(Waymon Hudson for RedEye)
National Coming Out Day (NCOD) is an internationally observed day for visibility and discussion about gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people and their issues, specifically about being open about who they are. You can see my take on the importance of visibility and the impact it can have on LGBT rights in my essay that is being featured on Encyclopedia Britannica right now for NCOD. In the spirit of this day, I thought I would also share my personal story of coming out…
Looking back, it is hard to really pinpoint one single moment as when I ‘came out.’ I grew up in a small farming community outside of Orlando, FL- the town name literally translates from the local native american language to “The Big Potato.” For as long as I can remember, I liked boys. I was just always ‘different.’ I had a crush on Luke Skywalker, sang and danced along to Debbie Gibson, and played with Barbies. I loved musicals, the solo-flex commercials, and fashion.
Not surprisingly, this never really sat well with my family or the people I grew up around. I was always the kid everyone called “Fag” or teased for being girly. It seems everyone knew I was gay before I did- or before I even knew what the word meant. I struggled with the feelings I had for other boys and tried to bury them. I tried to date girls, pray it away, or act ‘more like a boy’ by disastrously attempting sports. By high school, I was already labeled as the token queer, even though I continued to deny it.
My life really started when I was kissed by my first boy at a rehearsal for the school musical (God bless you, Rogers and Hammerstein…) and realized I couldn’t deny it any longer. It was like finally waking up and realizing who I was. I continued to deny it publicly, but privately started trying to find out all I could about what being gay meant, which was not an easy task in a small town where everyone knew everything about you. I looked online and even traveled to other cities to go to their public library to check out books on the subject. I became an undercover gay detective looking for some sense that I wasn’t alone in how I felt.
I finally decided to go to New York University for college, realizing that I could never be who I really was in my hometown. Going to the city opened my eyes to a whole new and, might I say, super-gay world. It was a magical place where being gay wasn’t disgusting or something to be ashamed of, but instead was just a part of everyday life. I quickly came screaming out of the closet at school and never looked back.
After my first year away, I decided to come out to my family. I just couldn’t stand not being honest about myself with them. I hoped they would accept me and it wouldn’t matter, but I was wrong. My mother cried and said we shouldn’t talk about it. One of my sisters said I wasn’t welcome in her home. Not exactly the reaction I was hoping for. Only my youngest sister seemed unfazed and still talked to me like nothing had changed.
Thankfully that tough phase didn’t last long.
In the years since my coming out and the initial bad reactions, things have gotten much better with my family. My mother has fully accepted me and my amazing husband as full members of the family. My sister, who had at first disowned me, now wants us to be the god-parents of her child. My other sister, who is also married and straight, is heavily involved in the fight for LGBT rights because of her love for me. They have seen the positive changes in my life that have come from coming out and understand that I am truly no different, only more myself.
They see that I am, in fact, better than I ever was when I was closeted.
It has been a long and difficult road at times, but coming out was truly the best thing I ever did and has shaped who I am today. I cannot imagine not being true to myself and who I love. I also cannot imagine my life without the love of my family. Luckily, I now have both.
Visibility is one of the driving forces behind the accomplishments we have made when it comes to LGBT rights. You can make a huge impact on society and the fight for equality by simply living your life, openly and honestly.
This is a RedEye community blog. The views and opinions expressed in this post are solely those of the author and not those of RedEye or Tribune Company.