Coming out and keeping faith

“People have actually showed up to try to safe me from the harmful cult I’m in.”

Adad of three and a member of a christian congregation, known for anti-gay stance, comes to terms with the fact he’s gay and decides to act out. Doesn’t really sound like your typical coming out story. Still that’s what Davíð Guðmundsson (32) just did four years ago and faced the consequences.

“I was raised up on a farm in the north of Iceland, so I know to milk cows and drive a tractor,” is the first thing Davíð politely tells about himself when we ask him to shed some light on his past. His childhood seems like a good starting point as any other, before we go for the subject matter, which is what it was like coming out in a christian congregation commonly known for, well not being so friendly towards gays and lesbians throughout the years. At least not in the eyes of the general public.

Religion has always played a big part in Davíð’s life, he goes on. Around the age of four he moved to his great-grandmother, after his great-grandfather passed away and lived with her more or less until he was nine. “She was an old-time christian so pray’r and God was a big part of my upbringing,” he recalls with a smile.
It was then, at that early stage in his life, that Davíð found the path he wanted to follow. So later when he moved to Akureyri, at the age of sixteen, he regularly went to bible studies and church service in the state church. But he somehow couldn’t find his place there. “So I ended up in the pentecostal church of the town, which was a good church for a teenager, a very good place for me at that time. The pastor, the elders and youth-group were all so nice,” he says, adding that he got baptised there two years later.

Asked when he first knew or at suspected he was gay, Davíð says it hard to tell. “If I would have to give you an answer, then it would be around the age of eleven,” he finally says, after giving the question much thought. But it wasn’t untill seventeen years later he finally decided to come out. What made him hesitant was partly the fact that he had been bullied in school for being gay. “You see, it had been going on in school for as long as I could remember. And the perception I had of gay people was pretty negative. In my mind being gay was very wrong, a bad thing and I just didn’t want to face the facts.”

So Davíð got married to a girl he met at the pentecostal church in Akureyri and together they had three children. That and the negative image he had of gay people certainly didn’t make it any easier for him to come out. When it finally came to that point in his life, Davíð was 28 years old, had been divorced for three years and was living far from his parents and brother in the north. The turning point was when he started dating a girl and suddenly felt he couldn’t live with the lie anymore.
“I was of course really, really afraid of the idea of coming out,” he explains with a sad expression on his face. “I thought my life, you know my closest family, friends and church would all disappear.”
However in the end his ex-wife actually became the first person he decided to confide in about being gay. “Of course it was a big shock for her, we had known each other since we were teenagers and been married for five years,” he says a little bit anxious but adds with a smile: “But I would say that she took the news unbelievably well.” Davíð’s ex-wife even went as far as encouraging him to forget what the two of them had been tought about homosexuality in the past, referring to the teachings of the pentecostal church at Akureyri, saying it didn’t make any sense. That helped him somewhat.

His parents and brother were also supportive. “They had always suspected I was gay, I guess. My brother actually didn’t know that I was in the closet until I came home with a girlfriend,” he says, a little bit amused at the thought. “So it wasn’t a shock for them. They seemed relieved.”

The same could be said about Davíð’s three daughters who were only seven, five and four years old at the time. “It was a big surprise to me that they actually knew what it meant to be gay,” he says bewildered. “My oldest daughter is autistic and thought it was funny. The one in the middle, my little professor, didn’t think so, saying a lot of men and women were gay. She had a lot of questions about marriage and stuff like that and actually made it her mission to find a husband for me.” He laughs. “Personally I don’t remember knowing anything about gay people at their age, so all my answers were in the wind.”

But there were other complications. Not least the fact that after his divorce Davíð started attending ceremonies at The Cross (i. Krossinn), a congregation with roots in the Pentecostal church, which had been criticised for anti-gay stance. And to make things worse for him was the recent publication of an article claiming that hatred of gay people kept members of The Cross together. “The things being said in the article really upset me because no one at The Cross, neither Gunnar who was then pastor, nor his wife or the others had shown me any signs of hatred,” he says, still a bit upset. “When I shared my feelings about the article with friends at church they just told me to take notice of my own experience, thoughts and feelings instead of the papers.”

Here we actually have to interrupt David and ask if he honestly never got any cruel remarks about being gay at The Cross. He shakes his head. “Of course there was a time when there was a lot of prejudice there, but I was only met with kindness.”

Davíð admits he stopped going to church for a while after coming out. The congregation at The Cross was going through a difficult time, with a change of pastors. Besides that Davíð needed some time and space to find himself and so began going to meetings organized by a group of LGBT students called Q. “Which helped me to handle things,” he says in a confident manner, “and overcome my own prejudice, I guess.”
He also took time to ponder whether to return to The Cross or not, but in the end felt the need to go back. But it wasn’t easy. “For some reason that bad, old fear of being rejected crept back in and I became worried that the congregation would be prejudiced against me. Instead I found that the members were, just like me, changing their way of thinking. So there was absolutely no reason to feel that way. And instantly it felt like home again.”

In the past Davíð had felt guilty about his sexuality. But as he cames to terms with it he gradually started believing that he deserved to love and be loved. So some months after coming out he started living with a guy. “Sadly the relationship didn’t work out,” he says. “I guess things just moved to fast for me, him and my daughters. It was a shame because my middle child became close to him and even called him dad.”
Like most people Davíð still hopes to find true love, but says things tend to get a bit complicated once you are a gay, devout Christian. “First of all, most people know that I’m a Christian and we’re experiencing a time in Iceland when being one is not the most popular thing.”
But one of the biggest obstacles is his own fear. “I’ve seen relationships between Christians and atheists end badly,” he explains. “In the worst case scenarios atheists see the believers as brain-washed, naive or plain stupid and have a tendency to talk down to them. I don’t want be in a relationship without mutual respect. So I’m rather afraid of dating and relationships.”
However that doesn’t mean he’s not willing to take a chance. “The guy doesn’t have to be a devout Christian or a member of The Cross. Just as long as he can respect me for who I am then it might work out. But I’m not sure that’s possible. I imagine that the best kind of relationship is when you can share your whole life with your partner. Not just parts of it.”

In Davíð’s opinion the only real problem about being gay and a member of The Cross is actually the attitude he sometimes faces from people outside the church. “There have been occasions when people have actually showed up to try to safe me from the harmful cult I’m in,” he explains and laughs looking embarrassed at the thought. “But what people have to keep in mind is that after coming out I took time to come to terms with who I am, both as gay man and a christian. Being a christian is a big part of my life. Just like my sexual orientation is and I don’t feel the pressure to debate that. As I see it, I have the right to be both. My beliefs and sexual orientation are secured in the constitution of Iceland. So people just have to take me the way I am,” he says with a pride and adds that Christianity is not bound to a group or a church. “So I go to The Cross ’cause I feel good there.”
Most of the criticism he gets comes from gays. “I have been accused of trying to rewrite history or reducing the LGBT fight for human rights. Those kind of accusations sadden me even though I fully understand where that anger and those reactions come from. But my philosophy is to life not in the past but the now, where circumstances have changed for the better.” Thankfully he says his many friends gay, straight, believers and atheists, get that.

Currently Davíð works at a home for people with autism, attends school to become a social educator, works at the children ministry at church and has his three daughters, now aged eight, nine and eleven, to take care of every other week. He says parenting is the most meaningful, fun and difficult thing he has ever done.
“I became a father at the young age of 21 and had three kids in three years. Now I can’t imagine life without my daughters. Funny because I never pictured myself being a parent,” he says and smiles. “In my mind they are the three most smartest and most beautiful persons in the whole world. To hear them say: “Daddy I love you” is the most beautiful thing anybody has said to me. Thankfully I get to hear that quite often.”

He has a good relationship with his ex-wife and her husband and says that being a parent has strengthened the bond between him and his own parents, who make great grandparents. “But being a parent is of course not the only key to happiness,” he says with a touch of seriousness. “Happiness is of something everybody has to find for themselves.”
So life, he tells us, although not perfect in every sense, couldn’t be better. “The whole time, ever since I was a kid, I was afraid of coming out because of some kind of horrible reaction. But it never came,” he says with a big, warm smile. “In retrospect I must have been thinking like someone from the 20th century instead of the 21st. I was probably the only one who did.”

Photo: Davíð and his three daughters, from left: Danía Rut, Sara Ísold and Þórey Erla.

Á. Óskarsson
Á. Óskarsson

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