Today is National Coming Out Day. I know - my being gay is one of the worst kept secrets since Watergate, but here I am...coming out. Again.
Coming out is one of the best things I ever did for myself. I spent so many years hiding in fear, worrying about what people would think of me, who would disown me, how safe I would be...well, THAT list was a long one, so I won't go through every crazy notion that ran through my brain. I still clearly remember the night I finally said the words...well, typed them, actually.
I was talking online to my friend Jessa at Washington College back east. It was early Spring, and I was about to get on a plane to meet my friends in Chestertown, MD. I had been building up the courage to come out for a while, largely due to a group of progressive and outspoken friends. When I learned that some of them were members of the GLBT student group on campus and that I had lucked into unknowingly befriending officers, I was terrified and exhilerated all at once. That night, I typed in the words that would change my life forever. I remember crying as I spent two minutes staring at the words I had typed in; I remember the panic as I finally hit "Enter" to send the message into the cybervoid. And I remember the relief as Jessa wrote back a simple "And?"
She went on to explain that she was honored I trusted her with the info, but it honestly didn't make any difference to her. She loved me for who I was, and said she simply knew something more about me. That trip was such a turning point. For the first time I could watch ER with friends and when one commented "Isn't Noah Wyle so cute as Dr. Carter?" I could simply say "Yeah, isn't he?" It was no big deal, and that was a whole new world to me. I spent a week there, letting my personality expand slowly as I peeked out from behind the closet door. It was such a liberating experience, and I almost didn't get on the plane to come back to Wyoming. I almost turned my back on a full-ride scholarship, my friends, family, job....everything. All because I got to be me...fully and freely.
I often hear comments like "why do you have to flaunt it so much" or "do you have to shove it in people's faces?" I especially love hearing that from someone wearing a wedding or engagement ring, or someone with family photos on their desk or wall. Isn't THAT flaunting your heterosexuality too? If straight people have the right to talk openly about their husbands, wives, girlfriends, boyfriends, etc., so do I. I shouldn't have to worry about how someone will react when I introduce Jesse as my husband. I'm not going to hide my life because other people can't deal with it.
NCOD is always a sad time of year for me, though, as it's a reminder that tomorrow is the anniversary of Matt's death. This year has been especially tough: there have been seven GLBT suicides in the news lately. Young people who were bullied, called names, broadcast publicly, or otherwise socially abused. I can't quite explain how much it hurts me to hear of GLBTQ people taking their own lives at a time when I'm constantly reminded of someone taken out of the world too soon. Someone I can't get to know better.
When I was in 9th grade, I almost killed myself. I had listened to one too many people tell me how horrible gay people were. That I couldn't be a teacher or a father. That I was going to be a child molester, was going to get AIDS, and would never find true love because it was all about a never-ending string of anonymous hookups. So one day, I woke up ready to take every pill in the house. Thankfully, the Universe had other plans, because my best friend called me to drive into Gillette and do something fun. I figured, "sure, why not? I can just take the pills when I get home."
I truly don't remember what we did that day, but I remember that it was indeed a good day. When I got home, I realized that had I gone through with my plan, I would have missed out on that good day. And that even though there seemed to be so many bad days or moments, the good ones meant that much more to me. It took me a long time to dig out of the dark hole of despair I had created, but I did it. There were more dark days, and some VERY dark days. But it did get better.
And here I am today. I own my own home and I got married to a wonderful man this summer . Not only do I have a job, but I have a job I enjoy...and I got it BECAUSE of my diversity. I have some of the most amazing friends on the planet, and I wouldn't have met them if I'd never come out. I wouldn't have met Matt...or his family. I wouldn't have met Jesse, or his family. And I would still be sad and scared, hiding in a closet of my own creation.
And that's why I'm here, coming out all over again. I'm coming out because I can, and I know there are many out there who still can't. Because it's too scary, because it's not safe, or because it's not the right time. Coming out for the first time can be a big deal, and it's a personal decision that everyone must make for themselves. It's why I don't shout "come out, come out, wherever you are" from the rooftops. But I hope that my shouting it helps others understand that they're not alone. And that it does get better.
So happy National Coming Out Day. Hopefully you can join us out here...the lighting is so much better. But if you're still not ready or able, it's okay. We'll save you a seat at our table. In the meantime, call the Trevor Project (www.thetrevorproject.org) if you need help. You're worth it. Just promise me that you'll still be around for dinner when the time comes...