I feel like only Jennifer Hudson can set the proper tone for this post. Hit it, Jennifer.
You know, the traditional gift for a 5-year anniversary is wood. There’s a cheap joke in there I’m not going to make.
This is meant to be a deep, reflective post, so I’m going to get to it now.
On July 19, 2004, I said to myself the words, “I am gay,” for the first time. Incidentally, I also said them to my parents about an hour and a half later.
That day, my life changed. If you have never gone through a coming out experience, then you might not appreciate the magnitude of this change.
Imagine that ever since you first thought about sex, you felt guilty about it. Imagine trying to have feelings beyond friendship for girls and failing. Imagine snooping around on the Internet looking at things you were not supposed to be looking at, petrified of being caught. Imagine having sexual experiences that felt ABSOLUTELY PERFECT at the time, and then carrying those memories around as the ultimate burden of shame and having them press down on your conscience every time your eyes strayed to a guy’s body. Imagine not understanding who you are or why you feel the way you do and feeling like you can’t talk to anybody about it and there are no answers anywhere.
Then, in one swift blow, wipe all that shit away.
The moment I said those words to myself, that’s what happened. It suddenly ALL made sense. There wasn’t something wrong with me, I was just different. I wasn’t supposed to have feelings for girls. I was supposed to enjoy those sexual experiences I had. I was not supposed to be ashamed. Perhaps even more profound was the realization that I had no reason to feel ashamed. This is simply who I am.
Imagine if Sisyphus had the opportunity to stop pushing that rock up a hill. That’s what it felt like. One moment there was this HUGE burden constantly weighing down on me, and the next moment it was gone.
And there was something about it that made it feel SO right, something that if it hadn’t been there, that day could never have happened. Here’s a sampling:
Abbey, Allen, Andie, Andy D, Andy K, Angel, April, Becca, Becky, Betsy, Brian D, Brian L, Bridget, Colleen, Chris, Christine, Dan, Danice, Deb, Diego, Elena, Emily, Eric, Erin, Ernest, Jarred, Jessiah, John, Jonathan, Joy, JT, Kat, Kate, Katie C, Katie W, Kelly, Kim B, Kim U/C, Kira, Kristen C, Kristen L, Jarvis, Jenna, Jennifer, Julie, Lara, Laurel, Lauren A-M, Lauren N, Libby, Lindsay, Mandi, Manny, Marcus, Matt, Meg B, Meg R/J, Megan M, Megan S, Melissa L, Melissa S/H, Meredith, Mike D, Mike W, Miranda, Mitchell, Nick, Nicole S, Nicole Z, Pete B, Pete M, Rachele, Rafi, Rebecca, Rory, Russell, Ryan, Sarah C, Sarah L, Sandra, Sandy, Sean, Sharon, Sybil, Stacey, Tab, Terry, Tracy, Travis, Vickie, Wendy, Whitney, and Zak. (The pic to the right is a few of us at Niagara Falls on July 17, 2004, two days before I came out. Yes, of course, my eyes are closed.)
Wow, that was tough to compile. That list is just some of the amazing people who entered my life during my first year at Ithaca College. It includes friends, dormmates, classmates, fraternity siblings, student government colleagues, orientation coworkers, and staff, and the list is hardly complete (and doesn’t do justice to the friendships that developed since). There are a lot of people on that list that I haven’t seen or talked to in a long time, but in 2003-2004, they were the most important people in my life, and the impact they had was huge. If I had not had such amazing people in my life, coming out could have been disastrous. Instead, it was a moment that felt just right and that changed my life forever.
I am not exaggerating at all when I say that my life changed drastically. I was reborn. I honestly don’t remember the person I was before July 19, 2004, because that person’s life experience was SO negative. Every day was a struggle to figure out who I was and where I fit and how to be happy. I remember those memories, but I am no longer that person.
Coming out was freeing. I realized how hard I was trying just to be who I thought other people wanted me to be. That doesn’t work. You have to look inside yourself to see who you are. If there are people who cannot respect you for you who you are, they aren’t worth your friendship. The significance of that list up there? Every single person who I could call a friend before I came out, I could call a friend afterwards. Combine that with the amazing support of my family, and it’s easy to see why coming out was so easy for me, and yet so significant.
That freeing attitude permeated my life. It wasn’t just about being out as gay. It was about a new pride and a new self-confidence. There was also the realization that I no longer lived on easy street. Some of the privilege I had was gone. I didn’t know the social justice language yet, but I knew that I was no longer the “perfect” straight white male. And look at the path that led me down! I discovered my passion for social justice. I discovered a whole new career field. It was, without a doubt, the most significant day of my life.
So today feels very weird. Part of me can’t believe it’s already been five years. The time has gone by so fast, and all that’s really happened is that I’ve been in college. But at the same time, I can’t believe it’s only been five years. I really jumped out of that closet, and I never looked back, and it seems like so much has changed in my life since.
What am I doing to celebrate? Nothing special. But the most important thing I am doing is reflecting about my life now. Because being out (and outspoken) is so effortless for me now, I sometimes forget that I do really still depend on the friends I have. I have amazing people in my life (even if I rarely get to see them) who challenge me and keep me strong, and on today of all days, I need to make sure their love does not go unrecognized.
That is the true purpose of this post. It’s a thank you. In the five years since I was “reborn,” I have had some amazing opportunities and experiences in my life, but nothing has been more significant and meaningful to me than the friendships I have formed.
If you’re reading this, and you’re one of those friends, I hope you know how much I appreciate you. I’m not always the best at showing it, I admit that. That doesn’t change the fact that you make a profound difference in my life. Thank you for being there.
If you’re not somebody I know personally, think about the people in your life. Are you the kind of friend that they could trust to come out to? Do they know how much love and support you have to offer them? Are your friends the kind of people who respect you for who you really are?
Because my experience coming out was so positive, I live my life in ways to make that experience positive for as many other people as I can. Let’s work towards a society where every coming out experience can be a celebration of life and freedom.