by Aaron Spencer
Some coming out experiences are easy. David Hastings’ experience was not one of those.
At 44, Hastings was married with children. He lived in Salem and was active in his church. But he was unhappy. He was tired of pretending to be someone he wasn’t. During two years of soul searching, he finally decided to come out as a gay man.
He spoke with his family first. His wife already knew and the two got a quick divorce. He then came out to friends, many of whom went to church with him. They turned their backs and shut him out, he says. One friend he had known for eight years said hanging out with him would ruin his reputation.
“Coming out was painful and tumultuous for me,” Hastings says. “It was hard, but it was really healthy for me.”
Hastings decided to move to Portland. He had already visited a few times and had lined up some work – an experienced producer and musical director, he teaches piano and voice lessons. Hastings, originally from California, conducted his first musical theater show, Man of La Mancha, when he was 19. Since then he’s produced more than 120 shows.
On one of those trips, two years ago during Pride, he found the booth for the Rose City Gay Freedom Band. He left behind his contact information and was invited to become a band member a month later.
Now Hastings is the conductor of the swing band Rose City Swing, one of three bands under the Rose City Gay Freedom Band umbrella.
“The swing band was my first connection to Portland and my first connection to the gay community,” Hastings says. “I was looking for some ways to meet some people, and the band showed up early on my radar. I started hanging out with them, and they were just incredibly warm and gracious. They were really glad to have me and I was really glad to be with them.”
“The swing band is very small, so it’s much more like family,” he says. “They’ve been so welcoming to me and such an encouragement.”
While the decision to come out was difficult, Hastings says, it was the best decision he ever made. He says the feeling he has now is a feeling of lightness. He compares it to a beach ball being submerged beneath the water and being released to float to the surface.
“I love being able to be me,” he says. “I love being able to be who I am. I had a friend, who said ‘I knew straight Dave the liar, and now I know gay Dave the truth teller – and he’s a lot more fun to be around.’”
To Hastings, being in the band is not about being gay (the band is not exclusively for gays and lesbians) but is about being able to do music with people who understand who he is.
“There’s a freedom to be honest with each other that I really enjoy,” he says. “We enjoy making music together, and we have a lot of fun with that.”
Today, when Hastings sits at his piano and looks out his window to Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard, the view reminds him of his recent journey.
“The view out my window is always entertaining,” he says. “There’s so much light here in my studio space, so many windows. It’s a good metaphor for me being out of the closet and living in the light, how my life has changed in the past year.”
About Aaron Spencer
Aaron Spencer is a regular contributor to Just Out. He is a professional writer and editor.