I was born and raised as one of Jehovah's Witnesses. My dad had three kids from a previous marriage, before he was one of Jehovah's Witnesses and after he became one, he met and married my mom and had me, their only child. My parents were very devout Witnesses, my dad being an elder and my mom being a pioneer so I tried to follow their example from a young age, joining the Theocratic Ministry School at the age of 7. Even at this early age, though, I knew I was different, I knew I was attracted to men. There was another boy my age in our congregation and our parents would often arrange for us to have sleepovers. During these sleepovers, we began to explore each other's body. I knew in my mind that this was wrong and Jehovah didn't like it but I wasn't sure how to stop. As we grew older, this other boy found himself attracted to girls as well and I would tell him that I was too, though deep down I knew I wasn't. During all of this, I kept up the outward appearance of being a perfect Jehovah's Witnesses. I became an unbaptized publisher first, then I got baptized at 11, and would auxiliary pioneer on my vacation months from school. During this time, I remember thinking that it must all be an act for Jehovah's Witnesses, that everyone looked like they were devout Christians on the outside but really were doing sinful things secretly. I mainly believed this because many of the young people in my congregation were having sex with each other, drinking alcohol and engaging in other forbidden activities all while maintaining their innocence in congregational settings.
It was around the age of 13 that we moved to a new congregation that was just being formed so that my father could serve as an elder there. In this new congregation, the young people were very different. They were good Jehovah's Witnesses kids and when I would talk to them in private, their speech reflected it. None of them mentioned living a double life and for the first time, I thought it might be possible to actually live a life of "Godly devotion" both privately and publicly. I threw myself into personal study, bible reading, and the ministry, I volunteered at assemblies and conventions, I even managed to cut off my relationship with the boy I had been "messing around" with. In my junior year of high school, I asked my parents if I could be home-schooled so that I could begin regular pioneering. By this point, I had my sights set on the ultimate prize, to serve as a Bethelite at the World Headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses in New York. I really didn’t want to become a regular pioneer but I knew that Bethel worked based on seniority in the full-time service and I figured I should start building mine up at a young age. All of this diligence pushed me ahead of many of my peers and I became the darling of the circuit, getting circuit assembly and district convention parts, drama roles, and becoming part of the "in crowd" of the most spiritual youth in the circuit.
However, all of this personal study as well as all the "good associates" I had around me, made me ever more conscious of my sinful actions I had engaged in with my friend in the past years. I looked for any way to avoid confessing what I had done to the elders but there seemed no way around it, I had engaged in fornication after baptism and the only way to be forgiven was to confess. So during the circuit overseer’s visit, I confessed to him what I had done while we were in field service. He told me that what I had done was indeed wrong but that he understood why I had been reluctant to confess, namely since the eyes of the circuit were on me. I also told him that my father, on finding gay porn on the computer, had told me, "I rather you get a girl pregnant than be gay." The Circuit Overseer said that the next step would be to tell my parents what I had done and that he would be there when I did it. I was utterly mortified. I couldn’t imagine my mom having to listen to all of my sordid past acts. The next day we met in one of the school rooms at the Kingdom Hall and I confessed to my parents what I had done with my boy companion. I had to type it up and read it to them because I was sobbing and it was the only way I could get through it. Tears streamed down both my parents’ eyes as well as the circuit overseer’s as they listened to what I said. When I finished, my parents confirmed their love for me and the Circuit Overseer read a few scriptures before concluding the meeting by telling that he didn’t think we needed a judicial committee to investigate yet and that he would form an investigatory committee to make the decision of whether to make this a formal judicial matter. In the meantime, I had all privileges revoked, including congregational assignments, public prayer, and commenting. Even though no announcement was made, the congregation knew something was up because I was normally so active in congregational activities. After about a week, the investigatory committee met with me to discuss their decision. They felt that I had repented sufficiently and that because of the time that had lapsed since the last sinful act (almost two years), no action needed to be taken and that I could maintain my status as a regular pioneer. I don’t ever think I’ve ever felt so relieved in my life, barring when I came out. I knew that on the Bethel application, it asked the applicant if he or she had ever had a homosexual relationship and that if one answered "Yes" to this question then one’s chances of acceptance were minimal. I figured my dream of Bethel was over but at least my standing before Jehovah was clean.
I continued pioneering through the end of high school and throughout my two years at a community college, where I studied to become a paralegal, which my family and I felt would be a practical field that would allow me to continue full-time service. At the same time, a French-language congregation started in the area and I decided to help them out since I had taken French in school. I would preach with them when I could, but it was difficult because I had to borrow my parents’ car when they weren’t using it to do it. Suddenly, my dad announced that he wanted to the whole family to move to the French congregation, which thrilled my mom and me because the Society had been encouraging publishers to move into the foreign field. During this time, I decided to apply once for Bethel. I figured that I wouldn’t get accepted because of my past but that I should try at least once because it had been such a dream of mine. I figured if I didn’t get accepted, I wouldn’t try again. I submitted my application before I left the English congregation I was in. The application first had to go through my body of elders, then the circuit overseer, before reaching the Personnel department of Bethel for a final decision. When I submitted my application to my elders, I truthfully admitted that I had had a non-romantic homosexual relationship in the past. Because my father was on the Service Committee, which would be deciding whether my application would be forwarded to the Circuit Overseer, he had to be replaced by another brother since I was his son. The other two members of the service committee were the members of my investigatory committee and so were familiar with my case. The new brother had no idea of what had happened, and about two days after I submitted my application, he approached me and told me that because the relationship had been non-romantic, there was no need to answer "Yes" to the question regarding a homosexual relationship. I was stunned but happy to comply with his request that I submit a new application that answered "No" to the homosexual question. In hindsight, I think this occurred because they wanted to have the honor of saying a Bethelite came from their congregation and also knew how bad I wanted to go to Bethel.
So the waiting game began as to whether I would get accepted. We moved to the French congregation and I also submitted an application to become a Temporary Bethelite, which would mean I would serve for a limited period of time up to six months. A few months later, I got a call from the Temporary Bethelites desk at Bethel, saying that I had been accepted to serve for a month at Brooklyn Bethel. I was ecstatic and immediately accepted. They told me that they would be sending me details in the mail. A few days later, I got a thick letter in the mail, which I assumed were details regarding my temp assignment. Imagine my shock when I opened it to find that I had been accepted to serve permanently at the Watchtower Educational Center in Patterson, NY. It honestly was one of the happiest times of my life. My parents were beyond thrilled and arranged a lavish goodbye party and helped me prepare for my arrival date of December 25, 2003 at Bethel.
At Bethel, I met some of the best friends of my life as well as many kind people. I also experienced severe depression during certain times. I was assigned to work in the Laundry department, which at Bethel is one of the "production" departments, which were few at Patterson. At Brooklyn and Wallkill, many Bethelites were used to working in the production environment because of the printing work done in each facility. Schedules had to be kept and deadlines met, and you always knew it. At Patterson, many were unaccustomed to this because Patterson was an educational facility with Gilead School, the Branch Overseers School, and the Traveling Overseers School. Patterson also housed the Art Department, Audio/Video Department and Service Department. So for Patterson Bethelites, life was good, most worked at their own pace, with their own deadlines. However, the laundry and the dining room were "production" departments, as they are in Brooklyn and Wallkill. The work was hard, the overseers demanding, and the pace relentless. We received dirty clothes in the morning and they had to be washed, pressed, and in the owner’s room by the end of the workday. I worked mainly with other young guys my age and to be fair, we made sure we had fun while we did the work. I was eventually transferred to the Dry Cleaning department, which was a small department of five guys who had each been selected because they had seen in us some aptitude in dealing with the costly and delicate garments that we processed. Bethel even sent me to get certified by the state of New York as a dry cleaner. Highlights of my time at Bethel were the remodeling of both the Brooklyn and Patterson laundries, a time when we got to meet our counterparts in Brooklyn, work with them, and even work in Brooklyn for several months. I also enjoyed a trip to France and England in which I got to meet Bethelites in those two countries and compare notes. I was even selected to be on the cover of the DVD, "Young People Ask – What Will I Do With My Life?" a copy of which I’ve saved, knowing that after I came out, they would remove me from it. However, during my two and a half years there I started to get depressed. For one thing, I started to develop feelings for my roommate which became harder and harder to ignore. Also the pace started to wear me down, especially as I was getting more and more assignments in my French congregation, which was an hour away. I realized that I couldn’t do it anymore and so I told my parents that I wanted to leave Bethel. They were shocked and not a little disappointed, since they thought everything was going perfect for me. However, they said I was welcome back home until I decided what I wanted to do. Saying goodbye to Bethel was very difficult and involved many tears, but in the summer of 2006 I returned to my parent’s home in Maryland.
I decided that I wanted to move to France as a pioneer so that I could perfect my French. I had a friend in Paris who said I could live with him so all I had to do was save up some money to make the move. While looking for a job, I started wondering if there were other gay Jehovah’s Witnesses. I searched online and found several groups for Jehovah’s Witnesses who are gay but want to remain in the organization and not act on their gay feelings. It was a relief to talk to others who knew what I was going through. I made some close friends during this time from all over the world and even met up with a few when I attended the Special Convention in Frankfurt, Germany as part of the French-speaking U.S. delegation. There was one aspect that bothered me though when I met various gay Jehovah’s Witnesses, and that was the "cuddling." This term was used to describe holding, touching and caressing above the waist. It felt wonderful to touch another man but I felt guilty as well because we were doing as much as we could before the acts could be considered a serious sin and our thoughts were hardly chaste when we cuddled. Some wanted to go as far as kissing, which I didn’t feel comfortable with. During this time, I was looking for a part-time job that would allow me to pioneer. I seemed to have found the perfect one when I was hired to be a Customer Service Agent for Alaska Airlines in D.C. This would allow me to work and save up money and give me travel benefits. Training was a month long in Seattle. It would be the first time I was out of the watchful eye of my parents or the Society.
In Seattle, I met up with the Witnesses a few times. However in my training class, I met a guy I suspected to be gay. Somehow, I mustered up the courage to ask him about it and he confirmed that he was. We became the best of friends, with me hanging out with him and his boyfriend more and more while hanging out with the Witnesses less and less. For the first time, I saw a healthy gay relationship in action and found it was so different from the vilified lifestyle the Witnesses portrayed. Near the end of training, we watched a movie called, "Latter Days," which is about the struggles of a gay Mormon boy. The movie struck a chord with me and my friend’s boyfriend told me, "You know that’s going to be you one day," referring to the character leaving the Mormon church. At the time, I couldn’t imagine leaving the Witnesses and losing all my friends as well as my parents. I told him this and he replied, "You can do it now and go through the pain and heartache briefly or you can suffer the rest of your life alone as a Witness and possibly come out when you’re older and regret you didn’t do it sooner." The words struck me, though I told him I’d have to think about it.
I returned home severely depressed because after a month of freedom, I was back in the rigid life of a Witness. I stopped eating and my parents noticed and commented on the changes in me. Everyday I wrestled with the thought of whether to leave or not. One of the guys I met at the gay Jehovah’s Witnesses website asked me if I ever thought the Witnesses might be wrong. From that discussion, we decided that we would leave the organization together even though I lived in the U.S. and he lived in the U.K. I also started exploring sites for gay ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses to see how they had done it. All of this gave me the courage to make the leap out of the Witnesses. During this time, word had spread among the gay Jehovah’s Witnesses that I was thinking about disassociating myself. Many pleaded with me to reconsider, others were angry with me, near the end almost all of them stopped speaking to me, which broke my heart. I had decided that I was going to wait for my parents to go to work and just leave the house forever, however, one of the gay Jehovah’s Witnesses encouraged me to at least tell my parents face to face and I couldn’t argue with that. So after the meeting one night, on the walk from the car to the front door of our house, I decided that I was going to do it right then and there. As we came in the house, I told my dad I needed to talk to him. My mom went upstairs and my dad and I went into the kitchen and I said, "I need to tell you two things. Number one, I’m gay, and, number two, I don’t want to be one of Jehovah’s Witnesses any longer." Saying those words was like dropping an atomic bomb on my father. I know he was stunned but he recovered quickly and said he always knew I was gay and as for wanting to leave, that was my choice to make. I also discussed some issues I had from a theological standpoint with the Witnesses and he said he didn’t want to hear that, that I was using those points as an excuse to leave and live a gay lifestyle. I told him he was free to think that but it wasn’t true. He said he still loved me but that he would never be able to accept my significant other. We hugged and he said he would tell my mom the next day since he felt she would take it better from him. I can’t describe to you the feelings that I had that night, a mixture of sheer joy from the knowledge that I was on my way to freedom and the sadness of knowing I was spending my last moments with my parents. The next day I came home from work and found my mom with puffy red eyes from crying. She smiled faintly at me and said, "We’ll talk tomorrow." The next day we did and she tried to convince me that I should stay. Had I read all of the literature the Society published on homosexuality? Did I know how near the end of the system of things was? I told her I had done everything I could to stay but that I was only staying for my parents and friends and not from a love of Jehovah and that wasn’t fair to the religion or me. With that, she agreed to help me move. I sent in my letter of disassociation to the elders and the full body met to discuss it. They sent me a letter, which they all signed, pleading with me to meet with them before leaving but by that point my mind was made up and I didn’t want them to capitalize on the vulnerability I felt at that moment so I declined it and told them to process the letter of disassociation. I was shocked to get a secret letter from one of the elders, telling me that he was struggling with the same feelings I had but rather than encourage me to stay, the letter seemed to highlight the battle that had been raging inside him for years. I knew I didn’t want to go through the same thing and that I was making the right choice.
About a week later, the announcement was made that I was no longer one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Around that time, I was moving into a room I had found in D.C. As my parents dropped the last of my things off, we knew our relationship would never be the same. It was a quiet goodbye and then I went into the house. I’ll never forget that feeling, the feeling that the world had opened up to me and my future was full of possibility and, even more exciting, love. True, I had no friends and no idea how the world really worked, but I was excited discover it all. During those first few months, PFLAG was a great help to me. It was tough, though, to see all of my former friends ignore me when they saw me on the street. I decided I needed a fresh start in a new place so I became a flight attendant to pursue my love of travel and moved to San Francisco, CA, where I am now. Coming out was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life but I don’t regret it for a second. I hope my story can give strength to others just as others’ stories gave strength to me when I needed it. If anyone is thinking about coming out or already has and wants to talk, I’m here. Please don’t hesitate to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.