I was raised Exclusive Brethren. The Exclusive Brethren are an extreme Christian sect that forbid radio, television, theatres, and eating, drinking, or socialising with anyone who is not a member of the church. I was a seventh generation member of the church, so the rigid control never seemed odd growing up as a child. We accepted that our family, our friends, our social life, our education, our employment, (and everything else you can think of), were under the control of the church, and so long as the rules were followed, it was a bearably conformist lifestyle.
I always knew that I was different, but it wasn’t until I was a young teenager that things began to make sense, and I realised that I was gay. The thought terrified me, and I rejected it for several years, not wanting to even think about how the church would react. I was educated at a church school, moving from there into the family business, so was never exposed to people I was able to talk to about it.
I accepted Jesus as my Saviour at the age of 18, (August 2007), after several years of mental torment. The first thing I did was “confess” everything to the priests, including that I was gay. They didn’t know how to react, and encouraged me to fight against my feelings. Four months later I was scheduled to meet the international leaders of the church, and was grilled as to my homosexual feelings. I was told that it was “constitutional”, and that I had to hope that one day God would have the grace to change me. In the meantime, I was told , I had a strong mind so just had to deal with it. It was too much to deal with, and a week later I packed a bag and ran off. I hadn’t planned anything, and the church found me several days later 600kms from home and persuaded me to return to the church. A month later I was sent to live in Sydney under the wing of the international leader of the church, where I was once again grilled as to my being gay. The leader of the church referred me to a doctor within the church, and this doctor prescribed me Cyprostat. Cyprostat is a hormonal suppressant, and is designed to reduce sexual feelings, typically in registered sex offenders. The logic was that if gay feelings couldn’t be changed, then removing sexual feelings altogether was the next best thing.
I was in Sydney for several months, and was eventually sent home with stern warnings that if I ever followed my “natural tendencies”, the only people I would ever get on with would be “wicked people”. I held out for another four months before being sent back to Australia in August 2008. On my return to NZ, I accepted in myself that remaining in the Exclusive Brethren was never going to work. I spent the next few months thinking about my decision, and tentatively making plans for leaving.
In March 2009 I informed the priests that I intended to leave the church, that I was not ashamed of being gay, and that I was no longer interested in following their policies. At this stage I had made very little contact with anyone outside of the church, so had no idea how general society worked!
The priests were alarmed, and word went out that I was in a bad state. For the next few months I had members of the church contacting me every day (calling, writing, visiting, even knocking on my bedroom door), trying to persuade me to change my mind. I began to tell people that I was gay, and the reactions were those of embarrassed confusion. The crunch point came when I came out to my six younger siblings – within a few hours my parents had removed them from the family home and sent them to live with other church members, and I was informed that the priests wished to speak to me immediately.
I knew I was staring down the barrel of excommunication, and spent that entire Saturday afternoon visiting family and friends saying goodbye. The worst day of my life. I turned up on my Grandma’s doorstep to say goodbye, only to find that she had been warned in advance not to let me in. She stood on her doorstep crying for half an hour, saying that she couldn’t bring herself to say goodbye. This pattern repeated itself again and again – uncles and aunties, old friends, cousins… Words can’t describe the feeling of emptiness I had at the end of that day.
The priests began the excommunication process within a few days, and all church members were forbidden to contact me. I began networking outside of the church, and tentatively making new friends. My parents informed me that I was no longer welcome in their house, and left all my possessions in a storage unit for me to collect. (I was away at the time). All locks were changed, and they now refuse to let me across the threshold of the house. Dad has asked me not to contact them, and when I knocked on the door to say goodbye, was told to “go away, so we can get on with our lives”. I have been told that I am “evil” and “contaminated”, and that I am heading for hell.
I am prepared for the reality that I may never see my parents or siblings again – church rules forbid them from contacting me. The silver lining to the cloud is that I am now starting to meet family members that are already outside of the Exclusive Brethren. People like my Grandpa, who was thrown out of the church when my Mum was 13 – I’m the first of his children/grandchildren he’s seen for 28 years. He joined with me when I told my story publicly – for those of you interested in watching the TV documentary, it can be found here: http://www.tv3.co.nz/60-Minutes—Exclusive/tabid/905/articleID/62283/cat/631/Default.aspx. A fuller version of the story can also be found at http://www.gaynz.com/articles/publish/36/article_8207.php.