It’s only fitting on this National Coming Out Day that I share my coming out story with my 5 wonderful readers. (Ok, 6…) The first person I — or any gay person for that matter — has to come out to is himself. But people pretend that we only have to “come out” one time. No. For me, at least, it was a series of painstaking conversations that continued on and off for two years. Hell, I’m still having conversations about who I am with people. That’s ok, though. I’m going to share a few different stories, all with different reactions. Parts 1 & 2 — Friends From “Home” and Friends From School — can be found in previous posts. They’re worth it. But part 3…
PART THREE: FAMILY
This was the tough one. I think that’s the way it is for pretty much everyone. You can get new friends, right? But as so many people tell me: Family is family.
My dad was first. I told him the night I headed off to UF for my junior year. I figured, “Hey, if he disowns me, I’m headed off to my dorm room more than an hour away. It’ll suck and I’ll have to figure a lot of stuff out, but I’ll be out of the house.”
My dad had never done anything short of loving me and supporting me. But I think every person that I’ve talked with who has to “come out” says they also thought the worst-case scenario was the most likely one. I know I did. But it wasn’t.
I had been putting it off all night. Finally, when I was already running late, I told my dad I needed to talk. I told him I thought I was bi. Yes, bi. For one, I thought I may have been. And secondly, for some reason, I thought it’d soften the blow. Pun not intended. I’m pretty sure he just sat there for a bit. Then he spoke…
“I don’t necessarily understand it or agree with it. But you’re my son and I’ll always love you and support you.”
At the time, I thought that was a pretty good response from a father who was raised to think a gay man was second class and headed to hell. But as I type it now, I’m tearing up at how awesome of a first response it was, particularly given those circumstances. We may have talked for a bit longer, I’m not sure. But I left for school.
I told most other family members that I was gay throughout my years at UF. I had no plans to tell the elders of my family. Ever. But a couple months before my graduation, more than two years after coming out to my dad, I got a boyfriend. I thought I could say he was my “friend.” But he refused. And deep down I knew he was right. It wasn’t fair to him. If I wanted my boyfriend at graduation, I had to prepare everyone in my family to meet him as my boyfriend.
I’m particularly close with my grandma. I couldn’t work up the nerve to tell her until just a few days before graduation. Some will still say that wasn’t fair — to only give her a few days notice. I would probably agree, but add that it was tough for me. Sometimes, you have to do what’s fair to you. I sat down next to her, on the edge of her bed. I stared at the wall.
“Grandma, I’m gay.”
“No, I’m not.”
I could see the tears welling up in her eyes. Then some questions:
“What will the family say? What will my brothers say? What about everyone at church?”
I told her most of the family knew and it didn’t matter what others thought. She disagreed. She said everything I expected her to say: I was sinning, God says it’s wrong, why would I choose this, etc. She then suggested that my “sin” was worse than all the others. I pointed out that even if she believes that being gay is wrong, the Bible says no sin is any worse than another.
“But this is different,” she said.
But then she said something that I could never have anticipated.
“I would’ve rather you told me you were going to jail.”
Had she told me this two years ago, when I had first come out to my dad and my friends, it might have shaken me. But I had spent two years at UF with so many wonderfully open-minded, accepting people of all ages and from all backgrounds. So when she said that to me, I laughed on the inside and sat stunned on the outside. I honestly don’t even remember exactly how I responded.
She said she’d put it in the back of her mind. She cried and said she wished I hadn’t told her. Needless to say, when she told me not to “flaunt it” and I told her my boyfriend would be at graduation, she wasn’t happy. I told her I’d understand if she chose not to come.
But she, too, loves me in her own way. And she was there, along with everyone else in my family…and my boyfriend. But I have regrets about that day. While I didn’t introduce him as my friend, I could’ve been far more proactive in openly calling him my “boyfriend” around my family. He deserved a lot more recognition than what I gave him that day. And I have him to thank for encouraging me to take that extra step. But we made it through and now I know exactly what I’d do in any similar instance. Be fully honest and open.
I can’t say how my grandma is handling what she knows now. We don’t discuss it. But she knows that if I’m in a relationship, I won’t hide it. And if I feel uncomfortable, I won’t stand for it. And she loves me and treats me just as she treated me before I told her I was gay. She still even insists on doing my laundry for crying out loud! Only because I “do it the wrong way,” of course…
I do not believe you should always stick by family, regardless of their actions. I think that your family should support you. I think that if your family fails to do that, you must find the strength within yourself and meet others who will help support you. There are people out there who aren’t blood relatives that can become better family to you than your “real” family.
But when we forgive others and accept the things we cannot change, it’s a wonderful thing.