For so many reasons recently, I have been thinking about living my truth and how I got to this point. First of all, my spiritual force, Oprah, has been talking a lot about living your truth. Secondly, I just recently got married to *gasp* a man, my truth. Thirdly, the motion picture Love, Simon was released nationwide last weekend. Lastly, but I don’t promise to go in this order (the English teacher in me is disappointed but I need to just write) the new Queer Eye on Netflix has me crying like a baby each episode. So for all of these reasons, I have just been thinking about my truth and my coming out and my years spent in the closet and how all of it might have been different if the media coverage today of gay men and women was out in the 90s or if the messages in movies and tv were what they are now. Back in the 90s, a lot of my coming out would have been different, and much sooner, than the age of 26, that I know for sure.
Let us begin with Mother Oprah, my force, my leader, my guide. I love her. The above quote is from her Golden Globes speech back in January 2018. “What I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we have.” Wow-yes it definitely is and recently I have been having conversations with some of my students about speaking their truth and because of those conversations I have given some long thought about my truth and how it came to be and why it came to be the way it did. I also heard on a podcast today Oprah say, “Every person who comes to Earth has a responsibility to seek the truest, highest expression. And the keyword is true…the responsibility is how do you not just speak the truth but how are you the truth? The responsibility is to show up in that which is the most authentic truthful version of yourself.” Wowza that is a lot, right? My teenage self wouldn’t have been able to digest that, but my 41-year-old self say hell yes and what I do with that is take on the responsibility to show up as the most authentic version of myself and share my story and live my truth.
Let’s be truthful here, I love clothes and I love shoes and my closet is full of both. Now THAT is a great closet. But you know what isn’t a great closet? The gay closet that I and so many people live or lived in for years. People ask me when I knew I was gay and I always say that I knew I was different around 3rd Grade. That was the first time I can place a feeling I had about a boy I knew. It was a feeling of excitement in my tummy when I spent the night at his house, in his bedroom. THIRD GRADE y’all! Then in 6th Grade when I knew much more about what was going on with girls and boys, I knew that changing for PE meant getting down to our underwear to put on our shorts and t-shirt and I didn’t hate it. Hahahah I didn’t hate it because it meant I got to see boys. Now what I did with that information was suppress it down to the deepest place in my subconscious because I didn’t know what to do with that information. There just weren’t examples for me to look up to or strive to be like or just to know that it is ok. There was also a lot of hate. In 7th Grade, minding my own business walking to class, someone for the first time in my life called me a faggot. I can still see his face, clear as day, in my mind. That reprehensible word has so much negativity and hate and for me, fear attached to it. Now people were starting to notice I was different and they were calling me out and now I have to suppress my sexual orientation even more. That was fear and not understanding and not knowing who or if I had anyone I could talk to about my feelings. I remember telling my dad about that incident and he asked, “Where you walking really fast?” Obviously he had some stereotypes in his head too, but he tried to help me make sense of it.
In the new Queer Eye on Netflix in episode 4 a closeted gay man gets made over and comes out to his stepmom. I sobbed like a baby, on the plane, over that moment. But what one of the cast members said stuck with me when he talked about his coming out and having to climb over “the wall” of three words — I AM GAY. Those three words were the hardest three words I have ever had to say. It still gives me a feeling in my stomach thinking about the night I told my parents. What I know now is that they love me no matter what and their reaction, staring at the wall, was out of fear; fear that my life would be harder and subject to discrimination and childless and partnerless and lonely. None of that is true. Maybe childless, but I chose that, and maybe I experienced a little discrimination or hate over the years, yes, but really, none of those fears came true. But they all shadowed my life and why I kept things in the closet for so long. One other thing I want to say here, about that night in 2002, is that I didn’t understand that sharing this piece of me wasn’t just about me. Parents have to go on their own journey too because mostly out of fear, but also out of the need for a moment to digest things. Wilson Cruz of My So Called Life fame recently said in a podcast, “They [parents] are really amazing now. They had to go on their own journey and I needed to support them in that. When we come out to people it’s not just about us, right? Yes it’s our experience and we’re sharing our lives with people but I think we need to be generous in that moment, as well, to the people we’re coming out to and give them a minute to adjust and digest and then give them permission to show up for you. But it’s not necessarily going to happen right away, and that’s ok.” I wish I had handled my parents a little more gently. I mean, I was surprised they were surprised considering all of my childhood interests, but they were nonetheless. I started shoving it down their throats bringing up how hot Brad Pitt was and always wanting to talk about celebrity men, just to see their reaction. Calm down and give them a minute, is what I wish I had done. Regardless now of where I am or how I got here or how long I took to stay in the closet, I’m here now and I’m living my truth for the past 16 years.
One more thing about growing up in the 90s and living in the closet. I loved season three of The Real World San Fransisco. Pedro Zamora was my first introduction to a mainstream gay person on television. I watched the show religiously each week and each week I watched this gay man live his truth, with AIDS. This was an extremely admirable thing that Pedro did and a gift that he gave to all of us. Yet, as a 15-year-old, closeted gay boy in small town Michigan, it was also incredibly fear inducing. HIV? AIDS? The only thing I knew about those letters was that it meant you were gay and it meant you were going to die. Pedro did die. I didn’t want to die. I didn’t want to get HIV. And there you have a huge reason why I suppressed my feelings and my true self for so many years. I was uneducated and as much work as Pedro did on the show TO educate me, fear won out in my head for far too long. Part of it was just the way of life back in the 90s and I think, what if I was a teenager now, would I still be scared? Sure, I am positive there would still be fear, but all of the information and media coverage that we have now about HIV, it is a very different time. So thank god for Pedro and for his education of us all, but with it came a cost, a fear for me.
Now here we are in 2018 and there is a major motion picture out in theatres called Love, Simon.
“No matter what, announcing who you are to the world is
pretty terrifying, ’cause, what if the world doesn’t like you?”
“P.S. It doesn’t seem fair that only gay people
have to come out. Why is straight the default?”
What would it have meant to my 15-year-old self had this movie been out in the 90s? What would it have meant to my parents at the time? How would my life be different now? I’m positive my life would be slightly different but not that much. I’m here and I’m queer and I have a wonderful life. I might have come out a lot younger. My parents might have had a different experience the night I climbed over the “WALL” — I AM GAY. But we all get to our truth when we are supposed to get to our truth. We all, I hope, will eventually live our truth. I hope that each person out there, gay teens, straight teens, people of all kinds, find the power in speaking their truth.
Whether you’re lucky enough to be gay or not —
Find Your Truth.
Speak Your Truth.
Live Your Truth.