Dan Ayers lives a determined life

If Dan Ayers must be described with one word, it would probably be “determined.”

He has an admirable list of accomplishments: graduating from medical school, serving in the Army National Guard, winning national and international piano competitions, and surviving a parental suicide. These achievements and others have grounded Ayers in his faith — after years of running from the unconditional love of God, Ayers finally is able to embrace it.

Ayers grew up in Attalla, Ala., with his mother, father and younger sister. His family faithfully attended a Church of God and was there any and every time the doors were open.

“When I was 11, my parents divorced," Ayers said. "Mom moved on and would remarry, but Dad was a very devout Christian."

After 19 years of marriage, separation wasn't easy for Dan’s father, Ayers said. His inability to deal with the separation was one factor that soon led to a Sunday-morning suicide.

Divorce is rarely easy, and when you add the devastating effects of a parental suicide, you double the difficulties. However, Ayers found solace in music.

“I started taking piano lessons when I was 5 years old," he said. "At first I didn’t like it, but I soon realized I could easily have a crowd of girls and guys around me at school,” says Ayers. When he was only 12, he began playing for church. “I was so short I had to sit on a stack of hymnals just to see the worship leader.”

Ayers’ skill at the piano gained him a variety of national and international awards. Eventually, his artistry earned him a scholarship at Lee University in Cleveland, Tenn., the Mecca of The Church of God.

“I entered Lee University as a piano-performance major in 1994, but that lasted one semester. The first semester of music theory told me this wasn’t for me,” recalled Ayers. 

He would continue to play for church and he would continue writing, but now was the time for Ayers to pursue his desire to practice medicine. After speaking with the head of Lee's science department,  Ayers realized his grades were so solid that they not only matched his piano scholarship, they doubled it. And in 1996, with only five academic semesters under his belt, Dan earned his bachelor’s degree in biology and chemistry with a minor in religion, graduating summa cum laude.

Ayers’ experience at Lee University was intense;  to graduate within the standard four-year period is an admirable accomplishment, but by graduating in five semesters Ayers had almost cut that in half. And there was more going on than a fast-track academic schedule, too.

“I dealt with a lot of issues at Lee," he said. "My abrupt career change, my sexuality … I can recall being attracted to men as early as elementary school. I tried to like girls, even dated them, but I caught myself being more attracted to guys.”

After such an intense time at Lee, Ayers took some time off and moved back to Attalla before starting medical school at the University of Alabama at Birmingham in 1997. By 1999, he graduated at the age of 23, one the youngest graduates to earn the physician's assistant program degree.

But even after he graduated from UAB, Ayers had difficulty suppressing his sexuality.

"One Sunday I was sitting at the piano and I thought ‘God created me. He knows I am gay.'" he said. "I had been told all my life that God doesn’t make mistakes, yet everyone around me said homosexuals were wrong and going to hell. How have I messed up?’”

Ayers would once again show a tremendous amount of determination. He said he thought, “I’ll change myself. I’ll get married like I am supposed to. I’ll be preoccupied with my wife, kids and job, and that will fix this.”

And in 2001, he “fixed” it.

His bride was a pharmacy student at Samford University. She was a beautiful girl who happened to play the violin, so Ayers and his bride-to-be connected on a medical level as well as a musical one.

Ayers and his wife painted a picture of the perfectly happy family. They both had excellent careers, made excellent money and could pretty much do whatever they wanted. But deep inside, Ayers was miserable. “I had suppressed my sexuality for years, and it finally had me in a deep state of depression. But being the determined person I am, I continued to suppress it.”

Ayers’ marriage was in jeopardy and the relationship continued to get worse. After a brief move to Knoxville, the couple moved to Nashville in 2003. Eventually, feeling he had to get out of his marriage, Ayers called on his best friend from Lee University, Jason Warner of the musical Christian duo Jason and Demarco.

Ayers recalls, “Unlike me, Jason had come out of the closet and I felt comfortable with him. He was my best friend and never questioned my marriage. But Jason knew I was gay. He said, ‘Dan you’ve been so determined to push this away and suppress it, but it has always been there. I’ve watched you create this life. You’ve paid for this life, and it is empty.’” 

Ayers said he knew Warner was right.

So in 2004, Dan and his wife of three years divorced. However, during those three years, Ayers had a form of escape. During his last year in medical school, Ayers enrolled in the Army National Guard. 

“There was a sign-on bonus and they would pay off my student loans,” he said. 

During his time with the Guard, Ayers continued his history of achievement. He started out as a second lieutenant and was promoted to captain. It isn’t easy for a gay man to serve in the armed forces. Ayers said, explaining that “A lot of friends came out to me during my time in the Guard, many enlisted soldiers, all who go home to their same-sex partner, get up in the mornings, put on a uniform and do their job — and they do it very well!”

When asked about the “Don’t ask. Don’t tell.” Policy, Ayers says only, “I think it should be ‘Why ask? Why tell?’ Being gay doesn’t make me any less of a man. It doesn’t make me any less of a human being. My skills, knowledge and desire to serve my country are just as valid as anyone else’s.” 

After serving in the Guard for seven years, Ayers received his honorable discharge in 2005.

Currently, in addition to working full-time in a hospital emergency room, Ayers also works at Elan Medical Spa in Green Hills, one of the state's premier skin and laser centers. He has a strong interest in aesthetic medicine, and is an advanced injector of numerous dermal fillers and Botox. He also provides a wide range of anti-aging modalities, including the latest in fractional CO2 laser skin resurfacing.

Reflecting on the variety in his life, Ayers says that “Despite all that I did, I never once loved myself. I filled the void in my life with achievements. I have finally come to the point where I know I can’t run anywhere or hide anything from God. He knows me inside and out and loves me no matter what. It took me several years, but after accepting His unconditional love, I learned to accept myself.”

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