Happy belated National Coming Out Day, which was celebrated last weekend, coinciding with the March for Equality. This year we will revisit the coming out stories we published here last year to commemorate the occasion and tack on a few new ones. What many of our straight allies don't quite realize is that we never really stop coming out. Every new person we meet, new group we engage with, every new job, every new social situation we find ourselves in requires that we come out. Hopefully with time this will no longer be as necessary.
This week we revisit our Coming Out Stories diary which we first published last year, and we've tacked on a few new coming out stories our members have agreed to share with us today. If DailyKos has any staying power and WGLB manages to persist, I would hope the stories shared in this annual edition by our younger members would gradually become markedly less traumatic to the point where coming out as GLBT individuals to family, friends and society would become irrelevant, as views of different sexual orientation become no big deal. We're still a long way off, unfortunately.
The stories are listed below such that the new additions to this current diary are on top, in no particular order, followed by mine (tnichlsn) and the others from previous years, listed chronologically, oldest to youngest. I'll reorder them again at the end of the week, all chronologically, for next year. Making any generational trends easier to spot. Maybe I should add all of our ages after our screen names to make reordering the stories easier and more obvious to whomever is running this show next year at this time...
As with many teens in the 1970s, I sublimated my same sex desires through hard work, hard studying, hard drinking, and sports. The dam finally broke my senior year of college at a large beachfront party where I was "invited" by 5 members of our college football team to sleep with them on the beach. Within a few minutes of rolling out the sleeping bags, everyone was drunkenly in each other's sleeping bag. Lightbulb moment! Of course, no-one remembered a thing the next morning.
A little later that year, I was seduced by a visiting high school classmate that told me how he always had a crush on me and that there was a running contest amongst the "choir fags" who would get me into bed the first. He also took me to my first gay bar whereupon I discovered that people seemed "normal". No more closet for me!
I soon met my first partner at that bar--a big burly wholesome Nebraska farmboy-- and came out to my family. My politically progressive parents welcomed him as a member of the family and all has been great with them since.
Growing up, I never was fascinated with boys like other girls my age. They would come to school and pull out their Teen Bops and trade posters of the Backstreet Boys, Hanson, and such. They would oo and ah over them and I would stand there thinking man these girls are weird.
Then I would come home and every so often when joined by my cousin, my mom would interrogate me if I had any crushes on boys. I remember buying a magazine filled with pictures of the standard teenage heartthrobs at the time just so my mom and cousin would leave me alone. But instead they flipped through the magazine with me and had me give my take on how cute each guy was. I lied.
When I got to Junior High I still wasn't crushing on boys and I still was being bothered by my mom and cousin. So I remember literally telling myself, "I will like a guy just to shut them up." So thus entered my boy crazy years. I look back and laugh because I chose the weirdest guys to like.
In the latter years of High School I finally started questioning my sexuality. I started looking back and seeing clues of crushes on other girls. I struggled with my sexuality and at first I thought I was bi. Well my mom accidentally found out about my struggle and told me how she didn't accept it and how I was going to hell.
About a few months later I came out to myself and others as a lesbian. I realized that I had only used the bi title to seem more normal to my family and society. But I had known all through life I had never liked guys.
Since then my mother has figured out that I identify as a lesbian and kicked me out of the house, and I got kicked out of my grandma's house too because of it. But the funny thing is, I have never been happier. All my friends and family know abut me and I no longer have to hide the real me. I no longer have to lie to society but above all else I no longer have to lie to myself.
Everyone's "out" story is unique to their individual skin. I feel like mine is mostly incomplete. I still don't know what being bisexual means for me, and I'm probably in for a challenging and hopefully more-interesting-than-painful few years ahead of me.
See, most people realize they're not straight much earlier in life than I did. In my case, I was straight not because I wanted to be, or because I needed to be, or even because I'd never asked myself questions before. I just came up with a different answer one day, and I can't fully account for it.
What changed? I can't say. I continue to be as happy with my life as a married father as I was before this happened. How did this happen? I have more questions than answers at this point. This can be confusing and even scary for me, but we are all works in progress.
I am still finding out what being bisexual means to me. I think figuring out these answers are important, and I believe they will help me become a better husband, a better father, and a more "whole" person overall.
What I've learned so far is that carrying a secret once you've realized you're carrying it is something that frightens you to your core. Once you realize this about yourself, you start thinking people can see through your skin and into your mind -- that they can somehow see those thoughts you only recently knew you had. It's like carrying a hand grenade that someone just yanked the pin from.
Telling my wife was something I knew I had to do. There was no choice in the matter. But at the same time, I knew I couldn't. This conflicted feeling was so intense that it really made me appreciate everything that GLBTs have to go through -- and I felt a particular awe for those who don't have the advantage of being able to pass for straight.
But coming out for me wasn't a political act or a social statement. It was just another way that my wife and I have grown together. And I came away with renewed faith in how close we are. The fact that I have no secrets from my wife now is a source of a lot of inspiration.
So what now? I may never be fully out. I have a lot of conflicting emotions about this fact. But I do know that one thing everyone will know about me is that I have no tolerance for homophobia, and that I support and will fight for the equal treatment under law for all of my GLBT brothers and sisters. This is who I was as a straight man, it is who I am as a bisexual man, and it is who I will always be, no matter which way the political winds blow and no matter who I wake up to be tomorrow.
I want to thank the members of this community for listening to my story, and add that the support of Kossacks both straight and GLBT have given me has been a source of so much strength. I felt broken before, but now I'm just proud to have so many allies in this thing. Thank you.
Date: Summer 1976. Location: James City County,Virginia (near Queens Lake).
Participants: Me (age 22) & Dad (age 48)
My Dad stood there holding a substantial Brush-hook, he was Land Surveying in the Woods not far from his Office in Williamsburg. I tracked him to his location. We always had a unique psychic connection, it was easy to find him. He was cutting brush and looked like he could use a break. I had driven down from Richmond to tell him that I was Gay. He had two responses to this news: 1. He was concerned about the level of crap I would have to endure in life. 2. He was saddened that the family line would end with me. I replied to the latter: "Dad even if I were straight I wouldn't have had kids". I was telling this to a man who was an only child, as was I. Later in life I would give him his Irish Citizenship through my petition for same, which was my heredital gift to him, which he still cherishes to this day... No disdain, no hate, just support over the years... I lucked out!
to be continued...
I came out in 1986, between my junior and senior year in high school. I did not come out as much as I was sort of forced out but in an odd way.
I grew up in an upper middle class area, so it was not 'bad' to be gay but this was still the 80s and it was new, especially being in school. When I came out I was the subject of meetings, etc., how to deal with it, make sure no problems arose, etc.
I was lucky enough to have good friends who watched out for me. I did not get beaten up, though I did have to deal with some verbal harassment.
Now, as to why I came out... I had a huge puppy dog crush on this guy. He is and was straight. He knew I was gay and was OK with it. But I knew he was not, but in my life, he was everything I wanted (well, except teh gay). But just having him near was enough. But then someone else found out I was gay and they started to start innuendos about him, etc.
To make a long story short, word spread about me, he was upset things were being said about him. I ended up ODing since I had no idea what else to do. I was rushed to the hospital, stomach pumped, etc. When I got out many people knew what happened, the person was out of my life, and I was out.
I had no idea what to do, or who I was, or what the right things to do were, since it was a topic a kid never learned about, except on their own. So I was alone, depressed and had no idea how to deal with everything.
Lucky for me the suicide attempt did not work, but... that is my story.
Like so many of my GLBT brothers and sisters, I thought that the only way I could survive was to come out. The only way I could come out was to leave the comfort of everything I knew and venture into an urban environment where I could surround myself with other GLBT people. So in early summer 1985, I loaded everything I owned into my hand-me-down of a hand-me-down vehicle and headed out from Texas Tech to Dallas. It’s only 100 miles from my home town and I had always heard about all the "gay folks" in Dallas. (In those days, there wasn’t the current "acronym soup"...we were all just "gay"... at least that was my experience in Dallas.) I had no place to stay. I had no prospect for work. All I knew, for certain, was that if I didn’t make this move I couldn’t survive. Literally.
Arriving in Dallas, I called one of my Aunts and asked if I could stay with her until I could find a job and a place of my own. For some reason, Aunt Sarah was smart enough not to ask and I wasn’t telling.
In a couple of weeks, I had found a job waiting tables in the gayborhood (any of you Dallasites from the mid-80’s remember "Pappy’s" on Cedar Springs? Fortunately, a college professor had retired, moved to Dallas and a friend had convinced him to bankroll a sandwich shop, thus, I landed on my feet. It didn’t take long to become a fixture on the club scene and a network of friends was established.
I had come out to myself, but not to anyone of importance. Not family. Not childhood friends.
Then I met Peter. He was older. He was successful. He was sexy. He was Italian. I fell head over heels. A whirlwind romance progressed quickly into moving into his townhouse. Then he got transferred to suburban Chicago and asked me to go along. I couldn’t imagine not being together, so it was a done deal.
I called my Mom to tell her the exciting news that I was "moving to Chicago with a ‘buddy’ ". Although she didn’t ask...I could sense something wasn’t right. I had told myself that I would never tell my family I was gay unless I was confronted. The next day, it happened. After a "who is this person? How long have you known him? Are you sure you want to be that far away from home?" series of grilling questions, it just came out. ARE YOU GAY? And with that, the floodgates were opened.
The next day, I got "THE" phone call. "You can’t possibly be gay, you’re a Christian! How could this happen? Is it something we did? OH! NO! You’ve been brainwashed!" ..."No Mother, I haven’t been ‘brainwashed." ..."Then you’re obviously being held against your will and this monster is taking you off to Chicago so we can’t SAVE you!!!" ..."No, Mother, I haven’t been kidnapped. It’s just who I am and I had rather risk burning in hell for being gay than for being a liar." CLICK... but it wasn’t me that hung up. The decision was made.
Peter and I moved to Chicago. After a few weeks, he encouraged me to reach out by writing a letter and putting my thoughts on paper where I couldn’t be interrupted. I did so. A week later an envelope arrived from home. Inside were separate letters written by my parents. My Mother’s letter was full of sadness and grief and denial. The conclusion of her letter was that she must honor her husband’s wishes. My stomach sank as I opened Dad’s letter. You are not my son. You have NO family. You will never see any of us again and you are to make no attempt to contact anyone in the family. YOU. NO. LONGER. EXIST.
I was devastated, but Peter became my family. He told me I was far too bright to spend the rest of my life waiting tables. Therefore, I was not expected to even attempt to find a "real" job until I learned to type. With that skill, intelligence and drive, Peter told me I could make it. He insisted that I also enroll in a couple of classes at the local community college (even though I already had almost 5 full years of university under my belt). It was to keep my mind active. I got a job at the college and the rest is history.
Six months later, my Mother called. After many tears, we reconciled (although I was NOT to let my Father know she had called). Almost a year to the day of the initial "coming out", my father finally wrote. He didn’t approve. He would never accept it, but I was his son.
Our careers eventually took Peter and me to Phoenix. Mom and Dad even came to visit in 1989, after finding out that Peter was HIV+. On January 17, 1990, Peter decided he couldn’t live with the uncertainty of his diagnosis. I came home from work to find him peacefully "gone" in a garage filled with carbon monoxide.
Fast forward. I met Jan in Denver, after another career advancing move for me, in 1993. This Thanksgiving, we will be celebrating 16 years of a monogamous relationship. In a great stroke of irony, Jan (who many of you only know as "teh husbear") has become both my Mother AND Father’s favorite "inlaw".
My coming out was a many layered affair but the part that stands out most in my memory is when I finally officially came out to my mother. I was moving to Pennsylvania for a theatre intern job and my brother had just announced I was no longer welcome on his property. My mother and I were spending the night with a friend in Raleigh and I was staying an extra day to get last minute things for my big move. The first night there I decided I had to tell Mom. Trish and I dropped Mom at the beauty salon where she was having her hair dyed and cut and headed to a bar for a cocktail. I ordered a Long Island and talked with Trish and finally came out to her. She fussed at me for not having done so earlier and ordered another round. Needless to say by the time we picked up Mom I was well on my way to being plastered.
We went out for dinner and drinks- I kept ordering Long Islands like they were Kool-Aid. By the time we made it back to Trish’s condo I was three sheets in the wind but was hell bound and determined to tell Mom. The door bell rang and a friend of Trish’s arrived and we all continued to drink around the kitchen table. I finally gave up when I was seeing 4 of everything and went to bed leaving the women drinking and talking. I awoke the next morning at 4:30 am with the worse hangover of my life.
I made my way down the hall to the kitchen and made some coffee and lit a cigarette. Next thing I know here comes Mom with her hair looking great but looking like hell otherwise. She poured a cup of java and stood at the counter holding it like it was God’s gift to the world. Hung over as hell, I finally found my courage.
"Mom, I have something to tell you."
"What?" She said as if talking and thinking were the last thing she wanted to do.
"I don’t care." She said. "I love you and you are my son. Plus I have known since you were 13."
I asked "Why didn’t you say anything?"
"I also know your temper and there was always a chance I was wrong" she answered.
With that she headed down the hall mumbling about getting ready for her drive to Tarboro and getting ready. Suddenly she stopped at the end of the hall. I just knew all hell was about to break out as she finally realized what I had said. She turned and came back to the kitchen and set her coffee cup down.
"I guess I should do this" she said as she grabbed me in a hug. "I really do love you" she said and then walked off saying she had to get ready for work.
She is still my best friend and always has been. It doesn’t mean we did not have our tough times with my being gay but we sure got through the first episode with flying colors.
In case you hadn't noticed it, gay men are pigs. If you've ever been offended by our C&J after hours banter, what you read is usually pretty tame. We make it an obsession when we're out by ourselves. Gay men, maybe even more so than straight men, are hung up on sex. Yeah, yeah, straight men are considered pigs when out carousing, but they pale by comparison to gay men under those same conditions. Imagine a bunch of horned up straight men in a bar when in happen a bunch of horned up women and you sort of get the straight equivalent of what most gay bars can be like on any given night because we are all always checking each other out. So yes, gay men are PIGS! Even when we're out innocently walking down the street, our 'gaydar' is almost always switched ON, like some built-in GPS system, only scanning our immediate environment for other gay men. (Gay Proximity Sensor?) But this is changing presumably and soon won't be a universal truth.
Until recently, (the last 10 years or so.) gay men were, for lack of a better term, "retarded" in their social and sexual development. We've had no classes on being "gay", few television programs with recurring gay characters, and no mentors to teach us about our culture and way of life. So while straight kids were fumbling their way through high school, in those awkward, sexually curious years, gay teenagers were still trying to figure out why they didn't have the same fascination for big hooters and cheerleaders. A few students in more enlightened areas may have gotten a mention of homosexuality in sex education class, but the vast majority were stuck blindly feeling their way along, grabbing whatever bits and pieces of their "orientation" they might happen upon.
The age of the internet and MTV has made this quest for knowledge of GLB sexuality and culture a much less difficult undertaking. However, in many areas of the US, this path to self discovery remains a dangerous journey and a public expression of homosexuality may still result in anything from isolation, to rejection, to intimidation, to getting physically assaulted and/or murdered. So while straight kids were working on getting to 3rd base, gay kids were still trying to find the playing field. Further, when high school ends and straight kids were out auditioning life partners, gay kids were just starting to actively explore their sexuality, due to this long lag time imposed by lack of available information.
Once you managed to achieve this self awareness as a gay man, you had to hide your orientation in most day-to-day activities and deal with the continual drumbeat of negative feedback and open hostility presented in the MSM, which frequently leads to great insecurity in both our psyches and our communities. So when we go out we seek positive feedback and reassurance in the form of sexual liaisons, to prove to ourselves that we are not the despicable abominations we see ourselves portrayed as in much of the straight world. Some of us get stuck in this feedback loop for years, until we're mature enough or become experienced/confident enough to move on to the next phase of our social development. Frequently we find someone we believe to be a kindred spirit and prematurely jump into a relationship. We aren't able to thoroughly air out our potential partners the way straight couples do because we cannot do much of the dating type activities straights do,... well, because we aren't allowed to. We can't hold hands and walk down most streets together or even stare lovingly into each other's eyes over lunch on a park bench. So, many of us settle for companionship that we've confused for love and long term stability. We frequently end up in codependent relationships, which take even longer to work our way through. (But that's another whole can of worms, for another diary.). As we mature, all this shit coalesces in our heads, if we're lucky, and by the time we reach middle age, we discover what real love is, and what long term commitment is, and are finally ready to enter into a LTR.
We are of course transitioning into a new reality now in the US, or at least in parts of the US. With the younger generation seeing much more of GLBT representation on television, and with the internet allowing much greater access to GLBT culture, and with virtual support networks available online. Kids today presumably aren't as far behind their straight counter parts in social development, without as long a lag time required for answering the question of what GLBT culture is and fumbling along blindly in search of the answers to those basic questions about how our sexuality works. Presumably straight kids, when they go exploring their sexuality will also be exposed to some of this alternate information as well and won't see us as quite the alien and threatening and unknown entities as previous generations have.
As some of you know, I was outed at work before I even started my job at MIT and Harvard many years ago. I will share more of that story when we discuss the merits of 'outing' at some later date. So I've focused on the coming out to myself process above. What follows are some coming out stories our regular contributors were willing to share.
The first time I remember having a "bi moment" was in 1972. CBS had just premiered their new show Bridget Loves Bernie and I had a huge crush on both David Birney and Meredith Baxter. I loved her beautiful, straight blonde hair. I loved his dark, soulful eyes. I cut pictures of them out of magazines, separately and together, and hung them up in my bedroom. And I was crushed when the show was cancelled after only a few episodes. Oh, the intensity of tween infatuation!
Soon after, I was out on the playground with a gaggle of little girls who were talking about their own crushes. I noticed that they were all talking about boys—David Cassidy, Bobby Sherman, Donny Osmond—but not one of them mentioned any girls. Something told me not to mention my Meredith Baxter crush. It was the first time I remember hiding my bisexuality (although I didn't know that's what it was) because I was afraid of what others might think.
A lot of bisexual kids hide their same sex attractions due to a simple lack of information and role models. During adolescence, I focused on opposite sex relationships mainly because that's what I saw all around me. By the time I was a young teenager, I knew what "lesbian" meant, I knew what "gay" meant, but they didn't seem to apply to me. Finally, I went to the public library and checked out a book on human sexuality. There, in one little paragraph, I saw the term "bisexual" for the first time. It was such a relief to see even a small, incomplete description of a kind of sexuality that I felt applied to me! I've always believed that the first step in the coming out process is coming out to yourself. That day, seeing that one word—bisexual—was my first step in what would eventually be a 15-year coming out process.
In my mind, the most infamous step in that process happened when I was a junior in college. I'd had two serious romances by that time—one with a man and one with a woman—and both had left me very confused about what I wanted from a relationship. I decided to see a school counselor who, ironically enough, was a gay man who specialized in working with the gay/lesbian students. In our third session, it all came spilling out: my relationships, hiding my attraction to women from my former boyfriend, dodging the issue of my attraction to men with my former girlfriend, my confusion, my desire for more information about bisexuality. I'll never forget his response.
"We'll since there's no such thing as bisexuality, you're either a lesbian who can't deal with your homosexuality or a straight girl who is acting out sexually."
I don't remember anything else that he said after that. I left in tears and never returned. And even though a very dear friend that I shared this experience with told me that the counselor was an idiot, it affected me deeply. I became very insecure about my sexuality.
About a year out of college, I met and fell in love with my first husband. A year later, we were married and I put my struggle with my bisexuality on the back burner. Other bisexuals I've met had this same experience. Once they get into a long-term relationship—either opposite sex or same sex—the sexuality issues are overshadowed by relationship issues. This may be one of the reasons why so many bisexuals come out later in life. But the sexuality issue is always there, waiting.
I had been married for 7 years when 2 important things happened—my marriage started to fall apart and I found the Internet. All of the sudden, I had a torrent of information about bisexuality that I'd never had before. There were other bisexuals to "talk" to (alt.sex.bisexuality, anyone?), stories to read, and questions to ponder. The most common experience we all seemed to share was the feeling of "Wow! Finally, someone like me!" Almost no one was using the Internet to hook up (yet).
I finally "came out" to my husband and our marriage counselor. The counselor was very supportive and, at first, so was my husband. But over the next few months, my husband became suspicious and jealous (even though I had never cheated on him with anyone, male or female). Revealing my bisexuality didn't destroy my first marriage, but it was the last nail in the coffin. I came out of my first marriage determined to always be honest about my sexuality with any potential partner, but I mostly focused on graduate school. I hadn't given up on love, but I wasn't looking for it either.
Quite unexpectedly, about 9 months after my divorce, a woman I worked with asked me out on a date. I accepted, but that very first evening I told her that I was bisexual. She seemed OK with it, but over the course of our 18-month relationship, I experienced another phenomenon that many bisexuals face—biphobia in the gay/lesbian community. This was a strange time in my life. I was living more honestly and openly than I ever had. I was finally out to all my family, friends, and coworkers. I felt like I was really part of the gay community, since I was working gay men at an HIV-support counseling center and was regularly socializing with lesbian women with my girlfriend. But then the pressure started.
At first, it was just teasing remarks, like "Bi Now, Gay Later" and "sleeping with the enemy." But soon it became serious criticisms and, in a few rare cases, outright hostility. My partner was getting it too, like there was something wrong with her because her girlfriend "wouldn't admit" that she was a lesbian. The stress led to anger, the anger lead to fighting, the fighting eventually broke us up.
A few months later, one of my best friends (a straight guy) showed me an article he had seen in the local paper about a bisexual social and support group—The Fencesitters (ha-ha!). Here I was, 34 years old, and for the first time in my life I was in the same room with other bisexuals. I had peers and role models who not only accepted me for who I was, but who'd had experiences similar to mine. It was mind-blowing and a little overwhelming.
Through this group, I met a bisexual man that quickly became a very good friend. We were the same age; we were both sci-fi fans; we found out that we had some mutual friends. He was a little to conservative for my tastes, but even our political arguments were fun and we joked about how I was "converting" him into a liberal. But just as this relationship was evolving into something deeper, I got an opportunity for a job in the San Francisco Bay Area that I couldn't turn down. So I left. Imagine my surprise when my new friend called me a few months later and asked if he could join me! It was a big risk for the both of us, but I listened to my heart and told him "Yes" and we've been together ever since.
Other bisexuals I've met, particularly the ones that came out later in their lives, often have a period we jokingly refer to as our "second adolescence"—the time in our lives when everything falls into place and we do the sexual experimentation that we weren't able to do when we were teenagers. So there we were, my future husband and I—two out and proud bisexuals, with a supportive partner, living in gay Mecca—and we experimented. We experimented a lot. We tried polyamory (not for us, too much drama), duogamy (all open and above board with everyone involved), fetish clubs, and bisexual porn (yes, it exists). It was like being an adolescent again—finding out what we liked and disliked, becoming more secure in our sexual identity.
And when it was all finished, we discovered what many couples, same sex or opposite sex, discover when they find their life partner—we were in love and wanted to be monogamous. Not because it's what society demanded of us, or what our family and friends expected from us, but because it's what felt right for us.
AndyS in Colorado-
I suppose my coming out story is a bit different.
I was confused about my sexuality until I was about 15 and like many things it came out as an waking epiphany.
From that point, I wasn't confused any more.
I did many other things the same way as a kid; one day I couldn't swim (being terrified of drowning) and then I woke up from a dream and suddenly, I just could and it never bothered me ever again.
One problem with this realization/epiphany cycle is the absolute certainty it lends you.
How can certainty in this instance be a problem? Because, there are some side effects of having an inner spine of steel.
I never ever internalized the broader societal message that being gay is wrong.
But when you don't internalize some messages, it can be worse than if you did. I also didn't know any other gay people until I was out of high school. There weren't many people in my life who were gay supportive.
So you sort of go through life thinking of everyone else as being very strange. You get alienated literally. I really did, as young people are wont to do, fantasize about everyone around me being like lizard people or some such.
I and my best friend were interrogated about our sexuality by our junior high school administration. Yes -- interrogated, as if it was a police interrogation! They really came at us as if it were some sort of crime to be gay, with unspecified but undoubtedly horrible consequences if we were.
But my best friend was just a geek (not gay) who thought it was amusing to play with the word.
I came away from that experience, if not before, of just how dangerous it could be for me at that time and age to be openly gay.
From that point forward, I hid my sexuality until I was an adult, not because I thought something was wrong with it, but because I knew what might happen.
The town I was raised in was quite small, and neither my family, nor the atmosphere encouraged diversity. Different was bad. Being a lesbian, when I finally figured out that there was a word that applied to me, was really bad. So, I didn't say anything. It was lonely and confusing, but I didn't see that I had any other choice. I just went with the flow. Dated a guy or two. Went to the prom with my best friend, who happened to be a guy, and then finally graduated from high school with my secret and my skin intact.
Then I started dating my first girlfriend. Coming out to my best friend was hard, but he took it really well. The fact that my girlfriend was his ex-, he didn't take so well, but I expected that. The rest of my friends were all cool with it, especially my younger cousin who figured out about a year later that he was gay.
Coming out to my brother was a screaming match that ended well, sorta, but coming out to my sister-in-law was great and she was the most important, because she was the one who could decide whether or not I got to spend time with Beloved Niece. Beloved Niece who was just a tot at the time, well, we figured out that she was ok with it when she got in trouble at kindergarten for playing house with two mommies.
And my parents, well, I never really 'came out' to them, so to speak. My mother found out when she appeared unannounced when I was spending the evening with my girlfriend. She's still not overly fond the idea, but she at least isn't overtly evil about it. My father, well, no one's really sure what he knows or understands, but he sure seems to like KK.
As for the rest of the world, they're on a need to know basis. If I figure they need to know, then I'll tell them, other than that, well, it's my life.
I think for me a lot of my "gay moments" came in retrospect, and in small doses...
To this day I can still tell you the names, describe the faces, tell you about conversations I had with guys growing up... how much I thought they were cute, or handsome, or hot... and how much I couldn't say a word.
What I often think of as crush #1a came in high school. I had known him in passing during junior high, but nothing like what happened the first time I saw him walking into study hall in his football jersey. What happened that day, frankly, scared the hell out of me. I was in awe of his physique, although he wasn't that much different looking than me... I wanted to know everything I could about him - his middle name, his birthdate (fellow Cancer, btw, I found out I was 10 days older)... and then, sadly, before I could even talk to him, he mentioned offhand to a friend of his in that same study hall that his family was moving to California. I was heartbroken, but... again... scared as hell by the idea that HE could do that to me. A young man could make me FEEL like that.
I remember distinctly riding my bicycle by his house the day before they moved, hoping he'd come outside with something and see me. My perserverance paid off - I got to wish him good luck in his new life and shake his hand. Still brings a smile to my face.
But in reality, during the summer prior to my freshman year in high school I remember yet another one - strawberry blond hair, tall (almost a foot taller than me), and a basketball player. For most of that year, I tried again to find out who he was, what he did, what his NAME was...had it wrong for most of the year... LOL... Then one day I attended a meeting for a trip to France scheduled for the summer... and who's in there? BINGO. To top it off, his French wasn't that great, and his metric calculations had had his "host family" expecting someone 8'1", not 6'6". LOL. Fast friends built out of necessity in this case - and we ended up rooming together for most of the trip overseas.
However, in writing this I realize this is all retrospect. I think fondly of these two, but I'd never do anything at all to find them or talk to them after all these years. I just think that if anyone ever asks "is being gay a choice", I'd say - no, pretty much at the age of 13 I knew what I liked, and hid that fact from myself for the next 16 years, until I came out at the age of 29 to myself, and 30 to others.
If nothing else, I'd like to thank them both for being there at the formative time. They're both part of the reason why I am now with this love of my life. So, thanks. :)
Growing up, I never had any inkling that I might be attracted to another girl. I had crushes on boys... dated them (to my father's consternation since I tended to go for the anti-authoritarian types).
My upbringing regarding GLBT issues was mixed. My mother had a very close relationship with her gay cousin (we were taught to call him uncle, so apologies if I switch back and forth)... she told us that there is no meaningful difference between us based on sexual orientation. She was also very supportive to my GLBT friends... she is the reason that I spoke out when people were treated badly in high school or at work.
My father and oldest brother are a whole other story. They love nothing more than crass gay jokes. My brother visited my uncle and met his partner of many years... until this point my uncle had never confirmed the assumption that he was gay. When my brother returned, he and my dad spent weeks joking about it and how could anyone do such things?... fortunately, this was after my mom died, so she didn't have to hear it.
So, this is all background for where I am now... just under two years ago I met Love. She reminded me of a good friend from home and we started hanging out. Being rather oblivious, it never crossed my mind that she might be interested in my... until a good friend (who happens to be gay) mentioned it. I pondered... realized that that was probably true... and realized that if she had been a guy, I would have been head over heels. So, this sparked the internal dialog about whether gender should stand in the way of a relationship with someone so perfect for me. I credit my decision to my mother... if I had any belief that being in a same-sex relationship was less-than, I probably wouldn't have been ok with it... as is, it was still a huge adjustment.
I told my best friends and sister first. The best friends never batted an eye... my sister was a bit more problematic. She loves good appearances and this was a complication to the perfect family that she envisioned. She tries to be supportive but it just feels forced... so, our relationship has become more distant.
The younger of my brothers has been wonderful... I think Love is the only person that I have been in a relationship with that he actually likes. He is usually insanely over-protective.
I think the biggest change in my life since entering into this relationship has been the change in my perceptions. Before, I thought that I was supportive of my gay friends but didn't understand why some of them were so bitter... I get that now. I know what it feels like to be a second-class citizen and to be discriminated against because of who I love.
The best part of my coming out story was coming out to my "second family." Some of you already know that I didn't live at home for part of my high school years. My father threw me out on several occasions and during a large part of that time, I lived a friend's family. Over the years, they became my family. Last year, that friend got married and I was her maid of honor. I gave her the green-light to tell her family and friends about Love so that there wouldn't be any surprises. That night, we were treated like any other couple. No one batted an eye at us dancing together or kissing... it was wonderful. The best part was when my "dad" took Donna aside to discuss her intentions towards me and to remind her that I was very loved in that family (and that it would be very bad if she were to hurt me)... how cute is that? It was one of those days that just makes you think "this is what life would be like if there was no discrimination."
Father John-Mark (jgilhousen)-
I was born into an evangelical Protestant home where the neighborhood Church and its fire and brimstone messages were the center of our life. My earliest schoolboy crushes were on male teachers and classmates, and my much older sisters' boyfriends. I had experiences at a surprisingly young age with one of my cousins which went far beyond those which were cataloged in the psychological literature as "adolescent experimentation," which by my eighth grade year I was surreptitiously and voraciously devouring at the local library, in hopes of finding something which would provide some glimmer of hope that I was just going through a "normal phase."
That effort failing, and still very much in secret, although the taunts from my peers were increasing and striking ever closer to what felt like home, I turned to the prescription I had learned from my parents' religion. It is no exaggeration that I spent hour upon hours in fervent prayer to be delivered from what was surely an abomination to God and His people, and wept bitter tears.
Yet, at the same time, if I am completely honest, I had an ongoing relationship with a classmate which could only be described as "high school sweethearts." We did everything together, and our emotional bond was beyond anything I have experienced before or since. We even double dated, and after dropping of our "girlfriends," usually "fooled around," together, often involving a sleepover at his house or mine. He, of course, was as internally conflicted over this as I, and even better skilled at the art of denial. I graduated a year ahead of him, and that's when the pretense rushed ever closer to its inevitable impossibility to maintain. It's a story with a tragic ending, I believe largely because of the times, and the fact that only one of us was able to overcome the internalized homophobia sufficiently to survive. It was, indeed, different in the late Sixties and early Seventies than now. We can call it pre-Will-and-Grace America, as if such stereotypical media portrayals are really that big a step forward... but I am getting ahead of myself.
My Freshman year of College, this internal conflict and the self loathing I had adopted at the prompting of virtually everyone with any influence or authority in my life, led me to a complete melt-down. I couldn't bear it any longer. I came out to family and friends, and became the only openly gay person in my town of about 10,000 people. Even using the most conservative of estimates of the size of the GLBT population, I should have had a bit more company, and today there is a visible presence here. But this was 1970, and although I was expecting consequences, nothing could have prepared me for what followed. Nor had I expected abandonment by most of my friends, with whom I thought I had lifelong bonds.
To keep some semblance of peace in the family I agreed to undergo psychological counseling, at a time when homosexuality was still classified as a disorder, and homosexual activity was still a felony in my state. My consent was given under duress. Much to my parents' chagrin, the approach taken by my first clinicians was not to seek a "cure," which they viewed as impossible, but to learn to live with and accept the condition to the extent possible, much as a person with an incurable physical disease might be taught to learn to function despite it, managing its more destructive symptoms. Needless to say, this didn't satisfy either my parents' or my own needs. I eventually abandoned the therapy, and pretty much divorced myself from my family and their church.
I mistakenly thought I was freer than I actually was. After all, I was over eighteen, and except for voting (for which the age of majority was still twenty-one) enjoyed the rights and privileges of adulthood. One of the first exercises of that freedom was to enter into my first living-together relationship, despite the fact that I had no experience or even models on which to rely in developing a healthy partnership. How was I to know what a gay couple even looked like? All I had to go on was my physical attraction and some romantic notions of love, and I had both of those in spades. He was a bisexual ex-marine, working as a disc jockey at the local radio station freshly back from Vietnam. We met in the course of our town's amateur theater production of Neil Simon's Star Spangled Girl in which we were cast in the two male leads. We marched together in demonstrations against the war, and the less frequent gay rights marches, and shared a small one-bedroom basement apartment the living room of which was decorated in hippie chic, his framed honorable discharge from the Marines and saber mounted on one wall, a Beatles' "Let it Be" poster on the other. He was deeply misogynistic, and his understanding of masculinity demanded he treat me in some contexts with the same contempt he reserved for women. I quickly learned to comply, making myself both subservient to him and tolerant of his abuse, even to the extent of distorting it in my mind into an expression of his love, and even though both he and I expected me to be faithful in the sense of sexual exclusivity, I accepted his "need" to have female sexual partners and convinced myself of the truth of his claim that "it had nothing to do with us and our love." Truth be told, neither he or I had any notion of what constituted love. Yes, there was mutual affection, and considerable sacrifices on both sides, but not a shred of respect.
It being difficult, even in those days, for the police to come up with probable cause, let alone evidence sufficient to prosecute sodomy charges, they tried to get us on drug charges. Admittedly, marijuana and even an occasional acid trip were part of our "lifestyle." It is only by chance and their ineptitude that a "bust" failed to produce grounds for my arrest, and although my partner was taken into custody, charges had to be dropped in a matter of a few days. But that brief incarceration provided my parents an opportunity which they seized, having me committed. Yes, my freedom was an illusion. My father, a physician, arranged for one of his colleagues to testify at a competency hearing based solely on his characterization of my "condition" and "behavior," having never examined me personally. The judge, a relative, ruled that the physician's statement was sufficient evidence to justify an Order that I be involuntarily hospitalized for observation and treatment at the discretion of the state hospital. I was asked no questions, and given no opportunity to speak. When I tried to insist on being given such an opportunity, my "outburst" was deemed further evidence of my irrationality. My attending physician turned out not to be a qualified psychiatrist. In fact, he had been a general practitioner in my hometown who only weeks prior to my admission had his license suspension lifted. The story of how I survived the ninety days at the facility, and what I endured there, would fill several diaries, if not a book, in and of itself. I was, after all, in the system which inspired Ken Kesey to write One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.
Suffice it to say that skills gained by my amateur acting experiences and my years of denial and life in the closet were required, as was agreement to be released on a provisional basis into the custody of, you guessed it, the same parents who had engineered my commitment in the first place. Part of the discharge plan was a requirement for ongoing psychiatric treatment, and my parents insisted that it be under the care of a "Christian Psychiatrist." This was still before the profession renounced homosexuality as a diagnosis, and even before the advent of "conversion" or "reparative" therapies. Since the profession's track record of "cures" was already acknowledged as abysmal, enlightened clinicians were not seeking them, and a few were even beginning to be gay affirmative. A physician who includes his religious persuasion on his shingle cannot be expected to be even modestly enlightened, and in the absence of any established protocols, was left to his or her imagination with regard to potential "treatments." In my case, the doctor decided that sedating me to the point of toxicity would prevent my libido from rearing its ugly head, providing me an opportunity to learn more healthy avenues in which to pursue the affection I so deeply craved.
It did not take too very long for this approach to fail so miserably that even my parents had to recognize it as an exercise in futility. The drugs I was being given in doses far exceeding the manufacturers' recommendations produced obvious and severe physical side effects, and have left me with life threatening drug sensitivities to this very day. So, too, did the charade of a relationship between me and my family become entirely too exhausting for all parties to maintain. At the point that my father passed from this life, some years ago, we were still entirely estranged.
I ultimately found my place in this world, but not until I had made several stabs at it, some of which were as disastrous as anything I have recounted above. It has been several decades since I have been an active member of the GLBT community. My life journey took me, quite circuitously, into a life of contemplation and service. I have continued to speak out for the oppressed, and the marginalized, and to work to ameliorate, in my own small way, the pain which hatred or just indifference inflicts on so many in our country, whether the underlying issue is minority status, poverty, or something else entirely. I have reconciled my issues of Faith, and have reestablished a relationship with the remaining members of my family. I have hope for the future, partly because we have gained ground in the struggle for equality, but mostly because of the rightness of the cause.
It is a different world I live in today, than the one in which I, as a confused, frightened, and lonely young man only dreamed of truly loving and being loved. But the world of that dream is on trial today in, of all places, San Francisco. That such a trial is even necessary demonstrates that the advances we have made can be measured in inches not yards. The testimony coming out is clear that there is a monumental political powerlessness that the LGBT community has yet to even begin to overcome. There are still young men and women enduring agonies I once endured, to which brave individuals are bearing witness under oath.
I had hoped to answer some questions in this diary which, as I draw it to a close, seem to have eluded me. When invited to write for the WGLB series, I was told that I had much to contribute by relating what it was like to be involved in the early days of gay activism. I fear I have failed to do that, even though I have gone on at much greater length than I intended. Nor have I addressed issues on which I am frequently queried, like how I have reconciled my Faith with my sexual orientation, my service to and through a Church at times hostile to the LGBT community and its needs, a community for which I have such a strong affinity, and yet am in many ways an outsider because of choices I have made. These will have to remain for another day. I need to get back to monitoring the proceedings. You see, in a real sense, it's my essence, my hopes, and dreams that are on trial today, whether or not it's obvious to anyone that I should have a stake in its outcome.
I'd again like to include these very powerful videos of Pastor Clinton's 'Coming Out!' sermon - at The Big Easy MCC New Orleans 13th April 2008. Everyone should take the time to watch all three videos. Even those like myself, who don't take much time for organized religion.