Ten years ago, a young Southern kid with low self-esteem did something that changed his life forever. He came out to his friends and family as gay, thanks to the amazing encouragement he found online, and the wonderful advent of Coming Out Day 2005. But everything has changed since then. Everything.
I had no idea what kind of ride I was in for. Nor did I know that I wasn’t actually ‘gay’. Turns out, I’ve been bisexual all my life, and because of the stigma (in both the straight and gay communities), I thought that I had to be one or the other. Thank God I got over that.
Coming out in the conservative wilds of Arkansas was terrifying. I had a couple of close friends, and I had no idea how even they would act. It was hellish. It took me a week to work myself up to it, but I did. I wanted to tell my best friend first, but I was too chicken. We were both friends with a girl he liked, so I enlisted her help.
When I told her, she jumped up and down and swung me in circles around the room, and generally was the most supportive person on the planet, which was amazing. So we called my best friend, and asked him to come over. He was super duper anxious. He thought someone had died, or something.
I was so nervous that I just yelled, “Sorry bro, I’m gay, and I still love you, but I’m not in love with you. God I sound like an idiot. Please forgive me for not telling you before.” I finally stopped staring at his forehead, and saw his jaw hanging from his face. He turned to look at our other friend (his jaw literally waggling), and she nodded. It was true.
Face in total deadpan, he walked over to me. I was ready for a ton of possibilities:
- Being punched in the face.
- Being given a firm but regretful handshake as our friendship died.
- Being yelled at.
I wasn’t prepared for what actually happened, though. He gave me a huge hug and said, “You’re still my bro.” A little girly part of me wishes I had cried, or something more nostalgically romantic. Instead, I fistpumped a couple of times and said, “Oh, yeah!” Like the Kool-aid man ads from the 90’s.
Telling everyone else is now a blur to me, with a few exceptions.
- A coworker said she didn’t believe me because I “talked about it too much’.
- Like 8 people were personally offended that they weren’t the first person I told.
- My grandmother smacked me upside the head for thinking I had to keep it from her. Then she gave me a cookie, because she loves me, and a fresh gingerbread cookie can cure any wound, including a red hand print over one eye.
- My mother wrecked her car. That was fun.
Some changes I expected. I never went back to my mother’s house. I wasn’t welcome any more. I lost some loose friendships, and fear kept me from reaching out to other friends, and we lost our relationships. No ill feelings, just lost touch. I also started seeing more of my brother and grandmother, because I wasn’t as ashamed anymore. I also left two jobs that fall because of workplace issues.
Some changes I didn’t expect. I got a great job reference. I applied for a job at a great hospital, and was denied because I was gay. A secretary in another department heard the manager talking about it, and convinced the ER director to grab my resume. Voila, I was introduced to healthcare as a profession, and a passion. (The ‘mental’ part came later 😀 )
The main thing? I got a community. I got a whole new culture, an identity, a sense of self. I dropped the shame, and fear, and a terrible self-esteem. I gave myself permission to be true to myself. I lost the people who weren’t good for me, and started the path that led to meeting my soulmate, becoming a parent, and accepting who I am.
If someone comes out to you today, put your feelings aside. If you don’t like it, that’s your business. If they come out to you, it’s because in that moment, the brief precious moment, they are sharing part of themselves that is still new, and raw, and scary. Be kind to them. Love them. Today is a day for expressing yourself, and for supporting others. Do so. For reals.
We aren’t alone, and we don’t have to be. Isn’t that wonderful?