Today’s Video Story was collected on the 50-state Story Tour. Check out the blog where you can read about the adventure we had and some of the stories we collected. If you haven’t submitted a story yet to IFD, or if you want to submit another one, I’d love to read and publish it. Write one up and send it in.
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My name is Luke Harlan, I’m from Fayetteville, Arkansas. Fayetteville is this town-smallish town it’s grown a lot, – but it’s nestled in the Ozark Mountains in Northwest Arkansas, it’s a really wonderful place. I grew up there, I grew up in a very ultra-religious conservative family, we were in church about five times a week. I think it was probably about when I was fifteen, I started having these attractions to other men or boys at that age I guess, but it would always be suppressed all the time because that was from what I’d heard the worst sin there was. That’s what the preachers would say and that’s what my parents and everyone was telling me and so kind of all growing up through high school through all of that I was suppressing who I was, but didn’t even really know it because I was so involved in the church and religion and that was what I was going to be and that was what I wanted to do and all of this. So then I go to college and finally kind of start meeting other people who have different beliefs than I do; I’ve never met these kinds of people before. People that weren’t Southern Baptists, or people that weren’t straight, I finally met my first gay person and I was simultaneously incredibly attracted to them and terrified of them at the same time. That Christmas of my first year in college, my family decided to go to Disney World for Christmas, don’t ask me why we went to Disney World. It was the second day we were there, my dad and I and some of the kids were at Animal Kingdom and he gets a call from my mom and she had found in my backpack a love letter from my first ‘boyfriend’ and she freaked out and everything kind of just really blew up at that point in my life. I went crazy, I left school and moved back home and went to ex-gay counseling and everything that I had started to figure out about myself all the sudden I went back to where I was before. And I said, “I don’t want this, I don’t want to be gay, I don’t want any of that either” and so I was gung-ho about it all, I would go to counseling, I would go to church, I would do all these things that I was supposed to do. I start working for a Christian organization there, and I start dating a girl and I’m really like finally living the life that I wanted to live for so long, the life of a straight man who’s going to be a leader in the church who has a girlfriend like everything was going the way I wanted it to be because that’s what everyone told me so I was supposed to do. But I had this incredible emptiness all the time, and I would wake up in the morning and it was like I was putting on a different persona, y’know it wasn’t Luke, I was putting on the Luke that everyone wanted me to be and the Luke that I wanted to be, but the real me was still down here. As I kept doing that for the year I was there, and all the things I was doing everyday it kept getting worse and worse in that I was realizing I was suppressing all this, and I was realizing there was some emptiness in me that needed to be filled. So finally one day, and I remember this day really, really vividly, I kind of had a breakdown because I all the sudden just became sick and tired of pretending because I had been pretending all my life and realized that was not how I wanted to live my life. So I broke up with my girlfriend, I quit my job, I moved to a new apartment, I moved to another school (I started school again) and I decided at the beginning of all this that this was when I was going to be upfront with who I am, with myself and with other people and I’m not going to let anyone tell me how I should live my life, I’m going to live my life the way I want to. Starting with that was really kind of the beginning of the life I live now.