Former preacher shares powerful coming out story: ‘The church glorified diminishing yourself’

Eric Bolton poses with a guitar

On National Coming Out Day (11 October), Canadian singer-songwriter Eric Bolton describes his own coming out journey, from being a conservative Christian preacher to finding his “inner light” as an openly gay man.

When I think about coming out, I think about the deep and powerful mosaic of stories that have been shared around the Pride community for who knows how long. Even just this week I met someone new, a fellow gay man, and it didn’t take long before the question of “when did you come out” came to the surface.

That question is honest, it’s vulnerable, and I think it is most of all unifying as we all navigate the construction of a better world together.

It’s a meeting place. A safe space. An eye-to-eye. It’s a powerful moment of “I’ve got your back” shared amongst strangers and close ones alike.

So here’s a bit of my story.

Mine begins with the classic story of a conservative Christian upbringing. In so many ways loving, in so many ways present, but with a constant shadow of being sure to move just perfectly in the lines. Love within a box. Honesty as a virtue but not as a practice. We all had to make sure we didn’t say too much, didn’t step outside the rightful order of things, didn’t express what we really thought, and we certainly didn’t challenge the powers that be.

I knew I was gay by the time I was five or six years old and the moment I knew was the same moment I realised I now had to, on every day going forward for the rest of my young life, not let anyone else find out. To make it worse, the world outside the church was nearly equally terrifying.

The church has a way of glorifying the act of diminishing yourself, and that’s exactly what I did.

Eventually depression took over and I just couldn’t do it anymore.

By the time I was 20 I was a preacher, leading outreach missions, guiding youth groups, but most of all leading the music. I always connected with the spiritual on a deep level, and I believe that was born from the years of loneliness and calling out to whatever God was listening to help me out.

Eventually depression took over and I just couldn’t do it anymore. I went into months of just feeling numb and broken, then finally one day told myself to get up out of that church chair and walk out of the building.

Around that time I came out to family and a couple close friends. While they heard it with kindness they also followed it with a stream of thoughts I wished they hadn’t shared: “Y’know I’ve read that homosexuality is a form of mental illness”, “I understand you’re gay but obviously you won’t act on it”, or the biggest of all: “This is God calling you to live a life with no distractions in full service to Him”.

Needless to say, none of those things rang true to what I felt in my heart but they sure sent me into a spiral.

I spent a good seven years distancing myself more and more from those who would try to keep me in that space and gradually met people who just saw me with a wholeness and gave me space.

I began to feel comfortable expanding the circle of people I was open with until it started to just be more understood in my community.

Eric Bolton poses with a guitar

Eric Bolton. (Music Gateway)

Then one day, I get an e-mail from my dad asking why I’m not returning to church yet, and that he’d been giving me space but thought by now I’d have sorted it out. It was a gut punch. A huge wave of devastation hit me as I realised I was still not seen after all those years of pain.

A few close friends sat with me, cried with me, and gave me the boost I needed to reply with confidence and for the first time in my life stand up for myself and say those words: “I am gay, and that world isn’t a safe place for me.”

I went to bed that night devastated. I woke up the next day though with a freshness I had never known, like a huge weight was lifted.

That very day, 25 May, 2020, I wrote my song “Genesis (Let There Be Love)”. That song became my personal mantra and the day I released it I decided to publicly come out on social media. The song was a quick write and it was exactly what I needed.

It guided me through the following months in navigating the kickback and the continued messages from my family and some confused past church connections. Every time I sang it I gained a bit more strength.

I have been publicly out for just over a year and I can honestly say I’ve never had such a year of growth and increasing clarity. Mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and even physically I am every day better.

I’ll forever be grateful to the close friends, including my brother Mark, who saw me and made space for me.

I’ve since released a new song, “The Home Light”, that I wrote back in my tired days. A song about getting back to that inner light that’s true for you.

Back when I wrote it I was coming from a place of hope and dreams, but now I can sing it from a place of being and experiencing. This was the time for “The Home Light” to shine.

A brand new beginning, and I’m loving every moment of creating this new world, with all its new music.