I’m From Eugene, OR.

by Ken Barnhart

I’m From Eugene, OR.
I’m From Eugene, OR.

Prior to my first public declaration that I was gay, I had been married to a wonderful woman for 27 years. Together we raised four children and I have two grandchildren. I love them very much. I have come to accept it as my life path. It was after a heart attack in June 2009, and much time alone, and considering that for the most part my life was over, I saw my condition worsening and the world was drawing in around me. I decided that I was going to make one last stand, be true to others and myself, and reveal the secret struggle I kept inside for 40+ years.

What I feared the most happened, my whole life came apart, my wife divorced me, my kids turned away, I lost many so-called friends and was all alone. I had one bright light. My sister came to my rescue.  It was coming to Lane Community College that gave me the bridge to begin to the path to wholeness. For my first two years here at Lane, I lived pretty much as I had for 27 years: in the closet. I told very few people what my whole story was; I just said I was recently divorced and leaving out the real reason.

In January of 2012, I sensed that I was on a spiral downward mentally and emotionally and if I did not find a way out my life would be shortly over. It was at this low point, which inner strength took over, in desperation I reached out to my doctor and others. There were several people here at Lane that encouraged me along and helped me. So for me this coming out process was a long journey but I now see that it was well worth it. I only would hope that I can help others have a much easier time. But let me first back up.

Growing up in the 70’s was by definition a radical time in history. I was a part of it in one sense, but not in another, I think I was between two waves of so-called “baby boomers.” I was aware of the Vietnam protest, Kent State, Woodstock, and the whole liberation movement. Had I been a few years older, I would have been much more involved and affected by all of this; however trapped in my own world of living in a dysfunctional family with my father being an abusive alcoholic created unimaginable distress in our family. He died in an auto accident when I was 16.

From that time on, I was pretty much on my own, doing what I wanted when I wanted and lived very rebellious in my teenage years, abusing alcohol and drugs. I met David (not his real name) at age 15 and he became my best friend. I was in the eighth grade when I for sure realized that I was a “queer” or a “faggot.” The polite term of being called gay was never heard. I hated myself for the way I felt towards boys but had many fantasies of being with boys. It was with David that I had my first real sexual experience. David was very angry with me at first but as time went by he and I became very close. We guarded our secret because we both knew that somehow if anyone found out it would be horrible. I lived with this fear all my high school years. I knew I was different and this became a dark secret that I kept hidden until just three years ago.

During my high school years, publicly I put on the straight acting person, went out with girls, then secretly go to my various queer friends, and sleep with them. In those years, I lived in mortal fear that anyone would ever find out. I knew that I would be rejected if not possibly killed. I lived in fear of rejection in my high school years hiding in my closet, and living a lie, which I extended way into my adult life.

On a fateful night the thing I feared the most occurred. On a break from college, I went back to my hometown, and went to a party and got drunk. I hit on a friend from class. It went terribly bad and overnight the entire town knew I was a queer. In desperation, I did the one thing I always did when I was afraid. I ran and hid for the next 40 years.

I married at age 21. During my private marriage counseling with the Church pastor, I was told that I should leave this in the past…”The blood of Jesus forgave me of the sin of homosexuality.” He said that I should not burden my wife with this. I know that this has caused her much pain. I have tried to reconcile with her, but she is still very hurt. I do not regret being a father and raising my children. I love them all very dearly. I only have to accept that it was a path I needed to go down.

These experiences left a deep mark on me both socially and emotionally. Being in the closet all my life, up until three years ago, has resulted in the emotional struggles with which I live today. I am just now beginning to work through these difficult memories, and repressed feelings, and accept myself unconditionally. I feel that having these experiences has caused me to have a deep empathy for those who are different and how they must feel.

When I was living in the closet, I watched from the sidelines. I was able to see and hear years of insults, derogatory remarks, and outright hatred directed toward the “queers.” I remember when I was living in Montana, I heard of the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard in Wyoming. I felt so outraged, but since I was living my life hidden, I did not say a word.

The first year after coming out and the divorce, I lived Hell bent. In the past three years I have been struggling with how to reclaim those lost years of my true identity. In just recent months, I have been sensing that part of my personal therapy is going to come from taking a visible stance as to who I am and helping the cause of equality for the LGBTQ community. These experiences left a deep mark on me both socially and emotionally. Being in the closet for 40 years exacerbated many of the emotional struggles I live with today. I am just now beginning to feel the acceptance that I give myself for who I am. I feel that having these experiences has caused me to have a deep empathy and compassion for those who for whatever reason are marginalized due to no fault of their own.

Today I proudly identify with this group, which is commonly referred to as the LBGTQ (Lesbians, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender, Queer) community. In sharing this it has been somewhat cathartic but painful at the same time. This is just a snapshot, with 55 years of history.

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