Monday, October 11, 2010

The Power of Coming Out

This year's National Coming Out Day feels even more important and significant than in previous years. Gay teen suicide has been very much in the news recently, and I hope we continue to discuss this issue and not let the recent tragedies fade from memory. Coming out is vital, but it can also be a very big struggle.

It is on this day that I reflect on my own journey. As I've written before, I didn't come out until I was 20. It was difficult for me to accept myself as a gay man. I grew up knowing no gay people and saw only glimpses of them on TV or in movies. Most were not people I wanted to be. I remember Ellen's big coming out episode. I had been a fan of her show before and closely watched that episode and those that followed. At the time, I didn't fully understand my interest. I also remember the warning that ABC put up before each episode telling people about the possible offensive material in the show. It blows my mind that this happened during my lifetime. It sounds like a story from a long time ago, but it was the 1990s. Ellen had a huge impact on TV and still does, but for a young guy confused about his own sexuality that warning didn't help me come to terms or accept myself.

When I did come out, I remember being so scared to go into a Barnes and Noble and pull a gay magazine off the shelf. I thought someone would jump out and attack me or shout at me or even just look at me funny. At the same time, I was so thirsty for something gay, because I had little to no outlets.

I came out to most people in the spring of 2003 and then went to Europe for two months. When I returned, I spent the rest of the summer in my hometown with my family. I grew up in Richmond, Indiana, which is a small Midwestern city of about 40,000 people. I remember going into the Blockbuster (this was before they all started shutting down), and seeing that they had the first season of Queer As Folk. It was in the "special interests" section and on the top shelf where that store put all of the more "adult" titles. After much debate, I got up the courage to pull the disc off the shelf and check out. I spent the next week or so renting all the discs of the first season and diving into a gay world I had never seen before.

Some criticize Queer As Folk, but I still think it's one of the best TV shows featuring gay people to ever air on American television. It covered a huge range of issues and topics and was actually made for a gay audience and not for a straight audience (like Will and Grace was). I also have a soft spot for it because it was truly my first exposure to most gay things. I learned a lot from the show and it helped me feel connected. Watching that show made me know I was going to be okay. I also became well versed in gay sexual terms, which proved useful later.

Coming out wasn't easy. The first few months I felt very lost and confused. I had come out and everything felt different, yet everything was exactly the same. Little did I know, that upon returning to college that fall I would meet Dustin and I would fall in love. That's not completely the end of the story, but it's a good place to stop. The last seven and a half years of being out have been the best of my life. Does that mean everything is perfect? No, but I am who I am (the good and the bad).

Coming out is a personal journey and it is different for all of us. What is important is to do it. It won't be easy. It may take time to adjust. You may lose friends or family, but you will gain self respect and a new community that believes in you for who you are. There is power and strength in that.

As I close this post, I want to share a wonderful new website I recently discovered. The site is called God Loves Poetry. The goal is to get people to take press releases from the Westboro Baptist Church and to blackout the hate and make a positive poem out of it. For those not familiar with the WBC, they have a website called God Hates Fags and they protest at lots of gay events, funerals for gay people who have been murdered, and recently at lots of military funerals (somehow gay people are responsible for America losing wars). I created one of these poems and they just published it on the site today. It is about Lady Gaga, so please go check it out and read the others. I think this is a perfect site to read on National Coming Out Day.

-Stephen (Out)

2 comments:

  1. i remember when all of this was happening- didn't i send you a magazine? i remember the day blockbuster was out of queer as folk- i think i received an emotional phone call from you. i'm so proud of you and so happy for all you have in your life. love you.

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  2. Annie:

    You did. You sent me my very first gay magazine. Thank you for all of your support during that time. I couldn't have done it without you. Love you.

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