Today is National Coming Out Day. As I reflect on what it means to have the freedom to live openly as a gay man, I’m reminded that we didn’t always have that right and many in this world still don’t.
The thought of coming out used to terrify me. The thought of being outed petrified me. I lived in fear that someone would guess my secret. I was teased relentlessly in my youth and beat up often, so I spent the first 50 years of my life masquerading as a straight man. I changed my voice, my walk, the way I sat, the way I crossed my legs, and even tried to ensure I didn’t wear anything “gay.”
Living in a Christian home and being involved in church (Assemblies of God) was Hell. Many Christians are quite judgmental, some are downright brutal. I won’t get into a theological discussion here, but because of those beliefs, my sexuality was always at war with my Christianity.
In my 20s, I enlisted in the Air Force and so the masquerade continued. It was not possible to be openly gay and serve. Today, it is a much different story. Airmen, Marines, soldiers, and sailors all have the right to serve regardless of how they identify. My entire life up to the point I came out was a charade, my attempt to be “normal.” I wouldn’t admit to myself that I was gay. I dated girls, but I never had a relationship that worked. In my heart, I was attracted to guys. I didn’t want to be. I tried (and failed) to ignore, explain, or otherwise dismiss these feelings and thoughts. I even tried praying the gay away. 🙄
At 31, I married and had kids. Over time, the marriage deteriorated (for reasons other than my sexuality). It’s important to note here that I never strayed. I was true to my marriage vows. When we split, I decided I was finally going to be my authentic self. I was going to come out. It was no less scary at 50 then it would have been at 20. I had the same fears as all people who come out do. Will my family hate me? Will they disown me? Will my friends break ties with me, abandon me? But I also had other concerns. What about my boys? Will they hate me? Will they lose respect for me? Am I about to irrevocably destroy my relationship with them?
Well, obviously I came out. My kids were accepting and loving and nothing changed. If anything, we have a better relationship now because I am authentically and unapologetically me. A few “friends” from my old church no longer talk to me, but whatever. They obviously weren’t really friends. My family still loves me (although the mom-lady is afraid I might be headed to Hell in a gasoline g-string (but I’ll look faaaaaabulousss!). Kidding. 😄
When I finally came out, it was like a weight had lifted from my shoulders. I no longer had a dark secret hanging over my head. More importantly, I could be me, finally me! No more masks! (I once gave a speech at a church retreat that I think was called “Masks” or had something to do with masks–that would be a WHOLE different speech now-haha). Do I wish I had come out sooner and avoided some unpleasant experiences in my life? Absolutely, but everything happens for a reason, I guess. So on this National day of coming out, what would I say to my younger self and what do I say to someone contemplating coming out? To my younger self, I’d sit little Anthony in my lap and say:
“Don’t be sad. Don’t worry what others think. You be you. You’re brave and strong. I know that because you endure all that those bullies do to you and you survive. You have a family that loves you and that will never ever change. You will have amazing friends in your life that love and support you. You’re smart and funny and very talented. It is okay to be you! Embrace who you are! It’s okay to like boys. You’re not broken or sick. You’re not a deviant and you’re NOT a sinner! If anyone says different, to Hell with them. Be your authentic self without fear, without regrets. Oh, and when you see a company called Apple show up in the stock market-buy! 😛 Now here’s a list of guys I want you to make sure you avoid in the future so they can miss you with their bullshit! 🙄
If my path in life had been any different, I would not enjoy some of the blessings I have today. I have two wonderful, funny, talented, loving sons; a sweet, beautiful daughter-in-law, and a gorgeous granddaughter! Life is good and I am blessed!
To any of you contemplating coming out, no one can tell you how to do it!! It’s different for all of us. You don’t need to do it on National Coming Out Day. The right day to do it is the day you’re ready to do it! Will it be scary? Probably. But you got this! You decide who to tell and when to tell them not anyone else. Listen to/read other coming out stories. It helps. Most importantly, be true to yourself. Be honest with yourself. Know that it’s okay for you to love who you love. If you’re struggling with accepting your sexuality, we’ve all been there. Talk to someone. Watch those coming out stories on YouTube. It helps a lot. If you have thoughts of harming yourself, seek help now! Please don’t wait. Your life matters!
If you came out today, congratulations! I’m happy for you! If you’re not quite there yet, that’s cool. You decide when it’s the right time. See you on the other side of that closet door. 🌈