartment building. At thirty-eight, I was experiencing my rebirth.
I reflect now, no longer haunted by feelings of extreme guilt that trailed me for many years after my coming out, with acknowledgment of the complexity of that time in my life and the impact this had on me and everyone in my circle. The Bible tossing wasn’t a rejection of its principles, just a shedding of what it represented in my life at that time. I was on a journey to learn we don’t need to sacrifice who we are to belong.
Wilbur Turner, pronouns he/him, is a Kelowna-based writer and long-time advocate of the LGBTQ community. He is a former president of Kelowna Pride and Fierté Canada Pride and was instrumental in founding Etcetera, Kelowna’s peer support group for rainbow youth.