In this powerfully thought provoking episode, Craig and Matt sit down with Scott, a music minister who has always felt “different.” Being raised in the deep south by conservative parents, he struggled over his sexual orientation, although he married a woman in hopes to sustain a heterosexual lifestyle. Scott’s efforts failed, and he became depressed to the point of suicide. After finally coming out, he was divorced, separated from his son and believed he would lose everything important, especially his ministry. Walking in his truth, he finally found freedom through the love and acceptance of an understanding church and through the blessing of his step father. Now comfortable with his identity, Scott reflects on his journey from captivity to freedom.
The episode was recorded on April 21, 2020 at the law offices of Robertson + Easterling over teleconference, with Scott recording in his music studio.
Craig: Welcome to season two of the Robertson and Easterling Podcast. I’m Craig Robertson.
Matt: and I am Matt Easterling, Craig and I are board certified family law specialist with decades of combined experience serving Mississippians all across our fine state.
Craig: In 2019, we began to wonder if the struggles our firm deals with on a daily basis could be used to help the general public. And from there, the Robertson and Easterling Podcast was born
Matt: During season one, we had open and honest discussions with everyday people about their individual relationship journeys, some ending in heartbreak and others in redemption, but all with powerful stories to tell.
Craig: In this season, you’ll hear more of the same real life stories from other marriage and divorce survivors, which are sure to touch your heart.
Matt: So sit back, relax and enjoy. Today’s episode, which you’re about to hear is going to help today’s guest on the podcast is Scott. Scott is a wonderful human being who grew up in a conservative religious household and the Bible belt. As he walked through his life, he went into the ministry, the music ministry to be specific, however, all along he was dealing with the fact that internally he knew that he was a homosexual man trying to come to grips with his own sexuality and who he was as a person. I think you’re going to get a lot out of hearing about Scott’s journey and how he lives his life today, and the struggles that we as a society face in accepting people from the gay community.
Craig: Well, everybody welcome back to another episode of the Robertson and Easterling podcast. I think you’re going to be fascinated and inspired by the life story that you’re going to hear today. Today we are with my new friend, Scott and Scott has a great story that he’s going to share with you about some of the trials and tribulations of his life and of his marriage and of his relationships. So Scott, thanks for, for spending time with us today.
Scott: My pleasure.
Craig: So, Scott, let’s just dive right in. Tell us your story.
Scott: Well, I grew up in the deep South in South Carolina and the biggest thing for me is my love of family. My love of God is a very important part of my life. And so as I was a child, I realized that I had a different appreciation orientation, whatever you want to call it at an early age, about eight years old. And I felt an attraction to men, of course, being in a very conservative background, religiously I was faced with whether those feelings and that attraction are acceptable in my religion. I grew up as a Baptist, conservative Baptist, attended a very conservative high school. And anytime the word homosexuality was mentioned, it would be seen as negative. It would be seen as a sin that could not be forgiven. You would be immediately separated from your family in the afterlife and often separated from your family in regard to daily living because many families would totally disinherit. They would make their child go away and, and all, you know, it was just like they weren’t born. So, all these struggles growing up were pretty intense. If any of you are of an evangelical background, you know that at the end of most worship services, there is what’s called an invitation or a time for you to make a decision about your life, giving it to Christ or rededicating it trying to be better. And I remember even from eight or nine years old, this struggle inside me that whenever an invitation and open invitation was offered that I would go down very often and crying. And in tears, just a very day difficult thing for a young person to understand.
Craig: Is this something that you told anybody, Scott?
Scott: No, I had never told anyone, never. It was, this was something that I was struggling with inside and I, at the time and the, you know, in the seventies, it wasn’t even, and something that was talked about that much, except it was immoral. And, you knew the terminology being gay or they didn’t even use that word. Then it was more like homosexuals and deviance and things of that nature. So as a child and a teenager, I just thought, well, I something is really badly wrong with me. And if I pray enough and if I seek God enough, then I would, uh, be saved from this. And that’s how it was preached. That was what was taught to us. So, as I graduated from high school, I continued to a Baptist college and I dealt with my sexuality just completely internally. I had a few gay friends, but nobody at this college could actually say they were gay because they would be expelled. It was that conservative, that was in the early eighties. So, I graduated from college and I had knew that I had certain expectations to deal with. As far as my religion, as far as sociological and family expectations, they would be that I would enter into some sort of ministry work because of my talent. I’m a pianist, my talent, I had to be in church work. So I played all over the country for different evangelists and different events.And so, as I was out of college, I was like, I have to go into ministry. What am I going to do? I’m still struggling with this. So, I accepted the position of an associate minister of music at a large church. And I was immediately sort of focused on by a young lady. And we worked together. She was a choreographer and I was her accompanist to her, choreographer, rehearsal, pianist. So, as we began to work together, I began to see that she was interested in me romantically. Well, I’d not really dated that much, mostly because I was gay. And I felt, I didn’t really feel a lot of need to date, had great friends, and so they kept me sort of going then, as I realized that she was interested in me romantically, I also said, okay, maybe this is God telling me to get married and these feelings, these attraction to men, this attraction to men will go away.
Craig: Scott, let’s back up just for a minute. Tell our listeners a little bit about your, your family of origin. Tell us a little bit about your mom and your dad and whether or not you had siblings.
Scott: I do have siblings. I have an older sister and a younger brother. And, uh, my mom is actually in an assisted living facility and she’s going to be 88 years old and a couple of weeks. And she and I have always had a very strong relationship. She is also a pianist and played for a Baptist church. The one that I grew up in for almost 40 years. And she has this gregarious, loving personality that I got, even though I’m a little more reserved in groups than she is. She never meets a stranger. So, my dad was in the army. He was a drill Sergeant really. And so I honestly think that he picked up on my sexuality very early and he was pretty hard on me about various things, trying to make me more of a man. And there was some, there was some physical now, nowadays it would be called physical abuse back then it was just accepted as discipline. But, it was pretty, it was pretty intense. And, he passed away when I was 16. And so again, this is a struggle that continuously went on through my teenage years, all the way into twenties when I got married at the age of 25 and then all the way for 14 years until I could really see that I was not going to be able to live in a heterosexual relationship.
Craig: Talk about your marriage and help our listeners understand how a man who today is identifying yourself as being gay and knowing that you, you know, had this same sex attraction since you were eight years old. Why make the choice to marry a woman?
Scott: Mainly because of societal pressures? I think? and the fact that everybody in ministry, everyone that I knew over the years was married, had children, had their families, the family would grow up. They would do things together musically. There was just all this pressure from what was out there to do it. And, again, religiously, I was thinking the whole time that if I got married, that this was going to magically go away, that my attraction would change. So that in itself was one of those things that I continued to struggle with. So as my now ex wife and I began to date, I still had the attraction, but I felt like it was just pressured. I needed to get married. And I honestly felt like God would take this attraction away from me,
Matt: Scott, well, I’m just curious. I know, you know, growing up here in the deep South, I feel like I’ve always heard people say that sexual orientation was a choice. It’s personally not something that I’ve ever prescribed to. I don’t personally believe that, but I’d be interested to know. I mean, as you dealt with this, you know, going on into, you know, early adulthood and, and eventually marrying a woman, I mean, internally, how did you deal with basically being told in the church that sexuality was a choice and I’m assuming you didn’t feel like it was
Scott: Well inside me, I made choices. I always felt like, did you choose to be heterosexual? And did you choose to have it? I have Hazel eyes. Did I choose those? Or was this something that was biologically innate? And it took me a long time to come to that simply because of my religious upbringing, I honestly felt and was taught that God could change anything, an alcoholic he could change. He could take away the desire for that. A gambler, if you got religion, you are going to be fine. He was going to take away that desire. And for me, the sexuality side was all, I always thought it was a choice. It was something that I could change, but I, I felt like I was asking God so deeply to change me, that I really expected him to change me. And with that expectation and no change, I began to slip into depression.
Craig: Talk about that, Scott, you’re in this religious household, you’re attracted to the church and to just the power of the gospel, but yet you, what I’m hearing you say is that even in those moments of worship, that you would feel almost condemned by those that were supposed to be loving you talk about the feelings around that.
Scott: Yeah. I love my spiritual side. I honestly feel like, since I came out, my spiritual side has blossomed and in the past four or five years, I’ve had certain things happen to me that I feel so confident that I have made the right choice. Now you are exactly right that way back there when I was playing for extremely conservative conventions and revivals and conferences that I always struggled with my sexual orientation and what I felt like was natural with me. And I couldn’t really stop it. It was just there, but I also felt like I was doing the right thing by ministering to people with my abilities. So, I could have said, I just want to get out of the church completely and just do without it, the biggest thing for me is it is deeply ingrained in me. It’s not just a job. It’s not just, I’m trying to convert people. It’s how I treat people. And that’s, that’s the biggest thing for me is to keep that spiritual side. And that was tough to reconcile. There are some scriptures in the, in the Bible that absolutely they’re called clobber passages because they clobber you if you’re a gay person and those are rather intense. And they’re the ones that people who don’t think this is hereditary or physiological, that they hit you with that. And they’re saying, you just can make the choice. You can just be sellable. You can just be, you don’t have to act on your sexuality. And the biggest thing for me is would you ask a heterosexual person not to act on their sexuality? And I, quite frankly, I have only been in one short term relationship. And I just, I mean, I don’t feel like that that’s a huge need for me, but if, if someone came along, I would be committed to them in my marriage. In my heterosexual marriage, I was totally committed to my wife. I did not cheat on her at all, simply because I think because of the upbringing I had the conservative upbringing. Did I think about it? Yes. Did I act on it? No. So those, those things for me are very heartfelt, quite spiritual in, in my being and my soul.
Craig: Talk about the tipping point a little bit, Scott, about the point that you felt like you could no longer continue in your marriage.
Scott: We had a son. I went, I besieged God all the time and I, I kept saying, God, what can I do to rid myself of this? I really want to be what I was hearing in church, a normal person, a I really wanted a family. I really wanted all those things. However, I became more and more depressed because I was, there was a continual struggle inside me between religion and sexuality. And so I attended a conference, sort of a reunion at my college where I graduated from and realized I am so unhappy in my marriage that I’m have, and I had already considered suicide because I couldn’t see any way out. There was, I was in the middle of a church situation. And then I was in middle of a family situation. I knew if I told my now ex wife that she would feel the freedom and the need to tell everyone in our circles of friends in our church, that kind of thing, what was going on. So, I just kept it inside. I just continually pushed it back on myself, seeing myself as a less than person after this reunion at my college, I saw the fact that I could probably live by myself and I could probably be celibate quite frankly, because I knew, but I could not live in a heterosexual marriage anymore. It was just, I felt like I was being fake. I felt like I was, I’m not being correct with my wife. You know, those all, there were so many aspects of it that I felt in authentic. And I was to the point that I needed to be who I was, even if I had to lose people out of my friendships or family or whatever. Thankfully, my family has been very supportive. My mother remarried a wonderful man, and I thought, I won’t even be able to have a relationship with him. We became like right after college, we became like son, real, real father was a great man. And then when I decided to come out, after a good bit of therapy, I thought, Oh, he’s going to disown me. I mean, there is not going to, I’m not even going to be able to see my mother and I could not have been more wrong. My stepfather absolutely loved me. I have a letter that he wrote in his own handwriting that says, there’s nothing you could do that could stop me from loving you. And that’s, that’s really what God said to me too. There’s nothing you can do that can stop me from loving you. Now that the dichotomy, that the thing that religious people, very conservative religious people will tell you is that you cannot be gay and be a Christian. You’ll have to either be celibate. If you have those attractions or you’ll have to work on converting yourself into a straight heterosexual relationship, our being. And I think that debate is not going to go away anytime soon. However, I personally have totally accepted who I am. And I can’t tell you how much that has changed my life. The piece that has come to me has been remarkable. Do I dislike the fact that that has caused me to get a divorce? Yes. Do I dislike greatly the fact that I was not with my son as much as I could be because I was divorced and he was under his mother’s custody. So yeah, there are, there are absolutely drawbacks. There are absolutely things, but I am at peace with being the authentic me.
Craig: Now, whether it be in the moment or whether it be retrospectively, you think that your wife knew that you were gay. Yeah, I, she, when we started talking about things, I asked her for a separation and she asked me, she said, are you gay? And I said, I don’t know. I don’t, I don’t know. I can’t, you know, and of course I did know, but I was trying to save her embarrassment, trying to save her feelings. So, uh, I honestly think she thought it early on. We’d never really have talked about it very much. And we’re still friends. I talked to her, I text her probably once a week. I text with my son every so often. And so we, I just don’t know what her thoughts in that situation. I know she knew that the relationship was not normal, but we just did not go into a long conversation about it, mainly because I felt certain that the relationship would end and not end in any way.
Craig: Right. And it sounds like an even by at least what I heard you say was you felt like even speaking the words out loud, we’re taking a big chance, a big risk that you were going to lose everything that was important to you, your relationship with your parents, your relationship with your church, and then of course your relationship with your son. And then of course the relationship with your wife.
Scott: Absolutely. The biggest thing for me was that my work, what I had trained to do to be a musician, and what I love to do is, uh, worship music. I love to, I’m a traditional worshiper. I liked the pipe organ, the piano, acoustic instruments, big choirs. I have a love for that style of worship. So I knew that more than likely I would never be able to be in a Baptist church again. And I did actually, when I relocated to be near my son, I found a Baptist church that was open and affirming to people who are gay. So I worked, went to work at that church and it was a absolutely revolutionary experience for me to have a church that loved me as I was that did not damn me to whatever I was taught as a child. I mean, you know, like I said, I struggled with it for a long time, hoping that God would take it away from me.
Craig: What advice would you give if, if there is a woman who is listening to this who is concerned that her husband has a same sex attraction, what advice would you give for that particular person? What would you have told your then wife, if you had the same perspective that you have now?
Scott: I would tell a wife that she needs to discuss this with her husband in a calm, calculated way. And she needs to say, uh, I sense that you are struggling with your sexual orientation and really be calm about it. The fact that I did not think that my now ex wife would be calm is one of the big reasons I did not bring it up. I did not actually say, listen, I’m gay. So I think the biggest thing is communication in a calm way. So that means the wife would have to sit down and say, okay, what if he tells me that he is struggling with this? And we are not going to be able to be together. So, I mean, I think there, she has to approach it pragmatically from where she and possibly her children are going to handle this. Of course I was sort of an oddity because I had so much spirituality on my side that I don’t, I don’t know if she, if my own ex wife had sat down with me and said, let’s discuss this. I don’t, I don’t know at that point, uh, if I would have, but that’s what now. I mean, this is, that was, you know, in the eighties and nineties now, I think there is less stigmatism and it’s something that a wife could calmly sit down and talk to her husband about.
Craig: Well, I think the challenge is when there’s infidelity, because at least in my experience in working with, with women whose husband has turned out to be gay a lot of times, and it’s not just in same sex relationships that happens, you know, people, people cheat. I mean, that’s what happens, but I think there’s so much hurt associated with, you know, when cheating is involved, that it clouds one’s judgment with regard to, like you said, being able to calmly and rationally discuss the reality of the circumstances that someone might be experiencing.
Scott: Absolutely. When I did finally accept who I am that I’m gay. I did tell her, I said, the fact is I’m gay. The biggest thing for me is to say those words was really hard. And the emotional reaction that I got from her is one thing I could say to a wife is to really work through these things in your head before you bring it up. Because I think that if you can approach it calmly and know that if he is dealing with that, it is a true internal struggle. I mean, and I don’t understand the infidelity side because that’s just not how I’m wired, but I, I do understand that a person who does not have the same scruples, the same moral code or the religious upbringing might decide to either experiment or to just adhere, to being gay and staying married. And I do, I actually have some friends who are still in a heterosexual relationship and they stayed married because they love their children. They didn’t want to put their children through it and they have grandchildren. So, you know, I think that’s, that’s a great way. If you can work it out, uh, with your spouse.
Matt: In those situations, their spouses know about this.
Scott: Yes, they do know. Yeah. And, and they’ve decided to stay together for their children and for their grandchildren. And they’re, they’re pretty compatible actually their, their compatibility is
Matt: Craig asked you earlier what you would say to the, the spouse of somebody who might be experiencing same sex attraction. What would you say to, you know, if you had a chance to talk to yourself, going, you know, speak to Scott when he was a teenager or in his early twenties, what would you say to yourself?
Scott: Well, I would think that there were enough support groups or things like that. The big issue to me is how religion has absolutely discarded so many gay people. And I have so many wonderful friends. I play for a large gay chorus that so many of them have been ostracized from the church. And they have so much to give back to the church. If we could get past the fact that you think sexuality is a choice. It’s, it’s really not a choice. Trust me. I tried this choice for 15 years, hoping that I could change or hoping that God would change me. So, to a Scott in his teens, I would say find someone who is not more than likely who is not in an evangelical church, maybe a more liberal church, a Episcopal, some Methodist churches, somebody that you can talk to. And there are a lot of support groups. There are, there’s a great deal of resources and most larger cities. I know if it’s a small city, it may be more difficult. There’s a lot of stuff online now that you can search out how to come to grips with being gay. There are, there’s so much out there that I was not, I did not have access to, uh, due to my conservative upbringing.
Craig: and there’s so much to a person beyond their sexuality. I mean, there’s, the sexuality is just such a, I mean, it is a part of who we are, but it is not all of who we are.
Scott: Absolutely. And I think, yeah, let me, let me say one thing about that. The biggest thing that I, I feel like religion is doing is that they are so much more concerned. Just like you said, Craig, the fact that what’s going on in a person’s bedroom rather than what’s going on in a person’s life. And that person’s what he mattered. He or she matters to society. And we’re also really touching on gender identification now. So, there’s so many aspects of things that teenagers need to get guidance on and not guidance that is slanted one way or another. I think it tends to be from a person who’s very open minded.
Matt: Scott, what, why do you think that the heterosexual religious community is so resistant to the idea that sexuality is not a choice?
Scott: I think it’s a struggle for most people to not open their minds enough to understand that sexuality can be different than theirs. It’s, to me, it’s a much like a civil rights struggle, and we’ve all been, you know, we all know what the deep South went through, but it’s a similar struggle for gay people because we are trying to get you to understand that we are a value and that we are viable to be citizens and to be able to do wonderful things. I mean, artists, many artists, are gay. Many musicians are gay, many musicians are straight. I mean, it’s just the kind of thing that it is inherent in our being. I don’t think that there’s any way, it’s a choice. So most religious people run, straight back to choice and they run back to what I talked about earlier. Those clobber verses in the old Testament notice if you are a, uh, a Christian notice that Jesus never said anything about homosexuality. So, I think that is one of the things that as a Christian I greatly rely on is the fact that Jesus did not. Some of there’s a few passages in the new Testament that talk about it. And, that’s the kind of thing that would be a long theological discussion. So maybe another time or somebody can do some there’s great, great scholarly works out there about this that I enjoy talking to people about. There’s actually, I don’t know if you guys want to use this, but there is a website called godmademegay.com and it was put out there by a retired minister and his wife mainly to respond to a woman who said to them in a very emotional way, she said, I’m not going to see my brother in heaven because he’s gay. And Bruce, the person who did a lot of research on it, it’s, it’s quite a great website. And it’s one of the websites that really helped my mom come to grips with all this.
Matt: So Scott, you think it’s a, just a general lack of understanding, or maybe an inability to understand that keeps people going back to the idea that sexuality is a choice?
Scott: I do. I think it’s very much a sense of, uh, the fact that they just don’t understand what is physiologically happening in a gay person’s life and much like again, much like a civil rights struggle we’re going through gay people often feel like we are going through a similar sense of civil rights because we, we don’t have, we didn’t for a long time have the right to marry. We still don’t have protections. If somebody could find out that we’re gay and we could be fired. So, you know, there’s things that society is going to have to deal with. And then there’s a lot of stuff that religion, denominations are going to have to deal with. I currently serve a Methodist church and the Methodist denomination is in the middle of a struggle with this. So, it’s just, it is a struggle. I’m happy to be living in the period that I’m living, even though I’d like to be about 25 years younger. I happy to be living in this period where there is a great deal of openness that I can come on your podcast and talk about this and not be afraid of retaliation. That’s pretty remarkable for this time of, you know, I mean, the struggles that certain races have certain people of socioeconomic means has that’s, that’s something that we all have to go through if we’re just not the normal. And that’s what I think there has to be a new normal. So that’s, that’s a big thing to me.
Craig: Scott, thanks for spending this time with us today and just being so vulnerable and just discussing these, these really complicated relational dynamics. And we’re really grateful that you were willing to talk to us about this today.
Scott: I appreciate you asking me because it’s, it’s wonderful to be able to tell my story and hopefully somebody out there will glean a little bit of positivity in their life. I appreciate the opportunity.