In recognition of National Coming Out Day and LGBT rights, Do Something asked one young person to talk about their story of growing up gay and coming out to his friends and family. Hear what he has to say:
I never came out. That is, I never chose a special day to go around to everyone I knew and declare my sexuality. Some people think that coming out happens all at once, but in my case, that wasn’t how it worked.
My coming out process stretched over six years: during that time I chose to tell some people, and some people chose to confront me about it. Even today I find myself coming out to distant family members or friends who I haven’t seen in years.
Heterosexism: Straight Until Proven Gay
Heterosexism is our society’s common assumption that everyone will grow up to be straight. This assumption is what pushed me and other LGBT members into “the closet” in the first place. My surroundings only reinforced that I would grow up to be heterosexual.
The TV show that I watched showed a hero who saved the girl he loved; the church that I attended glorified the union between man and wife. Even my family members, who believed in gay rights, spoke of the jewelry that my future wife would inherit. Everyone around me, and society at-large, just thought“straight.”
Coming Out to Myself
As I grew older, I learned about sexual orientation, but LGBT was labeled as a bad or lesser identity. “If I was gay I’d kill myself,” a classmate once said. This made me more afraid. If being gay was a choice, then why would I choose a more difficult, scary lifestyle?
But I couldn’t ignore that kissing a girl felt like a chore, and my heart raced when I simply talked to a charming boy. Eventually my feelings were too strong to ignore, and I had to reveal my identity to the first person who should hear it. I stood in my bathroom and stared into the mirror. “I’m gay,” I whispered to myself. Then I said it louder.
Coming Out to the People I Trusted Most
I decided to tell the people in my life who I thought would take the news most positively – my close friends. I loved my parents, and I did trust them. However, I thought my peers would have a more positive reaction, so I told six or seven close friends in different ways. I blurted it out to some. I asked some friends to ask me. I even had a friend whisper the news to another right in front of me. These confrontations took place in the school parking lot, in a friend’s bedroom, or at a local restaurant.
Each time it got a little easier. Many friends would tell me that they had known already and were simply waiting for me to tell them. At the time I looked at these comments negatively: I acted gay, and that was a bad thing! Looking back, my friends’ prediction proves that in today's world, while heterosexism still exists, being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender is entirely possible.
They Want to Know but Don’t Know How to Ask
Once I came out to my friends, I wasn’t particularly talented in hiding my identity from my family. Siblings heard the gossip at school, and my parents noticed my newfound interest in gay culture. As a result, some went into denial while others bonded with each other over their knowledge of the secret. Yet they all knew to wait for me to tell them.
Most often I never said, “I’m gay,” but rather, “So I’m dating this guy,” or, “No she’s not my girlfriend. I don’t like girls that way.” I realized that using certain phrases were easier than others.
A Happy Ending, Not Happily Ever After
Everything wasn’t alright, but everything was better. I was teased at school, and I’m sometimes teased on the street as an adult. Nevertheless, I feel closer to my family and friends than I would’ve been. I still get a little nervous mentioning my sexual orientation to a stranger. I’ve realized that coming out and coming to terms with your sexuality doesn’t just happen in one day or one month. It’s a process.
In the end, starting the process of coming out was about becoming more confident and content. It’s made me more true to myself today.
Are you thinking about coming out? Make a plan to be comfortable coming out. Are you an ally who needs help reacting to a friend's coming out moment? Find out how to be there for your friend. Or, start a gay-straight alliance at your school.