'The gym saved my life': How this gay fitness superstar redefined his life after being outed against his will
From Darcy Pierce to Darcy Fierce, one man's journey to become his authentic self
This article was originally published May 17, 2018.
It's a Thursday night in downtown Toronto. In a mirrored room bathed in red light a line of treadmills awaits a class of HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) addicts. I've been here before. The place has a sense of community that borders on a cult. A family of active people bound by sweat and adrenaline. Except tonight's class has a noticeably different demographic. It's 'Gay and Fab Abs Night' and I'm surrounded by mostly super fit gay men with a sprinkling of ladies and open minded straight men. As the doors to the workout room swing open Christina Aguilera blares over the speakers beckoning us to 'come on over baby'. Then, he appears. It's Darcy Fierce.
Wearing sky high red heels, an ultra tight tank top and shorts so tiny they barely meet the qualifications of the category, Darcy makes his entrance calling us in with a "yaaaaaas honey!". Over the next hour he goes all out, shouting at us through a head mounted microphone to a Britney Spears soundtrack intermittently declaring: "you better sprint b*tch!". The atmosphere is unlike anything I've ever experienced in a group workout. Watching this ridiculously fit man defy physics while demonstrating complex, weighted exercises in stilettos, I am struck by the display of unabashed personal truth. This is an out and proud gay man who is who he is and if you don't like it, that's not his problem. There isn't even a hint of the shame that silences so much of the gay community. But rewind 20 years and you'll find an origin of staggering juxtaposition.
Darcy Pierce, the man behind Darcy Fierce grew up in Belleville, Ontario. It's a town of about 50,000 and he tells me his childhood couldn't be more at odds with his current identity.
"My upbringing was VERY VERY religious. Very Sheltered. We didn't have a TV until I was in grade 9. We didn't listen to music that wasn't Christian. I was literally in church twice on Sunday. Monday night for prayer. Wednesday night Bible study. Friday night youth group. Saturday night prayer."
Today, Darcy identifies as gay (if you insist on a label) but if you want to be completely accurate he describes himself a "hybrid unicorn/stud". He proclaims that with ease today but in Darcy's upbringing, just like the unicorn, gay people didn't exist.
"It was bliss though. I had the happiest childhood of anybody. We were low to middle income but I have the best memories… I was just very, very naive."
Despite having no concept of homosexuality, around grade 8 he started to realize he was attracted to men. Around the same time, his church would fill in the blanks about what homosexuality meant.
"I didn't know what to make of the feelings I was experiencing and to make things even more confusing I was being slowly taught through religion that homosexuality was wrong and that I would go to hell for it."
Darcy received the message loud and clear. Gay was not ok. So, he says he did what was expected of him. At age 21 Darcy married a Christian girl he'd known since childhood.
"We were best friends and not having anything to compare it to I was like… 'ok, well, this is love.' This is what it's supposed to feel like. Like… this is it."
Soon after, they would have a baby on the way, much sooner than they had planned. Darcy dropped out of school and took a job as a manager at a local shoe store. It was a hetero-normative existence to be sure, but even then the fierce in Darcy Pierce was bubbling to the surface. He became well known at his job. Famous to lovers of fabulousness and infamous to locals with a nose for gayness and a penchant for homophobia.
"Me and my wife would be in the mirror putting on makeup together. Outwardly at the time, with my clothes and how I looked, it's like I was screaming: I AM GAY."
While gossip surrounding his sexuality occasionally arose, those closest to him saw what they wanted to see. Darcy tells me he absolutely loved his wife and still does. Their sex life, he says, was healthy and hot. Despite all of that, that thing inside him, the thing he was told was evil and an eternal sentence to damnation still broke through.
Two years into his marriage, with his first child on the way Darcy initiated a relationship online with a man in Toronto. Eventually, they would meet up and begin what would become a full blown affair.
"I was so conflicted. My wife was about to have a baby. I am having feelings of real emotional attachment for the first time… and on top of it my religious mind is like… you're going to hell for this."
His partner in Toronto knew everything, and was understanding.
"He said, listen, I don't want to cause you any trouble. All you have to say is don't talk to me again and I will leave you alone."
One month after the affair began, he did just that.
"We had just had my daughter. I was sitting on the edge of the bed with her in my arms because she wasn't sleeping and I thought to myself… what are you thinking? I was like, 'you need to choose what you want right now'. And I chose my wife. I chose my baby."
"I texted him and said: never talk to me again. I don't want to see you. I don't want to hear you. And he respected that and I never heard from him ever again."
Fast forward two years and Darcy would have another child, a son, but his affair was eating away at him on the inside. The guilt of hiding such a monumental secret from the mother of his children was reaching a crescendo.
"I knew that one day I would tell her what I had done. It was a sunday afternoon and I said K… this is the day."
He asked his parents to take the kids after church. Then, in the home he had worked so hard to build with his wife, he confessed his sins. Their split was almost immediate. Within hours of his revelation, Darcy was sitting in the office of his church where, after being interrogated about possible interactions with other church members, he received a very clear message from his Pastor.
"This is against our beliefs. You need to stop coming here."
"I was in the choir. I was involved with the youth group. I was in sunday school. They were like: 'all of those responsibilities are gone'. We don't want you stepping foot in this church."
A man who had known Darcy from infancy and been his spiritual guide was now shouting in his face: "First Pentecostal Church hates gays!"
While Darcy was ready to share his deepest secret with his wife, he was not prepared to share his sexual identity with the wider community. The news spread like wildfire. He wouldn't see his kids for an entire month.
"At this point I am in the depths of despair. The darkest I have ever been. I hate myself. I want to cut myself. I want to punish myself. I remember saying I want to cut my face because I hated everything about me that much. I had caused so much pain for my family, I had embarrassed my parents."
Darcy's next step was to seek out reparative therapy of his own volition. Reparative therapy is the controversial practice of attempting to "cure" an individual of their homosexual desires.
"I was still under the control of that religion. I still thought that I could change it. It had caused me so much turmoil, if I could have changed it I would have at that point."
He began seeing a psychotherapist in Toronto with a religious affiliation. That therapist's goal: to take him back to "the moment the homosexuality set in". He tells me if a "straight button" was offered, he would have pushed it.
"I was in a custody battle for my kids. I was attempting to file for bankruptcy. I had no friends. I wasn't even allowed to go to my church where I had spent like half of my life. In the church, on those pews... that was my home."
The therapy didn't work and after months of custody court battles, abandonment and cohabitation with his parents a deep depression set in. His doctor prescribed him antidepressants. It didn't go well.
"I am a person who experiences high highs and low lows. And they just made everything grey. They were just not working for me."
"I decided to heal myself."
At his next appointment, his doctor had a different suggestion: exercise. At this point he had quit eating, weighed 135 lbs ("a 6 foot bone rack" as he describes it) and felt emasculated and humiliated by his tiny corner of society. Working out had never really been part of his lifestyle. He went to the gym anyway.
"I made it a priority. I worked out every single day. I got addicted to the feeling, the sweat, the music booming in my ears and just the feeling of being strong."
Sometimes he would be up at 5 a.m. to hit the gym before work. Sometimes he would be up until 12 a.m. after work at the gym.
"Having never picked up a weight before I made some decent gains right away and I started to feel way better."
There's science behind his experience. A recent large scale analysis suggests that those with high levels of physical activity had lower odds of developing depression. It's certainly not a cure or perfect preventative measure, as even the highest level athletes can attest. And while Darcy doesn't advocate ignoring your doctor's orders and ditching your antidepressants without consultation, he does recommend making fitness a priority in addressing your mental health.
"I made the connection that maybe if I liked how I looked on the outside, maybe it would help me learn to like what was on the inside. It legitimately pulled me out of that depression."
Food was another important factor.
"My diet immediately changed to a low fat, high protein, less processed meal plan. At the time I didn't understand the ability of food and proper nutrition to influence mood, so I attributed all my mood improvements to my new exercise regimen. Now, I do see and feel the difference that filling myself with nutrient dense fuels makes, its all about better energy."
Darcy tells me these days he won't go on a vacation unless he knows there's a gym nearby. It's all part of his mantra, make the time to sweat… everyday.
"You gotta sweat like a pig to look like a unicorn. We were made to move and to move often. Our brain sends us unconscious messages in an attempt to get us to move. Like that feeling of foreboding guilt on Sunday night when you spend the day hungover, that is your brain telling you to get off your ass and squat girl, if you don't use it you lose it! Not every workout feels amazing there are ones where I have to push through, and ask myself how badly do I want it."
The gym gave him back his confidence. The staggering physical results may have taken some time, but the renewed self confidence was immediate. Back in Bellville this new found confidence gave him the courage to embrace his authentic self and confront those who would deny his personal truth… starting with his family.
"When I first told them I was giving up my battle, I said no more psychotherapy. They were like, 'This is the wrong decision. We want to pray for you right now.' So my dad laid hands on me for the final time and was like… 'I rebuke this spirit of homosexuality in Jesus' name' and I'm, like bawlling, my mom's crying, everyone's crying. And so he stopped and everyone is looking at each other and I'm, like,… still gay. I had already done all the praying. It was not working. If the Lord is listening he wants me to be like this, honey."
Darcy did move to Toronto. He got a job in retail and eventually saved enough to earn his Personal Training Certificate. All the while never missing a workout.
In time, his family has started to come around too.
"I am actually so proud of them. I think it's a miracle."
Gone are the days of family room exorcisms. These days Darcy can bring a boyfriend around without incident and his devastating custody battles are now a thing of the past. His kids, now age 7 and 9, barely bat an eye when the subject of their dad's boyfriend comes up.
"I remember my daughter looked to the side. Thought about it for a second then looked back and accepted it just like that."
When I asked him about his relationship with the religious institution that rejected him outright I expected some cynicism. Instead, I found gratitude.
"Being brought up in that environment made me feel like I was unstoppable. The confidence I learned has helped me so much. I am so confident that I was made to be like this. Why? I don't think I need to know. "
And the workouts. Well, they are still going strong.
"I started posting ab pictures on Instagram… that was when Darcy Fierce set in."
Fierce, thirsty and not afraid to show off. This guy is making up for lost time. While his Instagram feed (@darcyfierce) is one that I would usually describe as narcissistic and insufferable, I can't help but admire Darcy's unwavering sense of self, especially now knowing the extraordinary difficulties he endured on his journey.
When I ask him what advice Darcy Fierce would give to Darcy Pierce if he could go back in time… he pauses.
I brace myself, waiting for the perfect emotional, poignant quote to end this article. After some time he says:
"I'd be like… 'Do you like how this looks? Do you wanna look like this? Is this what you aspire to?' Then own it. Be fierce and don't let anyone control you or tell you what to do."
Fierce. Truly Fierce.
Ryan E. Thompson is a Toronto based television producer and writer specializing in LGBT issues and entertainment.