For as long as I can remember, I’ve known that I was gay. Growing up in a conservative Christian family that was very active in the Church, this fact was a constant struggle, something I fought tirelessly and endlessly to disguise. I dated girls occasionally, but never for any extended period of time or with any legitimate interest on my part. Instead, it was simply one component of the elaborate facade I built to “protect” myself and hide my secret.
Growing up in an environment where homosexuality was regularly derided as sinful, as a sure path to damnation, the question of whether or not to keep on living was ever-present. The misery that hiding, that being the unwitting target of jokes and ridicule, that lying to everyone around me brought with it was often so overwhelming that suicide seemed the only solution. If I couldn’t be happy with something I had no choice of being in the first place, what was the point in continuing on?
I’d love to say that college was a turning point, that I found acceptance, that I moved past the self-loathing and depression that burying something so fundamental as one’s sexuality so deeply imparts, but I’d be lying to myself and anyone who reads this. Without a doubt, life was easier, but only in a relatively small way. I developed a few meaningful, significant friendships and was able to reveal my secret to a small handful of people, but to most of my acquaintances, my coworkers, and, most importantly, my family, I maintained and fortified the facade I’d grown relatively comfortable with. Through the wonders of self-medication, both by licit and illicit means, I could largely “suppress” the thoughts of suicide, and being an exceptional procrastinator also allows me to type this today.
Granting my faith great power over my life, I prayed regularly and fervently for forgiveness for my sinful thoughts and attractions, prayed and pleaded that I would be cleansed of my homosexuality, as if such a thing could ever happen. As if I, or anyone else, would choose such a lifestyle so prone to ridicule, emotional turmoil, and physical threat. Late into my twenties, I carried on this way, hoping that one day, my prayers would be answered, knowing all the while that such was as likely as prayers to change an innate physical characteristic would be answered. I had as much choice in being gay as I did in being tall, having brown eyes, or possessing a genetic predisposition to baldness. It wasn’t until the spring of 2011, shortly before my 27th birthday, that I was able to accept what I’d known for nearly twenty years.
As important a step as acceptance is, such a change does not relieve much of the burden of being gay. Family does not simply acquiesce, abandoning religious conviction, societal misconceptions, or prejudices. Though I’d come to terms with my sexuality, I still had no intention of coming out to my family. Out of concern for my mother’s health, not wanting to damage my close relationship with her, and hoping not to further strain an already fraught relationship with my father, I was perfectly content to continue living a double life, which brings me to the point of the preceding 500+ words.
Having grown more comfortable with myself over a number of months, and having built a small network of friends for whom my sexuality was a non-issue, I grew increasingly agitated by the deception of, and care needed to maintain, the illusion I’d perpetuated for so many years. Simply discussing a state’s decision to permit or ban same-sex unions, or the military’s eventual move to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” was inconceivable, for fear that doing so may inadvertently out me. This agitation grew to an unsustainable level at the worst of all times, however: while on a family vacation 1,000 miles from home, far from understanding and potentially-consoling friends, where escape was almost impossible.
On the third day of said vacation, a friend shared a link on Facebook to @AreYouSuprised’s video in which he comes out to his father. Sneaking away to watch it, I simply couldn’t stop thinking about what he’d done, what it represented. In particular, his father’s response struck me. Here was someone whom I’d expected would react as I always assumed my family would: in anger and condemnation, severing all connections for perpetuity. Instead, Randy’s father responded with love. That stark contrast between expectation and reality played no small part in the events of one memorable September evening with my family.
As I sat inside reading something from my Kindle, my parents and brother sat out on the porch discussing money I’d borrowed from my brother and had yet to repay. Believing the sliding glass door to be far more soundproof than it actually was, they carried on a conversation that criticized nearly everything that comprises my life and makes me the person I am. As their discussion continued seemingly without end, my anger grew to the point where I was physically shaking, wholly unable to focus, and desperately seeking an escape. I began packing my bags, prepared an airline reservation, and was seconds away from purchasing the ticket when they all came inside. My brother, noticing my luggage, immediately asked what was wrong. Exclaiming that I’d heard the entire conversation and no longer cared to share what was meant to be an enjoyable vacation in South Carolina with people I’d felt so betrayed by, I simply asked for a ride to the airport. Instead of granting the request, an argument ensued.
As invective and vitriol spewed and I felt increasingly under attack, I can only assume that I made the conscious (or subconscious) realization that hiding my sexuality and maintaining my carefully-crafted facade was no longer necessary or worthwhile. To this day, I still can’t recall what exactly precipitated what would follow. Nonetheless, at some point, blurting out “Because I’m gay!” seemed like an acceptable response to some inquiry, as if that exclamation could ever be considered a natural segue in an argument about money.
My brother, perhaps out of shock, anger, or disgust, or simply because he wanted no further involvement in the discussion, left our rented condo, leaving my parents and I to deal with the new reality I’d spawned with three words. Tears abounded, as did the expected questions about how long I’d known, was I sure, and so on, coupled with, in many cases, the customary answers. Religion, politics, and our family’s values all entered the discussion as my parents struggled to understand and cope with what had happened and what they’d just learned. Over the course of nearly two hours, they began to accept that there was nothing that they could say or do now, or should have said or done in the past, that could change the fact that I’m gay.
My brother eventually returned, and after repeating a condensed version of much of what I’d told my parents in his absence, everyone went to bed. I, emotionally and physically exhausted from all that had transpired, had no trouble sleeping. Undoubtedly, the relief that came with the collapse of my now-unnecessary facade, and the knowledge that my parents still loved me regardless of this revelation, removed a great stressor that had disrupted my sleep for many years.
I can’t say that my interactions with my family have been without tension, or that their acceptance was immediate and all-encompassing, but I’ve been quite shocked with how well my parents and brother have responded. In due time, I truly believe that my sexuality will be thought of as just another characteristic that makes me who I am.
While recounting how I came out to my family has been cathartic, I’ve not done so for my benefit alone. I’ve also not done so to boast. More importantly, I hope to demonstrate to other closeted gays and lesbians that people can defy expectations in unexpected ways and, most importantly, that suicide is never the solution. Some who read this will have come out to family and been disowned and disconnected while others were embraced. Regardless of individual family circumstances, knowing that there is a strong, supportive, enduring community of LGBT individuals and allies should provide comfort and encouragement in the darkest of days.
One caveat is that, with the exception of the loan that led to the argument that ultimately caused me to come out to my family, I am fortunate enough to be wholly independent and self-sufficient. For some who are not (particularly younger readers) careful consideration must be given to how coming out might impact one’s life. Similarly, for those in dangerously-intolerant places, physical wellbeing should be the overriding factor in any decision to reveal one’s sexual orientation.