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Apparently earlier this week was National Coming Out Day.

Who knew?

My blog is obviously a more reactive project than one where I’m on top of current events. Otherwise I would have had this post ready to publish that day. But here are my thoughts on my coming out. Hopefully this will help you come out of whatever closet you are in. Coming out is no longer exclusively a rainbow term. One can come out as anything that is unconventional and non-conformist.

For me, I’ve had two separate but very significant coming outs in my life; I came out as a non-believer and I came out as gay on the very same day to the very same person… my wife.

I don’t recommend that. It was poor planning and poor salesmanship on my part. It wasn’t very considerate either, but I was hurting and not thinking straight.

Back up about 4 months to the day I came out to myself.  That happened on the same day too. I had spent countless hours over about 2 years studying Mormonism in great depth.  I spent my lunch hours in the library and my free time online. Up to that point I was a true believer and true follower of all things Mormon. Several questionable ideas and facts about Mormonism had crossed my path and I convinced myself that I had misunderstood; what I had thought I heard couldn’t possibly be true… so I set out to prove them wrong.

As you may suspect, my research led me to places I hadn’t anticipated, but I always felt like a clear, concrete answer was just around the corner, so I didn’t feel the need to share my nagging doubts and fears with my wife. Each faithful Mormon explanation I read seemed slightly more implausible than the previous one…until one day I was in my office and I had an epiphany, “It’s not true.”

Before this time I had known I was attracted to men, but I had been clinging to the Mormon philosophy that homosexuality was a verb rather than a noun. This meant that I had bought the lie that as long as I wasn’t DOING anything gay, then I wasn’t gay. But moments after that massive shift in religious belief I immediately said to myself, “I really AM gay!” It couldn’t have been a more euphoric feeling. I was ecstatic for all of about 30 seconds.

I was a married, Mormon man with 3 children… what did this mean? My emotions quickly shifted to terror and remained in that general territory for about 4 months… until that day I shared with my wife what had been bothering me.

“I don’t believe in the LDS Church anymore and I’m gay.”

I’m fairly certain my wife wasn’t prepared for either one of those facts. They went contrary to everything she had experienced in life.  She had no skills or tools for dealing with information like that. I was determined to stay married and remain a “New Order Mormon” mainly because I just wanted to be around my kids.  I couldn’t sustain the religious charade very well, however, and my wife filed for divorce about 2 years and one additional child later.

That’s when my public coming out really began. The day I received the divorce papers I wrote my letter of resignation from the Mormon Church and never returned.

I spent the first six months of separation in a kind of zombie daze not really knowing what to do.

About 6-8 months later, my 8 year old son overheard my ex-wife talking on the phone about a new “friend” she had seen me with and she essentially outed me to my son by what he overheard. Later, when he confronted me in the car I talked to all the kids about my being gay.  It was hard but the right thing to do. I was still gun-shy and hesitating to come out to anyone else in my life, but I knew that once an ex-wife and 4 kids are talking it’s time to come out to extended family. So I did.

Thus began my gradual process of telling family, friends and acquaintances that I am a gay man.  Running parallel to all of this was my simultaneous coming out to these same folks as a non-believer.  While these 2 coming outs coincided,  they are and were very separate and only loosely related life-changing events.

Being a gay Mormon man does not automatically mean you don’t believe in Mormonism;  I likewise didn’t leave Mormonism to indulge myself in a “sinful” gay lifestyle. I’ve been accused of a variation on both of these themes at different times. My life has indeed changed significantly because I no longer buy the LDS view of “sin.” That doesn’t mean I left for that reason.

I left Mormonism and religion in general because I don’t believe it lives up to its own claims.

But I didn’t choose to become gay.  I always have been gay, but I only acknowledged it after sufficiently debunking the faulty religious structure that was preventing me from admitting what I’ve known all my life. I’m no more gay today than I was the day I married my ex-wife in the Mormon temple. But I am a more whole person with a lot more peace.

Because my two coming outs occurred simultaneously it’s tough to tell what some people reacted negative towards…my being gay or my not believing in their religion anymore…or both.

In my mind, coming out as a disbeliever was and is more difficult. Is that surprising?

Coming out as gay was difficult but rewarding. I gained friends and felt at home in completely male settings for the first time in my life. It felt natural to be among gay men and so it has been easy to ignore and dismiss others’ fears and prejudices. I’m also fortunate to be able to live in a very gay-friendly community where being gay is among the norm. I guess the best way to explain it is that the little gay boy in me that I always subconsciously knew was there finally felt free.

Coming out as a non-believer on the other hand was excruciatingly challenging in the long-term. I NEVER had any subconscious doubts or anticipated that there was a little atheist in me dying to get out. I was one of those Mormons who obeyed all the rules and volunteered for churchy things. I’d always been worthy of a temple recommend and could answer the questions about belief honestly in the affirmative.

No, coming out as a non-believer was a HUGE adjustment for me but the rewards and challenges have been great.  Being able to think without the cloud of religious myths is like having a clamp removed from your brain. Yet I lost a lot of friends and family relationships almost overnight, other relationships were improved.

The key takeaway is that coming out is healthy, wise and a great source of peace in my life but not easy. I do not regret it for one second.  I actually have a great deal of gratitude to my ex-wife for forcing my hand so to speak and literally forcing me to come out to the kids and others.

Coming out is a lifelong process actually because new acquaintances and friends always enter the picture. Personally I feel like very few people actually NEED to know.  Coming out is really for me honestly. I’m the one who benefits.  It’s not for the ones you tell really. It is comforting to know others have no question about where you stand.  Very few are surprised by my homosexuality.  Many are shocked when I confess atheism.

There’s a time and a place to share.   I’m still not out to everyone at work.  My boss is a former Mormon himself and so we’ve have several discussions on religion but I haven’t really had the gay discussion with him (I work remotely so we don’t interact in person regularly). I’m sure the right time and place will come to share that information.

To me the phrase “coming out” is right up there with positive character traits such as honesty, integrity, trustworthiness, courtesy, bravery. Do it.