To me, my coming out story is not all that memorable.
I did it in segments, starting with my mom and one of my sisters. We were at a restaurant and the margaritas were flowing. It felt as good a time as any to just blurt it out. It was the easiest thing I had ever done and also the most difficult. Simply saying the phrase I'm gay for the first time, to family no less, was both freeing and nerve racking. There was a pause after I said it; a pause that, to me, lasted a lifetime. My mom and my sister just looked at each other, clearly digesting what they just heard. My mom was the first to speak. With a smile, she simply said: "And the sky is blue". I have never been more relieved in my life. You always hear horror stories about what it was like for many to come out to their family. I was nervous that it would turn into a yelling match, saying how wrong I was and that I would no longer be accepted at any family function from that point on. Hearing "and the sky is blue", all I could do was cry.
My father was the next person I told. His happened by accident. We were driving to lunch when I simply said it. More silence fell over the both of us. To me, this was most difficult. My father has always been a symbol of masculinity while also being okay with being vulnerable. At a very young age, my father instilled in me that it was okay to be a tough boy but that it was just as okay to cry when prompted. He never made me feel like I couldn’t' do both things. And yet, I felt that my telling him I was gay would make everything crumble. Another breakdown from me prompted my father to say: "I've known for some time. I was just waiting for you to tell me when you were ready." I was two for two.
Last to tell was my eldest sister. By this time, I felt as though I was a professional at coming out. The stories that I had heard were not the norm and that coming out was always an easy thing. I went in with such confidence that I wasn't expecting to hear the words: "give me a minute alone so I can process what you just said". The wind was knocked out of me and I felt like I couldn’t breathe. Worst of all, it was outside of my then boyfriend's apartment. We were hosting a party and I was ready for my sister to meet my friends that she hadn't met before due to my keeping them deeper in the closet than I was. Waiting for my sister to come into the room was the most difficult thing I had ever experienced. Everything else had gone so well that having to wait for a response made me feel that this would be the moment I wouldn’t be accepted. When she finally came in, we held a long embrace and she assured me that everything would be okay.
Finally, I could live my truth. Finally, I was able to be who I always was without hiding from my friends, my family, and – most important – myself. It made me more familiar in tune with who I was as a person that I was finally able to let go. However, it started to make me question other things because it brought light to different areas of myself that had been left in the dark. The biggest thing: it made me question my life as a black man. While there were plenty of gay men and women on television, in music, in literature, it was difficult to find the ones that looked like me. Not only am I part of a vastly marginalized group, I’m also a gay man on top of it. I was in desperate need of someone that I could relate with. My safety net has always been music. It’s always been there in my times of need; when I needed answers to life’s most difficult questions. But I found it hard to find that one person that I could connect with. But then, I found James Baldwin.
Baldwin’s Another Country found me at a point where I thought I was never going to find anything that expressed how I felt. Growing up in that small Oregon town, the Harlem Renaissance was glossed over in my schooling. It wasn’t until much later that I found the words that I was looking for. James Baldwin allowed me to find comfort in myself and through Another Country, showed that these words were here all along. I just had to seek them out. I was drawn to the character of Rufus and all of his flaws. It was Rufus’ internal battle with himself that I realized we had our similarities. Then, I found the words that resonated with me and will stick with me forever:
“The trouble with a secret life is that it is very frequently a secret from the person who lives it and not at all a secret for the people he encounters. He encounters, because he must encounter, those people who see his secrecy before they see anything else, and who drag these secrets out of him”
It has been almost ten years since I was able to break through the closet door. In this decade, I have learned the most about myself. Namely, I have become far more comfortable in my skin. The secret that I thought I was keeping was very visible in public but it was because I wasn’t accepting of myself that I didn’t know how to navigate life. Without that dark cloud looming over me, I'm finally free. When I reflect on where I’ve come, it’s easy to see that I am far more confident in myself. I’m more confident to speak up and speak out when those around me are being ignorant or expressing their biases. If I can educate one person a day about how their words and actions affect marginalized communities, then I will continue to do so. It took years for me to be comfortable with myself. Now that I am, there is nothing that can be stripped away.
I am a gay man and I have never been more proud to say that.
I often think about what my life would have been if I had the confidence to speak my truth at a younger age. I wonder if my life would have been easier because I was accepting of myself. My family says that they knew for a long time, but it leaves a burning question: would they have been as accepting if I had come out as a gay man in high school? Middle school? It truly is my biggest regret. I regret every day that I didn’t have the courage to live my truth until I was much older. It may have something to do with the fact that I was one of a handful of black faces that walked through the halls of my high school. We were the few, but the gay students were fewer. Years later, I have found that there are a number of LGBTQ people that I grew up with. I wonder if they too felt the same way I did. Living in a small, religious town can be very isolating. Although I can assume, I believe that each of us felt the same way: it was nearly impossible to be your true self in those circumstances.
Now, I can finally life my authentic self. I have been freed of the shackles that bound me to what I thought was normal. Normal is what you make it. It has been this journey that I have been able to come to terms with myself and I love every part. It isn’t perfect, by any means, but it is mine and mine alone. I can finally be whatever and whomever I wish to be, as long as I am true to myself. I have never been at a loss for words. It is because of the words of others that I have found my own voice. It’s still scratchy and, at times, cracks. But it’s my own voice. In time, I hope to be like some of those that I have mentioned and to create a voice that is my own. There is no rush now; everything will come when it’s supposed to. I can say this: I am a gay man. It took me a long time to be comfortable with saying that.
I am a gay man and there is nothing that will silence me again.
Title: Un-Thinkable (I'm Ready)
Artist: Alicia Keys
Year Released: 2009