My Experience With Trying To ‘Pray the Gay Away’

2016 Nastia Cloutier-Ignatiev
2016 Nastia Cloutier-Ignatiev

“God doesn’t make people gay” was the response I received the first time I told another person I was gay. I was 14 years old.

My initial reaction to that retort? I was elated. Relieved. Hopeful! I didn’t want to be gay. My peers made fun of me enough as it was; the last thing I wanted to do was hand them more ammunition to use against me.

Let’s rewind a bit. From a young age I’ve known I was “different.” I liked girls in, what seemed to me, a unique way. This continued as I got older. All of my friends were boys, but I had an attraction to girls that I didn’t understand, and couldn’t shake. It increased with each passing year.

Holy crap. I’m gay.

Only I never fully embraced that fact, and I certainly didn’t tell anyone! After all, I was born in Tennessee and raised in Kentucky. Being gay was gross, and wrong. “Gay” was the ultimate insult to another kid. And let’s not forget, God sends gay people in a blazing chariot straight to the gates of hell to spend eternity tormented in a lake of unquenchable fire.

Throughout my childhood I heard the comments from adults. If someone looked gay, people pointed and laughed. They were weird. They were ruining their lives. How disappointed their parents must be. It was not normal behavior. They were choosing to be defiant. Look out hell, you have another guest preparing for arrival.

From a young age into my early teens the message was clear: being gay is not acceptable.

But this knowledge didn’t change how I felt. I was increasingly attracted to other females.

“Please, God, just kill me. End my life.”

Crumpled into a ball in the corner of the shower, I cried this phrase as the warm water rained down upon me and my tears trickled into the drain.

This was a turning point. Either I end my life or reach out for help.

I chose to seek help.

I told my mom I needed to talk to someone, and that someone ended up being a counselor from a local church. The appointment was scheduled, and I was a rattling ball of nerves as we drove to the session. Part of me was terrified, but another portion was excited. My plan was simple: tell this woman I’m gay and ask her to help me come out to my family.

I can’t recall the entire meeting in detail, only the important part. As I sat there sobbing I forced the words “I’m gay” from my lips. Wow, did that feel great saying it out loud.

But you can guess what happened next. Smiling she said enthusiastically, “You’re not gay. God doesn’t make people gay.”

What? Really? Well, that’s wonderful! I didn’t want to be gay.

This session led to many others that involved copious amounts of prayer, reading scripture, and her asking me, “What leads to the homosexual thoughts?” In retrospect this question is amusing because the answer is seeing any female I find attractive. But the answer I provided was, “Hearing music from women who have beautiful, powerful voices”. My instruction was to avoid anything that caused homosexual thoughts.

Great! I just have to go the rest of my life not looking at another woman or hearing one sing! I’ve got this.

As a result of these sessions I started attending church regularly and immersed myself in other church activities.

I also made it a point to dress more girly, wear makeup, change my hair, and act like I was attracted to boys. This led to years of me having boyfriend after boyfriend after boyfriend. We weren’t sexually active, of course, because I was a good (straight!) Christian girl.

A few years later (I was about 18 years old) I was still battling my inner gayness. Lucky for me my church was having a weekend retreat for women. The main memory from that experience was a prayer session after a lesson we received, and one lady asked me, “Do you struggle with homosexuality?”

“Oh my gosh! How did she know?” Of course I mumbled “Yes” and then fervent prayer ensued with her and another woman.

(Please note: I know all Christians are not against homosexuality. In fact, when I shared this story on my podcast I received overwhelming support from fellow Christians, and non-Christians.)

“Will you marry me?”

… he asked crouched with one knee in the sand and the turbulent waves crashing around us. It was an unexpected proposal on the beach with a gorgeous diamond ring gleaming in the soft glow of the moonlight.

“Who else will ever want to marry me?” was the first thought that went through my mind. I didn’t realize in that moment this was a glaring indication of my tremendous lack of self-worth. And despite the screaming alarms in my brain I thought naively, “I can make this work.”

So I said yes.

Five months later I married him. I was 20 years old. Oddly enough I can’t recall much about the wedding day. The only detail that stands out was my complete lack of emotion. I felt nothing. I wasn’t nervous, or excited. The best way I can describe it is that I was a robot, going through the motions.

“If I keep going straight I can hit that tree, and all of this will be over.”

As I was driving home that was the thought pulsing through my mind as I approached a sharp 90 degree turn. There was a large tree in the corner, and smashing down the accelerator and meeting it head on seemed like a welcome escape from my life. Or maybe I’d just go home and use a gun for a potentially quicker death, I imagined.

The vision of a police officer telling my mom I killed myself and knowing how that would devastate her darted through my mind. That thought kept me from going through with either plan.

But once again, I was contemplating suicide.

Our marriage was not a happy one, and I was a robot going through the motions of life. And me being gay was something I buried deep within myself, and didn’t acknowledge. I didn’t know who I was, what I wanted, what I valued, and didn’t have any original thoughts or opinions of my own. Death seemed like a welcome escape.

This was my rock bottom.

That revelation ignited something within me. This is truly as bad as it can get. Freedom came from that acknowledgement.

I decided that I must take control. It can only get better. And I chose to act.

Long story short, I got a divorce. At the age of 21 I had already been married and divorced. My marriage lasted 18 months.

There was only one thing left to do. I had to ask some hard questions, and find the answers.

“Who the hell am I?” was what I asked first. For 21 years I never answered the question honestly. I always responded with what I thought the answer was supposed to be. But I experienced the reality of what happens when I attempt, and fail, to live up to the standards of others. I tried, and failed tragically, to be perfect. To be the perfect Christian. The perfect woman. The perfect wife. (These are just a few instances that led me to say “screw perfection”. I highly recommend you give it a try if you’re a perfectionist.)

Slowly I started to ask the “Who the hell am I?” question, and examined the answers I never truly accepted.

One glaring answer stood out. I’ve always been attracted to women, and never embraced it fully. I’ve always suppressed it. Ran away from it. Refused to accept it as fact. Tried desperately to “pray the gay away”. I declared to finally explore this part of me that I had denied for over two decades.

So I did what any typical, self conscious 21 year old in a small town in Kentucky would do. I signed up on Match.com. There was no way I was going to risk hitting on a straight woman and being rejected then having that news spread around town.

And I met someone.

“So this is what love feels like.”

For the first time in my life I discovered what “butterflies in your stomach” felt like. The very touch of her hand made my heart accelerate.

These beautiful, intoxicating feelings were brand new to me. I felt alive in a new, indescribable way. I experienced infatuation and love for the first time. I felt … free.

This led to an exciting relationship with the woman who is now my wife. We’ve been together for over eight years, and married for over three, and in that time we’ve made wonderful memories.

As rewarding as our relationship has been, it certainly hasn’t existed or thrived without numerous challenges.

The Most Devastating Challenge

“They want us to do what?”

No question about it. Accepting that I was gay truly changed my life. I’m finally … me.

This doesn’t mean it was happily-ever-after and nothing but sunshine and unicorns that fart fragrant rainbows. My wife and I have experienced several, let’s call them “learning experiences”.

We’ve heard myriad comments from strangers (not directed at us) in the grocery store and other public places. Everything from why Kim Davis is a hero (we live in Kentucky, if you recall) to why it’s someone’s Christian duty to kill gay people (my wife heard a woman say this in addition to, “If a gay person was in front of her and she had a knife, she’d stab them”. She was obviously unaware that Kristy, my wife, was in fact gay).

Despite the magnitude of some of the comments, they have been easily shrugged off. These are total strangers, so we don’t take their opinions to heart or allow them to effect us.

The worst experience we’ve endured to date involved my wife’s family.

In the fall of 2014 we were on our way to one of Kristy’s younger sister’s wedding. They’d been planning this big destination wedding for over a year, we were both invited (Kristy was a maid of honor along with her other two sisters), and everyone was going to stay in a humongous cabin for the weekend. Just like one big happy family.

The car was packed and we were on our way, her family checking in enthusiastically along the way asking where we were and how much longer until we arrived.

Five hours into our trip, we were only half an hour away, and an unexpected bomb was dropped. Kristy’s youngest sister texted that she needed to speak to her immediately. As it turned out, Kristy’s mom and the sister who was getting married were “freaking out”.

Before we arrived they demanded Kristy and I to take off our wedding rings. We were to attend the wedding as friends. Straight friends.

They didn’t have any hesitation making this request, and thought there was nothing wrong with it. “They want us to deny our marriage, but watch them take the same vows — to love and respect one another, among others — we declared over two years ago?” I wondered.

We were astonished. Shocked. I felt ill. We had to pull over to attempt to comprehend this situation. Kristy was devastated, and I was irate at the blatant disrespect and pain they caused my wife.

This situation was terrible, no doubt, and we could not understand why they decided to tell us then and not weeks, months, or even a year ago that we were expected to appear as straight women and provide no visible sign of our relationship, or homosexuality.

That day has gone down as the most hurtful event we have endured as a couple. We knew from the very beginning of our relationship we’d face challenges, but we never anticipated something of this magnitude, from family no less.

But, I’m pleased to declare that we’ve used that experience to grow stronger as a couple. (And, no, I did not attend the wedding. I refuse to take off my wedding band or deny my marriage for anyone.)

Learning from the Past, and Going Forward

I’ve learned valuable lessons from the experiences discussed in this article. They’ve made me who I am. I view the world differently, but in a good way. I understand things are not always as they appear to be, and you never know what another person has, or is currently, enduring in their life.

Challenges and obstacles are inevitable. We can’t control everything, but we can control how we respond to the events we endure. We can choose to grow stronger, more resilient, and knowledgeable from such endeavors. Without question I’m a stronger, and hopefully better, woman because of what I’ve experienced.

We can allow events to leave us broken and weak, or we can pick ourselves up, shake off the dust, heal our wounds, and commit to using those circumstances to build us up and make us better than we were before.

The many trials I’ve faced have led me to my motto of …

I’d rather be hated for who I truly am than loved for something I’m pretending to be.

I know both realities well. One offers freedom; the other, captivity.

It’s why I’m so adamant about living life to the fullest, unapologetically true to yourself.

Not caring what other people think and doing what makes you happy.

Refusing to let fear hold you back, so you can make the most of this one life you have.

This perception has carried over and permeates every aspect of how I approach my career as a health and fitness professional. My ultimate goal and purpose is to help others become the best version of themselves and live life to the fullest, primarily using health and fitness as a tool to accomplish this. (Interested in the empowering approach to health and fitness? Start with the 7 Most Empowering Lift Like a Girl Articles.)

You may be wondering why I shared this story with you. What’s the point? I believe in using our life experiences to become the best version of ourselves, and help others along the way. I’m not unique in experiencing the ugly side of life. Sometimes life doesn’t hesitate to deliver a swift kick straight to your ovary. You’ve had your own battles, no doubt. Hopefully my story gives you some motivation to face your own obstacles with determination, or at the very least, gave you a story worth reading.

I hope I achieved that objective. TC mark

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