Earlier this month I saw the coming-of-age and coming-out movie Love, Simon. It was touching, heart-warming, and made me wonder when we stopped sharing our own coming out stories.
I came out 18 years ago in Austin at the age of 21. It seemed that whenever I met another gay guy, we’d inevitably share when and how we came out. I think the last time I shared the story was when I met Daniel 5.5 years ago, and before that I don’t even remember. Nor have I heard coming out stories from others in recent history either.
When did we stop sharing our stories? Why don’t we tell them anymore? Was it just too long ago? Is it because I live in a very accepting part of the country now so the stories have less impact? Are they just too painful and we’d prefer not to remember?
Should we dust off our stories and retell them? Much like the heartbreaking stories of the AIDS crisis that so heavily influenced what it meant to be gay in America in the 80s — stories that we’ve stopped telling and are slowly disappearing — are we losing part of gay culture by not telling our coming out stories?
I think we are. I think we’re doing a disservice thinking that people coming out today, young and old, don’t struggle and don’t need to hear that they are not alone in that struggle.
To quote the King of Pop, let’s start with the man in the mirror…
I finally admitted I was gay in 2000 right after college while living in Austin. I’d known it for years but “praying away the gay” had been a miserable failure and I was desperate to stop living a lie.
The very first person I came out to, tearfully, was my good friend Megan who accepted me with open, loving arms. I remember her telling me that me being gay didn’t change anything about our relationship, and it hasn’t. I can’t tell you how relieving it was to finally tell someone and to be loved regardless. I can say without exaggeration that her response to me coming out saved my life.
One of the first people at work I came out to was my friend Jonobie — a woman who has since become my very best friend. Only minutes after coming out to her, she almost punched a guy making homophobic comments. A few months later I came out to my teammate Jenny and she went from utter disbelief to trying to set me up within seconds.
But other interactions weren’t so rosy.
Like Simon in the movie, I came out to my parents at Christmas. Unlike Simon, my parents are conservative evangelicals. There were tears, words of “why are you making this choice?”, “you just haven’t found the right girl yet”, “but you’ll never have kids”, “what did I do wrong?”, “you should see a counselor”, etc. Lets just say that it didn’t go well and has been a very rocky path since. I envy loving, accepting, affirming parents like Simon’s.
I came out to another close college friend sometime in 2001. We use to attend church together in college. I honestly don’t remember the details of coming out to him, but he didn’t accept me with open arms. We remained friends, albeit of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” variety. When I got engaged to Benjamin he wasn’t able to tell me he was happy for me because he believed being gay was a sin. But the story takes a turn for the better when in 2009 he messaged me and said that his sister, whom he is very close to, came out to him and he was able to lovingly accept her. In his letter he apologized for hurting me when I came out to him and thanked me for giving him a chance to wrestle with some of the issues before his sister came out to him. Helping this man be able to accept his sister may be the thing I am proudest of in my life, because I know how much I wanted that for myself.
And it doesn’t end there. Society assumes that everyone is straight unless proven otherwise, so every interaction with a new person may turn into a coming out story. At some point it almost becomes second nature for those of us living in liberal, accepting areas of the country. (I’m sure I came out to some random clerk at the grocery store just last week trying to find something for Daniel.) For others in more rural or conservative areas, life exists in the closet because coming out is a risky ordeal, only undergone for specific people.
Stories help reveal our humanity, our realness to others. Within our stories we find common ground and commonalities. Coming out stories are no different.
If you’re LGBTQ+, what’s your coming out story?
If you’re not LGBTQ+, what’s a story of when someone came out to you?