Nigel Sellens is a single conveyancing professional who lives a few hours north of Sydney, Australia. He loves spending his free time creating stunning Instagramable cakes for friends, playing piano, and hanging out with his six children.
As a gay man who came out after having half-a-dozen kids from a straight marriage, Nigel is part of what he calls, “a very judged and misunderstood arm of the gay family tree.”
“My friends that are gay don’t really understand what it is to be this sort of gay,” he said. “They will say things like ‘how did you have sex with a woman?!’ or 'How did you not know you were gay?!' While being very supportive, they don’t always understand… You do what you do to survive. That’s what it was for me.”
Like many LGBTQ+ people who grow up in a small rural region, Nigel said he wasn’t exposed to anything to do with the gay community until he left his hometown. When he looks back at his childhood, he can now say he knew he was gay from a young age. But because he was so badly bullied as a child and teen, Nigel went into what he called “survival mode”.
“I knew I was gay,” he said. “But people like me are often so trapped in fear and terror that we don’t know how to escape, so we survive the only way we feel we can. The only choice I felt I had was to be straight.”
As he grew up, Nigel connected with a girl who was dating the son of a family friend. They got married in their mid-20’s, and five years later, their first daughter, Madeline, was born.
“We’re talking the late-90’s, early 2000’s,” Nigel said. “It was just the dawning of the internet, so there still wasn’t access to that sort of information about being gay, particularly where I lived. So I thought to myself at the time, ‘OK I’ve done it. Everything is gone, everything is hidden, I’m happy. It is what it is.’”
A year after Madeline was born, the couple had their first son, Noah. By 2009, they’d had two more daughters: Ruby and Penelope. After being told they could not have any more children, the couple were surprised with their fifth child, Harriette, in late 2013. And after a botched medical intervention and by some sort of “medical miracle,” their sixth child Samuel was born in 2016.
“By then, the world had changed,” Nigel said. “Technology changed. Accessibility to gay culture became more available to me. I had put it behind me, but I guess, ultimately, you never can. You cannot deny who you are forever.”
Nigel’s decision to finally come out took great strength, and was a struggle — it included the loss of his home and countless family and friends.
“Me coming out, and the breakdown of my marriage, was cataclysmic,” he said. “The only thing that I think kept me going, through all that, was the kids. In a way, it’s like the universe gave them to me because it knew that I would need them.”
In 2017, following a tense argument with his then-wife of almost two decades, Nigel made the brave decision to speak his truth.
Unfortunately, after he confided in his wife that he was gay, things started spiraling downhill. Nigel was outed to many of his loved ones, including his mother, siblings, and kids.
“I don’t feel like that was a moment I got to own,” he said, “because she had outed me to my mother and some of her friends before I even knew she did. Everyone may say there are two sides to every story, but that doesn’t matter when the other story gets told first. It’s the first story that wins.”
Within days of being outed, Nigel went from living with his family in a 7-bedroom home to sleeping alone on a floor. In the resulting separation and divorce, he gave up the house, and most of their shared belongings, too.
Even after he got his first apartment as a single man, Nigel still had to ask people to lend him air mattresses for when the kids came to stay.
“The only thing I took from the house that was important to me was the piano,” he said. “I’ve had to accumulate everything else, from towels and linens, to plates, knives and forks, all of it.”
Although he’s still on rocky ground with his ex-wife, Nigel has built his life into something new over the past three years.
His children, who are now aged between 5 and 16 years old, spend every other weekend with Nigel at his three-bedroom apartment near the beach. He also gets a few extra weekdays with the girls, and a little alone-time with his oldest son Noah as well.
“They’re just so happy,” Nigel smiled. “I’m very close to them… We do things together, we craft, we cook, whatever they like. Three girls play piano, one plays violin, so we do things like that.”
Sam, Nigel’s youngest son, has a genetic disorder that impacts his movement and verbal communication abilities. While he can walk, he cannot yet speak.
Nigel said Sam is very cute and affectionate, and the way he communicates love despite a lack of words continues to be one of the brightest parts of Nigel’s life.
“He understands things. If I’m not feeling the greatest, he will just come up and tap you, or kiss you. And it’s just a magic that you cannot describe,” he said. “Without words, he says so much to you, and he's just so, so strong.”
As he continues his journey as an out gay man, Nigel said he has formed a small tight-knit community of trusted friends and family, and he loves his time spent with his kids. He’s also found his own creative hobbies, like cake making, music, and extravagantly decorating his home for major holidays.
“At Christmas time, I put up seven trees in this apartment,” he smiled. “It’s like a wonderland. I’ll put four in the living room, and one in each bedroom.”
Nigel has always loved the holidays, but his obsession with decorating trees went to a whole new level the first Christmas after he was thrown out of his house. He grabbed all the ornaments his ex-wife was throwing away, organized them into twelve colors, and made them into a gorgeous rainbow-colored tree which he has replicated every year since.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re thrown away, you still have worth. Whether it's a bauble or a person, be the best piece of rubbish you can be,” Nigel laughed. “You can still shine, you can still sparkle, even if you’re thrown away.”
Although he’s not against the idea of dating, Nigel said it can be a challenge in his situation, and he’s had mixed reactions when he mentions that he had kids through a straight relationship.
“I have found some gays to be less accepting of other gays with kids,” he said. “At the end of the day, I’m just a dad.”
For the moment, Nigel said he is resolved to being happily single. But with six kids, he’s never really alone.
Even now, more than three years since he came out, Nigel said he still wrestles with feelings of guilt, and he now deals with homophobia and hateful comments.
To other gay men who are in a straight relationship and are looking for support, he said there are other men who have been through that same situation. And, he said, there are ways to find inner strength. Especially if you’re a parent.
“I would love to help others, because I felt there was nobody else to help me,” Nigel said. “I had to forge my own path. Every time I got kicked in the guts, I had to get back up and keep going, because I had six kids I had to keep supporting, loving, and nurturing.”
“If there are other dads like me, look within yourself and find where your strengths do lie, because those are the things that will get you through. To me it was doing something creative,” he added. “You are not alone. We are generally shunned as the villains who break up families. But we deserve happiness too.”