I am clearly a drag queen loving, rainbow flag toting, fabulous homo. Until I was 23, though, I was also 4th generation Jehovah’s Witness. I began giving talks, or sermons, at 8. At 12, I started learning a second language to be able to preach (yup, I was one of those that came to your house at 9AM on Saturday morning) to those that were Deaf in my area. By 15, I was a baptized, ordained minister. I had responsibilities in my congregation. I was an interpreter for various church activities. Grandmothers wanted their granddaughters to marry me. I wanted to marry their grandsons.
This is a story that many of my close friends know, but not in detail. While I tell it nonchantly and sometimes jokingly, it’s still very emotional for me. See, between 12 and 15 is when I realized I was gay. I also knew that I could never tell anyone. So, I led a double life. At 19, I met the person who would become my first boyfriend. Secretly, we would talk all night, sharing our hopes and dreams for our future together. During the day, I was the model Jehovah’s Witness. Preaching, going to the meetings (which is what JWs call their services). No one the wiser that inside I was really regretting some life decisions. Everything I’d ever known and been taught was telling me that I was doing something wrong. I knew that if it ever came out, I’d lose everything.
That first relationship, as many first relationships, ended. I was heartbroken but threw myself into my religion, still talking to other men in secret. I eventually met a man that I fell head over heels for. Somewhere around November 15, 2012, as I was getting ready for a meeting, my mother called me into her room and asked the question I knew would eventually come. “What’s wrong? I see something in your eyes. Do you even still want to be one of Jehovah’s Witnesses?” I stood there for a minute, all the life draining out of me as I quietly answered, “I honestly don’t know.” This was the start of the end.
Some of you reading might be ex-JWs. Some may not know anything about them. Jehovah’s Witness congregations are led by a “body of elders”. These are the ones in charge of the congregations. My mom called them. Actually, my mom called her dad, who is an elder in his congregation and he called them. They decided to have a meeting with me. I told them everything. I was, by this point, 23 years old and seriously tired of the sneaking around and lying. They gave me a choice, a choice that would change the rest of my, and my family’s lives, forever. “Justin, you have two choices. You can stop seeing this man, or we wil have to disfellowship you.” I could have continued the lies and said I’d break up with him. I could have actually broken up with him. I didn’t do either.
After telling them that I wouldn’t be leaving him, they gave me two weeks to, basically get my affairs in order or change my mind. Thus began the loss of my family. When a Jehovah’s Witness is disfellowshipped, no one in the religion is allowed to talk to them. The reasoning is that, maybe you will miss them so much, you repent of your sins and come back. My family was heartbroken, and so was I because I knew that my actions had hurt them. If you’ve never seen your grandfather cry, I don’t suggest it.
December 5, 2012 was the last time I spoke to my family. My mother was out of the country that week on a cruise for her and my step fathers anniversary, so it’s been a little longer for her. I have friends that have these great relationships with their moms and talk to them daily. I’d give almost anything for mine just to return a text message.
I often think back and wonder if I would change anything. I couldn’t say, honestly. Because of being one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, I know a great second language that’s let me meet tons of cool people and do cool things. I am a decent, though reluctant, public speaker. But, leaving let me meet my husband of two years as well as people I can now consider family. I’m also living authentically. No more hiding who I am, which in itself is a great relief and wonderful gift. I’d still give almost anything to be able to see and speak to my family, and I hope that one day that will happen. Until then, I have to live with this hole, filled with bits and pieces of memories and past conversations.
Hug your moms for me.