Imagine a life where your true identity gets stolen … a life where you can’t be the person you were meant to be … a life where loving the way you love is prohibited.
Imagine a life where your opinions are better left unspoken … a life where you can’t choose how to groom yourself, the type of films you want to watch or music you want to listen to.
Imagine a life where celebrating they day your mother gave birth to you would get you into big trouble.
Imagine a life where you are forced to be someone else … someone you don’t identify with.
This is the kind of life I had to put up with for the first part of my life. But fortunately, I was able to break free from it.
I can’t believe it is already a decade since I made the big move to relocate to one of the greatest places where some of the greatest minds have studied … the city of Cambridge.
I can genuinely say that this university city with such a wealth of history and fascinating buildings that remind me of a Harry Potter film set has become my home … a home where I have met some of the greatest people who have stood by my side through my transformation in search of my true identity. Yes … a beautiful and memorable transformation from a very closeted “straight” man into a happy and free gay soul.
This journey was an extremely tough one … but surely with a positive ending and definitely worth it! I would like to share this story with you … especially with those that are in the same situation I was in a decade ago and want to start their personal journey in pursuit of their true identity.
I was born and raised in a very strict religious family. My parents were Jehovah’s Witnesses and I decided to become a baptised member of that church when I was 12. It just felt the right decision at the time due to my upbringing. I was a very devout Christian and had a strong faith in that religion. Throughout the years my responsibilities within the church grew to the point that I helped found the first English-speaking congregation in Seville (Spain).
Through my missionary work, I became known as Pastor Sam within the African refugee community. I devoted my time proselytising about my faith and genuinely thought I was saving people’s lives by trying to convince them that if they became part of my religion they would be entitled to an extremely difficult to acquire ticket to God’s Kingdom on an Earth turned into a Paradise.
But first, they would have to be considered worthy to be part of that Kingdom by studying the bible, obey all the doctrines established by the religion and then become a dedicated and baptized Witness of Jehovah. Only then could they escape God’s wrath on his apocalyptical day called Armageddon where all evil would cease to exist and evil doers would be annihilated from the surface of the planet.
Even though I was convinced I was doing the right thing at the time, there was a big conflict that divided me from my religion. It was my sexuality.
As many other extreme religions, Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t accept homosexuality as it is believed that God hates homosexuals. Therefore, for 28 years of my life, I pretended to be straight. I tried really hard to hide I was sexually attracted to men to the point that I really believed it myself. I dated girls and pretended to be someone I wasn’t. This lead to me leading an unhappy existence as my heart was filled with shame and guilt .
There is only so much you can hide and pretend … but the truth will always be revealed in due time. They say that sometimes you need to reach bottom in order to start going up. That was certainly what happened to me .
When I moved to Cambridge I was at the lowest point of my life. I had finally decided that I didn’t want to live a lie anymore. I just couldn’t handle going against my nature anymore … yes … the way I was born.
As being a homosexual and a Jehovah’s Witness doesn’t go hand in hand (you get disfellowshipped and shunned by the community) I decided to not to be part of it anymore.
Believe me, that was one of the most difficult decisions of my life. Not only did it mean I had to turn my back to that God I believed in during my entire life and say goodbye to all the friends I had made within the religion, but I had to start searching for my true identity. Who was I?
The first few months were extremely difficult acknowledging I was a homosexual as I was taught homosexuality was an abomination. I felt disgusted and very disappointed with myself. I was emotionally so confused that death felt more appealing to me than life. I realised I couldn’t do this journey of self-discovery all by myself. So I mustered the courage to seek professional help.
With the support of a counsellor and some new friends I had made, I started my journey to self-acceptance.
Oh boy, did it feel good not having to pretend anymore! That sense of freedom progressively cured me of that lack of self-esteem and self-loath.
I am very aware that within the Jehovah’s Witness community there are quite a few gay people who are afraid to come out. Mainly it is because they are terrified of losing their family and friends who will make them feel like an outcast. They are afraid to lose everything they have!
I know this is a really hard and personal decision to make and I can’t advise anybody on how to live their lives. I can only share my story and tell them there is a light at the end of the tunnel if they muster the bravery of coming out. Yes, you will lose everything that you are familiar with. But you will also gain your true identity and experience a new life of freedom surrounded by friends who genuinely love and accept you for who you are.
I am very proud of myself for having found the strength, determination, and courage to embark on this journey of embracing my true identity. I never look back with any regrets. Instead, I focus on the present and work towards a peaceful and happy life with the man who will soon become my husband.
No matter who you are or what your sexuality is, I hope you get to live your life spontaneously, cheerfully and without any regrets making every present day count.
Shalom to you all.
Samuel Rodriguez Leisdovich