Apparently, it was National Coming Out Day on the 11th. Since I don’t seem to have a concept of time these days, I am belatedly offering up my coming out story – actually, stories.
THE CLOSET DOOR OPENS
Believe it or not, I had a girlfriend in college. This was during the days when I was singing in the University gospel choir, going to church when I could and trying to overcome what I then considered to be “a demon of homosexuality.”
Girlfriend or no girlfriend, I knew I was gay. Other people knew I was gay. The rest either suspected but didn’t feel it was their place to ask or just chose not to acknowledge it because I didn’t. Either way, few people ever said anything. And those who did didn’t say it to me.
At least not until 2001. By that time I was living in Los Angeles. In this first instance, I was standing in line outside a Beverly Hills club for a birthday party with two of my roommates, one of their girlfriends and their friend Jay. During the resulting conversation from an extended wait stemming from only one set of knockers between the five of us, Jay and I had the following conversation:
Jay: You’re gay, right?
Me: Why? Are you interested?
Jay (laughs): No.
Me: Well…sometimes I feel like a nut, sometimes I don’t.
Jay: I see. But let me tell you this, I like you. If anyone ever gives you grief for being gay, you let me know and I will kick their ass.
It was a comforting gesture. But I still wasn’t ready to admit to being gay. I went with the “nut” thing for a while before telling people I was bisexual, asexual, nonsexual, pansexual and even amoebic.
A couple of years later, two friends of mine from the ad industry I was working in at the time invited me out for happy hour drinks at a hotel bar in Santa Monica. I had no idea there was an agenda – which was to let me know that they knew I was gay, they didn’t care, they loved me, I was wonderful and to just come out.
The door was now fully opened, but I just wasn’t quite ready to walk though it yet. Instead, I prepared myself for the possibility of becoming estranged from my family once I did. A vision appeared to me one weekend morning as I was roller blading along the beach. I sat down on a rock at the end of the bike path with the weight of needing and wanting to come out weighing on me. I saw my relationship with my mother, my father and my younger brother reduced to an annual snail mail exchange of Christmas cards and birthday cards.
I didn’t necessarily like it, but if that was the price I had to pay for the freedom to be who I knew I was, then I was willing to pay it. In retrospect, this is how I knew I was more ready to come out than I had ever been before.
MEMORIAL DAY WEEKEND, 2004
I came out to myself first.
My roommate at the time coordinated an annual Memorial Day weekend trip to Las Vegas. For the first time, I went – with 11 straight guys. Outside of a steak dinner the second night, I largely did my own thing. The first night, I went to a piano bar at New York, New York while they went to a strip club. The second night, I went to a gay club…while they went to a strip club.
I danced that night with a hot Mexican and then a slightly inebriated cutie from North Carolina who was engaged to be married to a woman but wanted to cut loose. It wasn’t long before his shirt disappeared. But while I was trying to woo him, a far more aggressive sort was doing the same thing and quickly made off with him.
Frustrated, I left the club and called a new friend from work, appropriately named Angel, who had told me he was going to also be in Vegas that same weekend. As I sat down on the curb across the street from the club waiting for him to call me back, I realized that I had been fighting a losing game. Being gay wasn’t anything I could pray away or repress or hope for something straighter. And I finally accepted that.
Angel called me back and though it was the middle of the night, he was still out and about and met up with me at the bar in my hotel. We chatted until daybreak four hours later. He left and I went upstairs to my room. As I snuck in, one of the eleven told me he was heading back to LA. I decided to join him.
During the ride back, Chroner told me that my sexual proclivities and I had been a topic of discussion amongst the group. He asked me if I was gay. Without hesitation or fear or shame, I simply told him “yes”. Both the car ride and our friendship continued. Simple as that.
THE CONVERSATION WITH MOTHER
By the spring of 2005, my brother was engaged to be married. During an otherwise innocuous phone call with my mother about the upcoming wedding, the following conversation took place:
Me: I hope you enjoy it [the wedding], because it’ll probably be your only one.
Mom: What’s that supposed to mean?
Me: What do you think it means?
Mom: What are you trying to tell me?
Me: What are you trying to hear?
Mom: Are you wanting to tell me something?
Me: Are you wanting to know something?
Mom: I’m not doing this with you. (a pause) Are you gay?
Mom: I know.
Me: Then why did you ask?
Mom: Because I wanted to hear it from you.
Me: What tipped you off?
Me: Kindergarten? What could I have possibly done in Kindergarten to give you the impression I was gay?
Mom: I don’t know. I just saw it.
I hadn’t intended on telling her during that phone call. In fact, at the time of that conversation, I still wasn’t even sure I ever wanted to tell her -- or anyone else for that matter. She told me that it was a harder life. I told her I couldn’t imagine life being any harder than it already had been – at least within the confines of my head space.
My mother went on to blame herself and wonder what she may have said or done to cause me to be gay. She then asked (perhaps to herself, perhaps to me) what she could have said or done to change it – as if anything of the sort was possible. I assured her there was nothing she said or did then, nothing she could have said or done then and nothing she can say or do now.
She wasn’t necessarily okay with this news but she was happy to finally know what she already knew.
Technically, it wasn’t our first conversation about my being gay. In late 2001, as I was packing up my childhood room in preparation for my parent’s move from New Jersey back to Illinois, my mother came across three E. Lynn Harris novels with pictures of fully clothed, but affectionate men on the cover.
Mom (holding the books in her hand and looking at the covers): Is there something I need to know?
Me (looking at the books in her hand): No, but when there is, I’ll let you know.
It was a lie – a necessary lie. Fortunately, the truth has since come out. Pun intended.
THE LETTER TO FATHER
In 2006, my parents were divorced and my father was remarried rather quickly – at least quickly from my vantage point. At the time, I was living in New York and he was living in Illinois, so I was left out of much of the process. I hadn’t met his future wife until just before their wedding. I didn’t even know they were dating until shortly before that. In fact, I didn’t even know she existed until shortly before that. Hell, I didn’t even know he had re-entered the dating pool in the first place.
While my father was on his honeymoon, I penned a letter to him expressing my feelings about how everything transpired. As a means of trying to understand why, I utilized this letter to tell him I was gay. I emailed it to him, ten pages in total, after he returned from his honeymoon.
A couple days later, he called me:
Dad: I got your letter.
Dad: You’re a very good writer.
Dad: And I already knew you were.
Me: I figured as much. I suppose nursery school tipped you off.
He wasn’t necessarily thrilled with the news but he told me that he loves me more than the fact that he doesn’t like the fact that I’m gay.
By the end of 2007, I had been transferred to Massachusetts for work. Now that I was back on the east coast (again), my sister-in-law was adamant that I spend Christmas with them in Baltimore. After nearly two years of depressed upheaval moving to New York, retreating back to Los Angeles and then relocating back to the east coast just a month prior, all I wanted for Christmas was time to adjust and space to myself.
In explaining this to my brother on the telephone, I opened up about what was really on my mind – my being gay, his not knowing it and my unwillingness to tell him.
And so I did. But I’m pretty certain he already knew.
In 2004, my mother, my father and my brother had descended upon southern California for my grandmother’s 70thbirthday party. My brother stayed with me and I invited him to join me for Friday happy hour with some friends from work. While we typically went to the Abbey, I figured my brother wouldn’t want to go there given his religious ways. Instead, we went to Q’s across the street from the office.
After a couple of hours, the group decided to head over to the Abbey. Having spent this time with my friends and I, I asked my brother if he wanted to go -- to which he responded with an emphatic “no”. So that settled that -- and led to an awkwardly silent trip to the 3rd Street Promenade for lack of a better idea as to how to entertain him.
But by the time I officially came out to my brother, he was married with a young son. His priorities had changed. His mindset had changed. I still wasn’t sure where he stood on the issue of homosexuality, but my being gay was the least of his worries at that point in his life. What I always feared would be a painfully religious discussion about homosexuality turned out to be a mere glossing over of the news as he was more concerned with whether or not I was going to go down to Baltimore for Christmas to see my nephew.
OUT AND ABOUT AND PROUD
I’m now 33. I’ve been out for eight-and-a-half years. I’ve said this before, but being gay has been the greatest blessing of my life. It’s allowed me to open, loving, free and my wholly authentic self.
I’ve lost a couple of friends. One stopped talking to me because he had to hear from someone else that I was gay. Ironically, my reasoning for not telling him was because I was afraid of such a reaction. Still, I’ll never know if that reaction would have been different had he heard the news directly from me.
Another friend distanced himself from me once the struggle to overcome being gay became acceptance of it.
I inadvertently alienated other friends who knew me as a closet case one day, blinked and then found me marching in Gay Pride Parades the next day. Because so much of my process was internal, my life as a gay man was just about living it openly as opposed to processing what that new life entailed and then living it. Some friends just went along with it, some struggled to do so and others fell by the wayside.
But for the most part, most people already knew and didn’t care. And others loved me for me and saw my being gay as just a part of who I already was.
AND WHAT DO YOUR PARENTS HAVE TO SAY ABOUT THIS?
My less-than-thrilled parents may never get to thrilled, but I credit them with some surprising evolution.
A few years ago, my mother was working at a call center in Virginia. She told me about a young mother who worked with her and suspected her six-year-old son was gay. Knowing that my mother had a gay son in his late twenties, the young mother asked my mother what she should do. My mother told her not to pray that he isn’t gay, but to pray for guidance in how to deal with it in a way that he knows he is still loved.
Compare this to an understandably nervous mother of an uncomfortable 16-year-old boy watching Ellen’s coming out episode in April of 1997 – ironically after Good Friday Service at church:
Mom (watching me watch the show): If you’re planning on coming out, you just stay right in there because I can’t deal with that right now.
Since then, I’ve taken her to Basix Café in gay West Hollywood for brunch and Larrabee’s in gay West Hollywood for post-Mother’s Day brunch drinks. Now she’s just waiting for me to bring home son-in-law.
I spent last Thanksgiving with my father in Illinois. For the first time, we spoke honestly and at length about my life as a gay man. He told me about a question that his pastor had posited in a leadership meeting about whether or not they would allow an openly gay couple to serve in ministry. My father wasn’t sure. Ultimately, because this church teaches from the Word of God and abides by the principles therein, they decided they could not allow it. However, the church let the couple know that they would be welcomed with warm, open and loving arms as members of the congregation.
I couldn’t fault them for that.
My father then told me that through his wife, he has met more and more homosexuals over the last few years and talked with them about the lifestyle. Much of it he doesn’t understand. Some of it he may never understand. But in all his discussions and all his pondering over the issue, he comes back to one thing: the Word of God. And while he can’t see himself ever wavering on his stance that homosexuality goes against the Word of God, such a stance will always come secondary to loving that homosexual as he would love himself.
I liked hearing that.
In June, he had the following to say in my Father’s Day piece: I am blessed to have you as my son, gay or straight!
I imagine a lot of parents feel this way. A lot don’t. That’s their loss and their problem. I came out after I was grown and living on my own. So I know it can’t be easy for young people who are still depending on their parents for financial support.
But where those parents are deficient in their ability to love their gay sons and daughters, they need to know that open arms are out there waiting for them on the other side of coming out.
And we’re waiting.