For gay men and women, coming out can be a liberating and validating experience. One that can cause much welcomed relief after years of hiding their true self behind a heterosexual façade. Of course the actual act of telling someone you are gay, even if that someone is very open-minded, progressive and supportive, can be riddled with stress and apprehension. Saying the words, “I am gay” can be the frightening first hurdle in a race that we all eventually hope to win.
While we all come from different backgrounds and living situations, thus making each individual’s coming out uniquely hard or easy in its own ways, the general hope is that ultimately coming out offers increased happiness in our lives. In a recent interview with BuzzFeed Brews openly gay actor Ian McKellen spoke of coming out as saying, “…I’ve never met a gay person who came out and who regretted it.” Coming out is about self-acceptance. And self-love can be a beautiful thing.
But in our coming out process, we can only be responsible for the things that we say and the things that we do. After we are out to someone, in a sense, we place the ball in his or her court. At this point, we have no control over how they will react to the personal truth we just shared. For me, learning how to react to what others chose to do with “the ball” I had handed them became the next hurdle in my coming out process.
Let’s explore reactions and resulting quotes that stand out the most for me on my coming out journey. These were what people said and did after I said, “I am gay.”
One of my straight female friends:
“Well Duh. Okay. So are we gonna watch the movie now?”
A straight male friend of mine from the gym:
“Ummm…congratulations? I’m not sure what to say. I don’t care. Just don’t touch my dick when we are doing pull-ups” (and he smiled)
One of my childhood male straight friends:
“Wait… so all those times we talked about hot girls… did you not think they were hot? You sure you aren’t bi?”
My best male friend from college:
I was very nervous to finally admit it to him and I guess I looked very serious beforehand. I told him that I had something to tell him and it took me over a minute to just say it.
He looked relieved. He took a deep breath and exclaimed,
“I thought something was really wrong. Like you were gonna tell me your cancer was back or something. Dude, who cares if you’re gay.”
Her face became cautious and guarded instantly. The news turned out to be hard for her. After I told her, every word out of her mouth was serious. She looked like I had just punched her in her gut. She voiced,
“Adam, I don’t even know any gay people. I know nothing about this. I’m not sure what to say exactly, and when I’m not sure what to say about something then I usually say nothing.”
She went to bed that night without giving me a hug and while avoiding me with her eyes. She barely spoke to me for the next 7 days. If we rode in a car together she stared straight ahead and hardly spoke. I kept thinking that she was mad at me, because that was how she was coming across. Today, she respectfully talks about me being gay and frequently asks me questions. While she is still learning, she constantly expresses that she wants me to be happy.
I told my parents separately. With my dad, right after I said the words, “I’m gay.” I started to cry. (It was an emotional day for me.)
His immediate response was to stand up and hug me. After that he said,
“You’re my son and I love you. None of this other stuff matters. We will figure this out. Now…can I ask you a few questions?”
After this first conversation, my father has collectively asked far less questions about me being gay than my mother has. His reaction was love first, silence later. Nowadays he seems to avoid talking about me being gay. I think it makes him uncomfortable, but he is as loving and caring towards me as he always was.
One additional question he asked me on that day does stand out though. He asked,
“As your father, did I do something, or not do something, that caused you to be gay? Do you think I did something wrong?”
Since we are discussing other people’s quotes related to my being gay, I wanted to also share two quotes my parents reiterate to me every so often. I want to preface these by saying how much I truly love my parents. They are wonderful, loving people. While they are getting better at learning about me being gay, they will still say things they do not realize are hurtful. I share these two quotes merely to highlight that sometimes even the people who love us, say things that hurt us due to their ignorance and lack of knowledge about what is appropriate and what is inappropriate. Proof that this is all a journey, until it is a destination.
One of my mother’s favorite things to say to me is,
“I just keep hoping that one day you will walk through the front door and say, ‘Mom, I’ve met the perfect woman. I’m so happy and we are going to get married.’ I just think you haven’t met the right girl yet.”
The topic comes up every so often about how my dad will handle conversations with our conservative extended family members who still do not know that I am gay. He likes to explain,
“It’s no one’s business. I don’t feel the need to just go around and tell people. If they find out and say anything to me I will just tell them, ‘Look, yes Adam is gay. It’s not something that I’m proud of or that I would chose for him, but what are you gonna do? It’s his life and I love him.’”
Bottom line, Gentle Reader: take everyone else’s words with a grain of salt. After all, people’s comments say more about themselves than they do about you being gay. Focus on the words coming out of your own mouth. Since, in the end, those are the only ones you have any control over.