Coming out is a process for most people, myself included. I tried to write about it and realized that to do so in one post would be possible but not ideal. For me, it was an evolution. A collection of starts, stops, and pauses. I will write it as such.
Read previous installments in the Coming Out series.
With regard to the coming out process, one size definitely does not fit all. Every coming out conversation is it’s own stressful/relieved/afraid/happy/sad little snowflake and each person who comes out does so in their own way. For instance, many not-so-straight individuals come out to the people closest to them first but that’s not me.
I like to rehearse before a big speech. A lot.
By the time I was ready to go back to my hometown and tell my longtime friends and my family, there were probably a hundred people at school who knew that I am not straight. That didn’t make telling my VIP’s any easier though. It’s different each time.
When I decided to bite the bullet and come out at home, my first test case was my best friend, Leigh.
At first, I had been nervous about telling people at school because I was hesitant to advertise my personal information and worried about assuming a label that I wasn’t sure I wanted. It was different with Leigh, though. I was scared to tell her because she was the first person whom I couldn’t stand to lose. Her opinion mattered to me more than anyone else in my life.
Leigh is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. She is never quick to judge and was always supportive of our good friend, Jeremy, who came out when we were in high school. Regardless, I was absolutely convinced that she would be freaked out if I told her that I was bi.
I came up with a million reasons for her to be upset: I’d withheld this information from her even though she trusted me with everything, I’d seen her naked and that could be weird,maybe she was cool with gay guys but thought lesbos were gross, and so on and so forth.
Mostly, I think that I was afraid because we had hit a rocky patch in our friendship after we left home and went to separate colleges. I wasn’t confident in the strength of our relationship and felt like I was getting ready to rock a boat that already needed to be bailed out.
I knew that I had to say something eventually so I painstakingly prepared a speech that I planned to recite during a movie night at my parent’s house over our spring break. It was the perfect opportunity but I found myself tongue-tied and put the conversation off for hours.
In the end, I confessed my secret spontaneously in the most inappropriate place possible…It probably isn’t a good idea to tell your best friend that you’re bisexual while you’re in bed together. I had been afraid that Leigh would be put off by my news because of our past (typical) best friend physical intimacy and then chose to out myself during our most intimate moment in years. Smart, huh?
That night, just like in high school, she slept over in my room and we had a quiet conversation once the lights went out. Leigh poured her heart out about Brad*, this beautiful sweet boy at her college who seemed to only see her as a friend. Then, I finally told her about my feelings, Dana, and coming out at school.
It turns out that I wasn’t giving my best friend enough credit. She really couldn’t have been cooler about it. Her response was actually fairly anticlimactic. (It was well past midnight, after all.) I don’t even really know if she was surprised or not, but Leigh immediately told me that she was behind me 100% and was ready to talk about it some more the next day.
Like Em, Leigh was overly eager to let other people know but, at the time, we weren’t in close touch with many other high school friends. The only important person to tell was this kid named Aaron. I had known him since preschool and had been in a close friend group with him for a few years.
Aaron wasn’t exactly a confidant of mine. He had always been a pretty awkward guy and he was so uncomfortable in the presence of other people that he made me uncomfortable, too. It wasn’t easy to get close to him. However, Leigh was right: we hung out every time I came home and, if I wanted to be out, I needed to tell him. She pushed me until I finally agreed to invite Aaron out to dinner for the purpose of outing myself.
Our talk that night may have been my most surprising coming out conversation. It went something like this:
ME: “So…I have something to tell you…”
AARON: “Cool. I have something to tell you, too.”
ME: “Okay. Well…I’ve been dating women and have decided to let people know that I’m bi.”
AARON: “Yeah? Cool. So, I should tell you that I’m gay.”
ME: “…Thanks for taking the wind out of my sails, dude.”
Go figure. All of the sudden I had a gay bestie. Fabulous!
It wasn’t exactly a shock that Aaron was gay, but it was certainly a surprise that he was able to own it. We had wondered about his sexuality before but he wasn’t very effeminate and always maintained that he was straight. He even went out of his way to tell us all about the girl he’d dated at summer camp. I knew it was a lie at the time but had pretty much written him off as asexual or just too scared to date. I’d watched countless women (and a few men) throw themselves at him, to no avail.
It was amazing to witness the changes in Aaron after he came out. By the time I found out, he had already told his family and was also out at school. Leigh and I were some of the last important people to get the news. Once we all knew, it radically affected his bearing. Aaron suddenly radiated a quiet confidence that we had never seen from him before. It was really incredible to see him develop a presence where once there seemed to be none.
Aaron was especially brave given how strongly he was tied to where we grew up. There is a very “small town” mentality on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and gay people can’t help but stand out. Aaron’s parents are pretty visible members of the community so he stood out more than most. The night that Aaron told us that he is gay was the first time that I had ever seen him do anything other than try to blend in.
Having Leigh on my side and watching Aaron finally become happy in his own skin should have made me feel better. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. As Leigh and I became close again and Aaron’s confidence grew, my own confidence took a beating. After crossing these two VIP’s off my coming out list, I was absolutely nauseous with worry. Now, my college friends, professors, summer job coworkers, and friends back home all knew my secret.
I was out of excuses. At this point, I was as prepared as I would ever be and every day I waited was just an exercise in foot dragging. To completely come out, I needed to tell my family.
*Ironically, Brad is gay. I knew it the first time I met him. The kid looked just like a twink version of Cupid (think scrawny, sweet Ryan Phillippe) and had the most effeminate voice you ever heard. Leigh swore for the better part of a year that he was straight just because he said he was, crying over him while listening to cheesy love songs, and only admitted her mistake much later, after Brad had seen the rainbow in the mirror and she had moved on to Bret.