Fathom Mag

Coming Out as Celibate (to my Gay Hairstylist)

I had to tell him, and I had to deal with whatever conclusions he drew from my TikTok.

Published on:
June 20, 2024
Read time:
6 min.
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A year ago when I downloaded TikTok, I enabled a feature that allows you to see who’s viewed your TikTok profile (and vice versa). Then six months later, I opened up the app to a dreadful surprise: my gay non-Christian (as far as I knew) hairstylist had viewed my profile.

I'd been going to Dave* to get my haircut since I’d returned to Nashville. This fall marks our ten-year anniversary of the special friendship that develops in a salon chair. Early on, he shared casually about his husband, and I responded in ways that let him know it was a safe space for him to share about that part of his life. At the time, I wasn’t out on social media, and I didn’t yet know how to casually and carefully explain to a stranger my strange love life.

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But Dave was curious.

Every haircut closest to New Year’s Eve, he’d nonchalantly ask, “So, are you getting a kiss from anyone special this year when the clock strikes twelve?” Before Valentine’s Day, he’d ask me if I had any date plans. He wasn’t pushy, but it seemed clear that he was curious.

I was shocked when TikTok notified me that my secret was out.

At different points along the way, I shared that I was a Christian, that I was gay, that I was a therapist who met with clients navigating faith and sexuality, and that I coached churches around LGBT+ topics. I shared with him that I lived in a house with a bunch of other guys. At some point, I mentioned that some of those guys were also gay.

Naturally, if I mentioned something fun one of the guys in the house and I were doing, he’d ask me if I were dating him. I’d simply respond, “No, we’re good friends. I’m not dating anyone.”

Dave wouldn’t probe further, and I didn’t share further.

For years—nearly a decade—I kicked the can down the road. And I enjoyed my thirty minutes every six weeks with Dave but, considering his long client list, I didn’t imagine he’d find my social media. So I was shocked when TikTok notified me that my secret was out.

At the time, the top of my profile was filled with videos answering controversial questions like “Did God make me gay?” and “Gay sin isn’t worse than straight sin” and “Should Christians attend gay weddings?”

He knew.

But at our next haircut, I chickened out. He didn’t bring it up, and I didn’t say anything.

Months later as I approached making lifetime commitments to vocational singleness and to the Nashville Family of Brothers (the ecumenically Christian modern monastery that I’m a part of), Dave got curious again. He started asking questions. I knew the time had come. I had to tell him, and I had to deal with whatever conclusions he drew from my TikTok.

With great trembling, I sent him a text:

“Hey Dave! I have something kind of awkward to say, but here it goes: over the years I’ve appreciated that you’ve been curious about my life. As I’m sure has been obvious to you, I haven’t always been the most forthcoming. I think that’s because some of my personal/professional life is complicated in ways that are (understandably) triggering for some queer people. Then a few months ago, I noticed that you found my profile on TikTok. At the time I wanted to say something, but I was nervous, and I appreciated that you didn’t confront me about it. My hunch is you might have watched some stuff on there that upset you. Or at least disagreed with. Anyway, I’m reaching out to you for a couple of reasons...”

I went on to give Dave permission to stop cutting my hair if he felt like it violated his personal integrity, and I promised not to cause any trouble about it. Alternatively, I offered to keep getting my haircut with him while avoiding certain topics. I also offered to share more of my story and finally answer some of his questions, if he was interested.

To my relief, he responded a few hours later to reassure me that he wasn’t triggered, that he still wanted me as a client, and with an encouragement:

“I have a ton of respect for you. You once told me never to be scared to share that I’m gay with you. It’s something I will never forget; you created a safe place for me, and I hope I can do that for you when you are in my chair.”

Here was my chance. He didn’t say directly that he wanted me to share more, but I felt like I had something between a yellow light and a green light. So I took the risk and texted him the following:

I trust God and his wisdom for me. I believe God has called me to celibacy and intends for celibacy to be part of the package deal of this family I’m committing to.

“Whew *wipes brow*. I guess the short-ish version of my love life is that I’m part of what you could think about as a non-romantic, non-sexual polycule.

It’s an intentional community with other guys also committed to celibacy and committed to serving those on the margins. Some of us are gay, some of us are straight. We live in a house together, do family dinners together, and spend vacations and holidays together. And I’m actually about to commit to family with these guys for the rest of my life (just after our next haircut)!

I’m committing to love these men for the rest of my life, to never leave them, and to be buried next to them. I think God made me for that. But it’d totally make sense if you wondered, “I mean, finding love and caring for people sounds great, but what does that have to do with celibacy?”

That’s a fair question.

I know it’s weird, but I believe God exists (while still experiencing meaningful doubt). I trust God and his wisdom for me. I believe God has called me to celibacy and intends for celibacy to be part of the package deal of this family I’m committing to. And the other guys in our family feel the same way.

I can’t really explain it better than to say that it’s my strange family, I love them, and the more I’ve stepped toward family with them over the past five years, the happier I’ve felt, the move loved I’ve felt, the more integrated I’ve felt, and the more true-to-self I’ve felt.

Anyway, that’s me. Sorry if that was TMI?”

I didn’t hear back for a few days.

I got worried.

I even sent him a GIF of Will Smith from Men in Black mind-wiping a crowd while saying, “I gave you way too much info.”

But a day or so later, he offered a short reply: “Haha. Not at all. Sorry, I didn’t respond. I’ve been dealing with fashion week stuff.” I sent another GIF about my relief, but I left it at that over text. My next haircut was only a few days away.

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I was nervous when I got to the salon. He was still finishing up with his previous client, so I busied myself pretending to shop the over-priced shampoos and conditioners on display. I noticed there was a plate of free cookies and looked around to see if anyone was watching. Of course, the moment I sheepishly reached for a cookie, Dave came around the corner, “Ohh hey! I'm ready for ya!”

After I sat down, he noticed my new tattoo. I mentioned that I got it as a sign of my upcoming commitments to the intentional Christian community I referenced.

I waited to see if he’d ask a follow-up question, but he didn’t. So I asked him about his tattoos, and he told me some stories.

Later I found an opportunity to share that I got the tattoo while on a kind of bachelor party weekend with the guys in the intentional Christian community.

He didn’t ask any follow-up questions, but it wasn’t weird either. 

As the haircut continued, both of us seemed at peace not bringing up the text conversation and comfortably slipping back into our typical conversation about upcoming holiday plans.

In the end, I got to share some of my story. It was now known. I didn’t need to press further. We could enjoy being friends without the unspoken hanging over either of our heads.

I resolved that I wouldn’t try to push my beliefs or story on him anymore. But if he asked, I’d share. 

In the days and weeks that followed, I found myself sharing the series of events with friends and reflecting on them. If sharing about my convictions and unconventional family was hard enough for me (someone who shares his story and talks about sexual ethics for a living), how difficult must this be for others?

Instead, over the next decade of haircuts, he’d need to notice something undeniably compelling about my life, without me advertising it.

The experience taught me even deeper patience for how much hesitation the average straight Christian must feel around sexual ethics. 

I was also struck by how challenging it was to translate my story from “Christianese” to something comprehendible (and hopefully compelling) for someone a couple of degrees separated from the American evangelical Christian subculture. But maybe that’s the most important lesson I learned: even if I found clever words to share my testimony in a way that was intelligible to Dave, words are never going to be enough, particularly after his years of painful childhood interactions with Christians.

Instead, over the next decade of haircuts, he’d need to notice something undeniably compelling about my life, without me advertising it. I was daunted. And humbled. Most days I feel like I do a pretty paltry job of making Jesus look good.

So I prayed that God would help me live the next ten years of my life in a way that Dave couldn’t help but be drawn to.

And I thanked God for the not-so-gentle nudge TikTok gave me to finally share about my not-so-normal love life with my curious hairstylist.

Pieter Valk
Pieter Valk is a licensed professional counselor, the director of EQUIP (equipyourcommunity.org), and cofounder of the Nashville Family of Brothers (familyofbrothers.org), an ecumenically Christian brotherhood for men called to vocational singleness. He helps churches love gay people and celibate Christians find family. Follow Pieter @pieterlvalk on all platforms.

*Name Changed

Cover image by Agustin Fernandez.

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