Steph’s Pick: “Vinnie: The Worst Possible Sin”

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Vinnie grew up in a strict, insular environment that instilled a simple message in him from a young age: who you are is fundamentally wrong. After spending years praying to God to fix him, he finally hit his breaking point. Vinnie talks to Steph about the joys and struggles of coming out in his mid 30s and extricating himself from the Evangelical church.

To support Vinnie’s work, check out his website and the essay collection Fashionably Late: Gay, Bi, and Trans Men Who Came Out Later in Life.

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To follow along with a transcript, go to shortly after the air date.



Stephanie Wittels Wachs, Vinnie

Vinnie  00:13

I do kind of remember as a kid like you kind of rack your brain be like, what have I done wrong? Like, what have I done that I need to be forgiven for? From a very early age, you’re taking stock of like, the wrongs of your life and like, what you need to do to like, be forgiven and get saved.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  02:04

Listen, we can all be hard on ourselves. I assure you, no one will ever be as critical of me as me. But for Vinnie Kinsella, growing up in a strict Evangelical Church meant that from a very young age, he believed that doing anything wrong had major consequences, not just here on Earth, but for all of eternity. So he tried his very best to do everything right, except there was one pretty big hitch.


Vinnie  02:41

I recognized very early that I was attracted to men and was confused by that. You know, sometimes it would be just, you know, hanging out with a friend and finding their older brother attractive, or something like that. And like, you know, going to the underwear section into our kids with my underwear, and be like, what are all these pictures of men in underwear, like, why are they interesting me? So I, you know, yeah.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  03:05

Then he spent decades wrestling with these feelings, doing everything he could to hide them from others and even from himself, all the while holding on tightly to his faith.


Vinnie  03:19

I need to try harder to be better at being a Christian. I can, you know, if I, if I do more to make God happy, then, you know, help me overcome. And eventually, things will change, and I will magically be the kind of person that God wants me to be. I will miraculously be able to turn into a guy who’s interested in marrying all of it and having a family.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  03:56

This is Last Day, a show about the moments that change us. I’m Stephanie Wittels Wachs, and today, the story of a man who was raised with the understanding that who he fundamentally was was wrong, and that feeling followed him into adulthood, until one day, he finally decided to stop asking God to fix him, and instead realized he wasn’t broken.


Vinnie  04:24

It was like, like, a light bulb went off. I’m like, Oh, I guess I don’t, I don’t. I don’t believe this anymore. Okay, I don’t believe it anymore.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  04:40

Vinnie was born in San Jose, California, and spent his early years living in Turlock, a small town outside of Modesto. If you’re not well versed in California geography and all of those words that I just threw at you, that’s basically the middle of nowhere for this giant state to paint a more specific picture for you. Vinnie shared that back in the 1930s Turlock held the record for the most churches per capita. So growing up, it wasn’t did you go to church? It was which church did you go to? And some of his earliest childhood memories are tethered to it.


Vinnie  05:17

I was probably just a barely walking and talking at that point, and so my earliest memories of church, I remember vividly the preacher would be up giving the sermon, and there was this, to my perspective, ginormous stained glass Jesus behind him that looked like he was floating on clouds with like his hands out, like he was, you know, coming down from heaven. In my mind, it’s like, you know, five stories tall, but you know, I bet you, if I went back there now, I’d be like, oh, it’s only 10 feet high. Like, what the heck. But I remember, I remember that vividly. And then I also remember being in children’s choir I joined when I was, like, five, and having fun just singing, learning, you learning a little bit about music, even at five during that show, you know. So my earlier memories of church were just, you know, playing and looking at giant stained glass Jesuses and kind of being freaked out by him a little.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  06:13

Right, so it’s like a little bit of community and a little bit of terror, right?


Vinnie  06:19

That’s a good way of putting it, yeah.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  06:23

The community and the terror was something only Vinnie and his mom were a part of. His dad worked nights growing up, so he wasn’t around much. Vinnie even told me that one of his best friends from the neighborhood went years without realizing his dad even lived with him. Vinnie did have three older siblings, but all of them were way older than him. His mom had her first child at 17, and by the time Vinnie comes into the picture, his older siblings were 12, 13, and 14. So he and his mom shared a special bond, and part of that bond was going to church. What was it that led your mom to this pretty extreme form of religion? What was that?


Vinnie  07:07

I laugh because she’s the only person on the face of the planet I ever knew who could actually say this. But it was watching the 700 club on TV.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  07:13

What, if you’re not familiar the 700 club may sound like some very exclusive nightclub, but it’s actually a conservative Christian news show that’s been on the air since the 60s and really hasn’t changed much since, think 60 minutes, but with God.


Vinnie  07:33

Like, something about it, like, got to her, and she was like, I need Jesus. And like, started going to church immediately and bringing me along with her, and, you know, she was searching for some answers. You know, I can process that. It’s just funny to realize that like, wow. So the 700 club actually did reach at least one person with their television show, and it was my mom.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  07:55

Anyway, I had Vinny take a moment to break down some of the tenets of his church so I could get a better understanding of the messages he was getting as a kid staring up at that giant Jesus. What is the sort of backbone of evangelical Christianity? How would you sort of describe it to somebody who didn’t know anything about it?


Vinnie  08:15

Oh, that’s a good question. I mean, sort of what sets evangelicalism apart? I’m trying to think what sets it apart. I mean, so basically, have, you know, the foundational belief that, like all humans, are born into sin. So it’s sort of, you know, thanks to Adam and Eve, all of us are born imperfect. It’s basically like born wretched sinners, and as such, we deserve the punishment of hell because of our nature, but God sends Jesus down to die a horrific death on the cross and take the punishment for us. And so you know, as long if you accept the gift of Jesus’s punishment, you escape hell. You’re born in need of a Savior.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  08:56

I’m trying to wrap my head around that messaging as a child, right? Like, how do you tell a child you were born with sin? Do you remember?


Vinnie  09:07

I don’t know that that’s really exactly how it’s taught. Was taught to me as a kid that but I mean, we’re definitely taught everybody’s sins, and because of that, we need Jesus. So like, you know, by the time you’re able to hear the children’s teachings and stuff. It’s, have you ever told a lie? Have you ever stolen a piece of candy when you weren’t supposed to? Or have you ever disobeyed your parents like that sin, and when you sin like you deserve hell like, you know, so that. So it’s not like they try to teach, like the complex or theological concepts they really try to dread the basic like, if you do something wrong, you are a sinner, and therefore you need salvation.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  09:48

So that means that you’re already coming from this baseline of, Am I doing something wrong? Am I doing something wrong? Which, as a kid, you’re always doing something wrong on some level. And then there’s so many rules. I always think about with my own kids. I’m like, you guys just have so many rules that you have to deal with all day long. You know? I’m always empathizing with them, stand in the line, stand straight. Do this, do that, go to the bathroom here. Do that there. It’s like, the rules and the structure of that, right? And then, if you’re thinking, well, if I break a rule, I’m gonna go to hell, that’s a lot.


Vinnie  10:21

Yeah, and I, and I was so good at being a rule follower because of that, and to the point that my dad, at one point as an adult, said to me, he said, You were such a good kid that I actually thought there was something worth wrong with you because of that. Like, I just wanted you to do something wrong ever, like, break a window or something. He’s like, I completely would have punished you for doing it, but I would have been like, okay, he’s a normal kid, yeah.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  10:46

Right, you’re a human you’re a human kid. Yeah, totally. So straight and narrow, Vinnie spent years trying to do everything right to get in good with God. But around the time he was in middle school, his parents split up. By this time, all of his siblings were living away from home anyway. So when the divorce happened, Jose, Vinnie and his mom relocated to the Pacific Northwest, first to Eugene, Oregon, and then eventually right outside of Portland. And this was a monumental change.


Vinnie  11:19

I didn’t want to move. I remember that very clearly, being upset about moving away from both my life and then also my family. Even though my sisters and stuff didn’t live at home, they were still, you know, leaving them behind. I mean, I had a rough go of it from the start, lots of different reasons. I mean, my mom moved to a very nice area, but we lived in an apartment. We didn’t have a lot of money, so I was poor kid in a rich school. I was, you know, different, but I didn’t understand what may be different, and, you know, on a couple different ways, and then just not having my friends and not having anything familiar, and having the culture be different. Because even though it’s two states away, Pacific Northwest is not California, and things that are normal were normal for me growing up are not normal up here. So, yeah. So there was, I mean, it was a lot to take in, and then I was internalizing a lot of the divorce. I did blame myself for it, because the last big fight my parents had was over me. And so in my mind, that kind of warps and gets twisted and like, you know, if it wasn’t for me, my parents would still be together, and then just oh, lots of different conflicting feelings, like my mom took me away, and I felt angry that nobody stopped her, like, you know, you know. And again, 10 years old, I don’t quite understand that my sisters, who are, you know, 23 and 24 are also powerless to do anything at this point like, you know, I get that now, but back then, it was just, it was a lot, and then coming into a new kid in the school, and not knowing anybody, and then immediately being a target for people to pick on. I was bullied a lot, so it was not pleasant. I’ll just say that it was not pleasant.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  13:10

It sounds horrible, Vinnie, I’m so sorry. I That sounds like a a period of time


Vinnie  13:17

It was.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  13:19

And I mean, as y’all get, into this new environment. Is your mom still evangelical? Is she trying to find a new church? Is, you know, are you still sort of practicing all of that, or is that taking a back seat at this point?


Vinnie  13:33

Yeah, no, we found a new church. She went, tried a couple different ones, and then, you know, found the one that fits. And for me, that was probably the one sense of normalcy I could cling to because I wasn’t liked at school and because I was picked on so relentlessly, getting back into a church environment where I felt any semblance of like love or compassion coming from people is, in hindsight, a big part of probably what personally kind of rooted me even more, because I couldn’t look forward to going to school, but I could look forward to going to youth group on Wednesday nights and at least having like, two hours of like friendship and fun with people who seem to actually, you know, like me.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  14:19

Right, and as you’re as you’re going to church and you’re in middle school, like, Are you starting to look at things on TV? Are you consuming media? Are you getting exposed to a world outside of church?


Vinnie  14:38

Yeah, so it really is the first time in my life where I’m starting to be exposed to sort of a non church environment, or non church mindset. And of course, this is late 80s, so no internet, so it’s really pretty much just, you know, TV at this point, you know, and occasionally books or magazines. But even at that, you know, the, angelical world. They’re really good about creating a complete bubble. So, you know, there’s tons of Christian books for kids and tons of like music. So even most of like my books and music, like my entertainment, was still very church, church heavy. But yeah, there were a few shows in particular that that I remember. I mean, I’m a huge Star Trek fan, and it started back then during the next generation, and I will watch that every week. And I do remember even as a kid some, because they’re very humanist in its approach. And there were episodes where I’d be like, oh, I feel about that. That seems to be different than everything I’ve been taught, but, but I’m like, but cool aliens anyway, you know?


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  15:40

Yeah, totally. I mean, at this point, it’s gonna take more than a few morally righteous aliens to shake vinny’s faith, but he’s also starting to experience all the other changes that accompany us into the teen years. So are you starting at this point to have any sort of clues about your own sexuality. Is that, like, boiling and bubbling beneath the surface at this point?


Vinnie  16:11

Well, absolutely, even before that. I mean, I could, you know, I started having clues that I was different in like, third or fourth grade. Because, you know, third and fourth grade, you know, they’re like, they love to do the like, this, my girlfriend, that’s my, you know, the cute little, you know, nine and 10 year old thing. And I remember being at that age, being like, I don’t, I don’t want one. Like, I’m supposed to, like, I’m not interested having a girlfriend. And like, I didn’t have, like, necessarily an attraction to the boys or anything like that. Like, I didn’t have that quite yet, but I was, you know, and I remember even getting teased for that, like, why don’t you have a girlfriend? Like, because I’m nine, but, yeah, so. But of course, you know, like, sixth, seventh grade, particular, like, starting to come more and more into focus that, like, my attractions don’t seem to be what everybody else has. I don’t understand why they’re different. I don’t really have a name for it, yet, didn’t have any clue necessarily what to do with them.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  17:15

And are you getting messages at church that what you’re thinking about or feeling these little whispers inside of you are bad that they would be put in the sin category. Is that clear to you now or not, or not so much.


Vinnie  17:33

It does become clear, especially in junior high, because that’s when they start teaching the kids about purity and like saving yourself for marriage. And you know, as kids are starting to have their sense of sexuality, and there is little talks about sin, and it’s, you know, I do remember the message came clear that men who have with men women who have with women, are outside of God’s plan. They’re sitting and, you know, it’s an abomination. The Bible actually says that, like, it’s one of the worst possible sentence, like, if you’re ranking sins, it’s, you know, any sin that’s labeled abomination is like the worst. And so I did, I did very much at church, you know, kind of like, oh. So the feelings that I have are like the worst possible, kind of the worst possible feelings I could have. I’m not sure what to do about that. That bred a lot of confusion. And then even, you know, we talk about watching TV. Well, you know, this is late 80s and early 90s. Like anything on TV that’s like representing gay men are men dying horrifically of AIDS, and you know, all that stuff to show you know. So at that point, I look at the church, and it’s like, your abomination to God. Even watching TV, it’s just sort of like, I don’t want to be like one of these people who lives a tragic life, and so yeah, there wasn’t a whole lot, there wasn’t a whole lot of messaging coming through at that point that like, what I was feeling was normal and natural and okay was, you know, I can’t think of any, I can’t think of any positive message throughout my teenage years that was handed to me, yeah, and I know that if you talk to most, most of my friends, you know now, my gay friends now, who are about my age, kind of all say the same thing. It’s just sort of like they have, you know, they’re hurting their teenage years at the height of the AIDS crisis, and so, like, you know, it was enough to make a lot of them go not interested in coming out.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  19:37

So Vinnie is having some big conflicting feelings and has no clue what to do with them, because every single message he’s getting from his church community, from the bullies at school, from the stories he’s seeing on TV is that being gay is bad. Understandably, he just wasn’t super jazzed about a future that involved dying tragically from AIDS and then going to he double hockey sticks so he does everything he can to push these feelings down and pray they go away.


Vinnie  20:11

I wish I could find my journals for what I when I was back then, because I know a lot of my journaling was just sort of like, and I do remember journaling but never naming the actual sin was like, God, please forgive me for my sin. Like, you know what it is, you know what it is, never named it. But yeah, it was a lot of trying to manage feelings, trying to suppress them, trying to act against them, like, maybe, if I, like, try to date a girl or something like that, which I also found incredibly difficult. Like, you know, didn’t want to, and it’s also sort of avoiding anything that would hint to people that I was gay, or maybe, how do I put it? It’s like, if I don’t participate in things that are gay, maybe I won’t go down that path. Another very vivid memory I have when I was, I’m gonna say seventh grade, and waiting at the bus stop, and there are two older girls, so like, you know, eighth graders, and they’re talking about a classmate of theirs, and they were debating whether or not he was gay, and one of them basically said, well, have you watched how he walks? He totally walks like a girl. He’s got to be gay. And I’m sitting there listening to it, going, I know they’re not talking about me, but this is scaring me. And I remember spending my whole day, that day monitoring how I walked, because I was so afraid that if I walked with, you know, in a feminine way I would be, people would think I’m gay, and maybe I would also be, like, you know, sort of setting myself up for that. So, I mean, that’s the kind of self monitoring I would go through, was seek and destroy any behavior within me that could, like, signal outside of me that I’m gay, and avoid anything that could potentially awaken that side of me.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  22:02

Yeah, is any of that coming into play with the bullying that you’re getting? Is it, is it related to sexuality, or is it just general, kids being what was the sort of messages that you’re getting from these terrible, tiny turds at school?


Vinnie  22:17

Oh, God, let’s see. What was I, you know, I mean, I was a fat kid, so right off the bat, you know, there I was a nerd. I felt like it was kind of like, just take your pick. It was, I mean, it was a mix a lot of things, but definitely my lack of being like the rest of the guys, for sure, was something that made me a target, whether or not they had words for what was going on, you know.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  22:42

The bottom line here is that young Vinny was struggling day in and day out, but he held firm to the belief that when you are struggling, God will be the one to swoop in and save the day. So he did everything he could to be a better Christian and overcome his pesky same attraction. But when these romantic feelings persisted, he turned to someone he knew he could trust, his youth pastor. Maybe he held the key that would magically open a new door and make Vinnie start liking girls. So for the first time ever, Vinnie sat down and put words to the feelings he’d been having. He told him.


Vinnie  23:26

I’m struggling because I’m I’m finding myself attracted to men and not women, and I know that’s not right, and I don’t want that. Like I’m and I said, and I’m scared about this, like it was actually scared, like, here’s this thing inside of me, that is, I can’t seem to make go away or control because, you know, you can’t really control attraction. I can’t help it if somebody walks by and, you know, I’m attracted to them like no one has control over that.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  23:54

As you tell him this, what does he say in response?


Vinnie  23:59

He basically said, Oh, it’s not something you need to worry about. You’re a good kid. And he said, as long as you don’t act on those feelings, this is that’s just temptation, but sin is when you act on temptation, just don’t act on it, and you’re fine. And then he basically, like, prayed for me, and was like, just keep praying. You’ll get through this. So it was, it was very much not helpful.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  24:24

Oh, my god.


Vinnie  24:25

Yeah, at that time, it actually felt very affirming, because I had disclosed to this person I admire and looked up to that, you know, I have the grossest thing, you know, a person could possibly have, and he didn’t reject me for it, and basically just kind of said, you’re a good kid, you can get past this. So I do remember actually feeling weirdly, like affirmed in the moment, like, okay, phew. I said this thing out loud, and I didn’t get run out of church, like, for it. But definitely moving forward, it was okay, well, I just gotta keep staying on the path. That I’m on, and I will grow the resistance that I need, and things will change. And, you know, keep praying and keep digging deeper into like, being a good follower of Jesus, and, you know, and I kind of doubled down on religion at that point.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  26:42

We’re back. When we left off, Vinnie had confessed his sins to his youth pastor, who basically says, look, as long as you don’t act on these feelings, you’ll be fine in the eyes of God. So Vinnie doubles down on the idea that devoting himself to his faith is the only way to stop his attraction to men, and with enough prayer and devotion, someday he’d miraculously wake up and be wired differently. So right out of high school, he starts working as a youth leader in his church. But he also enrolls in college and starts encountering folks that don’t quite align with some of the ideas he’d internalized. You’re


Vinnie  29:00

Him in a writing class, and someone’s reading something, then they’re talking about their partner, and you’re like, oh, partner, okay, there’s some openly gay teachers. And so I do remember being confronted by that in a little bit, because, you know, sometimes they were people that I actually in class with them. I actually kind of like this person, this person is not I don’t know what I have in my head, and they seem to be living pretty normal lives. They seem to be living pretty happy lives. And it was confrontational, but also, at the same time, I would avoid them, because I’m like, I don’t want to get too close to them, because there’s a thing inside of me that they could, like, you know, work their queer magic and, like, awaken inside of me, and I don’t know where it’ll take me. And so it was like, you know, I keep them in arms, like, for sure. So I didn’t have any like, you know, nobody I really got close to in college fit that category. But they were always in my periphery. They’re always there. And they did definitely challenge. Me just to kind of like, well, you know, we’re told that these people are the most degenerate people ever. You know, they’re abominations. And I’m like, actually, this one seems like a pretty nice person like.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  30:13

And all the while, Vnnie is still unable to shake his own attraction to men.


Vinnie  30:20

Obviously, had crushes. Absolutely had crushes. I kind of made a rule in my head that was like, I will never try and be friends with a guy I find attractive because I don’t want to set myself up for that. I did definitely break it with one person. I was very attracted to this guy, and we became what a weird friendship. I don’t know how to explain it, never got it never passed a certain point. But it definitely was physical. Like, I would hang out with him on like, Friday nights to watch a movie, and almost always ended with me giving him, like, back rubs and, like, you know, you know, and, and, and, yeah, getting right to that edge of where it should be. And then, of course, you know, going home and crying about it, because I’m like, I don’t want to do these things. And like, you know, at the time, I’m like, why? why? Why is he even letting me, like, why is he even letting me, like, these deep massages and like these things that are, you know, very clearly bordering on romantic. And, you know, it took me years to be like, oh, I bet you, he was probably struggling too, and I was just so caught up in my world and that that was ongoing for a couple years, and it was just it was a very confusing thing for me, because I wanted him to be the one to be like, hey, why are you being so touchy feely with me? And instead, it was sort of like, oh, thank you. Just like, what the heck.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  31:42

Things were complicated, to say the least, but even after all this time, Vinnie was sure God would provide a solution. And lo and behold, someone entered his life that might finally have the answer he’d been looking for all this time.


Vinnie  32:01

So at the church I was going to at the time, they were actually, there was an actual couple that was like, you know, church leadership and and they would very publicly, you know, share their story about how he used to be gay, and then God saved him, and now he’s married with three kids. And I remember when they, when they started, you know, kind of coming to our church. I was very much. Like, this man has the answer. He’s done it, he’s done the thing. And so, like, I gotta, I gotta meet with him. I gotta talk with him. So I actually did meet with him. And I basically was like, hey, this is where I’m at. I want to know what you did. Like, how, how you, how you found the thing I’ve been looking for for basically 30 years at this point, you know, how’d you find that? And it was, it was an interesting discussion, because he hadn’t told me anything I hadn’t tried before, like, everything you know, like, I tried, all the things you said you tried. And then I remember point like asking him. I was like, okay, I just need to know, are you still attracted to men? You know, you’re married, you have kids. And he said to me, well, I’m not gonna lie to you and say that I’m not. I’m like, Oh, he’s like, he’s like, I I do find myself attracted to men, but I love my wife, and I would never cheat on her. And that’s the end of that I did walk away deflated because I was like, here’s the person who I has been paraded in front of me as a cured person, and he’s essentially telling me he’s not but he’s learned how to live with it. He’s learned how to manage it. And I remember at that point going, Okay, well, I guess I don’t feel too bad that I still have these struggles, when the person who’s being paraded as the fixed person is saying he still has the struggle, so I guess it’s good to know that, like, I’m not a total failure for not getting rid of these feelings. But also, so what does that mean? Like, what does that mean? Like, I will probably for the rest of my life struggle for this and that, you know, that was where my brain had really started turning. But yeah, it was, that was, that was a very deflating moment.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  33:59

Well, he’s, he’s telling you in a different way, exactly what your youth pastor told you. He’s saying, he’s saying, I definitely feel the feelings, but I don’t act on them, so it’s not sin, right? That’s exactly like he’s living the life that your youth pastor told you to live.


Vinnie  34:17

Oh, that’s a good that’s a that’s exactly what it is. That’s good way of putting it. I never connected that dot, thank you.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  34:22

Well, you’re welcome. There’s some free therapy for you pretty many so at this point, hiding his attraction to men isn’t working, and he now has proof from the cured gay man at church that, nope, he isn’t gonna wake up one day and poof, that feeling will be gone, even if he does decide to marry a woman and have kids. So he’s feeling out of options. But at 34, years old, something happens that pushes him to take a good hard look at where he is. August 5. 2012 began as a day like any other, but it would be the last day he tried to hide who he was.


Vinnie  35:09

I actually refer to it as breaking point day. I actually have a name for it. And so the inciting incident, and it’s really interesting, because it’s, you know, on the outside, it doesn’t feel like why would this thing to be the thing, but again, it’s the straw that broke the camel’s back. Was essentially a friend of mine, a young woman who I had known for years. We had a very, you know, platonic friendship for years, kind of out of nowhere, basically sat me down and was like, I’m looking to like, date and get married and essentially, like, the more I think about it, the more I try to date, the more frustrating it is. I think it just makes more sense for us to date like it was, and it was so not romantic, it was so logical. It was so like, you know, it makes sense we’ve been friends forever, and, you know, I don’t want to spend time getting to know somebody and like, we already know each other really well, and we can get and I actually remember my actual words to her, we’re probably not what she wanted here, because I said, I’m sorry. I don’t think I understood you, right. Can you say that again? Like, you know, not the response somebody wants after they’re essentially saying, you know, let’s be a couple, let’s date and like, I can’t exactly say why it did it, but that night, I was like, I’m done. I don’t want to date her, and I’ve been trying for years. It was this frustration of like, for years I’ve been saying, God, I want you to fix me to so I can get to the place where I could feel like I could date and get married, and then this, this woman basically says, kind of hands it to me, and I just remember going, I don’t actually want this. I don’t actually want this, and I can’t imagine living my life like I know how hard it is at this point to maintain this, you know, to squish this down and maintain it just being alone, being single. I can’t even imagine how that would work for me in a relationship that have to every day like, act like this is normal when it’s not for me. So yeah, it was, it was, it was a lot of crying that night. Recently found my journals from the time, and you know, kind of what I was writing, and I basically, basically prayed that night. I was just basically said, God, I’m done. If you want me to be straight, you just going to have to make it happen some other way, because I’m done trying to make it happen.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  37:37

We’re back after decades of hiding who he was, a switch had finally been flipped, and there was no going back, Vinnie accepted who he was, and that was a huge moment, but like many huge moments, practically speaking, the work had just begun. He had to face the prospect of coming out publicly and untangling himself from a community that likely wouldn’t accept him as a gay man, and since his female friend’s proposition had sparked this sudden change, he started pulling the threads from there.


Vinnie  40:29

So actually, the first person I come out to was a mutual friend between the two of us, somebody I felt like I could trust, and somebody who knew this was going to happen. It was funny because I was actually the first person I called, because I was basically like, What the heck just happened? Like, and she was like, I knew she was going to do it, and I tried to talk her out of it, because I didn’t think it was a good idea. And then, but I did eventually tell a friend, and she, you know, I don’t know exactly where she was at, but she was supportive and understanding. And I did eventually come out to I’m gonna call her Kelsey, because that’s not her name, because, I’m sorry to say woman, but Kelsey, because I avoided her for like, three weeks after that, and to the point where she’s like, messaged me saying, Did I really up? Well, she wouldn’t use that word, but she said I really messed up our friendship. And I finally had to be like, I have to explain that. Like, no, I’m not mad at you. No, I’m not upset with you. You just push the button you didn’t know you were pushing and, and I did come out to her, and, yeah, kind of like the ball really started rolling at that point. You know, it’s not like I woke up the next day and said, I’m gay by church I’m out of here, you know, started with me going, well, you know, I have heard of churches that accept gay people, and I have heard of this, but I’ve never, you know, allowed myself to look into it. So I actually started, like, looking that up. And like, you know, I had a couple friends who were in denominations that supported gay people, and I started looking at, like, the doctrines of their churches. And I started, for the first time, like, looking at that and started, you know, finding people online who identified as being gay and Christian, and we’re in churches. So it was like, all of a sudden, I was like, so there are people who can live both of these things. Maybe that’s for me. Maybe I should go down that path. That’s kind of where it started. But, yeah, the result was me, basically, I had to start coming out to people at that point.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  42:22

And as you’re coming out to people, do you how do you do that? Do you write a script? Do you know what words you’re gonna say the first time you said the words? Did you say? Now I am gay. How did you say it?


Vinnie  42:35

So yeah, so I this is a fun insight into how my brain works. So I actually came up with three lists I looked at, I listed all the people that I felt like I needed to, quote, unquote, come out to, and I categorized them by people that I knew would be accepting, because at that point, I, you know, had a group of friends that weren’t actually, you know, church friends at that point, and then groups, a group of people that I wasn’t sure of, and a group of people that I knew would have a problem with it. And I actually, like, the people were who were accepting I, like, one on one, like, had coffee with all of them and just, or just came out to them, because I was like, you know, I want the people who are going to be on my side first. And then I started working through the middle list of people who I wasn’t sure about which way they would go. And then reached a point where I was like, this is going to get exhausting. I’m not going to have one on one come one on one conversations with all these people. So I finally just decided I was gonna send a coming out email to everybody on the list and just see what happens. And so yeah, and I wrote a long letter and sent it out via email one night, and just, you know, essentially, in my message, I wrote, this is who I am, and don’t try to give me advice. I have done literally everything to try and not be gay. Like, there’s nothing you can say to me that’s suggested I’ve not tried and like, basically, if you have a problem with this, just bow out of my life. Like, that’s that simple. Like, you don’t have to say anything to me. You don’t have to confront me. You can just walk away, unfriend me on social media, whatever you need to do, like, I’m not going to be offended if you just disappear from my life. You know, this is the thing about especially evangelical world, is a lot of times people do hold beliefs that are different than the doctrines in their church, but they dare not share those things out loud, because if you basically say, I don’t believe what my church believes, you run the risk of like, being kicked out of your church or being ostracized. And so, you know, surprisingly, had a few friends that I was like, wait, you’re supporting this. Like I did not realize, like, you have that. And then a lot of people just left and only had about two or three people really feel like they needed to, like, come at me.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  44:49

Isn’t that interesting? Like, when you when you put that in perspective, and you’re like, oh, I’ve been hiding this part of myself for 30 years. And at the end of the day, okay, who’d I lose? Two or three who probably sucked anyway.


Vinnie  45:04

Oh, I lost. I mean, I definitely lost a lot, for sure.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  45:07

All right, so 10 to 20.


Vinnie  45:09

But, yes, exactly, but yeah, it was, you know, it was a weird, you know, it took a, probably, it took a while to get there, but I did reach a point where I was, like, I was so scared of losing these relationships. And I realized now those relationships were not built on anything genuine, because they were friends with a version of me that I was putting forth, that I wanted people to like and see, and that person doesn’t exist anymore. That person never really existed, and so I’m just sort of like, you know what? They actually weren’t friends with me. And I remember reaching a point as I started coming out, and I started performing friendships with people that where I was presenting who I was genuinely and somebody had actually asked me probably about a year so after I came out, like, what’s a big change for you? Like, what’s, you know, what’s a big life change, and I my response was, if people tell me they love me now, I actually believe them.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  46:16

For Vinnie, coming out meant navigating so many relationships in a new way, and that included his family as well. Luckily, he said all of his sisters accepted him immediately, and it actually strengthened some of their bonds. But when it came to the rest of his family, things got a little more complicated, but not necessarily because of his sexuality. Shortly after he moved out, his mother’s mental health started to rapidly decline, and she eventually developed a hoarding disorder that came to dominate her life. Once he came out, Vinnie said his mom did struggle, but ultimately found a way to be okay with it. But even has all of these relationships with the people in his life changed. The biggest shift was Vinnie’s relationship with Himself. After hiding this part of himself for so long, he had to figure out what it meant for him to navigate the world as a gay man, and now that he was out and proud, he had a lot of Lost Time to make up for so I asked him, where did you even begin?


Vinnie  47:25

I mean, chatting with guys online was obviously gay first. I remember the yeah. I remember the first time I went to a gay bar that was, that was a very, it was, it was, yeah, that was, I mean, that was very vivid in my memory. And it wasn’t even like, you know, was like, late at night, there was like five people in the, you know, in the place, but it was just being in an environment that was open to everybody, and looking or walking into a room and looking around and seeing a bunch of gay people being gay, just, you know, interacting with each other was, was like a huge, momentous moment for me. It was just like, I can be in this room and I don’t have to worry about a single person giving me a weird look or judging me. First time I went to pride of, you know, massive for that very reason. So, yeah, it’s very much, especially that first year, year and a half, it was just like, you know, every see, like, every week was a new first, or a new, you know, first time I kissed the guy, you know, first, you know, you know, you’re just down the list of all the things. Like, you know, first time I walked into the LGBTQ Center, and like, you know.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  48:43

It’s like, so joyful. It’s so it’s also bringing up for me, like when you talked about the the childhood church, right? Like the the community that you got from it, the community and terror. This is like, community and joy. It’s like, you you’re finding this queer community and and feeling like you really belong there.


Vinnie  49:06

Yeah, and it’s a community based on belonging first, is what I’ve come to learn. Because, you know, at least, you know, at churches, I experienced, it’s a community based on belief first, like, you know, if you’re gonna, I mean, many churches, if you’re going to become a member of the church, you actually have to sign a document that says, these are the church’s beliefs, and, like, I agree with them. So it’s a community like a belief first and and if you don’t share those beliefs, you run the risk of losing that community and then coming into a career community. It was just sort of like, here’s a space for anybody who feels like they belong. And that’s not to say there aren’t queer places that have gatekeepers and all that yucky stuff, but it’s not the norm. You know, the norm is, at least for me, as I’ve experienced, is here is a community of people that just say, this is the place where you can belong, period, come along. There’s so many changes when you come out that you don’t expect, but you don’t always see them immediately obviously.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  50:12

Like, what like, what are some that you can think of?


Vinnie  50:16

I mean, obviously self confidence, you know, just this idea of it. I was such a people pleaser for so long because I needed that sense that people, I wanted people to love me. And when I reached the place where I learned to accept myself, I like myself and love myself, it was just sort of like that just kind of fell to the side, like my people pleasing ways, kind of dealt with themselves and walking through the world without a giant weight on your shoulder, like it just, you know, lowered stress levels all all around and able to do things I was scared to do before because, you know, I talked about how I avoided anything, you know, that would remotely put me close to queer culture, queer life, queer people. And then, you know, now being able to do the things that I was staring at from afar, going, God, I kind of wish I could do those things, but definitely can’t. So it’s an all encompassing change. And I do laugh because I ran a coming out group for a while. And you know, people would always say, I don’t understand why people having a hard time, like, I’m same person I was before. And I hear that all the time, and I’m like, no, you’re not, like, you’re not the same person you were before. Who you were before is somebody that you wanted them to see, like, I get what you’re saying. Like, at the core, you’re still fundamental you, but you’re not because so much of what you were before was an act or was something you put on. When you become genuinely yourself, you find facets of your personality that you didn’t even know were there because you had buried them for so long. You find your voice, you find your confidence. A practical example is my love of singing. So like I mentioned, how I joined, you know, kids choir when it’s five, and my safety, my safe place in high school and junior high, was actually in choir, but I kind of just gave it up because it was, again, it was another one of those things where singing in a choir automatically, like people are like, he’s a dude who sings in a choir. So I actually set that aside because it was one of those things where it’s like, I don’t want people to connect the dot here be like, Oh, he loves to sing in choirs. He must be gay, and so I remember, you know, about two years after I came out, walked through that joining the Portland Gay Men’s Chorus. And what a huge deal that was to take a part of my personality, that I had a big part of what I love, and shut it off, because I thought it would be something that would out me to then, like, not only singing again, but singing as a as a gay man, like, very much, as a gay man. And so there’s just so many things that, like, you can’t foresee changing, because you may not even be aware what you’ve buried.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  53:11

Tell me about the life you’ve built. Tell me about the life that you’ve built for your future. What, what does it look like? Tell me about your life today.


Vinnie  53:20

I mean, well, it’s, it’s, I am married to my husband, Eric. We got married, we just celebrated our two year anniversary.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  53:30

That’s so wonderful. It’s amazing.


Vinnie  53:32

And it, yeah, and it’s definitely the, you know, I always laugh, you know, like, what’s the Gay Agenda? I’m like, well, our gay agenda is, like, you know, figuring out how to pay for the fence repair in the backyard so that our dog doesn’t get loose. And, like, you know, the gay agenda is, you know, figuring out what couch we want in our big room. But, you know, it’s kind of funny, like, you come out, you do all these big things, and kind of the joke is, like, I came out so I can live, you know, just a boring life, like, you know, we work, but I live in a house with my husband, and it’s just like, you know, we go grocery shopping, we like, you know, just kind of laugh, like the area we moved to, you know, we found out we had a lot of queer neighbors. We didn’t know that, but they’re all kind of like married couples, or, you know, long term couples together, and I just laugh. I’m like, we part apparently, we’ve moved to the part of the Portland where queer couples go to nest.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  54:37

Did you ever find a church that feels right to you, or did you? Did you leave that part of your life behind?


Vinnie  54:43

For a brief time, I actually did try attending a couple different churches that you know were opening and affirming, but it didn’t take awful long for me to just kind of go actually, I don’t think any of this is for me anymore. One of the moments was being at this church, that had, you know, had gay pastors and everything, and we’re singing the exact same songs that I sang in the evangelical world. And I had a moment of like, this is more confusing to me, because everybody’s reading the same book and coming to such vastly different conclusions. And I think I’ve spent my whole life trying to reinterpret this. It was almost like I had a moment of like, I’ve been spending my whole life trying to question the contents of the box. Wait, maybe it’s not the contents that I need to be questioning. Maybe it’s the box. And it just kind of was like, I remember the moment the last time I went to church, we were singing songs about Jesus, and I remember going, well, if I don’t believe the words I’m saying, Should I actually be even singing these songs anymore? And I went, oh, I just had that thought, that’s weird. I don’t believe the words that I’m singing. It was like, like, a light bulb went off. I’m like, oh, I guess I don’t, I don’t. I don’t believe this anymore. Okay, I don’t believe it anymore.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  56:01

Okay, my laughter in this episode is over the top, but talking to Vinnie was such a genuine delight. It’s just a really stunning example of all the themes we talk about on this show. And it is really wonderful to hear a last day story with such a happy ending. Still, it’s hard to hear this story and not get stuck on all the time he lost time he could have spent singing in the Portland Gay Men’s Chorus or finding a cutie with whom to fulfill his gay agenda of fence repair. Do you ever feel any resentment about all the time you lost?


Vinnie  56:44

I did absolutely. I mean, I had something I worked through with counseling. But, yeah, there was, there was a definite sense of, you know, for me, like, man, you know, I wish I could have made these changes sooner. You know, woulda, coulda, shoulda. You know, I think, I think ultimately I had to get to a place where, what does being upset about it do, like, I can’t change it. I can’t make it go away. Yeah, I would have liked to have had some of these first experiences much sooner in life, but I can’t change what happened. I can’t change what was. And I don’t want to carry these resentments forward, because I have a future, and now I can live it the way I want. So let’s, you know, instead of spending too much time looking back and being like regret, regret, let’s look at the future and go, Okay, now that I, you know, kind of have control of what’s going on here. Let’s do the things I want to do now so that I don’t have further regrets in 10 or 20 years.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  57:53

Unlearning the beliefs that are so deeply wired into your psyche can be a lifelong journey. Vinnie spent so many years praying that God would swoop in and save him from himself, only to realize he had all the tools he needed to be his own savior. And look, there’s probably some deep theological or philosophical message here, in addition to all the social and identity politics wrapped up in discussions of sexuality and queerness, but at the end of the day, there’s just Vinnie, his husband, an offense that needs repairing, and instead of dwelling on regrets, Vinnie has put in the work to move forward. So yeah, I am pretty confident that that fence will be fixed in no time.


Stephanie Wittels Wachs  58:55

There’s even more LAST DAY with Apple premium subscribers get exclusive access to content like behind the scenes chats with the producers of the show, diving deeper into episodes. Sign up now on Apple podcasts. LAST DAY is a production of Lemonada Media. The show is produced by Kegan Zema, Aria Bracci, and Tiffany Bui. Our engineer is Brian Castillo. Music is by Hannis Brown. Steve Nelson is our Vice President of weekly content and production and Jackie Danziger is our Vice President of narrative content and production. Executive Producers are Jessica Cordova Kramer and me Stephanie Wittels Wachs. If you’d like what you heard today, we have three other seasons that you can check out. Have a story you’d like to share, head to, or click the link in the show notes to fill out our confidential Google Form. follow and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts or listen ad free on Amazon music with your Prime membership. You can find us online at @LemonadaMedia and you can find me at @WittelStephanie. Thank you for listening, we will see you next week.

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