Tons of makeup, jewelry, and a blonde wig couldn't hide the pain. There was a beautiful woman staring back at me in the mirror. But that "woman" was me — John Paulk, a man. Only I never understood what being a "man" really meant. I certainly didn't learn about it the day my father took my sister and me to a park to tell us he was divorcing Mom — and then walked out of our lives. I was only five. And I didn't learn it from the guys I grew up with, either. Around them, I felt painfully insecure, different, and rejected. Since I wasn't good in sports and was effeminate, they called me names like sissy, queer, and fag.
Those names crushed me, and as a young teen, I discovered that drinking alcohol could numb the pain. But in the midst of my hurt, a girl from school told me about God. I believed everything she said about the Bible. In fact, I knelt down right then and asked Jesus into my heart. But six months later, without friends and family to come along side me, I left God to continue my search for acceptance and love. What I didn't know was that He was still listening — and waiting.
As a high school senior, my pursuit took a radical turn when a friend took me to a gay bar for the first time. There I found a whole new world of attention and inclusion. I quickly accepted a homosexual relationship and believed I was in love. Because it felt so natural after a lifetime of rejection, I also came to believe that I was born gay — even giving up my childhood dream of a wife and family. But the relationship ended miserably after a year. In my devastation, I quit college and moved home. My drinking increased along with my growing misery. My anguish was so unbearable I tried to end my life. But, I even failed at suicide.
My longing for affirmation and my need to pay the bills propelled me into male prostitution. I began selling my body for $80 an hour in a world of random hotel rooms, drugs, and alcohol. After six months, I was emotionally spent. I remember crying myself to sleep after I came home from being sexually used all night. Then something happened that changed my life even further. A male friend put makeup and a wig on me. I was stunned to see my reflection in the mirror. I looked beautiful. I quickly became popular as a female impersonator and adopted the name "Candi." Outwardly, my acceptance rose, but inwardly my self-hatred grew. Then, one night on the dance floor, I heard a voice speak to my mind, "Come back to Me and I will set you free from all this and change your life." God was watching over me. What I didn't know was that He was already drawing me back to Him.
In October 1985, my psychologist confronted me about my heavy drinking and I began attending Alcoholics Anonymous. After six months of sobriety, my head began to clear. I opened up my closet and looked at all the dresses, wigs, high heels, makeup, and jewelry I had accumulated over the past three years. It suddenly hit me. Somehow I knew I didn't need "Candi" anymore. I realized that "crown of jewels" I wore left me feeling empty and alone. So I said goodbye to her, put everything in a cardboard box and threw it into a Dumpster. It felt like a ton of weight was being lifted. My friends told me I'd be back, yet I knew I'd never do drag again as long as I lived.
Shortly thereafter, a college pastor asked if he could talk to me about Jesus. I told him that I knew all about the gospel, but that I was born gay, so there wasn't any point in discussing it. He confidently told me I wasn't born gay and read to me from Genesis 1, And God created man ... male and female ... and God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. As the pastor read other passages, I felt the strength of God's Word calm and comfort me. The truth became obvious: homosexuality was not something I was born with, nor something I had to stay in forever.
That week, I dug out my Bible and started to read it again. After wrestling with the decision for days, I knelt down beside my bed and prayed, "Lord, I don't know how to get out of homosexuality, but I will follow You. No matter how difficult it gets, I'll never turn away from You again." That day, February 10, 1987, was one I'll never forget. After a lifetime of pursuit for love and acceptance, I realized that, all along, God had been pursuing me. He did not give up. Finally, I had someone who would never leave me.
I began cleaning up my apartment, erasing porn videos and throwing away hundreds of dollars worth of other homosexual paraphernalia. I wrote a letter to my gay friends, telling them of my conversion. During the next few years, my identity had to be rebuilt from the ground up. I discovered that my concept of God was distorted, and I had a difficult time accepting the reality of His total love and acceptance toward me. The concept of being loved for just being me was totally incomprehensible. I was able to forgive my parents for their emotional neglect and the way I felt they had rejected me. The unforgiveness which had held me captive for so long began melting away.
In 1991, I fell in love with a beautiful, godly woman from my church who had come from a lesbian background. Anne and I were married on July 19, 1992. I cried all the way through our wedding vows, knowing the Lord had given back the dream I had abandoned once before. The Lord's transforming power was so evident during our wedding that my mother and stepfather prayed to receive the Lord that night. Anne and I now feel a responsibility to be "torchbearers" for God.
On December 17, 1996, Anne and I had our first son. Timmy brightens up my whole life. When I look into his innocent, trusting face, I feel so privileged to be able to give him all the love God has given me. Since then, the Lord has blessed us with Alex, our second son. And in late 2002, our third son will arrive. Through my relationship with Timmy and Alex my sense of masculinity continues to solidify. And through Jesus, I learned that I don't — and you don't — have to be afraid. You don't have to be broken.
And all those who choose to come to Him will never be an outcast in His eyes.
For speaking engagements, John and Anne Paulk can be contacted at 719-548-4565 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For information on Love Won Out conferences, call 800-A-FAMILY (232-6459) or visit the Web site http://www.family.org/cforum/hotissues/A0006757.html.
John Paulk is manager of the Homosexuality and Gender Department for Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Together, he and Anne continue to provide solid, life-changing answers for those struggling with unwanted homosexuality.