Although I shared my "staying in" story some time ago, I thought that it might be fun and maybe even a little informative to tell a couple of “coming out” stories in honor of National Coming Out Day. I hope that you enjoy these stories as much I enjoyed writing them.
Story 1 of 2: Up and Out of the Rabbit Hole, or The Very First Time I Ever Told Anyone (Besides My Dog, Dukerson Pooper) That I Was Gay
There are a few things that I remember about this night: It was the very early morning of July 13, 2008, the day of little sister’s birthday. I was at my friends’ apartment in Tempe, Arizona, and it was still rather toasty even though it was very late at night, which is typical at the height of summer in the desert. I remember that three of my closest friends, with whom I had attended much of grade school, sat with me on a small balcony, and we were enjoying cigarettes, beer and a relaxed, decadent summer vacation before they began their freshman year of college and I, my sophomore year.
Beyond those things…I really don’t remember much.
The actual conversations or circumstances that prefaced my first ever coming out are unfortunately very blurry. I know that I was very drunk. Consequently, I only have hazy visions of the moment that it actually happened, when I first spoke the words “I’m gay” and then mentally braced myself for the halting impact of one or more of the following:
D. Accusations of deception
G. Anger (I’m pretty much just listing Kubler-Ross’s five stages of grief now)
But instead, I encountered:
A. An initial bit of inebriated confusion
C. From my friends, a comparatively underwhelming but deeply appreciated response of understanding and kindness
D. For myself, a sobering, “Oh my god, what the hell did I just do” sort of feeling that now that I look back at it is pretty incongruous with how relaxed my friends were about it all—a feeling that would describe a lot of my coming out experiences with my friends
It went pretty well, even though back then, I knew that I was freaked out about how real everything suddenly became. Before then, I had never acted upon or really verbalized, out loud or even mentally, the fact that I was gay. I knew that I had been attracted to men and that compared to my attraction to women, the attraction to men came more naturally and powerfully. But I had honestly never thought of living publicly as a gay man—I always thought that it would be something I would gladly suppress so that I could have a perfect wife and make babies the old-fashioned way and we could all live our wonderful, heteronormative lives in a beautiful cottage somewhere. Happily ever after—duh!
Instead, I remember that this was a period of having to accept a lot of difficult things. Having a group of friends who knew that I was gay, and finally saying it out loud, meant that I pretty much had to toss the idyllic snow globe of a life I had originally planned for myself out the window and let it fall and shatter upon the cold asphalt of reality. It meant that, should I want to experience romantic love in all its filmic glory rather than some sort of forced shadow of it, I would have to figure out how to meet and date men. I opened up myself much more to the possibility of adopting children or surrogacy. I knew that I could experience discrimination. And I knew that one day, I would eventually have to tell my family.
As I came out to more and more close friends (who all took it verywell!) and I learned more about LGBT lifestyles and families, these sorts of realities became gradually easier to accept. The wealth of support I received on behalf of my friends is something for which I was and still am profoundly thankful. Without them, I don’t know if I would have made it through this period in which I came to understand myself—and the rest of my life—as a gay person. In retrospect, the hesitations and fears I had before about coming out to them seem, quite frankly, dumb. I know that so many people aren’t as lucky as I am to have such loving and compassionate people in their lives, and one of my hopes in telling stories like these is so that the reality of being gay becomes one that we welcome and embrace rather than suppress or reject.
And so, we come to…
Story 2 of 2: The Longest Three Minutes of My Entire Life, or The Time I Came Out to My Devoutly Catholic Mother and Hyper-Masculine, American Football-Loving Father and Brothers; presented in dramatic form
[It’s the evening of January 3rd, 2010 in BRUCE’s house in suburban Phoenix. Bruce, his MOM, his DAD, and his SECOND OLDEST BROTHER (henceforth referred to as THE S.O.B.) are eating dinner on this quiet evening, the night before Bruce returns to college for the spring semester of his junior year. Urged by his friends and sisters who already know and accept that he’s gay, Bruce has been contemplating telling everyone sitting at the table, as well as his San Diego-inhabiting OLDEST BROTHER, Gerry, that he would love nothing more than to shack up with Ryan Gosling and watch Breaking Bad while eating In-N-Out for the rest of his days. His parents and brothers are essentially the final important group of people to whom Bruce would like to tell that he is gay. He figures that after he does this, his parents and the S.O.B. will pretty much tell everyone else in the extended family…and that he’ll deal with that when it comes. Nervously, but quietly, he chews and gulps down some stewed cabbage before he begins to speak.]
BRUCE: So, I heard you were all wondering if I was gay.
[Everyone else at the table continues their wordless, searingly drawn-out consumption of their dinner. Bruce’s heart begins to thump so loudly that the water in their cups quivers slightly. Everyone wonders when the toothy maw of the T-Rex from Jurassic Park will violently breach through the roof of the kitchen.]
BRUCE: So…did you want to know? If I’m gay?
BRUCE: Well. Uh. I am.
[No one utters a sound. The only thing heard is the clinking of metal forks on ceramic plates. Bruce is about to pass out.]
DAD: Do you have a boyfriend?
MOM: You’re being safe, right?
BRUCE: Uh, I think so.
[A beat, as everyone continues to eat.]
THE S.O.B.: So, can I call Gerry and tell him?
There were a couple more questions and a phone conversation I had to have with my oldest brother, but again, I felt very lucky that this experience went relatively well. Thankfully, the visions I had of being yelled at and kicked out of my house with my mother weeping uncontrollably at the doorstep never came to fruition. Yay!
But what distinguishes this story from the other is that it’s very much still a work in progress. Kind of like the coming out process as a whole.
I consistently experienced support, healthy curiosity, and at the very least, respect, when my friends and sisters learned that I was gay. Not to say that everyone was jumping around in celebration, but I felt like I could be open with all of them about being gay and they would gladly be there for me for experiences like, say, dinner with my first boyfriend (Mr. Gosling, just say the word and I’m yours.).
Being open with my family about being gay, like my first coming out experience, presented a whole new set of difficulties with which I continue to contend. Perhaps the most difficult of these challenges has simply been helping my family to understand what it’s like to be gay, to comprehend the things that I—and millions of other gay people—have to face and deal with in regards to raising a family or just walking onto the street outside of a gay nightclub. I have to show them that me being gay doesn’t mean that I’m doomed to wind up with AIDS or that my children will develop severe mental and emotional deficiencies because they have two dads. I have to encourage my brothers to stop calling certain football players “faggots” in front of my nephew, no matter how much I hate Tom Brady.
It’s sort of funny and strange that we call it “coming out” because it implies that once you’ve made that step out that door that everything’s done, like you’re suddenly breathing in fresh, cool air and feeling the pleasant brightness of the sun on your skin. But I don’t know a single person who has had just that experience alone. As LGBT people, we’re frequently jumping in and out of the closet, coming out to new friends and shying away from people who we think may not be as tolerant or accepting. And once we do come out to certain people, their myriad responses can range from warm compassion to the threat of serious physical harm—or worse.
It is my hope that my stories and that the stories of others (which can be read or watched on sites like I’m From Driftwood—imfromdriftwood.com—and the It Gets Better Project—itgetsbetter.org) can help both gay and straight people to better understand what it’s like to be both closeted and proudly, openly gay. These stories show what it’s like to feel different, excluded, and scared, at times. But I think these stories also have an incredible power to show how being gay can also mean feeling unbelievably loved and uniquely special. I believe that only through undertaking the challenge and having the courage to tell, understand and appreciate one another’s stories can we ever hope to ensure that everyone enjoys the dignity, equality, and happiness that they deserve.
So, I applaud National Coming Out Day and the millions of people who boldly come out…
…to respect people for who they are and who they choose to be,
…to challenge bigotry and ignorance,
…and to champion love in all its forms and colors.
Happy National Coming Out Day!
P.S. For those of you looking for references to help your friends and family to understand more about LGBT people and their experiences, PFLAG—Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, pflag.org—is an excellent resource.
P.P.S. If you take away anything from my stories, let it be this: don’t tell your friends and family important things when you’re drunk! Show them and yourself some respect and do it while you’re sober! You’ll thank me for it later, I promise.