Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Repost: How I Came Out, Part 1: Home is Where the Hate Is

I wrote this article last year. It was originally posted in June of '09. I might write it differently yoday, but I don't like to re-write too much. It kills the tone of the story. Any way, in light of the recent global attention to the very old problem of bullying and LGBT youth, I thought it might help to share this again. Readership has grown over the last year, so some of you might not have read this yet.

The things that I wrote about in this story did happen. My family doesn't like to admit it, or talk about it. My nieces and nephews don't understand why I stay away from my family and this may be part of the family history they haven't heard about before. For that reason alone, they deserve to know this. I don't know if any of them are LGBTQIA or anything else, but if any of them are, they need to know that you can get through the tough times and be stronger because of it.

It does get better when you clear your life of the people that just want to take you down and decide to live by your own rules. I have ducks, for god's sake. How much cooler does it get than that?  I hope that what I went though has made it easier for them. 

I didn't plan on this being a big article, but once I started writing, it just sort of flowed. Then I decided to make it a three-parter, but it became such an emotional experience for me, that I couldn't get past part 2. I'll finish it some day. Maybe I'll write a book some day.

As I've written before, I attended my first Gay Pride parade and festival in Washington, DC in June, 1978, as an 18-year-old kid, fresh out of High School. I wasn't out to my family yet and all I could tell them about what I did that day was that I was hanging out with some friends.

When I came home that later that Sunday afternoon, my mind reeling from everything I'd seen that day, I felt like Dorothy being whisked out the technicolor landscape of The Land of Oz and landing with a thud back in that sucky sepia-toned farmhouse in Kansas. I wanted to be anywhere but home. I had to keep my joy at finally finding a community of people like me hidden. I turned on the 6 o'clock news to see if there was any Pride coverage, in part because I wanted to relive the day's events, but also out of fear that I might have been caught on camera. At the very end of the broadcast there was a 30 second piece about the Parade with the usual shots of drag queens and leather men. I guess I wasn't interesting enough for TV.

My coming out process had actually started much earlier that year because of my relationship with my best friend, Charles who later became my boyfriend. But as every LGBT person knows, it really goes back even further.

My older siblings and their friends had always called me fag or queer. I was short, awkward and skinny with a sensitive, artistic nature. My brothers were both popular and athletic. My sisters were smart, pretty and opinionated like my mother. There may have been six of us, but the similarity to the Brady Bunch ended there. Each of them had always made sure that I knew that I didn't fit in and wasn't welcome in my own home. There was no way I could ever confide to any of them that I thought I might be gay.

During the spring semester of my senior year of High School, Charles and I had two art classes together, worked at the same place after school and his family had just moved in around the corner from me. He had always known he was gay and was never once plagued with the self doubt that had ruled my life. Charles had always known just exactly who he was and made no apologies. He was one of those confident, over-the-top characters that I just couldn't believe was real and I decided I had to get to know him.

In short order, my family became uncomfortable with our friendship and had even staged an intervention. My mother started by telling me that someone had asked her in the supermarket if I was gay, because of the flamboyant guy I was hanging out with. I countered that she was assuming guilt by association. I stood my ground on the basis that he was my friend and I wasn't going to let her or anyone else tell me he couldn't be. It was a horrible confrontation of accusation and denial, with f-bombs flying everywhere. (It may be hard to believe that I could use words like that with my mother, but she did teach them to me.) 

I was still in denial about myself, so in my mind, my argument was sound and she was just pointing out one more thing about me that she didn't like. By that time I had learned that my family would never approve of anything I did anyway, so I might as well do what I want. Fuck'em if they didn't like it. Exhausted, but never giving in, I retreated to my room.

My older sister was home from college that weekend with her buff, blond, blue-eyed boyfriend, Tony. They had witnessed the whole thing and my sister couldn't wait to put her two cents in. We had never been close and when she came to my room filled with her college student sense of enlightenment and wisdom and started her "just wait until you're ready" speech, I told her that I was ready for her to get the fuck out of my room.

After a few minutes, they sent Tony up, the poor sap. I felt really bad for him that he had been dragged into this mess. Though he clearly didn't want any part of this, he came in, sat down and in his dopey, dumb jock way said, "So your mom thinks your gay, huh?" 

By then I was an emotionally drained. I knew how hard it was for him, and since he wasn't family, I gave him a break. Calmly and with conviction I told him that my mother's guilt-by-association mindset was bullshit, that I wasn't gay and that I wasn't going to let them dictate who my friends would be. With that, the conversation ended and Tony, his duty fulfilled, left the room with a sense of immense relief and extreme embarrassment.
That was the last time the subject came up for the next year. But during that time, Charles and I became closer.

It happened on April 16th, 1978. I wanted to remember the date forever, so I made a mental note that it was the day after tax day. (Silly, maybe, but 29 years later, I still remember.) 

I stayed the night at Charles' small apartment that Friday night when his divorced mother was away for the weekend. He shared a room with his brother, so we slept on the floor in the living room. One thing lead to another and I fumbled my way through my first boy-on-boy experience.

In the morning, I woke up feeling like the weight of the world had been lifted off my shoulders. For the first time I knew who I was. I was in love with my best friend and he loved me back. He was the first person in my life who had ever loved me "warts and all". I was reborn.

Next Time: Dupont Circle, Freshman Year and the Final Showdown
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  1. woah, powerful!

    can't wait until the next enrty.

  2. Thanks, Chris. These are stories that have been swirling around in my head for a long time. Feels good to get them out.


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