(Fair warning: this kind of rambles a bit and I’m not sure if I succeed at any kind of point here; just sharing and writing. Also The New York Times recently asked readers to share their own coming out stories.)
Everyone has a coming out story of some sort. Whether it was admitting to a friend that you’re secretly a fan of teen vampire romance novels or telling your girlfriend you really don’t like those chick flicks she always drags you to but go along with it because you love her, we’ve all outed ourselves at one point or another. The telling of these secrets seems paltry, however, when compared to the coming out process gay, trans, queer, lesbian, and bisexual individuals face if and when they decide to step out of that closet.
I sometimes think of sharing your own coming out story as a catharsis. It’s a reminder that you did it, and whether or not is was good or bad, you survived. Often, sharing your story is also a means of helping others through their own process. It forms community and lets others know that they’re not alone in this.
My own coming out story spans years. Thirteen roughly, give or take a month or week here and there (I can’t be expected to keep an exact count on these things, people). For some reason I really only think about coming out in relation to my family rather than friends or acquaintances. Perhaps it’s because with family, there’s an attachment or bond that I hate to see broken so I truly care what they think of me; whereas, with friends and acquaintances, if I’m not accepted for who I am, I have no qualms just saying fuck ‘em. So my thirteen year process revolves more or less solely around my family.
Where to even begin.
Cliché alert! How about at the beginning.
For all intents and purposes, there are two types of gays: those that have always known about the burning homo inside them and those whose flame took a little — or long — while to set ablaze in recognition. I fall into the first camp. It just took some time to figure out what to call it and how to embrace it.
My first crush was on my best friend in 4th grade. One of our favorite games to play was “house,” and I’m certain every time we played she was the mom and I was the dad. I was more of a tomboy, sort of rougher around the edges, so it was a role I filled easily. We were very serious about this game and tried to play as true to form for our characters as possible, so believe it or not, we spent quite a bit of time kissing. I’m sure outside of the game this held no meaning for her because she actually had a huge, widely known crush on a boy in our class. For me, though, I thought about the kisses constantly. They were absolutely fantastic. And yet I had no clue what to do with my feelings. Without anyone telling me, I knew there was something different about me and that I wasn’t exactly normal. So I didn’t say anything to anybody. She moved away in 5th grade, and this gave me the chance to try to explore a more heteronormative approach to young romance. I so want to be normal. What kid doesn’t? So from 6th grade through 8th, I tried my best to be attracted to and date boys. And let me tell you, I dated a lot of them. A LOT. I probably could have been considered slutty, except I didn’t put out. Even when I was trying not to find boys repulsive I was a failure at it.
The last boy I ever dated was in 8th grade. Side note: I ended up dating a girl in high school who had dated him as well right before she and I got together. Then when I was in college I heard that a third girl switched teams after dating him as well. This guy must have felt like absolute shit about himself. I actually suspected that he himself was a big gaymo, but that’s neither here nor there and I have no evidence to back this up.
Now on with the story.
I decided freshman year of high school I was taking myself out of the dating game. I didn’t like pretending to be something I wasn’t, but I didn’t know how to act on who I was. So I went with the trusty “when in doubt, do nothing” approach. It went fantastically. For a while.
Enter sophomore year. My cousin moved to town, and she and I became inseparable. She was worldly and knowledgeable, and we talked about everything. During a late night IM session, she admitted to me that she thought she might be bisexual. This was it! This was my chance to tell somebody! And there in the glowing light of a computer screen in my parents’ office at 4am I came out for the first time. It was amazing. It was freeing. A burden had been lifted. I had a confidant, and I was ready to start living my life as me.
There were two girls I dated that year (another side note: they were sisters… high five?), one of whom was well known in our school as a super out lesbian and, in retrospect, was kind of more than a little skeazy. This was who I was dating when a petty fight left my cousin looking for some sort of payback against me. She had the perfect ammunition. With a quick hack into my email, she shared all my dirty secrets with one of my sisters, who then took the information to my parents. And that was how I was unceremoniously thrust out of the closet. Less than awesome.
To say my parents were thrilled would be like saying the war on terror is totally winnable. And so began one of the worst periods in my life.
I have to point out that I was incredibly naive as a kid and had no idea my parents would react as poorly as they did. My mother I always considered extremely awesome and progressive. She listened to rad music and everyone considered her the “cool mom.” She also had two really close friends who had come out as lesbians (separately; the two didn’t know each other), so I really thought she would be understanding. She was not. And I later found out she pretty much avoided those friends after they embraced their inner gay. For my dad, I was always sort of like the boy he never had. I helped him fix things around the house and we played catch and shot baskets in the back yard together. Maybe it was a stretch, but I actually thought that me lovin’ the ladies was just another guy-like item to add to the list of things we could use to relate to each other.
Oh, youth. How stupid you make us.
From my dad, I mostly remember a lot of in my face yelling and calling me disgusting. My mother was a little more varied in her reactions. There was yelling, sure, but there were also tears and sadness and attempted conversations aimed at trying to convince me I wasn’t gay. There was also the failed disowning where she dragged me to the car and started driving to the local children’s group home but lost her nerve halfway there and turned around.
I ended up leaving home at one point. Let me tell you, when you live in the middle of nowhere and are too young to drive, this is not an easy feat. After a night traipsing through cornfields, I eventually made it to a friend’s house where I stayed for a while. Unfortunately, teens can’t just leave home on a whim without potentially huge implications. My parents chose to involve the local sheriff department, and I had no choice but to return. The most (not)awesome part of this was the trip I then had to make to the county jail to be ID’d and fingerprinted as some sort of requirement for any kid who runs away from home. To add insult to injury, the guy who fingerprinted me was a former classmate from a math course I took in 8th grade (he was a senior when we took the course so he certainly remembered the nerdy girl whose mother drove her to the high school every morning before junior high to join the big kid math class).
The following year was spent under scrutiny on par with what the DEA gives a suspected drug lord. Friends? I wasn’t allowed to have them. Unless they belonged to my sister as well (she’s a year older than me). The car I got when I passed my driving test? It was locked up in the impound lot known as our garage. I also had the extreme pleasure of a weekly meeting after school with a counselor at one of the churches in our town. Because nothing can cure the gay like huge doses of forced religion. Right?
Despite the super fun times Junior year of high school had in store for me, I had no choice but to make the best of it. The friends I shared with my sister were actually great to be around, and one of the guys was actually a friend of Dorothy as well (though he was still in the closet at the time and I was one of the few people that knew). If it wasn’t for him, I might have lost my mind. I like to joke that he was my gay boyfriend. We went to school dances together, owned matching Dr. Marten British flag boots and leather pants, and, while in Europe that summer, embarked on a photo shoot where we pretended to make out with each other at a slew of historical landmarks. I was almost able to forget everything that had happened with my family. Almost.
Sadly, that year he, my sister, and many of our shared friends graduated and headed off to college. However, the girl I was dating also graduated, which offered me the opportunity for some freedom. I think my parents figured that without her around, things could go back to “normal.” I was allowed to go out on my own with my own friends. The constant hawk eye that had hovered over me for so long started to disappear. Then somewhere along the line, it was almost as if nothing had ever happened. An unspoken denial settled into place, and I was afforded the ability to slink right back into the closet.
Over the course of college and grad school, I dated and had my share of girlfriends. My parents actually met a few of the serious ones and, ironically, loved them. One girl frequently traveled with me to my parents’ house for vacations, and on holidays and birthdays, she and her son always received gifts from my family. I never could wrap my mind around this.
I also learned early in college that my sisters really had no problem with me being gay. The only issue they had was the girl I had been dating when everything exploded (I mentioned the girl was kinda skeazy, right?). They both became my sounding board and support system. If my parents weren’t going to accept me, at least I had two older sisters on my side.
Fast forward to this year. After eleven years back in the closet, I decided enough was enough. Something had to give. I made a decision that 2011 was going to be my Year of Adventure where I was going to stop limiting myself and be open and honest and happy in all aspects of my life. I transitioned from a vegan of many years into a full-fledged omnivore. I stopped taking on projects that made me miserable. I started living in the moment. I fell in love. And, I began the process to finally tell my parents that they needed to accept me for who I am.
Instead of planning a big coming out speech, I decided to just stop censoring myself when I spoke to my parents and let them deal. I mean, they knew the facts. They were just choosing to ignore them. So in February when my mother asked how I ended up attending a WGA event, I told her which girl had invited me as a date. I went on to mention a few other date-type things this girl and I had done or were going to do together. I assumed she was smart enough to get the memo.
I was wrong.
A few weeks, maybe a month later I mentioned another date, and I could tell I’d ruffled her feathers. She quickly became standoffish and unresponsive. The conversation ended, and we stopped speaking for a while. Until I needed some major assistance with my taxes (she’s kind of a tax genius… I will say that for her). When I was on the phone with her, I couldn’t mask the fact that I was upset. Admittedly I was upset about a girl, and when she asked what my deal was I told her, “You’d probably rather not know.” For once, she caught on to what I meant, and the conversation became tense. After finishing my taxes, we went back to not talking.
A little over a month ago I decided to just lay it all out there. With the assistance of my sisters, we set up a family conference call in which I flat out said, “This is who I am. It’s not a choice. It’s not going to change. Please accept me.” In shocking news, my dad was willing to actually have a conversation and told me that he loved me and that wasn’t going to change. He also admitted that he knew all the girls I’d brought home were girls I was dating. I could tell the conversation made him feel awkward, but at least he was trying.
The flipside of the coin was my mother. Throughout the entire conversation she didn’t utter a single word. Instead, she slammed me with a litany of text messages about how personal issues weren’t something she wanted to know about from any of her kids and how we all have our own sins to deal with. Awesome. So no progress there and a return to just not talking.
Not long after, she decided she’d failed me and my sisters and began sending a daily email containing a devotional (she supposedly finds them all at this website). When none of us responded to her emails, she began including little personalized questions in an attempt to get us to respond, such as, “I heard about this movie. Do you think it will be good?” or “How was your trip to (insert location here)?” Occasionally my sisters would take the bait. I opted out, and soon began to receive random, pointless texts from her such as, “I ran into your 9th grade math teacher today.” I assumed she was maybe reaching out, and after confirming with a friend that this was indeed most likely the case, I decided she and I needed to talk. (I’d also like to give props to that friend for coming up with one of the best lines I’ve ever heard during that conversation about my mother: “You talking to your mom should be about you and your mom, not you, your mom and her magical sky friend. Jesus is a pretty terrible third wheel.” Fantastic.)
I debated sending a letter. It was the easy choice. Then, on a rainy morning at 5am, I woke up and knew it was a day to make things happen. The easy choice wasn’t an option. That afternoon I called my mom and we shared one of the best and worst conversations I’ve ever had. It was the worst because she essentially told me she wasn’t going to change how she felt and if I needed to cut her out of my life that’s just what I had to do. It was the best because finally I felt like I had some sort of closure. Her willingness and offer to let me cut her off put everything into perspective, and I felt like I could finally stop dwelling and worrying about the situation. A sense of acceptance settled into place.
We haven’t spoken since. And I’m okay with that.
I’m not sure how to wrap this up. I don’t know if anyone will get anything out of my rambling. Here’s hoping?