This one is pretty long, but I think you’ll enjoy it if you stick with it. Happy Gay-versary to me 😉
I have a lot of friends that can claim I am the only gay person they know. To clarify, my friends aren’t homophobic or bigoted in any way; it just happens to be that their normal circle of cohorts doesn’t include any gay men. I personally do not think I’m all that masculine (although I’m not flamboyant in any way either- except around my friend Sarah). Usually, to those who do not have a well-developed sense of “gay-dar”, I’m eccentric; a nerd who reads instead of watching football and whose idea of a good time is traveling, photography and having a vodka tonic. So these friends who’ve never known a gay man before (well, an open gay man), often ask me at some point in our friendship the following question: “When did you know you were gay?”
If you were to ask me this Friday, January 11th, 2013, I would say “ten years ago today.”
It was high school, and I was confused. I had been diagnosed with a trifecta of mental disorders (clinical depression, general anxiety disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder) and was taking Zoloft regularly. My suicide attempt in high school was not based on bullying nor parents who screamed “faggots” when they passed two men holding hands. My attempt was purely based on the antagonist in my life, my own brain, convincing me that I would never amount to anything; that I was, in fact, a complete waste of lung power. Zoloft helped calm the nerves and clarify my life considerably, though the side effects were startling and the eventual reason why I sought holistic, long term treatments for my issues.
Up until that point, I had no idea I was gay. I had no idea who I was, period. I was a late bloomer, as they say. I had girlfriends, went online when no one was looking and just generally was turned on by EVERYTHING. So here I was, a senior in high school on Zoloft, happy that I was still alive, and getting ready to celebrate my 5 month anniversary with my girlfriend, Ashley (remember in high school when you celebrated every single month?). I had experiences, sexually, with both men and women by that point in my life but still didn’t know what it all meant. I would have never admitted to being gay, or even bi-sexual, but rather would have said something like, “I’m a teenager and just like blow-jobs.” My identity, had yet to be formed, or as some would say “admitted to.”
My best friend (who would come out a year later- I would be blamed for ‘turning him gay’ by many of the people in my small town high school) spent the night after watching a Margaret Cho stand up routine. We lay awake with the lights off on separate twin beds in my room, painted soft blue, my favorite color. We talked about school, girls, life in general. My palms got sweaty. And all of a sudden, as I thought about my life, I realized: I was gay. I’m not sure why that exact moment was the one in which I decided I was; it was just that moment the light switch flicked in my own head. Possibly, watching the Margaret Cho performance made me realize you could be gay and accepted. So, I said to myself, Fuck this.
He was in the middle of talking about the book I bought him for Christmas, just a few weeks prior. “Jeremy, I’m gay” I said quickly, as one would rip off a band-aide, hoping it won’t sting. “Oh ok.” He said. We talked more about it and he asked me what I was going to do about my girlfriend. “I guess I need to tell her tomorrow.” He helped me devise a plan- to come out in one single day, to just do it, to call all my friends and get it over with. One thing I have always hated in my life is news of my personal matters getting around to people. This way, I’d knock it all out myself, so that when it escaped the lips of my friends (I love my friends, but it was high school- gossip was basically as common as 2nd period math), I wouldn’t have to deny it. I was so to be, at the time, the only gay kid in my school.
It was pass midnight when I told him, and I got started in the morning, calling friends, telling them the news. Some were shocked, some claimed they knew already, but most had this reaction: “What?!… oh… huh. I guess I can see that now that you say it.” My favorite album was, after all, Madonna’s ‘Ray of Light’. Sure sign of a gay. My girlfriend didn’t take it too well, though she tried desperately at first (it only lasted a couple of weeks, then she went seeking attention once it was all turned on me- I had dinner with her recently and she still talks about it as if it was the point in her life in which her life was ruined). The only group of people I decided I would not tell was my family. I’ll tell them after college, just in case they disown me. In my mind, I invented this wild fantasy where, if I told them I was gay, I’d be kicked out of my house, disowned and living off the streets, eventually becoming a heroin addict, dying at the age of 22 in a New York alley. I do, after all, have an overactive imagination.
But parents are, most of the time, pretty intuitive. The phone had been ringing for an entire solid weekend, people asking for me, people who I hadn’t talked to in a very long time and who never were considered (in my parents eyes), close friends of mine. I came home from school, and my dad called me into the den. “You know, there have been a lot of calls for you… I…” he seemed slightly lost for words, a rarity for my father. “Are you gay or something?”
Oh death of deaths! Stab me in the heart! My fantasy was coming true! Here I come shared needles and dark musty aparments!
I broke out into uncontrollable tears. I don’t know how he heard the words “I am” escape my dry mouth, stuffed with the cotton of surprise, but he did. He started to respond, but I couldn’t hear what he was saying because I had already bolted for my room across the house. I threw myself onto my bed, in what in hindsight was, the gayest and most dramatic fashion and sobbed uncontrollably. He sat next to me to murder me, er… whats this? Why was he patting my head? He put his hand on my back and said, “Its ok buddy.” A pause. Where was the cursing? Why wasn’t he screaming how much he hated me and was disappointed in my ‘life choices?’ Had the word ‘buddy’ been misinterpreted by myself? Was its true meaning ‘ungrateful faggot?’ I was confused. He then added, “Your mom just pulled up, do you want me to tell her?” I agreed that he should, because my mother, a catholic, would undoubtedly gather the wood for the bonfire in the backyard to throw me atop.
She came in my room. “Your dad told me. Want to go out for pizza?”
What. The. Fuck. This isn’t how it was supposed to go, there was supposed to be screaming, teary parents looking at and tearing up baby photos amid please to “GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY HOUSE.” Their reaction wasn’t normal. It was contrary to everything I had ever lead to believe coming out was like.
That was, the last of it. My sister was told some time later and was upset. But she was only upset because she was the last in the family to know about it. My brother didn’t give a shit. Neither did any other member of my family.
The phrase unconditional love, for me, is so much greater than a single definition. I picture every single member of my family when I hear it; I picture my friends who tried so desperately to grasp what I was going through, and my friends now who comment how difficult growing up must have been. I sometimes also picture by former friends I lost over the issue because now I’m a well-adjusted, successful, caring and loving individual who wishes nothing but the best for them. My heart breaks for those who are thrown out of their house, disowned or screamed at. In my life, everything I am, everything I have, and everything I will ever become is because of the immense love radiating from my family. I went from thinking my life wasn’t worth living and attempts to end it to my father ending friendships in defense of his gay son, sometimes over something as little as an offensive joke. One of the proudest moments of my life was when I told my father why I had to stop eating at chick-fil-a. “That’s too bad”, his response started. “I actually enjoyed their food. Oh well, so much for that.” I didn’t say anything, but almost cried. The man I unfairly thought would murder me for being gay had convictions as strong as mine.
Its been ten years since all of this has gone on. A huge milestone. I’m almost 6 years into a relationship with a slowly coming out of the closet boyfriend and it makes me grateful every day for the cards I’ve been dealt in life. There have been difficulties of immense size at times. But each hurdle I take solace in the fact that I can be myself, that I know who I am.
I’m not sure how many closeted friends I’ve had, who come to me to talk about the issues that come with living that way. One of the greatest joys in my life in knowing that I can be a mentor, an example, a light for those who need. My door is always open, along with my heart, for my friends who need it. My shoulder, my ear and if they ever want it… my advice.
So here is to ten years. To everyone who has to hide- on your own time, when you are comfortable- peek out. I promise, the world out here isn’t as scary as it may seem.