Updated: Oct 4, 2021
Coming out is something deeply personal. It is a process much more than a single activity, as you really have to do some deep introspection, assess your needs and your safety, form a plan, and work your way to saying the words. Or at least that’s how I believe it is supposed to work; for me, it was a rather winding path toward authenticity.
If I am being completely honest with myself and you all, I knew that I was not like other boys in early middle school. My friends began dating, and I could not wrap my head around the idea. I wasn’t interested in school dances, or parties, or really any of the activities that guys my age were flocking to. I loved school, I loved the arts, I loved my friends… but others began to find something more in romantic connections that I was not having. Then, I remember there was a moment in 7th grade (THIS IS SO EMBARRASSING, but I feel like it is a fairly common experience). We had to change for P.E. for the first time, and I was terrified. I could not quite place why, until I realized I was attracted to a guy in my class. I had no vocabulary for this feeling. I had no way of processing what was happening, so I suppressed it.
The fact of the matter, though, is that as much as I suppressed it, it was obviously undeniable. It was around this same time that I was called a faggot for the first time. I vividly remember the person who said it, where we were, the laughter that surrounded the person saying it. I felt attacked, othered, and utterly crushed. How did that person know and how do I hide it further because I can not possibly go my whole life with the feelings I felt when I first heard that word?!
Throughout high school, I could be very accurately described as shy. I had a great group of friends who loved me, but I was honestly afraid of being myself. As I mentioned in a previous post on internalized homophobia, I grew up in a time when the phrase “that’s gay” was applied to anything unfavorable, a time where every bit of gay representation in the media was of AIDS patients or flamboyant comic tropes. There was maybe one or two out gay kids in my grade, and I could tell things were not easy for them, so I knew coming out was not an option at that point. In high school, though, I found theatre! Theatre allowed me to have an outlet to be someone else. In my own life, I felt I had to hide so much, but on the stage, I could be anything! There was such freedom, and in all honesty, it’s likely what kept me sane. It was in the theatre that I met my true friends, including my closest friend who we’ll talk about more soon.
In college, I was remarkably lucky to be gifted with two of the most gracious people to have come into my life, my theatre professor Dr. Stanley Coleman and his husband, Bill Winkley. They were such welcoming, non-judgmental, beautiful people, and gave me such a great example of modern gay love. However, even with their influence, I was still not in a place to completely know myself. I still knew something was different, but what exactly was it? I acknowledged my attraction to men at this time, but I still didn’t feel I was gay. At the age of 18, I made the decision to come out to my closest friends as bisexual. I didn’t feel the need to tell anyone outside of that tight circle, and I didn’t live out by any means, but saying that I was not straight was remarkably liberating.
At this same time, I realized that I wanted a romantic connection. I wanted what others were having. I felt incredibly close to my best friend, who I was extremely close to throughout high school, had been romantic leads in plays with, and who I had even confessed my same sex attractions to. I decided to tell her about my feelings for her and asked her out. It was a seemingly Perfect relationship. We did everything together, we enjoyed each other’s company, we were set to have a life together. After five years of dating, I asked her to marry me and we were set on the path to have a family. Throughout this journey, I struggled with very confusing thoughts, because I absolutely loved her, but something felt like it was missing. I thought that maybe it was the need for greater commitment, or to buy a house, or to start a family, or expand our family, but with each step, the fulfillment I was expecting never seemed to come. I found myself becoming increasingly anxious and depressed. Then, one day while driving to work, I had a massive realization.
I’m not sure what exactly did it, but I suddenly thought to myself, I love my wife, but what if that love is not romantic love? What if I loved her in the same way I loved the rest of my friends, just more intensely because we were so close? And, what if my attraction to any woman was just that? I began to analyze every thought, every feeling, deconstructing every norm and every fear, until I said the words out loud for the first time, alone in my car, “I’m gay.” Although it was another remarkably freeing moment, it was also terrible because What do I do Now?
My wife could tell that in the months leading to my coming out, something was very wrong. I was not myself. I was increasingly irritable. I began to disconnect from her and our family. I would wake up well before dawn and go to the gym as an escape, which was odd for me because I was a homebody. One night, she pressed and pressed and pressed for me to tell her what was wrong. I knew I had to say it, but I could not find the words. After crying for what felt like a lifetime, I came out to her. Of course, we did not know what this meant, but we decided to go to counseling, communicate through the process, and ultimately determined we would have to divorce in order for each of us to be able to find true happiness.
Around the time of realizing divorce was in the cards for me was when I had the Weakest coming out to my parents!! After a guilt-ridden fight with my wife, I left our house and went to my parents. They live in rural Louisiana, where their neighbors are cows. I decided I just needed that level of quiet, so I simply went sit on their back porch. Of course, my mom noticed I was there and hadn’t come inside, or let them know I was coming. She came out to sit with me and asked what was wrong. Again, I tried to not talk about it, but she knew there was something deeply wrong. I tried to muster the words for her and my dad, but I just couldn’t do it, so I finally decided to ask, “What would you guys do IF I told you I was attracted to men?” As if forming it in a question gave me the option to say, “Haha, gotcha! I'll take it back!” My mom and dad’s response was absolutely perfect! My mom quickly stated, “What would we do? Love you. We would love you.” And my dad came over and hugged me as I wept.
Obviously, there is a whole lot more to what came next, but after that moment I experienced the massive knowledge of authenticity. From then on, I was able to walk into a room as myself and be proud of the person that I am. Although my story came with a lot of hurt, it has led me to be an honest, genuine, emotionally generous person. Are there things about this story I would love to change? From the perspective of not hurting people along the way, Absolutely, but I have to believe my exact series of actions lead me to have great friends, beautiful children, and the absolute love of my life - and for that I can have no regrets.