“Conversion therapy made me want to die – but now I’m happy and proud to be gay”
Ex-pastor Joel Barrett was just a kid when he began to realize he was different.
“I have memories as young as four and five of boys. There was a boy in my class who had olive skin and black hair and I was infatuated with him, ”Joel, 55, told the Mirror.
It wasn’t until Joel, originally from the United States, hit puberty that he began to understand his feelings – he was attracted to boys.
But being gay didn’t fit Joel’s conservative Baptist upbringing, and he was brought up with the belief that homosexuality was a sin.
The father of three described his church as being only slightly less extreme in its beliefs than the Westboro Baptist Church – which celebrates the funerals of fallen soldiers and celebrates human tragedy as a gift from God.
“Growing up, everything I heard about homosexuality was horrible. I heard preachers standing in the pulpit calling to send all homosexuals to an island, to let them get infected and die.
“There was a lot of teasing from the effeminate men, they were trying to scare you,” he explained.
So, instead of confronting his feelings, Joel suppressed his sexuality and threw himself into worship.
“Most people thought I was godly, but I knew if they ever found out I was gay, that would change instantly. So I started this cycle of covering up and burying the truth.
Over the years, Joel told himself his feelings would go away if he could achieve his next goal, like going to Bible college or dating a girl.
At the age of 23, Joel walked down the aisle and married a woman.
“It was the next ‘right’ thing to do. I wasn’t knowingly cheating on anyone, but I thought that was what I was supposed to do – find a good Christian wife.
“But nothing has changed in me. I thought ‘Wow, now I’m married and I have these feelings,’ “he said.
As he settled into married life and pursued a career in the church as a pastor, Joel described living with constant feelings of fear and shame “while hiding his sexuality.
To face his secret, he began to “navigate” – to find sex and privacy with other men in parks and other public spaces.
“It was a quick fix and I was immediately filled with guilt and fear afterwards. It meant someone knew I was gay and I was worried they would show up in my real life.
From that point on, every Sunday when Joel walked out onto the church platform to speak to 500 people, he would scan the audience to see if there were any men he had been intimate with.
But one day, after moving to another state, Joel encountered another cruiser who overtook him.
“When I got in the vehicle, I saw him and I felt like I was looking in the mirror. I just thought, ‘He’s you’.
After this meeting, Joël decided to undergo conversion therapy.
Although his experience did not resemble the violent portrayals depicted in the films, Joel says the following years were the darkest of his life.
“I wanted to die. I didn’t want to kill myself, but I wanted someone else to kill me.
“I saw advisers and told them all the dark secrets for three years. No one ever beat the Bible over my head, but they asked questions like I had a bossy mother or an absent father, ”he explained.
“None of this is based on any kind of science. It is mainly based on faith.
In a description of the therapy on his website, Joel wrote: “I went to individual and group counseling sessions, attended retreats, read books, attended lectures, listened to speakers, fought evil spirits with the counselor, cried and prayed. like never before in my life.
And yet, after three years of “talking and praying” Joel was making no progress and became frustrated.
“I asked my counselor to put me in touch with guys who were successful after therapy. But he said no.
“He told me that everyone was either ashamed of needing advice in the first place or too scared to ‘relapse’ if they spoke to me,” he said.
After being in hell for three years, and now at 36, Joël has achieved something. He was gay and that wasn’t going to change.
Despite his relief at no longer keeping it a secret, he then had to weather the storm by telling his wife he was gay and ending the marriage.
“Living with divorce was like admitting failure,” he said, adding that it was difficult to navigate the life of an openly gay man.
“I knew I was gay but I didn’t know what it looked like.”
As part of the process, Joel quit going to church – another big change in his life.
“I had to clean up the rubble of 36 years of my life and my struggle. I realized I had to erase this before I could rebuild.
In time, Joel met her husband, David Seymour.
“I dated a few guys short term after coming out and went through a kind of ‘gay puberty’,” he joked.
But after meeting David, Joel knew it was time to settle down.
“It was perfect timing. I always told David he was my breath of fresh air, ”said Joel.
Right now, Joel’s three children were approaching their teens and he decided to introduce them to David.
“They were difficult waters to navigate, but little by little David became a part of their life. They have always understood and seen in him a friend, ”he said.
Today, almost 20 years after coming out, Joel is still married to David. He wrote about his experience in a book, Divine … but gay , which is dedicated to her husband.
On Instagram as @Joelspeaksout he works as motivation coach help others through difficult times and be happy with who he is. He also says he wants to bridge the gap between certain branches of religion and the LGBTQ + community.
“My faith is a personal thing. I’m not anti-religion, and if you’re part of a religious community that makes you a better person, keep doing it.
“But if you’re part of a spiritual community that tells you you’re broken, get out of it,” he warned.
“I believe in the power of storytelling and I tell my story because it humanizes my experience. When I was growing up, the only images in my mind of LGBTQ people were people from San Francisco dancing half-naked in the streets.
“It’s easy to see people as ‘the other’ but by telling these stories we can see ourselves as human beings.”
Divine … but gay is now available and available for purchase on Amazon