I am currently finishing up a book titled Boys Like Us: Gay Writers Tell Their Coming Out Stories by Patrick Merla. What struck me the most while reading is how coming out as a gay person means something different to everyone. The accounts written by older gentlemen explain that “coming out” simply denoted the time and place they had their first same-sex experience. Today we worry about acceptance by others after revealing our sexuality, but back then accepting yourself as homosexual was the ultimate goal in a world where being openly gay wasn’t an option. As the book progresses into newer stories, the definition of “coming out” begins to evolve into what we understand today – revealing an often taboo secret to those around you.
Even though I am homosexual and came out to my family and friends many years ago, I found the short stories in the book offering a new perspective on what it means to be openly gay. Some men took years to overcome their fear of being ridiculed and marginalized by admitting their sexual orientation. Some grew up confused about what was happening within themselves. Some knew right away.
Perhaps I am one of the lucky ones, because I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t gay. Being straight was just never an option. From around the age of five, I can only remember being drawn to the same sex. There were a few girls that I liked during elementary and middle school, but never in a physical way. I was more interested in emulating their penmanship or mannerisms than holding their hands or kissing them, yet I understood society expected me to have a girlfriend.
I constantly had crushes on boys. If a moderately attractive guy showed me the slightest amount of attention, I was a goner. Although I was technically a virgin until the age of 20, I had made love to many different men in my head by that time. There were several instances of fooling around with the same sex throughout my childhood and teen years, but never with someone I cared about in a romantic sense until twenty. Unlike the older gay men in the book, I never viewed my first same-sex encounter as “coming out.” That was something I did when I told my sister I was gay one night over dinner. A week or so later, after my parents left for church, I placed a handwritten note on the dining room table and went to my sister’s house for a few nights.
Even though that event marked the most important and gut-wrenching coming out experience I’ve had to date, I have found coming out to be a never-ending process. I constantly find myself in situations where I am revealing my sexuality to people – necessary or not. Maybe it’s while talking with my hairstylist about her lesbian stepdaughter. Maybe it’s when a healthcare provider asks if Honey is a family member or a friend. Even though it happens frequently, I still get a mixture of feelings; anxiety that it might not be received well, and pride because I get to present myself and my relationship with complete honesty.
So, while coming out might mean different things to different people, the one common vein running through it is the ability to accept yourself. Much like the saying “You must love yourself before you can love others,” we must accept and appreciate our own uniqueness before we can expect others to understand it. Knowing that, it is easy to see why so many still choose the security and anonymity of the closet.
The short stories in the book are chock-full of details and downright confessional at times, but they express the complexity and beauty of what makes each of us human. One day I hope to write my own story without censoring myself or worrying about what others will think; a brutally honest depiction of my experiences so far, a new “coming out” story from a guy who came out almost twenty years ago.