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I came out to myself and my best friend at the time on Monday, 1 April 1996. Tomorrow, 1 April 2011 marks the fifteenth anniversary of that event. In honor of that, I’ve decided to do a series of posts on the topic. This is the first one.
My mind floats back fifteen years ago — almost to the day — and a few hundred miles away. I can still remember what it was like that night, sitting in the cloth-covered chair with wooden arm rests that sat in the tiny alcove of the first floor of Seibert Hall. I never knew which professors had their offices there, but the place was familiar. I chose that place to meet Merion because not only was it relatively secluded from the bustle of campus nightlife (or what passed for campus nightlife on a Monday night), but it was a place both of us knew well. It was the same tiny alcove that the Bible study we both attended — and I eventually became coleader of — met once a week the year before.
I needed that familiarity to help calm my nerves. It didn’t work, because I was a complete wreck. I think it took me over five minutes to build up the courage — that is, to grit my teeth hard enough — to utter those two words: “I’m gay.”
I hadn’t said those words prior to that moment, and that was a big thing. Oh sure, I had admitted that I was attracted to guys. I had even told a number of people. But I had mostly said “I’m struggling with homosexuality” or something like that. Up to this point, I had made it clear that I didn’t want to feel this way. The closest I had come to those two words were a few weeks earlier when I told my friend, Joyce, “I think I might be gay.”* Even then, I had left myself the escape hatch. I may have started to realize I was losing the “ex-gay struggle,” but I hadn’t “conceded defeat” yet.
That night, sitting in that chair and facing Merion in the the chairs twin to my right, I made that concession. And it was hard to do, because I knew exactly what I was doing. It was terrifying to do it, even though I knew that Merion would be completely supportive, as she had already came out to me as bisexual** about a year earlier.
I think by the time I said it and for the first several minutes after I made my confession, I was actually shaking. I was that worked up. Merion was wonderful though. She was encouraging. She was supportive. She was incredible. I don’t really remember much of what she said to me, other than the fact that she told me how honored she was that I chose to tell her. The rest of the details, however, blur into the emotional chaos I was going through at the time.
But that also marked the beginning of the end of the emotional chaos. I escaped the prison of fear and shame that day. I ran out screaming — almost literally. And while things didn’t get instantly better, the process of improvement began. It’s taken me years to clean up the mess I was left with, and in some ways, I’m still cleaning it up. (I’ll talk about that more tomorrow.) But that moment moved me into a place in my journey where I could face that task, no matter how daunting it seemed at times.
* And Joyce, in her well-meaning but less-than-helpful way, glibly responded by saying, “It’s about time you figured it out.” Seriously folks, I know sometimes you can tell that a loved one is gay before they’re able or willing to admit it to even themselves. But this is not the way to respond when they finally confide in you. If you must tell them you already figured it out, do so in the gentlest way possible. Otherwise, it can come across as you dishonoring their choice to be completely open and vulnerable to you in a way which was probably took a lot of courage on their part.
** That night, Merion clarified that she was a lesbian. She was one of those people who originally came out as bisexual because it was easier to take that as a step towards coming out as strictly gay. And no, that does not mean that everyone who says they’re bi is doing so. There are authentically bisexual people out there, too. The fact that there are some people in the gay community who refuse to accept that is a personal pet peev of mine.