From as young as 7 years old, Zachary Tristen had homosexual feelings, but when he was accepted into a premier ballet company he signed a statement that banned him from participating in homosexual activity. This led him to ignore his feelings for years. He even tried to heal himself from homosexuality, which at that time he believed was a choice. This denial of himself lead him to the brink of suicide before he finally got to a place of accepting and loving himself.
“I was 7 when I realized that something was different–that I liked girls, but it was different and something was off. At that point, I don’t think you really know what it is.”
He continued to date girls until he was 16 or 17 years old. He laughs, “I felt that if I dated enough girls I would be straight. And my mom thought that if I played basketball I would be straight!”
When Zachary met his first boyfriend, he was 17 years old. “I knew that what I had felt for him was different than what I had felt for any girlfriend that I had ever had. It was very powerful and very strong, but then came the shame part.” Both boys felt that they needed to hide their feelings for each other from other people.
Everyone around them was against homosexuality. His religious association told him that he would go to hell if he was gay. He used that and the fact that his first two relationships with guys hadn’t been positive, against himself by setting out to become straight.
Denying himself of his true feelings was very painful for him. He read every book, prayed and begged God to change him, went to counselors and “deliverance ministers” to rid himself of his natural desires. Zachary talks about knowing people who’ve spent hundreds of thousands of dollars seeking to be “cured” of homosexuality.
He talks about his struggle with suicidal thoughts. His disparity didn’t even come from not having a boyfriend or husband, but from denying himself of who he really was. He had achieved his dream of being in the company he had worked to be in since he was 12 years old. He spoke with them about his situation and they sent him to counseling. The counselor was “so cold” to him and suggested he ignore his feelings. At that point he had been ignoring his sexuality and felt that his only options were to admit that he was gay or die.
To someone who is going through this situation and is scared to confront their true feelings, he would say: You are in charge of your own happiness.
The turning point for his family to accept him as he was, was after he accepted himself and they saw that he hadn’t changed. There was a point where Zachary had to decide that if his family didn’t accept him, he would have to live without them. It took time for them to understand, so don’t be so swift to write-off your family if they don’t come around straight away.
On the day that Zachary came on my show, his mother sent him the following text:
‘Be honest. I was homophobic and a religious freak. I sent you through counseling, you did deliverance ministers and almost died because you felt rejected by the people who should’ve loved you the most; the church. My son, you taught me love and acceptance and freed me from religion.’
To his 18 year old self, he would say, “Keep breathing. Keep going and don’t give up.”
If you are thinking about coming out or have, give your family time and space, they can change and grow. Love yourself unconditionally. And make sure that if you love this video, you share it with someone you love.
Follow Zachary on Twitter at @ZacharyTristen.
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