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College diver comes out of the closet, goes back in and comes out again for good

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Jesse Allard could not reconcile his religious upbringing with being gay. It led to tumult, anxiety and confusion until he finally found his way.

By Jesse Allard

"Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed because of homosexuality. The men of Sodom sought to have sexual relations with the visitors, so God destroyed the city."

This wasn’t the first time I heard this story, but this time it was much more raw. Here I was, sitting in my Old Testament History and Literature class in September 2011, doing my best to be a heterosexual man of God. I had turned away from my life of homosexuality to pursue a life of Godly righteousness, yet the struggle inside of me was raging worse than ever.

My entire upbringing was leading me to this: I was meant to live a life on the "straight and narrow." This Bible-school education was supposed to be the key, but somehow it wasn’t working. I still had this intense homosexual attraction within me, feelings I trace far back into my childhood. Yet, I spent so much energy trying to hide them for the sake of the church.

I grew up in Southern Minnesota in a strict household. I found my passions in music of all forms and a few different sports. My short attention span led me to do activities that were quick, loud, and fast, including percussion, soccer (which eventually led me to excel at ultimate Frisbee), and gymnastics (which quickly led me to excel at diving). Part of growing up in a strict household meant I went to church … a lot. Sometimes I felt like I spent as much time in my church activities as I did in all my other activities combined. My family and I found our current church home when I was young, and I was quickly plugged into the youth programs. I found comfort in the church, which allowed me to build a strong personal relationship with God. Since my church had one of the larger youth programs in town, I saw many of my church friends at school as well.

Growing up didn’t seem too complicated: I was an upper-middle class white male. Yet, in many areas I was average and thus overlooked. Needless to say, that didn’t mesh well with my want for attention. I aspired to be a cool kid like the other boys.  So much so, I would try almost anything to get attention. The first time anyone ever called me gay was in the sixth grade. Honestly, I didn’t even know what that meant then. You have to understand, with a sheltered home comes many unspoken terms. "Gay" was one such word.

Quickly, the rumor spread around the school, and any chance I had of becoming one of the cool kids to which I aspired was crushed, let alone making any friends. To add insult to injury, it was my first year on the diving team, and I hadn’t exactly learned exceptional social skills. The next few years were rough as I battled against the most awkward years of my life. Luckily, I did have about three friends who stayed close by my side through these years. And, coincidentally it was around this same time that I truly began to notice a difference between myself and the other boys in my grade, though at the time I couldn’t quite identify it.

As we all grew up and progressed into high school, the difference began to become clearer. I can’t pinpoint exactly when I knew my "difference" was that I was attracted to other boys, but I sure wasn’t about to tell anyone. I hid it deep down, because during all this time that I was struggling through middle school, I clung onto my faith more and more. Church was the place where no one would make fun of me. Church was where I could go, and have fun being myself and no one would think twice about it. They probably just said something like, "Oh, that’s just Jesse."

So, when I finally came to the grim realization that I was indeed gay, I was devastated, panicked, and worried. I heard countless sermons against sexual immorality up to and including homosexuality. They all ended with one thing: a one-way ticket to the Lake of Fire. I knew I had to do something about it, and fast; otherwise it might stick. I convinced myself that I just needed to date girls and the attractions would go away. This was easier said than done. Throughout high school I tried dating girls, but I kept getting turned down. I did manage to get one girl to say yes, but naturally that didn’t last long. By this time I was in my senior year of high school and my homosexual attractions were only getting more intense. To this point, I had managed to distract myself by launching myself into every possible engagement known to me: diving, musical theater, SHOC (a student anti-drug campaign), freshman orientation advisers, concert band, jazz band, pep band, marching band, concert choir, symphony orchestra, plus I had a part-time job.  I then slowed down and focused on those activities about which I truly cared.

Along with the new downtime came more time for me to sit and think about my impending doom. I finally broke down and admitted I needed an outside opinion. I told my best friend in the parking lot behind the high school while we sat in my car. To this day he is the smartest kid I know, and he gave me great advice.  He told me to just wait on it. He knew well enough that I was in no position to defend a grand exit out of the closet. For one reason, I was too subordinate to stand up to any authority.  If someone had told me to go to therapy then, I would have quickly obliged. Furthermore, I didn’t know enough about myself, the Bible, or what sexuality really meant to make educated conclusions. I resolved to remain silent, and I enrolled in Drury University, a small, liberal arts school in Springfield, Missouri, for my first year of college, eight hours from home.

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I was excited for what college provided: a fresh start with new people who knew very little about me. But I was unprepared for what college brought. Compared to the one gay man with whom I graduated, it felt like every other person on the sidewalk was gay. On top of that, I was struggling with living in such close proximity to my peers and having sexuality so exposed. Furthermore, I no longer had my church to attend each Sunday, which had become like my weekly "reset button," and I had more downtime than I anticipated.  Once again I was being teased both to my face and behind my back for being gay. I could not understand it!  These people don’t even know who I was, and they already thought I was gay.

Coming Out

After struggling for another 6 1/2 months, I finally came to grips with my sexuality, or so I thought.  In the middle of February 2010, during a car ride to my conference meet, I texted my teammate with whom I felt most comfortable.  We were chatting like normal, and he made a gay joke like normal. Without giving myself a chance to think it through, I replied with, "Well, actually… there’s something I should tell you." He knew exactly what that meant. It was mostly out of my hands from that point on. Before I returned from the meet, the entire team had heard my "news." That also meant most of the school knew as well. You have to love the small, private school gossip.

I could not have been more thrilled with how coming out went at school. It was short and quick, I did almost zero work for it, and the response was either "Good for you!" or "Yeah, we know."  It felt like this incredible weight had been lifted off of my shoulders: diving became more enjoyable, I smiled more, and I was more eager to be social. I even felt a stronger connection in my walk with Jesus. Yet, there was still this little voice in the back of my head reminding me that going back home would be a completely different story. That little voice was right.

When I went back home for the summer, I was met with less enthusiasm. I had people asking me questions like, "How do you reconcile being gay with your relationship with Jesus?" or, "The Bible says homosexuals will not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. Is it scary knowing you are going to Hell?" Some said, "We love you, but we cannot condone this lifestyle you’re choosing." 

At times it felt like everyone wanted to weigh in. It was a rough summer, and I had a hard time finding comfort in anyone. I didn’t have the knowledge then to answer the hard questions or counter the abrasive advances, and by the end of the summer, I caved. When August rolled around, I couldn’t take it anymore. I broke down, admitted they were right, and resolved to be straight because "it was the way God intended it." I know it seems like my solution was irrational, but that’s only because it was entirely irrational.

Back In

So, back to school and back in the closet I went. Going back to being straight was surprisingly more difficult than coming out had been. I found I had to defend myself much more than before, but this time I had the premise of my faith on which to stand. Nobody understood and many people were actually upset about it. They knew exactly what had happened in the three months I had gone home: I was scared back into the closet. I insisted it was my choice and I misquoted the same verses many others had been using against me all summer. I also knew if I was going to follow through with being a heterosexual man of God, I would need to attend school somewhere that would help me be just that. I made the decision to transfer up to what was then called Northwestern College in St. Paul, Minnesota, for my third year of college.

Northwestern is a small, Bible college which requires its students to sign a covenant document upon admission stating such things as "I will exercise my freedom to refrain from using tobacco. I will exercise my freedom to refrain from using alcohol. I will exercise my freedom to refrain from sexual immorality." (Those are not exact quotes.) For each freedom we students agreed to exercise, there was a biblical passage cited to back it up. Naturally, these verses are out of context, but how do you tell that to the professors and administration working at the school? I don’t remember signing any such document, but at the time (when I was trying so hard to be straight) I would have happily agreed to all of those things.

I moved onto campus in August 2011, and it only took me about three weeks to realize what a huge mistake I had made. I knew I could not keep up this facade any longer, but at the same time, if I were to come out and the administration caught wind, they would have the grounds to dismiss me from enrollment. Furthermore, I still could not figure out how to reconcile my faith with my sexuality. I knew if I was going to come out of the closet, I needed to be certain that I would still be walking with the Lord. At this point, I had begun to realize how quickly I have made decisions in the past. I made every effort to not sprint to an answer this time.

I spent a week reading articles by theologians and biblical scholars and in-depth exegesis articles outlining sexuality in the Bible.  For a week I exiled myself: I didn’t go to class and I would hardly talk to anybody until I found what I was looking for. Finally, I found it: an article in Soulforce citing every verse which had been used against me and I had used myself to defend going back into the closet. The article broke the verses down to its original language, and used the context around it to explain why it in fact did not condemn homosexuality, in its present understanding. Finding this article was like finding an oasis in the desert. Finally, I felt peace between my faith and sexuality.

Out For Good

Now, that I was personally reconciled, I decided to come out once again. This time I would do it much more methodically than the last time. I was certain to only tell people I knew I could trust. However, I didn’t account for the fact that I was still at a small private school, where gossip is rampant. Suddenly, I felt like I had become the black sheep on campus. I’m not sure my sudden change in style helped either. For some reason, this time I came out I felt the need to fill a certain image occupied by the stereotypical gay man. This was not me, but I felt compelled towards it almost out of an act of rebellion towards the school and my peers, whom I assumed also disapproved of my homosexuality.  Eventually, I realized how ridiculous I was acting and settled down a little bit, but sadly it took me longer than I would like to admit. I finally started to be me again. Yet, that didn’t make the school year any easier. I noticed the constant fleeting glances from many of the other students on the sidewalk, and the constant feeling of disapproval was eating at me. On top of that, I felt myself falling away from my faith in God: similar to how a child who has overbearing parents tends toward rebellion, I was rebelling against the school who was forcing church on me.  My grades were piss-poor and so was my attitude.

Once again, the feeling that I could not stay there was looming. I started weighing my options. This time I did succeed in making a slower, more rational decision.  Even though I did have a few different options, I found the most opportunity in returning to Drury University. Still, I had burned so many bridges upon my departure I was seriously concerned with how my team would receive me again. Luckily, not too many held grudges, and the ones who did relaxed after they realized I was no longer acting like a stuck-up, arrogant Bible boy. Even though my team was receptive, at least in part, I struggled with a couple other aspects of growing up. I found my priorities wildly mixed up.  My grades were still not up to par and my diving was suffering as well. On top of that, I was struggling to reestablish my strong relationship with God. I was back at a school that made me feel comfortable, yet I still felt like I was struggling.

It wasn’t until I started dating my current boyfriend that I finally felt my priorities realign. He helped to remind me what my goals are and for what I am aiming. Though it is still early, my senior year has proven much more comfortable. I find myself uplifted, encouraged, and motivated. Diving is going well and I’m working to build up my difficulty to become even more competitive at nationals.  My grades are the best they’ve been in the past three years, and I feel like I can see the finish line on the horizon.

What did I learn? Trust yourself. Don’t be afraid to stand your ground.  Also, don’t let major life changes affect who you are. If you’re going to come out, fantastic! But remember to be yourself whether you are ready or not. Don’t let anybody else’s image change who you are. Lastly, make careful decisions. A strong trait of my personality is to resolve dissonance and conflict in my life as quickly as possible. Maybe you’re like me. If that’s the case, take your time. The world is not going to end tomorrow.  It might be difficult to focus on other things, but you must remember where your priorities lie. For me, I put resolving my sexuality uncertainties before my school work and friends. I paid the price for that.

I love my life. I have experienced some days darker than others, but I always keep my head up high. If it hadn’t, I wouldn’t be at this amazing place I am now. I don’t expect everything to be roses and butterflies from here on out, but at least I know now how to deal with almost anything that could come my way. So, keep your chin up and stand firm.

Jesse Allard is a senior accounting major and competes in NCAA Division II diving at Drury University in Missouri.  You can reach him via email at jcalebal@gmail.com and follow him on twitter @JCAdiver.

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