Gary Conachan - A Be Free Story
My name is Gary Conachan, I’m from Portland, Oregon, and this is my Be Free story:
It wasn’t until I was 12 years old that I began to realize I was different. I’d sensed it before that, but it wasn’t until I hit my teen years, when it wasn’t girls I was attracted to… it was guys. My entire family is Christian and I grew up going to church, something I thoroughly enjoyed. I knew that God loved me and only wanted the best for my life, beliefs that really took root my sophomore year of high school. As I saw it, my attractions were incongruent with my faith, so I sought healing from whatever might have caused them. They never went away completely, but I did my best to keep my thoughts pure and surrender them to God. Still, I dealt with a lot of shame and insecurity. I doubted my worth, I struggled in my masculinity, and I had a hard time loving myself. Though I didn’t entirely see it back then, these things greatly hindered my ability to love others; I figured they were things I would always deal with.
The summer after I graduated from college, I came incredibly close to accepting a label with which to identify my sexuality. This came out of the belief that it’s good to call things as they are, for only then can you move forward and find true healing. Unfortunately, shame and fear were much too strong. Yet again, I repressed my attractions, doing what I thought was best in order to fulfill my calling and live the best life God intended for me.
Many months later, everything changed. I had just read an entire series of blog posts on faith and sexuality, written by two gay Christians. They felt it was best not to engage in same-sex relationships, but they had no problem accepting their sexuality. They were theologically thoughtful, loved Jesus, and saw that their gay-ness played a beautiful role in the Bigger Story. That changed everything for me, as it was the first time I had had some kind of role models for what it meant to be a gay Christian. Shortly thereafter, my life changed on a much deeper level.
It was February 20th, 2016, four and a half months into my two-year internship in Bangkok, Thailand. It was a slightly warm, “cold season” day. A friend had invited me to hang out with him, which meant running wedding errands all day, as he was a few months shy of getting married. It was a good day, finally getting to hang out with a friend I hadn’t been able to for months. Internally, however, a war was raging. As we were out and about, I spent most of the day wrestling with myself, slipping into a downward spiral of shame and condemnation. I felt those things because of guys. I couldn’t help but find myself attracted to a guy here, a guy there. This wasn’t unusual for me, but as it had been many times before, it was too much to bear. I felt horrible for being attracted to them, fighting it as much as I could. Even worse, I felt that much too familiar feeling that I was fundamentally flawed. My sexuality and faith were completely opposed to one another and I was caught in the crossfire. It wasn’t until I was walking home by myself that night that I was hit over the head with my own hypocrisy.
GARY! The voice was clearer than anything. You have so much love for others, but you don’t extend that same love towards yourself. That’s no way to live and you need to change that. I knew that voice was right, that I needed to quit shaming myself over mere attractions, something I couldn’t control. I needed to let the shame go and love the real me. It wasn’t easy, but that realization pushed me in a new direction. That night began the process of reconciling my faith and sexuality, something I’d never thought possible.
I’ve come out to all my closest friends and family since then. The peace, joy, and freedom I’ve experienced over the past year and a half have been incredible. If there’s any tension I still feel, it’s from worrying about how I’m perceived by others. If I’ve learned anything though, it’s to press into that tension, because it really does make you better and stronger and more grounded in your identity. As many further along in their journey once assured me, it has gotten easier. Now that I’m out, everything makes more sense than ever before. I no longer blame others for my attractions, I’ve learned to love myself better, and I’m gradually seeing more of the beauty of my sexuality as it fits into the Greater Story.
Moving forward, I’ve resolved to love others as I’ve been loved. I’ve resolved to extend grace and freedom towards others, just as they’ve been given to me. I’ve resolved to see the seemingly inseparable gap between the LGBT community and Church closed. Many others have gone before me and helped build that bridge; now, I get to help build it, too. There’s no distinction between them and us; there is only us. I stand with my fellow Christians and I stand with my LGBT sisters and brothers. As the Jesus I follow came to do, I’m called to join in on the work of setting the captives free. And so, I hope to use my freedom and share my story in order to help others be free too.