In honor of National Coming Out Day I offer up this post to you, Gentle Reader, in celebration of everyone’s right to be proud of who they truly are, as well as their right to share their truths with others in their own time, when they are fully ready. Here are two stories from my days of being closeted, each telling how sometimes others may prefer for us to come out in their time, rather than in our own.
In the fall of 2009 I was 27 years old and had known, without a doubt, that I was gay for about 8 years. I look back on that particular fall and try to understand why I was still so deep in my closet after all that time. Being closeted had just become such a labyrinth of internal and external obstacles for me, I suppose the more I tried to find the perfect way to accept myself and come out, the deeper I got lost in my maze.
I met my friend Ray at a gay bar in September of that year. From the first moment I heard him speak, I felt comfortable around him. He is the kind of guy that immediately comes across as intelligent and funny. I thought he was so hilarious. Every sentence out of his mouth was fueled by intellectual humor. In my opinion, that is the sexiest kind of humor.
We became fast friends and, looking back, I’m really thankful that he came into my life at that particular point. Ray is brazen and proud of being gay. I needed to be around that back then. Hell, I need to be around that right now. Ray was great because he would speak his mind and if you didn’t agree with him, then too bad for you. I, on the other hand, have always leaned more towards politely bending my will to agree with others so as not to create conflict. Ray helped me view a lot of things in a different light. He was one of the first people to help me understand that I could be proud of my sexuality if I just gave myself time.
Ray and I would have gotten along almost perfectly, if I hadn’t been closeted. Ray hated the fact that I was still in my closet and he constantly tried to push me out of it through our conversations. He would say things like,
“You will be so much happier once you are out. Just do it already!”
“You are making a conscious decision to be miserable by staying in the closet. Why are you torturing yourself?”
On one hand I could understand what he was saying and I truly believed that I would be happier once I was out. But I just wasn’t at that place yet. This reality caused many arguments between us, all of which left me feeling stupid and cowardly. (Not things that your friends should make you feel on a regular basis.) My being closeted was one of the major things that ultimately unraveled our friendship. I know Ray mostly just wanted me to be happy, but his pressure-fueled tactics were flawed. Being nagged at does not make coming out any easier. But I still find my mind wondering to thoughts of Ray often. I smile remembering how genuinely funny he was. I miss how he made me feel when things were good and I wish him well.
Jumping back seven years prior to Ray, during the fall semester of my junior year in college, I existed even deeper in my closet. At the time I had just begun meeting guys online for dates and I was only just beginning to accept that I was probably gay. In those days I was really immersed in ‘The Closeted Game”. I had a whole system worked out so that I could live two separate lives. I had two AIM screen names and two emails (one gay and one straight). When I would go on dates with guys I would sheepishly ask them to keep my identity and sexuality a secret. I nervously explained to them that no one at my college knew that I was gay. I was terrified about acting on these gay feelings and I was actively begging the guys I dated to help me stay on the down low.
I went out on one particular date with a guy named Mike. Then several months later Mike coincidentally began seriously dating an out gay man that went to the same, small liberal arts college that I did. (We will call this fellow student Neal). Well, one day Mike decided to tell Neal,
“Hey, actually, come to think of it, I went on a date once at this school with a guy named Adam.”
And he then proceeded to describe me in great detail, to the point where Neal knew exactly who I was. At first Neal must have said to him,
“Nah I know who you are talking about, he’s not gay.”
But eventually…Ding Ding Ding. A light bulb went off and Neal realized that I was closeted and that no one on campus knew about it.
Now Neal just happened to be the only out gay man on our small campus: a situation, which I am sure, was not ideal or entirely pleasant for him. Now Neal saw a unique opportunity with this newfound information and, instead of keeping this to himself or coming to privately discuss the matter with me, Neal began telling my friends and other random people on campus that I was gay and that his boyfriend had dated me once.
One brisk autumn evening one of my friends called me up on my dorm room phone to tell me that Neal was spreading this rumor… I. Was. Pissed. I found Neal’s phone number in our campus directory, called him up, and made him meet me in person. I angrily confronted him, basically threatened him, and demanded to know why he would do such a thing. I screamed at him,
“How dare you! Why in the hell would you do something like this? You of all people know what it is like to be gay on such a small campus. If I do not chose to share my sexuality, which I am literally still figuring out, with everyone else then that is none of your god damned business! You have no right to out someone else! If I am gay then we should be sticking together and helping each other, not going behind each other’s backs and spreading rumors. In this small community how would we benefit from attacking each other?”
Neal cried a lot during that conversation and explained to me,
“I’m sorry. It’s hard for me being the only gay person at this school and I figured that if someone like you, who is involved in a lot of clubs and stuff and who is in a fraternity and who has lots of different kinds of friends, was gay then everyone would see that it is not such a big deal and I guess I thought it would make it easier for me.”
All these years later, thinking back on Neal, I can’t help but to feel a little bad for him. He was scared too. But he really pissed me off. Gay or not, he was sneaky and I can’t respect that. As you can imagine, the whole experience scared me and, in some ways, pushed me even deeper into my closet and my paranoia. Still, to my knowledge, he never spread any further rumors about me, and I was once again free to uncomfortably hide in my closet for many years more.
So what is the purpose of me droning on about these two less than perfect stories on a day that is supposed to be about hope and freedom? The moral is, no matter what, we all come out when we are ready. No sooner and no later, and that is the way it should be. Those of us who are out and proud need to be supportive of our closeted brothers and sisters. Show them we love them while not being pushy. We all arrive at these milestones exactly when we should; when we know in our gut that it is time. There may still be fear and apprehension, but eventually we know the time has come.
So in further honor of National Coming Out Day, I think I will be brave and display a link to this post on my personal Facebook account. I feel ready to now… and I got here completely in my own time…