The only sad person at Disneyland
In April 2017, I boarded a plane to California, to perform for hundreds of kids at an Easter event in San Clemente. As I made my way to the departure terminal, the weight on my shoulders felt heavier than all of my luggage combined. I got onto the plane, found my seat and sent a quick text to my friend Krista: “My heart is feeling heavy today. Could use some prayers.” I toggled my phone to airplane mode, put in my earbuds and laid my head against the window as “You Will Be Found” from the Dear Evan Hansen soundtrack filled my ears.
This song had been my companion for the previous couple of weeks for a variety of reasons. I love the musical -- the soundtrack is beautiful and it made me feel a little less alone. When the plane landed I’d found a little extra bounce to my step, through the power of song, and remembering I had an extra day on the trip and I was going to spend it at “The Happiest Place on Earth.”
When I arrived at the gate I still felt that foreboding sense of dread, but proceeded down Main Street, USA, along with the rest of the crowd. This is nothing a little pixie dust can’t fix, I thought, as I made my way to the very first ride of the day. But as time passed the heaviness never let up. I was officially the only sad person at Disneyland.
I know what you’re thinking. How is it possible to be sad in the land of Mickey Mouse, Dole Whips and Sleeping Beauty Castle? Has a tear ever been shed on its magical soil (er, pavement)? But if you could see behind those sunglasses in the photo above (I was clearly overcompensating for my feelings), you would find tear-stained eyes. I was at one of my favorite places, standing next the The Mouse himself and surrounded by people having the time of their lives, yet I was completely alone.
I’m not talking about the kind of loneliness that comes as a result of being without the company of friends (I am an introvert, after all). I wasn’t even disheartened that I was spending a day at the park by myself (hello, single rider line). There was a storm brewing inside me and it was about to unleash.
I was coming out.
I’ve known that I was gay for as long as I can remember. My interests have always drifted away from sports and video games to things like theater and fashion. Also: I like boys. Growing up in an extremely conservative town and a very religious home, being gay just wasn’t a thing. Yet here I was, trapped in a gay man’s body. And I had spent my entire life trying to find a way to tell the truth about who I am.
Knowing you can’t be yourself can have some very debilitating effects on a person. I thought I had my gayness tidily tucked away in a dark corner and come to grips with the fact that I would just never be able fall in love and spend my life with someone who loved me in return. But in my late 20’s, the loneliness I had felt my whole life reached a fever pitch and I knew I couldn’t continue to live that way.
I also knew that telling the truth about myself would come at a cost, and I knew it would be great. Boy did I underestimate that.
Not only did I lose my job (I had been a pastor for 10 years), I lost many friends and, most devastating of all, my sense of belonging. I can’t describe the heartache that I experienced as people withheld love, voiced their disgust, or worse, went silent. That might’ve been the worst part.
Was it devastating? Utterly. Was it painful? Deeply. Was it worth it? A thousand times yes.
I will talk about this journey in more detail in my book, but I am here to say that I survived. I am more myself today than I’ve ever been. And I am proud to be me. I have a greater confidence, a deep sense of belonging in the world and a beautiful community of people that call me friend. It really is the best feeling.
As Pride month begins, I want to let you know that no matter how alone you may feel, everything good in your life is closer than it appears. Tell your story to those you trust. Call deep on your courage. Live your truth.
I used to look at the photo above and think of the sadness that surrounded it, but now I see a man who was about to experience the most amazing transformation of his life.