Just before I left for college, my father took me and my older sister out to dinner. During our meal, he offered unsolicited pearls of wisdom to us as we went forth into the world. One such pearl, as it were, was that my sister and I were to “let no man (directed at her) or whomever (directed at me) dictate our goals and our futures.” He went on, “it [doesn’t] matter who your husband (again, to my sister) or life partner may be, maintain your goals and your focus”! I had noticed that my father hesitated to assign a gender to my future romantic partner. Surely he didn’t think I was gay! I had never even had a crush on a boy, much less, a girl. By all accounts I was a late bloomer; and, heterosexual, not to mention, homosexual relationships had not yet made my “to do” list. How did he make that leap?
As an undergrad, I was on the track and field team. My best friend and fellow hurdler, Tony, had come over to my room before practice. He asked to use my computer to check for something. What I forgot was that I had left an instant message conversation between myself and a former lover from high school, which laid out pretty clearly my sexual orientation. When Tony acknowledged he had seen it, I was so embarrassed and horrified I literally hid my face. Thankfully, he could tell I did not want to discuss it and did not pursue a conversation about the topic.
Very few people know about my coming out story. I usually don’t talk much about it. But recently, I’ve felt like more people should tell their coming out stories. Not only for other out people to read, but for those struggling with their sexuality to read (especially those feeling miserable and afraid). They may find comfort and positive references that may help them in their process. Who knows!
Late August 2008: “Yeah, I’m gay.”
September 18, 2008: “Hey, Priscilla. I want to tell you something before I leave for Chicago. But I don’t know how to tell you.” What is it? What did you do? Are you like gay or something? “I’m too scared to tell you. Here, I’ll write it on this piece of paper and stick it in this envelope. Take it. But don’t open it until you see my car drive out of sight. OK?” Ugh, fine. [Less than 10 minutes later…] Are you serious?! You’re gay!? I totally knew it! “Yeah, but I’m in the car now, so I’ll have to talk to you later. Um, bye.”
“Mom, I have something to tell you. I’m Gay.”
Those were probably some of the toughest words I’ve ever had to speak. I was a sophomore at Hope College in Holland, Michigan. Think the Bible belt of the Midwest. A church on every corner. I attended a somewhat conservative Christian college. I was also in the midst of a personal crisis.
My coming out story is that I refuse to ‘come out,’ in the conventional sense.
I resent the heteronormative (or homonormative) assumption that, because I’m queer, I have to announce my sexual orientation. I also take issue with the fact that anyone identifying as heterosexual is assumed to have a simple and straightforward sexual identity, and so there is no need to think about or discuss it.
The experience of my “coming out story” has shaped my view of the world more than any other event in my development. For any young black gay man from an inner city community, coming out is many times the most difficult struggle of ones life. Getting to the place where one can stop caring about society’s judgments and start to accept who they are, is a mountain to climb.
I will come out tomorrow. I will come out to new friends, their families, faculty members, and colleagues. I will come out tomorrow. I will come out the day after. I will be coming out next month, next year, ten years later unless someone hateful of queers kills me by that time. Coming out is not beautiful. Love is. Acceptance is. I’d do anything to be loved and accepted. And that’s why I come out, exchanging my coming out for love and acceptance. But when will we live in a society where we can be neither in or out of the closet, where no one cares about our sexualities and identities and we are not degraded at all? I will come out tomorrow, because I want to be loved and accepted. I won’t stop, because otherwise my sexuality and identity would never find a home in this world. They would wander about, scattered, sliced into pieces, so tiny that no one could see them. I won’t stop, because I’m weak and always in need of love and acceptance. It’s the reverse of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell——today’s (at least) urban queers face Do Tell, but We Won’t Ask, the slightly altered, liberal version that together with DADT stems from the whole closet system.
It happened when I was traveling in 2001.
That summer, I was in the Bay Area as part of a research program. During that time, I went to my first queer women space and realized that this felt like home. There’s no other way I know how to describe it. It just felt like home. Before packing once again and returning to Chicago, I went to my first Dyke March. I inquired as to why such a march was necessary when the Pride Parade occurred the next day. Ironically, I have now helped organize Chicago’s Dyke March for numerous years. [But that’s a story for another time.]
One of the first people I came out to was my father. I was about 19, at the end of my first year of college, and was visiting home for a break. The night I told him was also the night of a large family party. I remember that night because my grandmother, who’s husband died a year earlier, got a bit too drunk and ended up “making a fool of herself” when she emotional broke down over my grandfather. She’d always been a strong willed woman: she never let her sadness show during my grandfather’s death, and insisted on acting as the strong matriarch she is. But for some reason, at that party, surrounded by all the family of her late husband, sharing stories of his still recent memory, and with the help of some tequila liquid courage, she finally let it all out – to the chagrin of her and her daughters (my aunts). Adding to all of it, my father was the culprit blamed for bringing the tequila.
I find it hard to pinpoint when, exactly, I came out; my story, like that of many others, is a continuing narrative rather than a discrete moment in time. This is not to say that I can’t remember when and where I came out to the important people in my life – my mother at a pizza parlor; my father over the phone; my closest friends throughout my freshman year of high school, my freshman year of college, my first year of graduate school. Yet, I have found that my identity as a member of the LGBT community is constantly changing, becoming stronger and more nuanced as I enter adulthood. In this way, it’s best to tell you about the two moments that bookend my coming out story – where I began the process, and where I am now.
I’ve had to come out many times: to myself, my sister, my mother, my friends. However, coming out to my father was the most difficult. To explain my story, which I still struggle to do even today, I need to give some context. To start, Dad is the epitome of American masculinity; he is a Viet Nam veteran with the US Marine Corp, a former member of a biker gang, and a self-employed lumberjack and construction worker. Growing up, he would put me through an obstacle course when I was 4, teach me how to use handguns and rifles, and show me the joys of the outdoors as a scout master in the Boy Scouts. We were the perfect father-son duo; Carl and Carl Jr, Butch and CJ.
Some people come out. Others are pushed out. My mother sort of...walked in. I was 14 years old, a freshman in high school. I had told my mother some lie about how a girl I was secretly interested in needed to sleepover so we could work on a school project. I was not the kind of kid who lied or disobeyed my parents, in fact, I had never gotten into trouble ever, so there was no reason to doubt I was telling the truth. But I wasn’t. And no pun intended but...the truth always comes out.