Thomas Burkett

Chicago + Colorado + Denver + Missouri + New York City + Rome + Steamboat Springs + Virginia

I Had Been Lying to Myself and Everyone Else

Gay + Male + Polyamorous + Queer / 18-22 + 23-29 + 30-39 + 40-49 / Athiest

I grew up in a small place. My hometown was less than 10,000 people total, my high school graduating class was less than 100 total. And me? I was an odd kid. I was super slow to grow up, playing with my action figures until I was much too old, loving to dress up as a super hero to the age people thought I was “unique.”

I was a sensitive kid; I loved animals, art, history, science fiction, fantasy novels, superheroes, stories of ordinary people doing exceptional things. I think that at some point I knew I liked other boys, but I did not know what that meant. I had literally no reference. I knew I had a HUGE crush on Morten Harket from a-Ha….. I had posters of him all over my high school bedroom. However, I never knew what it meant to be gay. I never knew an obviously gay person. In my small world of cowboys and world-class skiers, I just never knew.

I attempted to date in high school, but no girl would be interested in me as I was never interested in girls. I went to prom, it was fun, but it was not a romantic evening. I was more interested in one of the boys than the girl I was with – but because the population of my school was so tiny, I just ignored my interest and attempted to pretend to like girls.

I had a way to escape and hide though…..being raised in the Catholic Church I knew that a profession existed where love and sexuality were not only NOT a focus, but suppressed, denied. So because I was sensitive, and personally because I knew my sexual attractions were not tolerated or even acknowledged, I entered the seminary. Nice people who are sexually ambiguous seem drawn to the seminary, at least I was, and so too many guys I knew.

I was free. I could sing, dance, write, create, learn, discover and all this in a community of all men, isolated, in a group of people who focused on learning, reading, art, math, science, music, and sexuality, while existing, was not a concern, at least not for me. This place, a seminary based at a monastery in northern Missouri, was where for the first time I found much of myself. Though there was a religious context, the approach to learning was much more Socratic, self-guidance and self-discovery were emphasized over a “this is the truth” model. I was free to explore in my own mind what I believed, in the safe frame of reference of a life I had always known.

Missing, though, was one aspect – love.

In seminary, I found the power to be me, except in who and how I love. This part of me I kept hidden, secret, under wraps, all the way to my education in Rome. It was there I had my first sexual experience with another man. It was awkward, scary, painful (emotionally and physically) and it was an awaking, so and painful, but an awaking none-the-less.
I put my sexual life on hold again, afraid of what it meant. For me. For my family. For everyone and anyone I ever knew. I went on in Seminary, all the way to priesthood. I knew it was wrong, not because I was attracted to boys, but because I was hiding. My sexuality.
My identity. My atheism.

Finally, after I met a boy with whom I had fallen in love, I left the priesthood. I told everyone I was leaving because I was unhappy, that I was not a good priest. I did not tell anyone I was gay, not at first. I did not want people to think I was in the priesthood because of my sexuality. I was still, even at age 27, ashamed of who and how I love(d).

Once I started to tell my family I was gay, that is came out, I lost most of them. To this day, I am only close to my parents. Up to the day I left the priesthood, I had friends, family, and a support network. The day I left the priesthood, I had no one.

Coming out made me renew, restart, and repurpose my life entirely. I had no job. No home. No family. No friends. Only my boyfriend.

But what I did have that I did not have before was authenticity to myself.

This journey, coming out, is a journey I am still making. I am out at work, home, publicly.

What I am not as out about is how I came to this place. But here I am. Outing my gay life.

It is a great story, and I would not change a chapter.