Coming out is the process where an individual becomes more honest about who they are, even at the risk of public or private scorn and ridicule.
The substance of “coming out” is truth. On the individual level, by telling the truth about myself, I know I gained a fuller anchor in my own life.
Before “coming out” when people said they loved or liked me, I would not believe them. How could I? I was aware that in order to truly like or love me, they would have to know something I had not shared, who I really was.
Once I came out, and they said they loved me, I realized that they must really, really love me after all.
On the public level, “coming out” for the LGBT community is the mark of heroism. When Ellen DeGeneres came out and risked her career, she ended an intense stigma against portraying gay people in media. It did not necessarily become easy, but the taboo was gone never to return to that level again.
When Will Portman came out to his father Republican Senator Rob Portman, love won out and marriage equality crossed the bridge into bi-partisan support. Two people changed the experience of millions, both by uttering a simple variation of “yep, I’m gay.”
This week, I am sure, there will be lots of good blogs with all kinds of helpful pointers on what to do as you “come out”. Mine will not be one of them.
While I fully embrace the benefits of living with honesty and integrity for decades, as well as embodying “it gets better,” my own coming out was an unmitigated disaster. It could not have been worse. ( Well, OK, no one died and no small animals were harmed, so I guess it could have been worse, but it did not feel that way at the time.)
For that reason, I offer you the nine things that I did in the coming out process that I do not recommend:
I compartmentalized my identity to myself: When I allowed myself to think gay thoughts, I was one person. When I was forcing heterosexual thoughts as I “should”, I was someone else. Neither the twain would I allow to meet. It worked wonderfully. If it had worked any better, they would have hired Joanne Woodward and given her multiple faces to play me in a movie.
I acted like a boorish straight guy: I wasn’t an idiot, I knew what I was expected to act like as a “straight guy”. I would cruise women, with a hint of drool and then act embarrassed, and in denial, when caught. This behavior backfired when I did finally come out. I found out that those observing me had cataloged and stored those memories as proof that I “couldn’t be gay”.
I was morally superior: It was not hard for me to be a “good boy” when the idea of getting into a girl’s bra (at least, with her still in it) made me wretch. I was living proof that one could live a life as pure as the driven snow, all the while, having fellatio fantasies on his mind.
I relished homophobic humor: I never bullied any LGBT person, in fact, I was rather enamored of them. I do remember the times I told “fag” jokes, however. While telling them, I felt incredibly safe. Afterward, I felt like an incredible fraud.
I disrespected my worth in my initial sex experiences: When I was told about the “birds and the bees” the expectation promised was that I would meet someone special, the time would be right, and “it” would be wonderful. “It” happened from a want ad. “It” happened from the tacky adult section in the Free Press. “It” was not thought out but was a spur of the moment decision. I did not feel special, I felt tawdry and I acted that way.
I was too drunk to manage my information: My alcoholism helped me feel like I wasn’t lying, so it had been very useful. Until it wasn’t. Then it made me sloppy. I was three-sheets to the wind and my mother complained about “those homosexuals”. Thinking back now, the decision to tell her to “fuck off” in that instance, was probably not the best closet-preserving move I could have made.
I was too drunk to manage my information, part 2: Later that night, I was still drunk when I tried to explain to her what it feels like to be gay. (Sub-rule here: don’t try to explain gay sex to your mother. Ever.)
I failed to predict reactions: The people in my family I thought would rally around me, didn’t. The person I thought most likely to reject me, didn’t. The thing I learned about my wisdom and sensibility in this situation, was that I didn’t have much of either.
I lied and implied there were loopholes: I made the mistake of conceding that if I EVER found a woman that I actually loved and was sexually attracted to, that I would marry her. My mother decided that meant that I would “try” to find this completely fictitious fantasy woman. She was angry weeks later when she found out I had no intention of doing so. (The non-existence of such a woman was non-discussable with my determined mother. ) My mother then offered to quit smoking if I “quit being gay.”
Bottom line, coming out is not a negotiation.
That was over thirty one years ago, and I hope I am wiser. From a self actualization perspective…. I am out, out, out. I am the authentic me. My parents know who I am. My sibling knows who I am. My kids know who I am. Anyone in the world aware of me, knows who I am.
Most importantly, I know who I am. I am proud…thrilled and proud…to be that person.
The point here for you is you can read someone else’s article on “how to best come out”, or you can just be yourself, as soon as it is safe to be. Shakespeare wrote a line in the play Hamlet, “to thine own self be true”, a piece of solid advice. None of the dysfunctional characters in that play followed that wisdom, however, and, (spoiler alert!) , all ended up killing themselves and each other.
So, in classic Dad form, I say to you: “Don’t do as I did, do as I say.”
Be true. Be you. Be fabulous. Happy National Coming Out Day.