My name is Matthew Shurka, I’m from Great Neck, New York, I’m 26 years old, and when I was 16, I came out to my father. My father gave me the best answer that any son can ask for, was that he loved me no matter what, and that he was going to be by my side always. But immediately after, my father started to build his fears about homosexuality, and what it actually meant, and what it looked like for my family, career – possibly being discriminated and being bullied against as a high school student – and he came across a conversion therapist. My father was told that there’s no such thing as homosexuality, and that everyone is a heterosexual. There are certain people who believe they’re gay, but they’re just suffering from a psychological condition that can be cured and that can be resolved, especially at a young age. So, at 16 years old, I began conversion therapy.
And there was no such thing as homosexuality. There was no such thing as love between two people of the same sex, because only people who could create a child know how to experience love. And these were all coming from men who claimed they were ex-gay themselves, or had their own trauma, or, you know, they say that they had cured themselves and were helping others. And that’s when the therapist tells you that you’re going to live a loveless, hopeless life, trying to fill a void through sex , which you can never do. Sex will never fill a void, and that’s why gay men are promiscuous, and that’s why they never ever have families, and they never ever can stay with one person. And they just plug in every single stereotype as to why homosexuals are not fulfilled and never live happy lives, and they give you this horrible future that, you know, they’re telling a sixteen year old, “Here he is to save you from that, and he’s there to say, ‘Okay, I’m going to help you fill this void in a healthy way.’”
They wanted me to spend a lot of time with other men. So, as a sixteen year old, it was spending as much time with the other boys at school as possible. Simultaneously, I have to avoid women. And the reason that they don’t want you to be with women ‘cause one, they don’t want you to pick up effeminate behaviors. This included my mother and my sisters. I did not talk to my mother and my sisters for three years, and I lived with my mother and by sisters, and I was very close with them, and to not talk to them for three years started the breakdown of my family. My mom realized she wasn’t going to convince me anymore, and she was telling me, “Matt, you’re gay, and it’s okay. I want you to know that. I’m telling you as your mother,” and I would throw the biggest fit ‘cause I put all that time and all that energy for three years, and for her to just look me in the eye and be like, “You’re gay and it’s okay,’ I found that devastating.
My grades started to fail in school, I was cutting classes. I was doing anything I thought that would make me became part of the guys, but I was also trying to ease the pain of the fear that it maybe wasn’t working in the back of my head.
It went on for three years that way. By the time that I graduated high school, I was having extreme anxiety, I was having panic attacks, I was contemplating suicide.
And I eventually started to challenge them. I’d play devil’s advocate with them in the therapy session and question them. Things about love and, you know, who are you to define what love it? And who are you to say that I can’t live a great life? I became estranged from my father, and I cut myself off from that therapist.
And at 23, I had the courage enough to say, “Okay, I’m coming out,” and life started to change, and I was actually having some of the greatest relationships with friends that I’d known for years, but all of a sudden, I was being me for the first time.
I was estranged from my father for five years. I was so angry. I was so resentful. He always took care of me and gave me whatever I needed, and was a great father, and when I actually considered that, it made me put aside my resentment for him.
At that point, my whole entire family had broken apart. My parents began a divorce. My father had moved to Israel, which is his native country. I called him up and said I was coming to visit him, and wherever we went, my father held my hand, and I don’t think my father’s ever held my hand. And he looked at me and said, ‘What ever happened? What ever happened to the therapy? What happened to you being gay? It seems like you’re openly gay. Are you?” “I am. I’m openly gay, and this is who I am. I’m in a really great place.” And in that moment, my father began the same speech that he always used to say to me that I don’t understand what the world is, and I don’t understand how horrible it is. Usually, I would fight back and argue with him, scream and yell, and I didn’t. I just listened to him speak. I stopped him from rambling, I gave him a big hug and a kiss, and I said, “Dad, you know, I love you, and there is nothing to worry about. And I’m going to be okay.” And my father just stared at me, dead into my face, and just said, “Okay.” It was from that moment on that I began my relationship with my father again, and I’ve spoken with my father almost every day or every other day since then. I went through ten years of going through depression, contemplating suicide, being estranged from my entire family, not pursuing my career, not pursuing an education, not pursuing healthy friendships, and when I had a five minute conversation with him, I let go of my ten years of resentment, and now at 26, this is the first time I’m actually getting to live my life.
I always thought to myself, if I was a teenager, and I saw a 20-something year old guy telling me it was okay, and whatever he went through, and, you know, it is going to be better on the other end, that would have meant the world to me.