A few weeks ago, we received an e-mail from one of our readers going through the process of coming out. We all realize this can be the most difficult time in someone’s life, it can be all smooth sailing, or somewhere in between. With National Coming Out Day only a few weeks away, we decided to get a bit of a head start and share our stories as life changing or as uneventful as they may be.
Tyler: Although it felt the most emotional and earth-shattering event of my life (oh, high school…), my coming out experience was relatively easy and painless compared to what many of my friends and what many of you have gone through. The first person I came out to was actually not even someone I was that close to at the time (he would later become my best friend for the remainder of high school). It almost felt safer to come out as gay to someone where the stakes for rejection were lower. I waited to come out to my parents for several months, until I had my first boyfriend. I’m not sure why I waited to come out after I started dating; maybe it was to use him as an example: “You see? I really am gay. I tried it!” The first thing my mother, who I should point out works in the medical field and frequently relates everything to health, said was “Are you having sex?!” (I wasn’t). My mother’s main concern was me facing stigmas and prejudice. I told my father later that evening, to which he replied in his typical fashion, “Alright. I’m going to the grocery store, do you need anything?”
I don’t remember the play-by-play of telling most people about myself, but I distinctly remember the fear of disappointing others (I was sixteen, afterall, I still gave a shit what other people thought). While coming out for anyone is scary (especially if you are living in an openly homophobic area of the world like I was at the time; cheers to you, North Carolina), having a strong support system of friends and/or family (or even strangers – there are so many wonderful places to find support at a member of the LGBT community) is absolutely essential.
Stevie: Coming out was a long process for me. I always kind of knew I was “different” than the other boys but I didn’t care enough to actively figure out why until I was older. I think my first experience with “coming out” was in middle school when I would “come out” as a hardcore Spice Girls fan. But I masked it by keeping only the sexier pictures of the girls and telling everyone how hot I thought they were.
It was easy to fool a bunch of conservative Catholics at my middle school and all boys high school, but when I got to my first year of college at an art school in manhattan I guess my roll as a straight man wasn’t exactly academy award winning. I was called out on being gay constantly. (Mainly only by other gays, my girl friends and straight guy friends could care less.) It got to the point where a few people planned on throwing me a “surprise coming out party.” Luckily other friends told me prior and my impending humiliation was avoided. To this day I HATE the idea of “outting” someone. As a person who’s gone through that, I don’t think it’s fair or right to do to anyone who isn’t ready.
My sophomore year was my “coming out” year. I “fell out” to my sister and a few other friends over the summer. Yes, I fell out by accident. Finally my last relationship with a girl ended in her saying, “If you ever need someone to go to a gay bar with, call me.” She said it with genuine caring and in a completely non-judgmental way, but that’s when I started to make it “official” and began telling more of my friends. Each “coming out” was different, and many of them involved booze. I told my roommate at the time Danny, after a bottle of wine while we painted our rooms on move in day. I told Jackie at a St. Patricks day party and got a reaction of jumping up and down with happiness. Erin was told via text from across the table at our favorite Asian Pub. I told Joe after a doing a tequila shot bar crawl and had him take my hand and skip down the street while telling me how he loves me like a brother no matter what. Etc. My “coming out” had more of a, “So what? Join the club,” response than I had anticipated. And for once I felt like myself.
My parents came later. I didn’t tell my parents until after I had graduated. For some reason I always felt it was best to wait until I had graduated and had a support system behind me. I knew deep down inside my mother would never disown me, but I never felt positive enough. I will never forget the pit in my stomach wanting to vomit and die feeling that I had while trying to spit out the words to Mom. When I finally did, she cried. She cried because she had known since I was little. She cried because she was worried about me having a “hard life” because of it. But, she didn’t cry because she wanted to change me at all. She went home and told my father. He had no idea, but he didn’t care at all. “As long as it doesn’t effect you finding a job,” was what he told me. (Meanwhile, it’s actually been quite the opposite considering my last two jobs were gay-run companies or organizations.) I guess since then I’ve been “completely out” to the entire world. They were the last two people I felt that I had to tell. Now it just is what it is.
My best advice to anyone coming out: Don’t rush it. Be true to yourself. Do it when you’re ready, not when anyone else tells you to.
Tommy: I hate to disappoint, but my coming out was blissfully uneventful. (Almost) no tirades or tantrums, no excommunication, no exclusion from family functions, no refusal to discuss or face the reality of my sexuality. It was a surprise to few, and it was a choice I was happy to make when it felt right.
Dan: When it came to coming out to my parents, I was incredibly nervous considering the fact that I had two other siblings who weren’t out either. When I was younger I had been questioning the “coming out” due to the fact that to have three LGBT children would seem…strange to some.
While we each knew about each other’s sexuality for the longest time, we didn’t let our parents know. However, by last year (I was 22, my sister was 20, and my brother was 18) we weren’t exactly the best at keeping our sexuality a secret. For example, one thing that got me to SERIOUSLY consider coming out, was when my aunt had caught me holding hands with another guy. So there isn’t really escaping the close-knit family bond that we had.
From the moment my aunt saw me, I knew I had to come out because it was obviously out in the open. Finally in the mood to explain myself to my parents, I decided to come home for the weekend and have dinner with my siblings and my parents.
Upon arriving my sister had news that she had come out in the recent week, during her vacation with my mother in California. I had congratulated her, but I was a little nervous, because I didn’t want to be the second, or the third one to have to come out. Regardless, I came home, had several glasses of wine, and waited for dinner to be ready.
However, my mom had entered my room to say hello before we eat. But it was a totally different conversation. “So, your sister is a lesbian, your brother is gay…are you?” I said yes. Before this I had been a sexually ambiguous, sexless, grumpy collegiate. My love life, from what I made them believe, was a nonexistent one. She didn’t flinch, but asked why we haven’t told her earlier. While this isn’t your normal “standing up for my own beliefs” story, considering that my mom came out for me, I am incredibly grateful to have been born into the family that I have.
Jon: I wouldn’t really consider this a coming out story per se, considering I was never really “outed.” I hid it, sure, but it was something everyone already assumed; having plenty of girl-friends and living up to their stereotypes, it wasn’t difficult to figure out. Unlike many who have experienced an incredible amount of adamance from their family, my first steps out of the closet were fairly easy.
When I was four Toys ‘R Us had a sale in the girl’s dress up section and the “Ruby Slippers” caught that twinkle in my eye. Without questioning anything, my mother instinctively made the purchase. One problem: I was only allowed to dress up in the house. A natural born trouble-maker to the core, I skipped my way out of the backyard and onto the sidewalks, completely ignorant of how middle-class white suburbia would take it. Later, in the fifth grade, I was taunted and teased after telling a boy I thought he was “cute” on the hand-ball court. Getting called “Big Gay Al” (South Park, yes) and hiding my strong gravitational pull towards Britney Spears and her bedazzled headsets and pop-pomed ponytails.
Noticing a major change in my demeanor (and eating habits), my mother enrolled me into theater classes to work through it and, to ultimately, make friends outside of school. Sure, I was stuck in a predominantly Jewish community, but socially savvy little me lied through his teeth and gabbed about what he expected for Channakuh. Middle school was more challenging, but after dodging the locker-room, enrolling in a co-ed gym class and taking up two sports, I was losing weight and growing a thicker skin.
High school was where I first met an out and comfortable gay man who paved the way for my coming out process. A friend of a friend, Paul, graduated from my high school a year prior and was incredibly handsome, I knew this would be a problem. Unsure of how I felt, I became closer with his ex-girlfriend, Laurie, who always assumed I was a bit “light in my loafers.” But then again who didn’t already assume that?
Racing back to my desktop, I’d dive onto AOL hoping to find him pop up on my computer screen. Paul and I would talk online whenever we’d catch the other, where I’d talk about pretty much anything. He had a break from college and would email me back and forth, him filling me in his long-distance relationship and me about future plans. What I had with Paul was special to me, which I’m not sure he even realizes to this day considering I never really thanked him for the mentorship and support along the way. I’m guessing this is my more formalized “thank you.”
I told her how I felt that it was the only secret I had to myself, it felt like I’d be betraying myself if I didn’t just live an open life; deep for a teenager, but that freedom is something we long for when confined to rules. Providing the right amount of advice, she asked about friends, my parents and if I had a supportive group that would make the process easier for me; she felt I did, I knew I did. Nothing to lose, I knew it was time to fire away my preconceived notions and dive into the deep end.
One night, after I was out with my friends seeing One Hour Photo (good taste for a teenager, no?), I arrived home to a note on the oven: “We need to talk. Love, Mom.” Cautiously, I tip-toed into the den, my mother was in her usual position on the couch, curled up with Lifetime and her glass of Chardonnay. I sat and stared blankly at her.
“So, this note…”
“I know your secret.”
The next morning I wake up to my dad on my bed-side. “I just wanted to say this to you face to face,” he began, “I want you to know that no matter who you are, what you are, who you love, I will always love you. Do me a favor and remember that this is only a part of you, it’s not all of you.”