I’ve known I was gay since about 11 years old. I knew deep down that I was attracted to boys. Early on it wasn’t necessarily sexual, but after puberty, it clearly was. Unfortunately, I was growing up in an era that was hostile to all things gay, and not one person I knew ever expressed the slightest hint that it was ok to be gay. With the growing threat of AIDS, and a complete lack of any gay role models in my life, I told myself that I can never tell anyone how I feel.
I didn’t want to be gay, or at least what I thought was gay at the time. I believed that “gay” meant sissy, effeminate men and drag queens. That was my world-view of homosexuality. The complete lack of anything supportive of LGBT in my life told me that being gay was definitely NOT ok. I learned that a person who is gay should feel ashamed of themselves. And so I felt ashamed. I learned that gay people get taunted, threatened, bullied, and physically harmed. So I felt fear. I learned that some parents throw their gay kids out of the house. I learned that gay people are ostracized from society. So I felt anxiety.
I was determined that I was not going to be gay. I wanted no part of what I saw as gay on TV or any media. It’s a choice, right? That’s what I thought. So, I’m just going to choose to be straight. I thought if I have sex with a woman, it might change me into a straight guy. And you know what? It did. Or so I thought.
Thus began about 25 years of denial. Despite the misconception people often have about denial, it doesn’t mean I wasn’t aware of my same-sex attractions. Rather, I compartmentalized it, rationalized it, and denied the importance of my feelings. I didn’t think about it much. Sure, I continued to have fantasies, masturbated to gay porn, and checked out men’s bulges covertly when I could. I was able to compartmentalize that part of me, and I was always able to put it back in the closet when I was done, and get on with life.
I went through many stages of changing my internal identity. For most of it, I firmly believed I was straight, maybe with a secret kink or gay fetish. Then, well, maybe not completely straight. I’ll call it straight with a twist. That worked for a few years. Then, maybe I’m bi. That held for a few more years. Maybe I’m just a little gay. Maybe I’m mostly gay. Maybe I’m gay. Always with the maybe though.
In February of 2014, my father passed away from cancer. Six months later I came out to myself. It wasn’t specifically due to my father (my father was never homophobic, just silent). I believe it was my father’s passing that caused me to take stock of my own life. It was a powerful moment for me to finally acknowledge that I’m gay. I remember so clearly actually forcing myself to say it out loud. It felt so good. Then it dawned on me what I was really saying. I have a wife and 2 kids. How can I ever face them, or anyone else with my truth? I determined once again, that I couldn’t face that. So, I told myself that it didn’t matter if I was gay. This hetero life I’m living, that’s what I wanted, right? Well, you got what you wanted and now you have to live with it. I told myself that I would NEVER NEVER NEVER reveal my secret to anyone. I would take it to the grave with me. This is what I deserve. (Even years later, that last sentence still makes me cry.)
So I buried my feelings again and attempted to go back to a state of denial that had worked for me for so long. Only this time it didn’t work. I didn’t realize that the act of coming out to myself would negate my ability to live in denial. For the first time, I felt like I was living a lie. I was now pretending. I was now hiding myself and feeling false to everyone I know. I was becoming depressed. I felt so lonely, that I had no one to talk to . The pressure of this conflict between what I now know to be true and the false front I was living began building, causing me increasing amounts of anxiety and depression. I withdrew from things that I was interested in. I withdrew from my relationship with my wife. I was a ticking time bomb ready to explode. All that was needed now was a trigger.
Then came June 12, 2016.
I don’t really know why the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando was the trigger for me. I believe it didn’t HAVE to be Orlando, it just HAPPENED TO BE Orlando. I found myself crying for days on end. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat. I lost 15 pounds in three weeks after Orlando. It was the worst three weeks of my life.
My wife knew something was wrong with me, try as I did to hide it. The more she asked what was wrong, and I couldn’t keep giving lame excuses like “Oh, I’m just tired.” Finally, I just couldn’t take it anymore and in a completely crazy act of unburdening myself, I just jumped off the cliff and came out to her.
She was mostly quiet, and it took a few days for her to be able to begin talking about it with me. (Gut-wrenching days for me, oh there’s two more pounds lost.)
Over the following months we talked more and more, and we slowly came to terms with me being gay and the ending of our marriage. My wife and I separated six months after my coming out. We continue to co-parent our children, and we still get together as a group on a weekly basis.
Coming out to my family was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, and it’s hard no matter your age, so I applaud anyone for being able to summon the courage to do it. After the hard ones, it got better, and it got easier with each person I came out to. Beyond family and friends, everyone else just didn’t matter so much, and now I tell people with ease. I’m out to everyone pretty much, and I’m now out on FB as well.
I’ll leave you with this thought on coming out from Harvey Milk:
“Every gay person must come out. As difficult as it is, you must tell your immediate family. You must tell your relatives. You must tell your friends if indeed they are your friends. You must tell the people you work with. You must tell the people in the stores you shop in. Once they realize that we are indeed their children, that we are indeed everywhere, every myth, every lie, every innuendo will be destroyed once and all. And once you do, you will feel so much better.”
I have now lived this quote. It is so true.