In honor of Pride Month, HuffPost Young Voices is highlighting the coming out stories of teens and those in their early 20s. Was it a life-changing moment? A bittersweet one? No big deal? Are you "out," but only to certain people? What does being "out" mean to you? Email firstname.lastname@example.org to share your story.
By Richard, 18
I am known by my friends as weird. And I don't use the word "weird" to describe my not-abiding-by-gender-norms attitude like my blatant disinterest in sports, motor engines or girls. No, I am described as weird because I am unique and I embrace the difference.
To prove to you how quirky, funny, charming and modest I am, I share with you the best and worst moment of my life.
My family was vacationing in California and we were at Universal Studios, near the "Jurassic Park" ride. We took a short break because we decided to indulge in the decadent taste of two churros and a large soda for the low, low cost of $5,000. (Disclaimer: a joke obviously. It was more like $4,500.)
I was there, standing in awe of the beauty known as the "Jurassic Park" ride. My mom, dad and sister started walking towards the concession stand only to realize five seconds later that I wouldn't budge. So, they developed a plan of action: My mom and sister would go to the concession stand while my dad and I would sit and stare at the ride until the two returned.
So my mom and sister left, leaving my dad and me to our own world. There I sat, captivated and unaware of the activity taking place behind me. I recall looking at the spectacle as nothing more but heavenly, and nothing -- and I mean nothing -- could divert my attention from the ride to the distractions all around me.
Now, mind the fact that I was 7 at the time so my attention was as good as that of a goldfish. Two seconds later, I was wondering where my mom and sister were, so I ran off, followed by a confused dad. I ran until I found the nearest Asian lady and I squeezed her into the tightest hug a 7-year-old could give to his mom. And I noticed that she had a half-empty Gatorade bottle in her hands. And I was in the mood for some Gatorade.
So I tried to take the liquid from my mom, but she was stubborn and did not let me take what was rightfully mine. It wasn't until I looked up at my mom's face did I realize that the lady who I had around my arms was in fact some random stranger did I run away in terror.
Retroactively, I should have known that the lady who I called "mom" was a stranger for a few key reasons. Firstly, she's not my mom. And secondly, my mom was with my sister. This lady was alone.
Now I know what you are thinking: Why am I reading a story about a lost Asian 7 year-old on HuffPost? And there are two reasons. First, I mean, it has the word "churro" in it and honestly, any story mentioning the heavenly treat is worth the read. And second, this story is mine and mine alone. As much as I describe to you -- in detail -- about the events that took place that day, you would never be able to replicate the story in your mind and imagination. Seriously, I could write a book as thick as the Bible and fill it with nothing but details. But in reliving the events in the story, you will never be able to experience my story the way I experienced it purely because it belongs to me.
This is why coming out is so tricky. You can't rely on other peoples' stories to determine when it is the right time to come out. And I do not advocate for all people to come out immediately. Hear me out.
I am out to my friends, but not to my family. I live in Arizona, which is predominately conservative. However, I went to Desert Vista High School, which is a great, open-minded public school. So unlike at home, I felt as though I would be more welcome by my friends. Thus, I was open to the idea of disclosing my sexual orientation to my friends. But I didn't come out to them the way I expected to.
As I mentioned before, I am weird. All of freshman year, I claimed to be straight while talking about all my boy crushes in the most ironic tone possible. For some reason, my friends found my frequent fangirling over numerous male celebrities odd and rather revealing. Starting sophomore year, they started calling me out on it. A lot of conversations went as follows:
"Richard, we all know you're gay."
"You don't have any proof."
"Richard, you talk about making out with Logan Lerman all the time."
"Well, so do you."
"Yeah... Because I'm a cis heterosexual female."
Or, my favorite:
"Richard, when will you come out?"
"I don't know."
"Wait... you just technically came out, right?"
"I'll come out when I feel like it."
And that was basically my life. It wasn't until near of the end of the semester that I finally confirmed what everyone already knew.
"Richard, are you ready to come out now?"
"Ugh, whatever, OK. Fine."
Coming out to my friends was the easiest thing to do. And if you are in a friend group where you are 100 percent sure that they will accept you for who you are, you owe it to yourself to state the obvious because you can then express yourself. Although that is not the case for everyone.
The same year I came out, I experienced hate. I was at a speech and debate tournament, which is the most liberal thing you could possibly do besides asking your same-sex partner to marry you by presenting them with a ring made with recreational marijuana handcrafted by a team of feminist blacksmiths. Actually, I have no idea if the people who design the metal rings are called blacksmiths but honestly, I have no interest in finding out. I digress. Back to the story.
I was with two of my closest friends, talking about whatever stuff hipster sophomores talk about when a kid that I vaguely knew came out to me and asked, "Are you gay?"
Recall that this was shortly after I came out to my closest friends so for someone who I hardly knew to ask me, I was terrified.
"Yes, I am."
And his next words were devastating. In front of my two close friends, he nonchalantly said, "No Richard, you're a fag. You make all us gay kids look bad. I'm gay. You're a fag."
A gay person called me such a derogatory term. And he said it in the most matter-of-fact way possible, that it got to me. And I wondered if there was truth to it. When we reveal ourselves to others, we make ourselves vulnerable. Like a white towel dragged alongside a dirt road, we absorb the dirt thrown at us.
And so I advocate that we come out when it is most comfortable. And I say "we" because we are not alone in this adventure. We owe no obligation to reveal intimate information to people who we hardly know. Safety is our priority. And that is why I cannot come out to my family quite yet.
You may be wondering, "Well Richard, what if your family reads this?" Don't. They can't read. Why? My parents do not read articles if they are in English. As for my sister, she attended the University of Arizona* so she literally does not know the alphabet. (*U of A is great. But ASU is better so....)
Also, you might be wondering, "Richard, you said that we owe no obligation to tell strangers about our sexuality, yet you are doing it on a vast scale." It goes back into the ideas of comfortability. I care so little of what you think of me because you don't fund my love for Chipotle. The reality is that I am comfortable with strangers knowing my sexual orientation but not quite my family.
I need my family to support me as I head into college. I mean, I don't want to independently fund my college experience. And as unfulfilling as it may be, I have to keep such a personal part of me hidden from my family until I am able to support myself. It goes back to the whole idea of "wait until it is the right time" philosophy. We do not have an obligation to provide personal information -- even to our families -- if that information leads to unjust persecution.
Everyone's experience will be unique and individualized. It has to be. But by allowing each story to be different, we build upon our life stories differently, and we build upon the rainbow flag, giving life to each color as demanded.