Today is National Coming Out Day, and while I don’t have an interesting coming out story, I still feel like I should add my voice to the big gay chorus. Yep, I’m really that self-involved.
Like most gay men I’ve encountered, I knew I was gay long before I was really conscious of what that meant. I can best describe it as a feeling of being different, which is very vague but hopefully something almost everyone can relate to. The older I got, the more those feelings grew. By the time my friends were starting to be interested in girls, I had pretty firmly asserted myself as not being “one of the guys.” I still talked about boobies for appearances’ sake, but I was very much going through the motions. I love breasts—I’m just not in love with breasts.
I came out to myself at around 13, though it still wasn’t something I really acknowledged. I can distinctly recall looking in the bathroom mirror and chanting, “You’re gay,” like some queer take on Bloody Mary. I guess I was hoping a fey ghost would emerge and teach me how to be a homosexual. Around that time, my friends started picking up on my more effeminate characteristics, though to their credit, they were reasonably cool about it. Well, as cool as teenage boys can be. I heard many variations of, “Holy shit, you’re so fucking gay. I don’t even care that you’re so fucking gay. I just want you to admit it.” Which only made me deny it more.
At 15, I started chatting on AIM with an older guy at school who finally got me to admit my same-sex attraction. At the time, these conversations seemed innocent, but in retrospect, he was totally a creep. No matter—his online lechery helped me accept myself in a way I hadn’t before. I started to tell friends (on a very limited basis) that I was bi, a label I had somehow managed to convince myself was appropriate. I’d never felt anything toward girls, but maybe that would develop later. I wish I’d come out as all-the-way gay from the get-go, if only because saying I was bi first doubled the coming out process. Also, I have plenty of bisexual male friends who have been stigmatized because everyone assumes bi is just a stepping stone to gay. Sorry, dudes.
When I was 16, I began therapy, and at that point I was able to identify as gay right away. In our first session he asked if I would like to date girls or boys, and I said, “boys.” It was easier than the label and a smart way to get the conversation started. And what a relief to tell an adult, particularly a professional. Over the next several weeks, we began to talk about the process of “coming out” and what that meant, but I was too consumed with bowel-shaking dread to give it any real thought. Besides, I was starting to tell friends at school, and that seemed like enough of a step in the right direction.
I actually didn’t come out to friends so much as tell them about my crushes. Much to my surprise (and delight), none of them so much as flinched. I was glad to have surrounded myself with open-minded individuals, a product of a liberal environment and my bitchin’ taste in people. I’m sure it also helped that everyone already assumed I was gay, long before I was willing to give them confirmation. Talking about the boys I liked openly was exciting new terrain, and such a notable difference from playing up faux crushes on girls. Seriously, do you know how hard it is to say, “She’s so hot” and sound convincing? I still can’t do it, even if I legitimately think she’s so hot.
Things got easier when I moved to Berkeley and started college, because, well, it was college and it was Berkeley, and who gave a shit? I still hadn’t told my parents, though, and I refused to even hint at my sexuality on Facebook. This was 2004, and the idea of being so open on the internet was still foreign. At the same time, I was jealous of my friends who displayed “Interested In: Men” without a hint of shame. Because I kept a journal back then, I can tell you exactly when I made the switch—October 3, 2004, shortly after my 18th birthday. I recorded the event in hilariously melodramatic detail, and I share it with you in the hopes that you’ll think it’s cute, and not just embarrassing—
I returned to Facebook. I clicked on the button to edit my profile. I put a mark next to “men” as the gender I’m interested in. All at once it felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I’m not happy, but I’m better. I think I understand now. It’s like Roger says to Mimi in Rent: “You’ll never share real love until you love yourself.” How can I expect a relationship if I can’t accept myself?
I need confidence in my sexuality, in my looks, in everything. I’m working on it. I’m learning all the time. Something good will come of this. It has to.
And once I’d edited my profile, I set about to telling Mom and Dad. Or telling Mom, in the hopes that she would tell Dad. I ended up coming out in an email, in case you still weren’t sure how much a product of my age I am. Seriously, though, the internet had a tremendous impact on my ability to find myself, as it were, and to share that with the people around me. For all our talk of technology isolating us, or of somehow making us less human, I feel compelled to say it gave me a strength I wasn’t sure I had.
Not that I necessarily recommend coming out in an email. It’s kind of a cop-out move, and if I had it all to do over again—well, I’d probably do it the same way, because I don’t like potentially awkward in-person conversations. I won’t share the email, or my parents’ response, because that feels personal on a level I’m not comfortable with. (There’s a first time for everything!) I will say that both my mom and dad were wonderful, accepting in a way I never dared hope—even though they’d given me no reason to believe otherwise. This is what I wrote in my journal after reading the email they sent—
I couldn’t stop crying. Before feeling the relief and the weight off my shoulders, I had intense feelings of loss. To be trite for a moment, this somehow made me realize that the innocence of my childhood is gone for good.
I love my parents. I probably underestimated them. And not just in terms of this. These past two years our relationship has been so strained, and I can’t help but think that I could’ve changed that. I waited so long to tell them. Now it seems almost irrelevant.
Let me explain what I meant by “irrelevant”—or what I think I meant, because I wrote that seven years ago. It’s not that coming out wasn’t important: on the contrary, it’s one of the most significant things I’ve ever done. It’s that coming out didn’t need to be the big deal I made it out to be. I spent so long imagining the worst (something I still do, all the goddamn time) that I hadn’t considered the positive outcome. And while things turned out fine in the end, I do wish I had made the decision to come out earlier. I’m not sure what I was afraid of, but it kept me from being honest with my parents and with myself for many years. I think high school would have been easier if I’d had them in my corner.
And so I leave you with this: come out. I mean, duh, but it’s one of those things that bears repeating. I know not all parents and friends will be as supportive as mine were—I’m very lucky to have received the response that I did. But the world is already a different place than it was when I was 18: it grows more accepting every day. And though there are signs of regression, politicians who would rather we retreat back into our closets and keep our mouths shut, there are far more people who would encourage us to make our voices heard. Do not let the negativity of people like Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum inhibit you from full expression.
It’s not just about coming out once. It’s about being out all the time. It’s about never being afraid to talk about your boyfriend or husband, or to walk hand-in-hand with someone of the same sex, or to wear a shirt proudly supporting gay marriage. Now more than ever, as the religious right threatens to send us back into the dark ages, we need to come out every day of our lives. I want all of us to be able to say “it gets better” and mean it. So join me in a far more public chant: I am gay. I am gay. I am gay.