How long have you been driving for Uber?
Just for a little while. I’m actually a musician. But my tour got cancelled.
… I’m not sure why I’m telling you all this…
The first time I spoke with Trey Pearson was through a rearview mirror.
I’ve made it a habit—a pretty natural one as a storyteller—of chatting up my drivers since Uber took over the city’s social bus driver role, and there’s been plenty to dig into. The retired Air Force officer who smelled like Drakkar Noir. The catering chef who let me sing Lauryn Hill songs with her on my birthday. The out-of-town cop making weekend money to stash away for his daughter’s college fund. None stuck with me the way Trey did.
Just a few minutes before I departed for some assorted happy hour, Trey, arching his neck and speaking once more into the rearview, said something that bounced around in my head for the rest of the night, and to be honest, for several months after:
“I’m gay, and one of the only people who knows is my wife.”
On the balance, a story of a man coming to terms with his sexuality and coming out of the closet is no bombshell, especially not in a progressive city such as Columbus—but Trey wasn’t just a musician—he was a bona fide rock star.
Since 1997, he’s been the core of Everyday Sunday, a highly successful alternative outfit who’s sold hundreds of thousands of records, scored multiple #1 singles on the national radio charts, toured all 50 states and 20 countries, and signed to a reputable label in Nashville.
A Christian label.
We’ve taken pride in the carefully curated stories that appear in (614) Magazine every month, but in some cases, the story chooses you. Over the next five months, Trey and I maintained contact, sometimes just to play arcade games or have a beer and watch the Cavs, both aware that we had been placed in each other’s path for a reason.
With me, Trey is not a rock star; he’s an articulate man in his early 30s, not only confronting his own sexuality and how it will affect his family, but also shedding part of a persona he’s been maintaining for almost two decades, on stage and off.
This is not a normal story. Trey and I decided to tell this story together, for him to come out not just to his family and a handful of friends, but to the masses—where he could become a model and mentor for thousands in his musical flock still searching for acceptance and clarity within their faith.
Days before this article was printed, he walked into my office, and through tears, read me a copy of the letter he carefully penned for those closest to him, his words fragile and bold at the same time; a declaration of freedom for a man trapped in a life that wasn’t fully his to lead.
Here in these pages are passages from that letter, backed with Trey’s own perspective on coming to terms with it all.
“Most of us reach at least one pivotal moment in our lives that better defines who we are. These last several months have been the hardest—but also have ended up being the most freeing months—of my life. To make an extremely long story short, I have come to be able to admit to myself, and to my family, that I am gay.”
TP: There is a weight that has been lifted, and I have never felt so free. I cannot even believe the joy and lightness I feel from being able to accept myself, and love myself, for who I truly am … but I have also lost some of the closest people in my life. I have felt betrayal by people I loved a lot, and cared so much about. I have had some church people act like the worst people I have ever experienced in my life. I have some people in my life who I have felt a shift in the way they love me, and the way they see me. I want to be loved for who I am, not in spite of who I am. I’m starting over in so many ways. It is freeing, but it’s also starting out lonely.
“I grew up in a very conservative Christian home where I was taught that my sexual orientation was a matter of choice, and had put all my faith into that. I had never before admitted to myself that I was gay, let alone to anyone else. I never wanted to be gay. I was scared of what God would think and what all of these people I loved would think about me; so it never was an option for me. I have been suppressing these attractions and feelings since adolescence. I’ve tried my whole life to be straight. I married a girl, and I even have two beautiful little kids. My daughter, Liv, is six and my son, Beckham, is two.”
Part of me feels guilty about it. But I wouldn’t change it. So much of me has so much heartache that I couldn’t grow up loving myself for who I am. I could not accept myself. I was so scared that God would hate me. That all of the people I loved wouldn’t see me the same way. I couldn’t allow being gay to be an option. I just hoped and prayed, with everything in me, that I could just be straight—that I could be attracted to women, and that it would all work. I tried. I have two kids. I wouldn’t trade everything in the world for them. They are a huge part of how I have made it through all of this. They are everything to me.
“I had always romanticized the idea of falling in love with a woman; and having a family had always been my dream. In many ways, that dream has come true. But I have also come to realize a lot of time has passed in my life pushing away, blocking out and not dealing with real feelings going on inside of me. I have tried not to be gay for more than 20 years of my life. I found so much comfort as a teen in 1 Samuel 18-20 and the intimacy of Jonathan and David. I thought and hoped that such male intimacy could fulfill that void I felt in my desire for male companionship. I always thought if I could find these intimate friendships, then that would be enough.Then I thought everything would come naturally on my wedding night. I honestly had never even made out with a girl before I got married. Of course, it felt anything but natural for me. Trying not to be gay, has only led to a desire for intimacy in friendships, which pushed friends away, and it has resulted in a marriage where I couldn’t love or satisfy my wife in a way that she needed. When Lauren and I got married, I committed to loving her to the best of my ability, and I had the full intention of spending the rest of my life with her. Despite our best efforts, however, I have come to accept that there is nothing that is going to change who I am.”
Lauren… Lauren is a beautiful soul. I love her so much, and I am so grateful to have been able to see her grow the way she has. We were on a journey together, and she was always willing to follow me, in my journey of faith, questions and exploring. I think we have both grown so much in the last 10 years together, and being married for 7 and a half of those. And when I needed her in this, she was able to hug me, and cry, and tell me how proud of me she was for being able to be honest with myself. I knew then it didn’t matter what anyone else thought, or did to me. I knew then that I had been set free.
I am never going to be able to change how I am, and no matter how healthy our relationship becomes, it’s never going to change what I know deep down: that I am gay. Lauren has been the most supportive, understanding, loving and gracious person I could ever ask for, as I have come to face this. And now I am trying to figure out how to co-parent while being her friend, and how to raise our children.
I have progressed so much in my faith over these last several years. I think I needed to be able to affirm other gay people before I could ever accept it for myself. Likewise, I couldn’t expect others to accept me how I am until I could come to terms with it first.
I know I have a long way to go. But if this honesty with myself about who I am, and who I was made by God to be, doesn’t constitute as the peace that passes all understanding, then I don’t know what does. It is like this weight I have been carrying my whole life has been lifted from me, and I have never felt such freedom.
So many of us live in fear. Most of the time it is fear of what we don’t know or understand. As much as I love Jesus, it is hard to see white, male pastors instill this fear of ignorance—who won’t even have the humility to have the conversation, to try and understand, when they don’t realize how damaging what they are doing is for so many people. It’s so easy when you have never had to be the minority, or the oppressed, or haven’t had to know what it’s like to not be able to be who you are. Maybe it is your church, your family, or your culture where you live that keeps you living in fear. But it’s not honest. That’s what creates the bubble so many people hate about church: the lack of honesty when it comes to questions about faith. The vast majority of people are tired of that. Faith can be a beautiful thing. But it has to start with honesty.
Part II – Looking Forward
How would you like to characterize what brought you to this moment?
Being gay was never an option for me. I knew I had attractions. I knew how difficult it was for Lauren and me. But I never allowed myself to dwell on it. I knew I had a family, including my unbelievable kids. So I just had decided it was good enough, the way things were. I thought I could continue to find a way to make it work. I kept hoping it would get better, even though it had been seven and half years. Apparently, friends that I have been close to over the years have thought that I was gay, but no one ever talked to me about it. Think about that. No one has, lovingly, ever said, “Trey, do you think you might be gay”? That is part of what I mean by the lack of honesty so much of the church creates. It’s so taboo to talk about it. And we just think we were told it wasn’t natural, so we hope it just goes away.
I found one of your old tweets expressing sympathy over a gay teen telling her Christian parents they were gay. Years before your coming out, that part of your heart, does that play into why you feel a willingness to come out in such a public way? As a follow-up, do you think despite more overall acceptance and love toward the LGBTQ community within the Christian community there is still a dangerous level of rejection that can lead to self-harm, alcohol or drug abuse, etc.?
Part of it may stem from my own realization of how difficult my journey was going to be once I got married, but I honestly think it comes to deeper parts of my faith journey, my understanding of God and Jesus, that had allowed me to accept and affirm gay people as loved, children of God, made in God’s image, years ago. I know this is how God made me, and I am proud of who I am. I know there is nothing I can do to change it. Because I have worked through so many of these questions before accepting this for myself, I feel like it has made it that much easier for me to get through this, know that I am loved by God, and want to be a voice to tell others that they are as well. It feels like a calling. And it is the thing in our culture that must change, just like so many things have had to change before in culture, and in the church, from slavery to women’s rights … this is the pressing issue of our time. People commit suicide over this. People lose family and friends because of the ignorance, and lack of acceptance. I am a part of this, I have been a victim of this, and I will speak out for the equal rights of all people.
I also saw one of your quotes in another interview, where you reference a “system in place to sell albums [that] has a very narrow view of belief that they want to promote to their consumers.” Does this story and moving forward in your music give you a chance to change or affect that?
I don’t know. I never liked the formula of what record labels were looking for in the Christian music industry to sell albums. I feel like we always tried to be true to who we wanted to be. And I still want to do that. Be true to who I am, and what kind of music I want to do. I never wanted to just make music for Christians, or Christian radio, but I have always wanted to be honest in my music. A lot of being honest in my music is talking about my faith, but it’s also talking about all kinds of other things. I plan to continue to do all of that. I realize a lot of gate holders in that industry may want to never play my songs again, due to fear—but I also think the world is changing—and I think there are a lot of people out there that want to be a part of this conversation. So, wherever people are willing to listen to my music and my story, I will go.
Did any of these things ever find their way into your lyrics? Is that something you can reflect on now, whether you were trying to find some meaning between art, self, and church?
In these last several months, it is very interesting for me to go back and listen to my own lyrics on a lot of my songs. I can recognize my own pain and searching in many of the songs that very much have to do with what I am coming to accept in my own life now.
Do you worry about what the fans will say? How many among them do you think may be grappling with the same crisis of self and faith, whether to do with sexuality or not?
No. I think anyone who wants to get honest with themselves will be willing to listen and will try to understand. I think most people are grappling with the same crisis of self and faith. Most young people leave the church out of high school; a lot of these people you talk to will tell you about the god they were handed, that they can’t believe in. And when you hear the stories of the way they were taught to believe in God, you realize that’s not a god you could believe in either.
It’s been an intense six months for Trey Pearson. He is making room for “normal” life priorities—like finding time to see the new Captain America movie at the renovated Grandview Theatre down the street from his new place. Now, faced with a new life—in addition to being a single dad, facing a new romantic world—he’s working on a new album, and this month he’ll play one of the most meaningful shows of his life, headlining Columbus Pride. In the meantime, his faith continues to evolve, not unlike the letter he’s been writing and re-writing since coming to accept himself as a gay Christian man. The last few lines from his letter tell us that he, is beyond anything, hopeful
In sharing this publicly I’m taking another step into health and wholeness by accepting myself, and every part of me. It’s not only an idea for me that I’m gay; It’s my life. This is me being authentic and real with myself and other people. This is a part of who I am.
I hope people will hear my heart, and that I will still be loved. I’m still the same guy, with the same heart, who wants to love God and love people with everything I have. This is a part of me I have come to be able to accept, and now it is a part of me that you know as well. I trust God to help love do the rest.
I’m not worried. I’m free. I feel like there is nothing to hide, and there is nothing left to fear. No one can do anything to me, because I have experienced this freedom, and it is the most wonderful feeling in the world. I hope more and more people can find the freedom to be honest with me as I continue to tell my story.
Everyday Sunday will be headlining the 35th annual Columbus Pride Festival on Friday, June 17 at 8:45 p.m. in Goodale Park. For more info, visit columbuspride.org. For more of Pearson’s music, visit treypearson.com and follow @treypearson on Twitter.