A Mennonite Comes Out

James Helmuth talks about being gay in his new book

James Helmuth has been in a committed relationship with a man for the past 21 years. But growing up in a Mennonite community in the Midwest, he didn’t hear the word “gay” until he was 16 years old.

Helmuth, a psychologist specializing in stress management, relationship issues and overcoming depression, talks candidly about his life in his new memoir Crossing the Bridge: From Mennonite Boy to Gay Man.

At a time when acceptance of LGBT issues is at a crossroads in this country, Helmuth opens the door to a somewhat mysterious, secretive community – and talks about what it’s like dealing with his own sexual identity within the deeply religious sect.

“My family loved me and cared about me – that is, they loved the person they thought I was: the boy ‘Jimmy,’ as my siblings called me, the ‘St. James’ as I was known by peers at church, the college graduate, the responsible husband and father, the Ph.D. psychologist,” says the author, who spent 20 years married to a woman and is the father of two children. “They knew my roles, achievements and my facade. But they did not know my authentic self because I did not know it, or at least was not willing then to tell anyone.”

Courtesy of the author

Like many closeted young, gay men, Helmuth spent more time conforming to what his community expected of him than being truly honest with himself. Until something simply changed one day.

“I don’t think I ever wanted to be married to a woman, but since marriage was the only legitimate way to have a family, I was willing to do it,” admits Helmuth, who now makes his home in Akron, Ohio, with his partner.

And after a near-suicide attempt and more than three decades of hiding his sexuality from those closest to him, Helmuth decided to give up everything his church and family had taught him in search of his true self. He says it was a huge weight lifted from his shoulders.

“My story shows that while personal growth and change is painful and takes time, it does get better,” says Helmuth, who now provides psychological treatment to impaired police and fire fighters in Akron. “It shows that the real issue about sexual orientation is not sexual behaviors or morality, but about being authentic as a human being.”

Click here to read an excerpt from the book.