Today, we celebrate National Coming Out Day in the United States.
Today, we also celebrate World Mental Health Day.
My story touches upon both celebrations, and I hope for it to be a ray of light to those who are still struggling in the dark.
In honor of NCOD and WMHD, I'm going to re-tell my own, personal coming out story. Before I do, there are a few things we must address.
First and foremost, coming out is not a single event. Rather, it is a process. It is something that anyone who is part of the LGBTQQIAA2S (please don't ask me what that means) spectrum goes through every moment of our lives, once the process has started. For some, the process never goes very far; they live their entire lives in the closet. But that's another issue, for another day.
It is a process that must be repeated every time an
LGBTQQIAA2S queer person meets someone. It is repeated every time we approach a new situation, a new person, a new location, a new job, a new...well, you get the idea.
For some, the process may get easier over time. For others, it may become more difficult. For still others yet, the ease of going through the process of coming out varies throughout their life. The point is, this process—this coming out—is deeply, deeply personal and involves myriad factors that most cannot even begin to calculate, let alone contemplate.
What I can tell you is that each and every time a person comes out, a rainbow bursts through a cloud somewhere, a bell rings, an angel gets its wings, and a glitter-farting unicorn has a baby.
Or....................not! NO, THAT'S NOT WHAT HAPPENS!
Didn't I just say that this whole coming out thing was a deeply, deeply personal process? Well then anyone who tells you what coming out will be like for you—or anyone else, for that matter—is proselytizing, probably from some organization asking you to give them money.
So why come out? There are two reasons I can give you:
The first is that you might just feel a little better about yourself. Personally, I went through quite a journey—one that is ongoing—to get to where I am. After the very first time I came out, I felt the proverbial weight being lifted from my shoulders.
We know that others who have gone through the process of coming out experience a similar reaction, via anecdotal evidence. I'm not going to promise that you'll feel like a ROFS (see the link for that explanation) but there is a possibility you'll feel just a teensy bit better.
Oh and by the way, just in case you haven't figured it out yet, the very first person we all have to come out to is ... (drumroll please) ...
Yes, it's you, Y O U ! The very first person in the entire universe that anyone ever has to come out to is one’s self. You have to acknowledge and accept who you are. If you don't do this, you'll never be able to get to the next step in coming out, which is telling others.
So, a quick word about staying in the closet. There are folks that do this. Some live their lives as straight folks, some live their lives asexually. Some hook up behind their partner's backs. Whatever the case may be, it is a person's decision and right to live their life how they want to live it (with some exceptions, of course).
Personally, I think that staying in the closet is a bad idea:
And that's just the tip of the iceberg. So why all this talk about staying in the closet or coming out—especially when I said I wasn't going to talk about staying in the closet? Because there are some folks out there who believe that it's OK to publicly disclose someone's "closet status" a/k/a "outing" them. That is, they feel that it's OK to tell other folks whether or not someone is LGBTQI@!--ahh, you know what I mean.
And that, dear readers, is wrong. Just. Plain. Wrong....
Except! (there's always one of those hiding around somewhere, isn't there?) if a person in the closet is an elected official who is doing something to harm the
LGBTQQSSH@I queer community—such as voting for legislation that legalizes discrimination or voting against legislation that promotes equal treatment under the law—then I say, have at it.
The reason for this has been debated ad nauseum but simply put, hypocrites who use their authority in government to harm the community are the only folks who should be exposed, Period (yes, with a capital "F")!
I did say there were two reasons I could think of for coming out, didn't I? Right well ... let's see ... what was that second reason. You know, I could just blather on a bit until I remember what it is but, I digress.
The second reason you may wish to consider coming out of the closet is because it might make you a better human being.
Let me explain...
The first way coming out might make you a better human being is that you can stop lying to folks. And in case you think that not telling people who you really are is lying, just remember that there are at least 32 different types of lies that we tell.
Second, you don't have to hide things from folks anymore. No more scurrying your sex toys or porn under the covers when the 'rents come to visit or—gasp—your boss stops by.
Third, both your home and personal appearance can improve. OK, well this is a stereotype but we all know that we queers just dress better, decorate better, and overall have better taste in just about everything.
Fourth, you contribute something positive to the world: hope. Every time you go through the coming out process, some kid down the street, or in the next town over, or somewhere half across the world, learns that there are other people who feel the same way that they do and—hey—it's ok to be this way. You give hope to someone, whether they be a child, a teenager, or an adult, you give hope to those who have yet to embark on this incredible, personal journey.
Before I conclude (yes I know, it's been a long read for you poor, dear reader), I would be remiss if I didn't include at least a link that gives us the history of National Coming Out Day, which was started in the 1990s by the Human Rights Campaign as a civil rights action to change the hearts and minds of Americans—and lawwwwwwt did it do that!
So there you have it. Oh yes, I did say I was going to re-tell my person coming out story, didn’t I?
Well, if you really want to know. I mean, I know this is one of the longer posts I've written. I hope you've enjoyed it (please comment!). So I guess I'll re-tell my story.
Apparently, though, this is a thing now so I have to do this:
What you’re about to read beyond this point contains suicidal ideation. So if this is a trigger for you, STOP READING! If, however, you’re ok reading about what I have gone through so far in my coming out journey then, by all means, forward, ho!
This originally was posted on November 1, 2010:
As someone who’s been online in one form or another since the 1980s (which is before I was born—I mean, that’s before the Internet was open to the public), I’ve used my powers of persuasive writing to advocate for a number of things—such as politics, the environment, and yes, for gay rights.
“In my own unassuming way, I know I can make a difference. You can as well.” ~Kinsey Millhone.
Often, one of the questions posed to me, as a blogger, is, “Why do you blog?” I just finished reading T is for Trespass, the latest (as of this writing) released book in Sue Grafton’s alphabet mystery series, starring fictional heroine Kinsey Millhone, an old-fashioned gumshoe of a private investigator, whose stories are set in the 1980s (an age before the Internet, widespread computer usage, mobile phones, flat-screens, and other similar technological wonders). The quote above can be found in the Epilogue of the book, and I think it answers the question as to why I blog.
I know, from the experience of having had readers (whether it be individual posts or the blog as a whole) contact me, that I have made a difference in people’s lives by blogging, whether it was from sharing something personal, describing some new technological wonder of interest to me, arguing a point in law, or any of the myriad topics that one would find in the annals of my blog.
It is in this vein that I tackle a subject that is very difficult for me—one that is deeply personal, emotional, and difficult to deal with but one that mainstream media has declared the cause célèbre this past month: the tragic suicides of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, and/or questioning youth.
Last month, mainstream media decided to shine its spotlight on the tragedy of LGBTQ teenage suicides, and no less than six individual stories of teens who either were gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, questioning their sexuality, or perceived to be one of the above, and who made the tragic choice to end their short lives, made national headlines here in the USA.
I’ve been working—and struggling—with this post for nearly a month. However, some recent actions finally brought push-to-shove and I’ve decided to go publish this post. I would imagine that, like many bloggers, an occasional blog posting gets written that sits in draft status and is never published; I know I have a few such unpublished “drafts” sitting in my Blogger account, and I’ll most likely never publish them. This one, however, is something that needs to be published. I need the world to hear, and to listen, to what I have to say.
I had been debating whether or not to address this topic, given the skill with which so many others have taken it to task, as well as the difficulties I have in dealing with this particular topic. I had been trying, as much as possible, to avoid news, discussion, debate, and mention of this topic, so that I wouldn’t have to revisit it. In particular, it’s the rantings of Clint McCance on Facebook of all places, Tony Perkins’ ranting that gay teens resort to suicide because they’re ‘abnormal’, and Maggie Gallagher’s insane ramblings, as well as such other hateful statements that have come out in response to this very, very tragic choice that many LGBTQ teens have been making because they feel so ostracized and hated in life for simply being who they are.
You see, when I finally came to the realization of and accepted who I am (that is, when I finally figured out, realized, and dealt with the fact that I’m gay) back in my teen years, the only mentions of homosexuality (that’s the only way it was “politely” referenced at the time) I ever had encountered in my life were, for the most part, condemnation.
I was raised by my grandparents in a very strict, very conservative Roman Catholic household. Sex and anything related to sex was never discussed in the home. I was masturbating long before I even knew what it meant to masturbate. My fantasies, as a sexually-aroused teenager, were wild and varied but they all had one thing in common. In the deep recesses of my subconscious I knew, that one thing made me different and set me apart from everyone in my life.
When I finally figured out that I was one of those “faggot” homosexuals, I felt the entire weight of the world bearing down upon me in my thoughts: I would shame my family for generations. I was an aberration that must be aborted. I was the devil incarnate. I was every imaginable bad thing one could think of. I thought, “How could I live with myself?”
Where did these thoughts come from? Quite frankly, they were all around me: in church, religion, politics, popular culture, school culture, school, family, friends, etc. Being gay definitely was a big, big no-no when I was growing up. It just wasn’t something that one would be, never mind announce to the world.
Did you know that LGBTQ teens are four times more likely to commit suicide than their straight, heterosexual counterparts? As this article points out, it’s not being gay or lesbian that’s a risk factor; it’s the negative treatment such LGBTQ teens receive that raises their risk of suicide.
The most insane part of this is that no one—and I do mean no one—ever even suspected me of being gay as a teenager (at least that they told me at the time). I don’t think they thought I was really straight, either. Actually, it was more like no one thought of me as a sexual creature, period. I was this fat, dorky, geeky, nerdy brainiac. On top of that, I was so in the closet that I joined the chorus of condemnation every chance I got (a practice many closeted folks engage in as they don’t want the truth to be found out). Still, the pervasiveness and negativity about being gay was so severe that it lead me to a drastic course of action.
I had suggested to a friend during a phone conversation that I was considering ending my life. After I ended the conversation shortly after that revelation, I went to retrieve the bottle of sleeping pills my grandparents kept in the upstairs bathroom’s medicine cabinet and started taking them.
Now let me mention a few other things: with the exception of my father, my family (grandparents and sister) had gone on a weekendation, so there wasn’t anyone home. My grandparents extensively sheltered me as they raised us; I knew that people killed themselves by taking a bottle of pills but was unaware that they had to be taken all at once. So I began taking the sleeping pills, one by one, and drifted off to sleep...
My friend, worried, convinced one of his parents to come up to my house; my father answered at some unruly hour in the middle of the night, and checked in on me. He saw the bottle of pills, half-taken. I’m not going to announce why the pills didn’t do me in but obviously, my plan had failed.
I next woke up in the ER thinking, WHAT THE FUCK?!?
I could not reconcile who I was with everything that I was brought up to believe, especially coming from my religion (Roman Catholicism). Because my attempt to end the aberration that was my life had failed, I came to the conclusion that everything else I had been taught about homosexuality must be wrong.
After this epiphany I began to systematically eliminate all of those negative influences (the ones telling me that who I am was wrong) from my life. I had a great deal of support from the first gay person I ever met, first online and then in person (hi Unca Uni!!!). He remains a very dear friend and mentor to me to this very day.
Through my online contacts, I managed to come across a very happy individual and debated with him at length (along with a bunch of other folks) about politics. I soon came to find out that he was gay. Soon after my initial contact with him online, he set up his own online repository, and I began speaking with him there. There, in secret, and away from the prying eyes of others on any other system, I was able to engage him, and find out more about this “homosexual lifestyle.” In doing so, I began to realize that I wasn’t quite as alone in the world as I thought I was and slowly, over the course of many months, I was coming to terms with accepting who I am.
Without his kind love and support, I probably wouldn’t have made it this far. For the record, our relationship was never sexual. He has always been a friend to me, supporting, and unconditionally accepting of who I am, gay, Rockefeller (progressive) Republican, and all.
I haven’t looked back since that dark time in my life. I’ve fully accepted who I am and love myself.
After this turning point in my life, I gradually started coming out to people: friends first, and then everyone else over time. I went through the phase where I flaunted my sexuality but eventually, I matured. I've since grown into the person I am today—one who is still maturing and growing as time marches onward to the rhythm of its steady beat.
If you’ve read some of my other posts from my personal blog, then you know I’ve been through a lot in life, and I’m still here. I’ve survived all of the torture, torment, pain, ridicule, and whatever else that the Universe—life—has thrown at me. I've realized that I am part of the Universe.
So you see, it does get better. I am a better, stronger person for having gone through what I did, when I did.
As I've previously stated, I’m not a vlogger so, unlike most of the other “It Gets Better” messages out there, this message is in the form you see. My medium is, has always been, and most likely always will be the written word. And so with this, if even one person reads this entry and reconsiders the tragic decision to end their life, instead deciding to keep on fighting, then it’s all well worth it.
To give you an idea of just how worth it things can become, let me reshare what I wrote almost a year ago (in 2009), about my grandmother’s coming to terms with my being gay and—moreso—her coming to terms with my being an LGBTQ-rights activist.
Approximately one decade ago, Westchester County (where I live) was debating a piece of legislation that would have extended protections to individuals based on their sexual orientation. At the time (1999), this was an extremely controversial act because it included "sexual orientation" as a protected class in the wording of the legislation, something New York State law did not cover.
I've always been politically involved and astute. Despite my family's wishes to the contrary, I registered to vote as a Republican on my 18th birthday (the values of Rockefeller Republicans spoke to me) and haven't missed voting in a single election since. But I digress...my political leanings naturally lent their hand in somehow shaping me as an advocate for gay rights and someone who has been active in the LGBTQ rights movement.
I had written a "Letter to the Editors" supporting the passage of the county's proposed Human Rights Law. My letter was published in the local, county-wide newspaper, signed with my name and village of residence.
My grandmother, very frail of health (at that time she'd had four major coronary infarctions and a series of minor strokes / TIAs, along with the usual health problems associated with someone approaching their 80th birthday who had been smoking for 60+ years...), came into my room carrying the newspaper (while not bed-ridden, she didn't often get out of bed except to use the facilities and go to doctor's appointments).
She asked me, "How could you be so stupid to have such a letter published with your name and the location of our home?" I was very puzzled by her reaction, as she had tears in her eyes (I had already come out to her by this point (or more accurately, she came out to me; that is, she figured out I was gay and asked me for the truth), so it's not like she didn't know I'm gay).
So I asked, "What's the big deal, Gram? I've had other letters published in the paper. Why are you so upset?" She told me that there are very crazy people in the world and that by having my name and location published, she was worried about someone hiding in the bushes outside of our house so they could attack me for being gay, or someone coming by the house and throwing rocks at me, or while I'm out and about someone would try to kill me, etc. It was a cause of great consternation for her that I would be harmed, especially by such a lunatic. (Keep in mind, this was a time when mass shootings were not the norm—as hard to imagine as it might be.)
I told my grandmother that it was she who instilled in me the values to stand up for what I believe in, to exercise my rights as guaranteed to me in the United States Constitution and not back down when I know I am fighting a just and worthy cause. Grams hugged me, told me that she loved me, and urged that I be more cautious and safe. She implored with me that I not take such public stances in the future, for she worried greatly over my safety.
Grams said she would pray that I not ever fall into harm's way because of who I am, and advised that she would be worrying over me whenever I left the house (a promise she kept, as whenever I left she wouldn't go to sleep until I returned home safe and sound).
A short while later, a public hearing was held on the proposed Human Rights Law. I was getting ready to leave the house to head for the hearing and speak out in favor of the passage of the law. Grams asked me where I was going. I (reluctantly) told her. She asked if I could wait 5 minutes, and I did.
Five minutes later, my grandmother had her purse and winter coat on (it was January and quite snowy that winter). She told me that she was coming with me (despite her frail health). There was nothing I could do to change her mind, so I brought her along to the public hearing.
We arrived a bit late (snow, ice, roads....blah blah blah), taking seats in the hearing chamber. When the legislators asked if anyone else wished to speak, I began to rise but my grandmother put her arm on me to keep me seated and instead, she rose and approached the podium to address the legislators.
At the podium, my grandmother relayed how she read my letter to the editor in the newspaper, and how scared she was for my safety. She told the legislators that she was a devout Catholic, but that I was her grandson and she loved me no matter who I was or what I did. She implored the legislators to pass the Human Rights Law, so that she could stop worrying about the safety of her grandson, and not have to worry that he would be fired from a job for being who he was, or that someone would be waiting in the bushes to attack him as he came home.
I had absolutely no idea that Grams was going to do this. Tears filled my eyes (just as they are now as I recount these events). It was then, right there in the public hearing, that I came to know the true meaning of Unconditional #Love. I couldn't have been more proud, happy, or loved than I was at that point in time ....
Since then, as I've met more wonderful people (mostly through social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram, etc.), and I've come to experience this unconditional love and acceptance.
If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, don't—just don't. Pick up the phone, or get on your computer, and talk to someone. You can contact the Trevor Project at, 1-866-4-U-Trevor (that's 1-866-488-7867). You can also check out the resources on the Yellow Ribbon website or call them at: 1-800-SUICIDE. Besides, do you have ANY idea just how messy and icky and yucky failed suicide attempts are? Trust me, you do not want to go there!
So you see, it really does get better. And you, too, can become a fighter, just as I have. All you have to do is stick around to see that day come about and it will come about! I should know; I am a survivor ... of gay teen suicide. And if you think there's noone left in the world who cares about you, you're wrong: I do. I care about you; if I didn't, I wouldn't have gone through the enormously emotional roller coaster ride in writing this post.
If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.