At the age of 13, I was just wrapping up eighth grade and starting to really come into my own. Instead of being a “kid”, I was a blossoming teenager who now had a favorite singer, tv show, food and a strong sense of style. Of course, all these new layers of personality were the perfect recipe for disaster for a military father and a Catholic family.
In the fall of 1990, I started my freshman year at an all boys private Catholic high school. That was also the year that everything I knew about myself would begin to change.
I spent the next few years navigating a rollercoaster of teenage hormones, a parental divorce and trying to understand a newfound voice that started to fill my head. This voice would soon narrate long discussions about what the world told me was “right” and what I was feeling was “right”.
I would be in the boys locker room and it would say “look around, check out the guys!” I would be alone at home and I would often hear “go check out Mom’s clothes, play with her jewelry and make-up”. I didn’t know what was driving these feelings of exploration, these thoughts and curiosities, but I was compelled to follow its direction.
Over the years, I would fall in and out with this voice. Some days, I would find myself begging for it to be quiet, to go away and to disappear and some days I was just fine living in that moment. They were both terrifying roads of feelings to travel down.
I remember at the end of my freshman year of high school, I learned about the word “gay” and I remember feeling so scared. At this point in life all I knew about being gay was that gay men were dying from something called “AIDS” and that my Catholic school told me being gay was a sin. If I was gay and this is what happened to gay men, I did NOT want to be a part of it.
Through high school I would torture myself with secret hook ups with other guys who were also in their experimental phases. I was often so overcome with shame that I couldn’t fully connect with friends because living my real truth would mean living a truth I did not fully understand. I would learn to wade through some pretty difficult years until I graduated from high school.
I entered my freshman year of college armed with a bright new world of freedom, friends and education. Brick by brick, I began to put together the puzzle of who that voice in my head was and what my truth really was.
That voice in my head was me and I was now ready to come out as a gay man.
You see, I quickly learned that being gay was not a death sentence, that it wasn’t shameful or a sin. Being gay was a beautiful part of who I was and I deserved love just like any other human on this planet.
Once that truth became part of my soul, I began the journey of coming out to those closest to me. First up, my roommate Stacie. I took her to KFC and ordered the biggest bucket of chicken and mashed potatoes. It went something like...
“Stacie, I’m gay. Can you pass the mashed potatoes?” To this day Stacie and I talk about this conversation and how life changing it was to me. It was like the weight of the world came off my shoulders. To have her there as a supportive roommate and friend was so perfect at that moment (and to be honest so was the KFC).
With the waters tested, I then had the courage to tell my sister, my mom, my dad and eventually all my family. Coming out would often be a terrifying moment of vulnerability and truth, and other times it would simply be the answer to a question.
“Are you gay?” - Yes.
“Do you have a girlfriend?” - No, I am gay.
Sometimes it was hard. Sometimes it took a while for a few to come around and sometimes I lost a few friends and family members along the way. It’s not a one size fits all moment for many and I get that.
And while there is much to be said about how it is much “easier” to come out today than when I was younger, it doesn’t mean that the people today will be any more accepting.
According to research published on OutNotDown.org:
- 40% of homeless teens in the United States who came out were thrown out by their parents onto the streets
- 4 in 10 LGBTQ youth (42%) say the community in which they live is not accepting of LGBTQ people
- LGBTQ youth are 2x more likely than their peers to say they've been physically assaulted, kicked or shoved at school
Coming out isn’t just milestone in a young queer person's journey in life, it’s an action that you go though every time someone asks you something personal. You come out to coworkers, to bosses, to servers at dinner, to social media, to your neighbors, to everyone.
So as we celebrate the passing of another National Coming Out Day, let’s not only remember everyone's unique coming out stories but that we must work to support all youth that wish to identify as part of the LGBTQ+ Community. Additionally, we must all work to support queer representation in tv, film, business, government and in all the places that queer youth can look to find role models.
Coming out is just the beginning, it's the work and the visibility that you contribute afterwards that will pave the way to a better future for our community.