I’m gay. Most people won’t ever have to say those words. Unfortunately, that means that most people can never understand the feelings and emotions that go behind having to say them. I’m writing this because it’s time for me to actually say who I am to everyone, regardless of what you may think. What anyone may think is frankly irrelevant to me at this point. I’m going to tell you a story and I’m going to get personal. Many of you have been with me for parts of this story, some have not.
I realized I was gay when I was twelve years old. That realization hit me one night as I was lying in bed. I remember thinking, “Oh no, I’m what they call gay.” All I knew at that point was that “gay” was bad. It had to be. When I was a kid, the only time I heard the word gay was when it was used to describe disgust with something. “That’s so gay,” is a phrase that was, and still is, commonly used. Now, keep in mind that it was 1998 and acceptance towards all things LGBTQ has come a long way since then. Also, I was born and raised in South Carolina. I love South Carolina. It is my home. But, most southern states aren’t exactly known for their acceptance on this subject.
So, a 12 year old who now knows he likes other boys. Was I particularly attracted to anyone? Not that I know of. How did I know I was gay? I just did. A very good, and very straight, friend of mine asked me that.
“How do you know?” he asked.
“It’s simple,” I replied. “How do you know you like women?”
“Touche,” was his reply.
At this point I need to say that this is absolutely not a choice I made for myself. It was made for me before I was born. I didn’t like girls then suddenly decide to like guys. That’s not how it works. I am simply attracted to guys. Think about it. Why would someone intentionally make a choice that would bring this much pressure on them for their entire lives? This is not something people choose.
So, I was in middle school and just beginning to develop friendships that were real. Most of the friends I made in the eighth grade are still my closest friends. To this day, I cling to them for my support. I even tried to date one of my friends when we were 13 or 14. She was my first attempt at a cover up.
As close as we all were, I still never told them I was gay. I didn’t tell anyone then. I was beginning to master the art of pushing that part of me down. As much as I would have liked to sing along to the Backstreet Boys and NSYNC, I didn’t dare. I just pretended that Britney Spears was the hottest thing on earth. Hit me baby one more time. The eighth grade was also when I realized I had certain qualities that were “good” that could outweigh this “bad” quality I had. I realized that I could be a leader and excel academically. Though I didn’t know I was doing it at the time, I began the steps to try and be perfect at everything I did so that when it was eventually found out that I was gay, it would be forgiven because of all the great things I had done.
The high school transition went well. I joined JROTC, which turned out to be a haven for me. If there is ever a program in high school that can develop leadership potential, JROTC is it. I was awarded driller of the year one year and athlete of the year the next. I eventually rose to become the commander of the entire unit my senior year. My grades were good and I took college classes my senior year so I would have a head start. All of this, remember, in the name of striving for perfection. Another kind of cover up.
I had three girlfriends in high school. None of them mattered to me as they were all just cover ups. The last one was sophomore year and after her I decided I was through with that. It became too much pressure to do something with them that I wasn’t ever going to enjoy. It was also sophomore year that I came out to the first person.
I remember sitting in the hallway with her after school waiting for who knows what event. I’m not sure why I decided to tell her. I think I just needed to tell someone and we were quite close at that point. I told her I had something to tell her but it took me several minutes to work up the nerve. I couldn’t force the words out of my throat. They seemed to be stuck down in my stomach. Somehow, after a few agonizing moments, I managed to say it. She couldn’t have cared less. Let me tell you, it was a relief to finally tell someone. I finally had an outlet to explain all of the things I had been feeling. I could tell her about the crush I had (the first real crush I had). Just being able to talk to someone about being gay relieved some of the pressure that was really starting to build inside of me.
I’m not sure the order in which I told the next few people. I do know that I came out face to face with only females. Something happened during my senior year made me mad, but turned out to be a blessing. One of those female friends took it upon herself to tell some of our male friends. I went into an immediate panic until I called my male friends one by one and they all had the same response – “Who cares?” All of my friends knew me for who I was and that is all that mattered. They didn’t care that I was gay and I loved them for it.
By now you are probably asking yourself, “What about his family? Did he tell his parents?” No, I didn’t. While I can never fully explain why I didn’t tell them then, I will try to sum up what I’m sure goes through the minds of many gay boys and girls at this point.
- What will they think?
- How can I tell them they won’t have grandkids?
- I don’t want to have to explain why I have these feelings because I just do.
- What are my options if they don’t understand or think it’s not a choice?
- Am I ready for this?
That last question is almost always going to be answered with a “no.” I really did intend to tell my parents. They are truly wonderful people. They are, and always have been, fantastic parents. They never gave me any reason to believe that they would be mad about this or not accept me. It is just something about taking that final step and telling them that terrified me to no end. So, I put it off. I made a deal with myself – I would tell them when I graduated high school. Unfortunately, I had to re-negotiate that deal. Graduation came around and I didn’t tell them. My new deal was that I would tell them when I got a boyfriend or when I graduated college.
So, enter college. I stayed close to home and even lived at home the first semester, though I moved into an apartment with some of my close friends shortly after college started. I enjoyed college, especially after I changed majors. I was in honor societies and went to many conferences. I loved my field of study. Unfortunately, I was never “out.” You would think that college would be the perfect place to find someone; to live a lifestyle where I could be myself. The problem was that I still hadn’t told my parents, the people that matter most to me. How could I be “out” at a local college without them finding out. Those were my thoughts anyway. Also, South Carolina. It’s not like I magically transported out of the South. So, I never had a boyfriend in college.
College graduation rolled around and I still didn’t tell my parents. At this point it became one of those long lies. You know, the ones that you know you’ve waited too long to tell the truth, so you figure it is just better to keep the lie going.
I graduated right when the market collapsed. Finding a job, at least one that I wanted, proved difficult. After lazing around playing video games for about a year, I went back to school for my master’s degree. I still didn’t tell them after I finished that. Mind you, I am 26 at this point in the story. Still not living as the person I truly was. The emotional toll of keeping all of this hidden from the wider world was bearing down on me in ways I didn’t fully understand at the time.
Many of you know the details of what has happened in the five years since, so I won’t go in depth here. My parents do know now and are my greatest advocates. I feel whole. I’m 31 years old and finally starting the process of searching for someone I can be happy with. The prospect of dating both terrifies and excites me. Nobody in my life has rejected me because of this. In fact, it has made us all closer.
If you are reading this and are gay but haven’t come out, I can’t tell you what to do or how to live your life. What I can tell you is that if you make the choice to keep this inside, you will be doing damage to yourself that you won’t even realize until a tragedy happens. As human beings, we aren’t meant to be someone we’re not. We can’t pretend that deeply. The sadness becomes overwhelming. You will end up feeling alone even if you’re surrounded by a hundred people. If you can’t get to the point where you are able to come out to the masses, find one person you can tell. It will lighten the load a bit and give you an outlet. It’s a start. You do NOT have to be alone. You can find support in various places that I will link to in this blog. Search for help somewhere if you ever feel overwhelmed. If you ever feel like you need to hurt yourself, tell someone. If there is nobody in your life you can tell, try the Crisis Text Line or this hotline.
Thing have gotten better, though I’m worried the current administration will undo much of the hard work. If I choose to do so, I can get married. It’s not abnormal to see gay couple on TV. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is gone, though we’ll see for how long. My point is that all of this is getting better. Had I been a teenager right now I think I would have had a much easier time.
This will be the first of many posts describing the things that I went through and what I will go through as I move forward. Remember, this is a part of who I am. I will never deny it again as I move forward. Subscribe and check back here for future posts on everything from writing to my take on political news. Thank you so much for reading!
PFLAG is a great resource for parents and friends of gays and lesbians. It has resources for LGBTQ people, family members seeking ways to help and cope, as well as sources for friends of LGBTQ.
Human Rights Campaign has a great page for helping people come out to their family, friends, and coworkers.
The LGBT National Help Center gives resources and support for LGBTQ no matter your age.
Need advice coming out? Try clicking here for videos and resources.
Of course, The Trevor Project reaches far and wide with its support and resources for the LGBTQ community.
By far one of the most inspirational people in the community right now it Troye Sivan. Check out his coming out video from a few years ago.