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Coming Out Day: 17 Stories from Beyond the Closet
I first came out to myself at 19. I was living in Orange County, where I was born and raised, working at Wherehouse Music in San Clemente, a now defunct record store chain like Tower Records. I never really thought much about sexuality, except for when I fabricated crushes on my best guy friends like I thought I should. One of my coworkers at the store, not much older than me, was an out lesbian with a very serious girlfriend who she called her wife. Even though I was raised very conservative Christian and identified that way, I never looked at her any different. That should have been my first clue. Wait, no - actually, my first clue was going to see the film But I'm a Cheerleader my senior year of high school in an empty movie theater with my friend, Sean. He kept falling asleep, and I would nudge him awake, saying "dude, wake up, this movie is so funny" - until it came to the romantic scenes between two women, and then I couldn't be more grateful that he had fallen asleep. Because then he couldn't see me shrinking into my seat as my face turned red and my stomach did somersaults. First clue.
The second clue was about a year after high school, working at Wherehouse when my lesbian coworker's female friend, newly back in town, came to visit her on a day that I also happened to be working. There was something immediate and unspoken about my connection with her. She looked different than anyone I had ever seen before and had an air of worldly and accomplished energy that you just don't find in the kids of southern Orange County. She visited a few times, and we would take my breaks together. One day after she left, I sat outside of the store and reeled. As the connection got stronger and more real, I finally knew what this meant. I liked her. I liked her more than a friend. I was attracted to her. Sexually. That was the exact moment I came out to myself, and in that moment, I mourned. I mourned what I assumed would never be from then on: no surfer dude husband, no white picket fence, no family or community support. In the midst of my eye-opening, whirlwind bliss, I mourned. Thankfully, I quickly moved on and never looked back.
She and I started dating. I never brought her around any of my old friends. My mom questioned me about our relationship, but I denied it. We would take refuge by driving up to LA and going to MILK at Fais Do Do, a lesbian-run club with ping pong tables and loud music, where we knew no one. We eventually made new friends. There, we got to be ourselves. We got to be girlfriends.
Sometime after, we moved to Somerville, Massachusetts, where she had lived once before. Her old roommates happened to have her room open again, and when she proposed the idea of moving, I jumped on it. My suppressed soul knew deep down that I just had to get the hell out of conservative Orange County. We eventually broke up, but I spent four out and proud years in Massachusetts, never having to come out to anyone. Somerville was a college town, which meant it was overrun with gays and open-minded intellectuals that never questioned who I was.
After four years in Massachusetts, I had collected a beautiful array of queer friends, signed a record deal, touring multiple times, and enjoying many fun days, getting snowed in with friends. But I felt like it was time to head back to sunny California. I was going on tour again and figured that it was better to ship my stuff back to my parent's house than to pay rent for a place where I wouldn't physically be. I would move back in with them to get back on my feet once I was finished with the tour. There was only one problem, at this point - Istill wasn't out to my parents.
When I moved back in with my parents, I got two jobs to pay my bills, threw a little bit of rent their way and saved up to move out again. I had a fun, quiet life in Orange County while taking any moment I could to drive up to LA to see my city friends. Everything was going pretty smoothly. Then one day, as my mother was leaving for work, she turned to me and simply said, "You know we know, right?" My heart dropped. Then she said, "You should really talk to your dad." And she left for work.
A few days later, I worked up the courage to sit down with my dad, and I came out to him. He expressed how much he loved me and was adamant that neither he nor my mom thought any different of me now. The next day, he handed me a manila envelope full of bible verses. They weren't necessarily pointed, just your simple and hurtful "only Jesus Christ can save your soul" bible verses. At least that's what I remember.
While back home in Orange County, I slowly came out to a few friends, the ones that felt safe. Everyone was pretty accepting about it, until I told one of my best friends, and her response was "that's okay, we're all sinners." That response overshadowed any positive reactions and reminded me where I was, what their truth was behind the "acceptance." That I was not welcome there.
I'm 37 now, and I live a wonderful life in LA with the best wife I could ever ask for. My parents and I still have our deep, complicated, and religiously rooted issues around my gayness. But we love each other, they love my wife, and we haven't given up on each other yet.
Photo by Lindsey Byrnes
Justin Elizabeth Sayre
There's a trouble in being obvious. Things are decided well before you ever have sway over any of it. It's only your life, after all. Why should you have any say? This may sound like a strange way to talk about my coming out, but it gives you an idea at least for its delay. Since practically infancy, I've been called gay. I don't know what it was about me, maybe I giggled too much or my wrists were too limp when holding a rattle, but there's never been a moment in my conscious life when I haven't been called a sissy or a faggot or a priss. There's never been a moment when people didn't insinuate themselves into my sex life with a sense of smug satisfaction. I have always been known. There was never any mystery. I was gay and that was all.
I, however, had very different feelings about it. This isn't to say that I'm not gay or that I felt forced into my sexuality. It's simply that from a young age, people assumed something about me that I didn't necessarily know for myself. I couldn't ever understand what they were seeing that I wasn't. I was effeminate. I liked girlish activities, but I didn't know that meant I was gay. I didn't really know what gay was. All I could sense, early on, was that it wasn't a good thing. It was something shameful and weak about me. For many years, it felt like a threat more than an identity.
It's always fascinating for me to hear my friends talk about the moment when they "knew." It sounds so comforting. I love that flash of recognition, it reminds me of those pictures of saints having visions. I imagine my friends watching He-Man, and suddenly there's a flash of heavenly light, out of which appears a beautiful faerie with a message from on high, "Gurl, you're gay!" A choir sings, Cher appears, and all is right with the world. I know this isn't how it happened, and I know for most of my friends, it was a scary or at least disconcerting moment. But I envy them even that.
I never "knew" really. I never looked at the boys in my class and thought, "Oooh, yes I want to rub up all over that." I didn't have crushes on boys. My usual thoughts about boys were, "How can I best avoid them or at least not upset them so they hit me?" My thoughts about boys for most of my adolescence were cloaked in fear or at least annoyance. I didn't want to be with boys. I liked girls. Girls were fun and funny and pretty. And watching old movies or liking old music was never an alienating factor amongst them. Amongst girls, I was safe. If I was going to fall in love with anyone, it would have been a girl.
And then, when I was thirteen, I was molested at theater camp. An older boy, a counselor pushed me into a closet and took advantage of me. It was a terrifying, but in some ways, exhilarating moment. I remember even thinking at the time, "Oh this is gay. It's just this. This doesn't seem so bad. Maybe this is a way to get along with boys." It was far from that. It happened for a number of years, years where I was thrown into a confusion and turmoil about my sexuality, which now was mired in shame and secrecy. I had girlfriends, beautiful strong women who I loved very dearly and had sex with. But every once in a while, I would be quite literally pushed into a closet and confused all the more.
My first night in New York, I was called a faggot on the street. I was walking down 14th Street, taking in the city I had loved forever and was finally going to call home, and some asshole decided to remind me that I was never going to fit in, even here. That's what it felt like, and it only got worse in school. I was never asked about my sexuality, I was told. "You're gay, just be gay!" an older musical theater student would shout at me once a week for nearly two years at NYU.
By that time, I had started having sex with men of my own accord. I liked the male body, and I liked a majority of the sex I was having with men, but the question of love still loomed overwhelmingly large for me. Could I ever fall in love with a man? I didn't know. Even a lot of the gay men I knew weren't exactly nice, and I wondered if I would ever find it. The writer Christopher Isherwood once said, and I'm paraphrasing, but that homosexuality couldn't be narrowly defined around the sex act. Many people can have gay sex, without seeing themselves as gay. To truly be a homosexual, one had to fall in love with members of their own sex. I was still looking for the love part, and that seemed further and further away.
I first came out to my best friend, Rudy, and slowly to a few more friends. I was bisexual for a brief time as almost a loyalty to women who have been my friends and lovers for so long. Even there, I heard the "bi-now, gay-later" sort of comments, but I was trying to be a little kinder to myself. I dealt with my molestation and the real damage of it. It wasn't that I was harmed by the actual sex, it was more that terrible realization that I had been denied the discovery of my own sexuality and the willingness to fall in love with boys. I never got to fall in love, that first tender love, when you swoon to see someone, when you hunger even just to be close to them. I didn't get that, and for a long time, I think I sought it,with varying degrees of failure.
When I finally said the words to my parents, they were fine. They'd seen it coming like everyone else around me. My friends were accepting and kind, and this very private thing was out there in the open forever. My coming outs, and there are always so many, were uneventful and simply acknowledgements of what people had thought about me for years.
I was 27 when I came out to myself. That sounds so old, and it was. I'd said the word for long before that time. I'd dated and fallen and been disappointed by men and my relations with them. I was for all intents and purposes a gay person, but I think there was still a sense of hesitation, still the smallest bit of cringe when I said those three words, "I am gay." At 27, after a disaster of faith professionally, I went to a radical faerie retreat on a whim. It was there on a hillside, looking at the sun going down over an ocean of trees, that I finally breathed out the last of my self-hate and confusion and took on my sexuality as a mantle of strength and a permission to love. I was gay. I was also many other things, but who I love in this world is a big part of who I am.
I'm very gay now. I've taken my obviousness to another level. If everyone's going to assume it anyway, why not give them a show? I wear an assortment of caftans, scarves are always in the rotation, and I never met a brooch I didn't like. I put it out there, and I'm never leaving a room for doubt. I'm out. I break the rules of masculinity because I've always been an outlier there, and only after I came out to myself was I able to see that as my strength. Now people rarely ask me about my sexuality, and when they ask about my gender, I usually quote Fitzgerald, and reply, "I know myself but that is all."
My coming out is perpetual. I always want to be more open and more honest about the workings of my heart. I want to share more and see more. I want to make space for more people to have the expression and freedom to speak their truth as I have spoken mine. My own journey of coming out has taught me patience and care. I would always rather know about the truth in someone's heart, rather than the writhing in their pants. Both are important, but I believe we owe each other a little more gentleness when it comes to identity. I wish I had more of it, but I'm determined to pass it along. I see it as my legacy as a lifelong sissy.
Jasmine Rice Labeija (Christopher Yoon)
Ever since I was a little kid, I loved Disney movies. My parents were very loving and bought every single Disney movie that came out for me and my older brother. He wasn't really interested in Mary Poppins, Snow White, or The Little Mermaid like I was. He didn't mind watching them, but afterwards, he would just go out to play sports while I would stay home to watch them over and over again. I would reenact the movies, make dresses out of blankets, long hair out of pillow case, and just feel the fantasy.
I have been creative and "special" according to my parents since I can remember. I would always play dress up and make-believe. I would pretend to be a beautiful princess waiting for my true love's kiss from a handsome prince or Maleficent tying up the prince with her vines and spells. I would go into my own fantasy land for hours. Who knew I would grow up to make money off of doing just that?
Growing up being creative and "special" was kind of difficult and probably even more soin Koreathan the US. I didn't realize it at the time, but I was teased a lot, and I was definitely one of the outcasts. The only thing that sheltered me from extreme bullying was that my older brother happened to attend the same school, and he was really popular. Also, it didn't hurt that my mother was very involved in school activities, and my father was one of the main doctors in town that everyone went to.
Even as a little kid, I always knew that I liked and was attracted to boys. When asked, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" I would say, "My dream is to become a girl." That was the only way I could express myself and who I was - and still am. I didn't know the terms "gay" or "queer." In Korea, people didn't even talk about sexuality or sex at all. It was such a taboo subject that people would just pretend homosexuality didn't even exist. The first time I ever came in contact with the word "gay" was around middle school when I started to watch American TV shows like Friends,Will & Grace, and Queer as Folk. It really opened my eyes to a whole new world (insert Aladdin joke here).
I'd traveled to the US many times before for vacation, but I never had the opportunity to experience LGBTQIA+ culture since I was with my parents. After watching those shows and exploring my sexual identity, I was determined to move to the US. To me, the US was like Disneyland. It was where I could express myself and be who I wanted to be, just like in the shows and movies I watched as a kid. I wanted to live out the fantasy of being gay, open, and free. I just never knew that the struggle would continue in the US as well.
I came out to everyone when I was in high school, when my family moved to the US for my education. Like all teenagers, I was going through puberty and was under a lot of stress. I think it is more difficult for LGBTQIA+ teenagers to go through puberty as we have this extra baggage where we feel the need to hide who we are on top of hormones just kicking you in all sorts of directions. One day, while coming home from a family dinner, I got into an argument with my family. I don't even remember what I was arguing about at the time. I was just annoyed and irritated. I felt so much pressure and stress. It was so hard for me to not be who I was in front of my own family, as we were all very close. I was just exhausted from filtering myself constantly and so nervous all the time.
Unfortunately, the argument turned into a physical altercation with my older brother. We were finally pulled away from one another and were sent to our rooms. My father called me on the phone, as he was still in Korea. That moment when he asked me why I was so angry and what caused the fight, I finally couldn't take it anymore. I felt more comfortable coming out to my father first as he wasn't as religious as my mother and brother. I burst into tears and finally said it out loud for the first time that I was gay. I still remember the feeling of tension and energy leaving my body. I could finally take a breath and relax a little bit. Granted, I had to face my mother and brother afterwards, but the simple fact that I said it out loud was the first step of becoming the person I always fantasized about.
I am happy to say that my family, especially my mother and brother, have come around and are very supportive of everything I do. It was extremely difficult at first, as they are very devoted Christians and conservative. However, through time they learned that I am who I am and that I am not suddenly a different person. I am still the same creative "special" brother and son they watched play dress up and feel the fantasy. I've just grown up to make a living off of it now. Don't get me wrong. We still fight about politics and other things. But now we all know that it comes from a place of love and our love for each other is never going to change.
Photo by Pablo Garcia
I came out of the closet when I was 14 in 2002. Actually, I was forced out by my girlfriend at the time - let's call her Jacqueline. She outed me to everyone as her revenge for telling her that I was gay, therefore breaking up with her. Yup, Jacqueline played me bad. She had that meanness only found in that of a young adult novel villainess who wanted nothing but to win the boy.
But I'll start from the beginning. I tried being straight in junior high. I once asked out a dozen girls in a week to try to figure out "how to straight." I even asked the girl with the rumored herpes on her lip out on a date, she said no. I even tried masturbating to a picture of Madonna, and I now realize that's probably the gayest thing I've ever done. Even Madonna would be like, "That's pretty gay. Keep that to yourself, hun" in her fake British accent.
I knew I was gay once I learned the word "gay" in elementary school while friends and I were teasing each other. It's a very revealing moment when you realized that you are the somethingthat someone is speaking about in a negative way, like "basic" or a "Dave Matthews Band fan."
When I got to high school, I had gone through my goth phase already and really didn't have an identity, which is very important to some (me). There were three main ways to dress in high school - you either embraced academia and just wore your parents' alma mater hoodie or you dressed like you were in a Limp Bizkit music video or every piece of clothing you owned had a band name on it, which I wish my friends still did today. I would love to see my friends from high school wearing Adele vests and Sam Smith sneakers. So, without an identity, I joined the drama club freshman year, which is where I met Jacqueline. Jacqueline was an actress, a creative, a feminist, loud and very, very unlikeable (at least by the cool drama kids, which I wanted to be so bad). Without an identity, I searched for one and found a temporary identity in Jacqueline as her boyfriend, against my sister's wishes, who was a sophomore.
But I was in love with Jason, a junior. Jason was a tall and handsome guy who was the only guy in dance at school. So, I suspected he was gay, but for some reason still wasn't quite sure, even when he joined the theater department. I was slapped in the face with hot boy gayness and still didn't see it. The main thing I liked about him was that I could make him laugh at any time and he had a really cute smile, a big deal to me even today.
My relationship with Jacqueline had grown to two handjobs, once during the movie 40 Days and 40 Nights, which I don't think counted because I was just looking at Josh Hartnett. And the other in a stairwell in the back of the auditorium. Shortly after that, I told Jacqueline, "I like boys." As bitter as she was having never landed a lead in the school play, Jacqueline told several people that I was gay, and the word spread to my sister, which in turn spread to my Mom.
I was outed. Even though my sister and mom knew, I wanted to come out on my terms. On top of that, Jacqueline wrote me in a letter that she hoped that I die of AIDS, just like my father - which I still don't know if he did or not, he was shooting up heroin and withered away in Mexico. I had broken up with Jacqueline in the middle of our school's three days of standardized testing, so a few days later Jacqueline ran up to me and threw me her test results. Her scores were good until the day I broke up with her and then they plummeted. I had to keep working with Jacqueline, because I wasn't going to give up theater and neither would she.
Later on, Jacqueline had become great friends with Jason, because she was a natural hag. So, I would watch from the side as their friendship grew. Until one day, when I was running the lights for a play, I didn't announce that I was on headset and overheard Jason and Jacqueline talking about how hot one of the guys in the play was. I said, "Jason, you're gay?" He was gay! He totally freaked out and made me promise not to tell anyone. I was jealous that he had told Jacqueline and not me, but I was sure that something would spark. I could become Jason's boyfriend... That did not happen.
By the time Jason graduated the following year, we had become great friends. He trusted me, and I trusted him, because it turned out we had a lot in common. I even set him up on date once with a guy named Clint that I met at a party. He was also tall, so naturally, I thought they'd be a good match. They weren't. After he graduated, he stopped speaking to me. I don't know if he stopped speaking to everybody or just me.
Sometimes I blamed Jacqueline. What did she tell him about me to make him mad? Was she jealous? I don't know. I may never know. But after he left, I really discovered my identity. I started going to punk shows and toughened up, I didn't just become what I fell into or try to become something I'm not. I decided who I was going to be. I graduated college with an art degree and later become a stand-up comedian and now I tell stories on stage like this one.
Ollywood (Oly Innés)
I realized I was gay at a very young age. For many years, I tried to ignore it and suppress all my homosexual tendencies as most gay people do. But in the back of my mind, I always knew. I was bullied mercilessly at school. Everyone knew I was gay even before I knew myself. My mother even had to come to school to speak to my teachers. I had to use the staff toilets, and they let me leave slightly early to avoid running into trouble with other kids.
I had a gay uncle who, in the back of my mind, I knew would be the person I went to when the time was right. But at the age of 15, I came home to my parents crying, telling me that my uncle had died of a heart attack. This was traumatic for me for many reasons. Not only was it sad to lose a member of our family, but I felt this was the only person I could tell my secret to, the only person I thought could help me.
Soon after this, my parents went through a rather long and exhausting divorce, which again delayed my coming out. I felt the last thing they needed on top of that was for me to tell them I was gay.
When I was 18, I spent a lot of time looking for people like me on the internet. My hometown was small, sleepy, and I couldn't find anyone, let alone any gay people I could connect with. But on the internet, I was able to see that if I could just get to London, there were all these amazing, colorful, creative gay people that were just like me.
I started dating a guy in London, and I would take the two-hour train nearly every weekend to see him. After a few visits, my mum picked me up from the station and started asking deeper questions as to who this guy was.
"Is he gay?"she asked, while both our eyes were on the road. I couldn't look at her.
"Yes," I replied.
"Does he come on to you?" she asked.
"No," I replied. Technically, he didn't need to. I usually came on to him.
"If he did, what would you do?" she asked. This was the closest my mother and I had ever gotten to talking about sex.
"Let's talk about this another time," I said, eyes on the road.
"No, let's talk about it now."
"Myque is my boyfriend." I replied.
"Well, you always had a very strong artistic side."
And just like that, it was done. I could breathe. My mother still loved me, nothing changed. We never discussed it again. I woke up the next day to find a letter in my room from my sister, never mentioning the subject but just saying how much she loved me.
Although I always knew my mother would love me no matter what, it was my father that I thought would be difficult. We would sit and watch TV, and if a gay person came on, he would say nasty comments about them, trying to look like a big man. When he told me about my uncle being gay, he asked me what I thought about it.
"I think it's disgusting," I replied, aged 6 or so, knowing that was what he wanted me to respond with.
"Good, as long as you know that," he replied.
I never really planned on telling him. My parents were divorced, and he had moved out. I was only spending a couple of hours with him every other Sunday. I didn't really care what he thought. I even prepared a speech in my head about how if he didn't like it, he didn't need to have me in his life.
I was meeting up with him one Sunday. My father was now with another woman who had two daughters of her own. It was around 2007 or so, and it was all about Myspace then.
"Ana showed me your Myspace page."
Ana was his new girlfriend's daughter. Myspace was supposed to be just for me and my friends. It was the only place I felt I could truly be myself and express myself. I suddenly tried to scramble through my brain, trying to think about what he could have seen or read.
"I read everything," he said. I realized it was too late, and whatever he had seen or read, he knew.
"You know, I used to think I was gay," he said. "I had a massive crush on David Bowie. I think you're incredible."
It was done. The secret I hid for years, that I thought my family wouldn't be able to accept, was out, and they loved me just the same. Now I understand I'm lucky to have a family that loves and supports me. I spent many years tormenting myself, guarding my secret, thinking I would be rejected. And instead, it brought us all closer.
Follow Ollywood on Instagram.
VELO (Victor Cruz)
It's been so long since I came out, it's kind of crazy to think back on it sometimes.
I come from a traditional Catholic Latino-Mexican household, and gay was never mentioned nor appreciated. Following the rules was a given. I remember being the "man" of the house as I never met my biological dad. My mother left my stepdad for being an abusive asshole around that time. Growing up, I wasn't allowed to sing female songs or play with dolls. I had to try not to cry when punished, and I could only play with little boys. I had a strict childhood.
I was 14, and all I remember was that I was well aware I was attracted to boys. But as a freshman, I hid it from everyone. A senior named Greg befriended me and opened up about being gay. He just somehow knew I was too. I'd spend hours every week with him, learning about what it meant to be gay and most importantly, that it was ok to be gay. He'd take me to gay youth centers where I met other queer kids and saw my first drag show. He also took me to my first Pride in Tucson, Arizona, back in 2000.
One day, I came home late from hanging with Greg, and my mom was super pissed. She started yelling at me about coming home late. She said the neighbors were talking a lot about me being gay and hanging out with a boy a lot. She didn't want me to hang with him because she didn't want to hear people talking about me or our family. I got so upset that I yelled, Well, I'm gay too!"
She broke out in tears after that and told me to leave the house at once. I didn't know where to go at the time, so I went to a friend. I felt alone, lost, scared, and on autopilot. I didn't know what was going to happen to me.
It all just happened so fast. The next thing I knew, three months had passed, and my friend and his parents helped me find another family to take me in and foster me - a gay man named Paul, whom I now call my dad, and his friend Sarah. I was born in Mexico so we had an immigration attorney step in to help with the legal end of things, and she too became like a mother figure to me.
18 years later, I've reconciled with my biological family and still have my foster parents in my life, whom I love so much.
As an immigrant, this could have gone way south had I not met loving queer people willing to help out. I can't imagine how many homeless gay immigrants end up killed, trafficked, or deported. I'm well aware of my fortunate experience. I feel truly blessed and couldn't be happier with the outcome.
Today, as an openly gay artist, I try to put everything I've experienced into my music, the good and the bad. I hope that as a queer singer and songwriter, I can help others feel like they have a voice.
Follow VELO on Instagram.
I grew up in LA, Atwater/Silver Lake to be more precise. Back in those days, it was considered the hood.
I have always been very effeminate and a bit eccentric, which did nothing for my popularity. Especially because everyone back then had a hard gang esthetic. I was a loner and would ride my bike with my brother or by myself.
I remember one day, going by this small bar on Hyperion, it had big black letters that said "CUFFS." Outside the bar, there were a few men wearing leather caps and smoking cigars. The bar had leather curtains that covered the doorway. I still remember thinking, "Behind those leather curtains is heaven, and one day, I'll be in there."
I always knew who I was, but my life was everything but salubrious. My sexuality was the least of my worries. I was always of the mindset that unless you're able to take care of yourself, you shouldn't come out to your parents. Besides, they already watched the movie, they don't need to read the book.
My mom always had gay friends, but I didn't know how she would take her own son being gay. My second grade teacher pulled her aside one day and told her I wasn't like all the other boys. All my childhood, it was a topic of conversation but we come from a very traditional humble Hispanic family. All she would ever speak about was about me getting married and having kids.
By the age of 14 I had already walked through the pits of hell. We had been in a victim protection program and relocated.
My mother had gotten very close to a friend that happened to be a lesbian. One day, my mother invited me to her friend's house. By this point, I was a depressed, grungy kid wearing oversized clothes and hiding behind blue black my hair. They we were sitting in the pool area, while I was wearing corduroy pants a plaid shirt sipping on my sprite.
Her friend interrupted my awkward teenage silence by saying she wanted to ask me something. She asked, "Are you gay?" My whole world flashed before my eyes. I thought about my safety, but I also didn't want to be dishonest. By the time words started to come out of my mouth, I knew I took too long, and my silence had said more than I could've ever said.
I blurted out that I was a bit confused and that I thought I was bisexual. I was so angry, I wasn't ready to come out, and that's not how I wanted to do it.
My mother went about her life like nothing happened. She was still there, but emotionally, she kind of pulled away. Now remember, we had just been through hell. That's when I most needed her, emotionally. I held out for about a year, and then finally one day, I came to her crying. I told her I was still her baby nothing had changed. She held me as I cried, and she apologized.
She never treated me different after that, which is wonderful, because being non-binary, she never knows what she's going to get. She sees me go from suits to gowns and has never said anything.
I realized that my coming out wasn't about me sharing new information, it was me verifying what everyone already knew. Although my sexuality seemed like common knowledge, I guess as a mother, she still had to come to terms with reality. It took a bit, but with love and patience, she came around.
I grew up in Mountain Brook, Alabama. Our house was messy, our lives full of blissful chaos. But my parents raised three kids that were independent thinkers, free to explore the world, make mistakes, and find themselves. At that time, I had no appreciation for how lucky we were. But looking back on it, I have come to realize that I will never be able to fully thank my parents for the childhood they gave us. The Jones family was never and will never be perfect, and that's just the way we like it.
"The highway to homo," as one of my friends affectionately calls it, was a bit different for me as it was for everyone else. I knew from a pretty early age that I liked the way guys looked. But being the biggest, most out-of-shape kid in my class, I thought that this interest in guys was a desire to look different.
That perspective started changing when I started volunteering at the local zoo in my hometown, and I met my first gay person. Now I'm sure that's not a completely accurate statement, but he was the first person that I knew was gay. He was loud and proud. He sewed dresses and talked about wearing heels. And he scared me a bit. Thirteen-year old, very quiet Carson had no idea what to do with someone that was so confident in himself, and while wearing his sexuality on his sleeve led to problems with his family, he knew that whatever happened, he was going to be ok. I ended up being adopted by this friend and one of our girlfriends.
At some point, I came out as bisexual to them, but not the girl I was dating at the time. That was a mistake, one I regret. My expectations of a relationship have always been based on the example my parents set for me, and by hiding that part of myself from her, I didn't hold up my end of the bargain.
After the inevitabledemise of our relationship, I downloaded "one of those apps." It was more out of experimentation than anything else. It was a desire to see what was out there.
My family was in San Diego for a trip, and it seemed an opportune time to see what the big wide world offered outside of my small-suburban upbringing. I did some chatting. I was super awkward, which hasn't changed much. And eventually, I got into deep conversation with some guy. We talked for hours on end when I was on that trip. And when I flew home and the conversation died, I was in tears. Tears not because I thought I was in love with a guy, but tears because I knew I would never meet him.
For the next year or so, I just kind of let the fact that I was gay settle. I worked at the zoo constantly; I had school work, an intensive college search ahead, and there just didn't seem any reason to rock the boat. But by the end of my senior year, I started to tell some close friends that I was gay. And there was no rhyme or reason to how I went about it. It was a bit reckless, but they were people I trusted. People who I knew loved me, and people who I knew wouldn't care. I don't have a signature coming out moment of memory from these encounters with friends, but I do remember how tough it was to actually say the words "I'm gay." That's a feeling that I'm not sure I will ever forget. These friends were incredible and amazing. These were short conversations, because they didn't care. We moved on. It didn't change anything for them and that was the most I could have ever asked for.
After two years of being openly gay at University of Georgia, the fact that I hadn't told my parents or my family was weighing on me. Our relationship was becoming strained. I never lied to them. But they didn't really know me during this time. And their trips to Athens for football games gave me serious anxiety. What if one of my friends let it slip at a tailgate? That's not how I wanted them finding out. While I put a lot of pressure on myself to tell them face-to-face, to plan out a speech, and to tell that I was going to be ok, my main reasons for not telling them sooner had nothing to do with me. My main reason was that I knew they would worry about me. While being gay is easier now than it has ever been, that doesn't make it a walk in the park, especially from where we are from. I knew my parents would worry about what I would have to face for the rest of my life. And that wasn't a burden I was ready to give them.
But by the summer of 2015, it was breaking point. I had traveled to Australia for the entire summer. I was given the opportunity of a lifetime to intern with Australia Zoo. It was my first time really having to figure things out for myself in a new land where I knew nobody.
That summer, the Supreme Court also legalized gay marriage. I knew that it meant a lot. And I knew that a lot of people had put their hearts and souls into this case, but to this point, it hadn't mattered much to me. At that point, I was consumed in my career. But that day, something changed.
I ran into at least three different rainbows, which just seemed out of the ordinary. Then my friend texted me and said something to the effect of, "I know you don't want to get married, but I'm so happy for you today." And that's when I knew that it was time.
I sat down after work and poured it all out on my travel blog. I'm not proud that's how my parents found out. They deserved a face-to-face conversation. I didn't have a clear plan or rational thought process. It just happened. I posted the blog that night, texted my parents to say that they should read it immediately, called one of my best friends, and started balling crying. That moment when you've laid it all out on the line and are waiting for a response is the most difficult, even if you are completely sure of the outcome.
My mom texted me back to say "we love you," and that was that. A weight was lifted, and I felt freer than I ever had in my entire life. I never realized what a burden that secret had been until that point. And that moment has completely changed my entire relationship with my parents. We are closer than we have ever been, and I'm so lucky to have that amazing relationship with them.
Dad's election to the Senate meant so much to many. And we will never be able to express how thankful we are of all the people that showed up for us. I personally also feel incredibly lucky to have so much support from so many people across this county.
I was at a friend's house when Roy Moore retweeted a link to an article about my sexuality. And fear set in. The expectation was that our race would get really nasty and very personal. We were lucky that it hadn't until that moment. But to every single person that rushed to my defense of my being myself, telling my story, and for side-eyeing the vice president, you mean the world to me.
Follow Carson Jones on Instagram.
Model/Sex Educator/Public Speaker/Musician
I was beginning my junior year of high school, 17 and an amalgamation of awkward energy and angst. Kids in my graduating class were already using the word "gay" in reference to me. I remember taking offense, not because I thought them wrong, but because it was evidently so apparent.
I'm pretty sure I always knew I was a homosexual, or at least from the moment I knew what a homosexual was. Maybe it became more apparent through watching WWF with my straight brothers and realizing that I was being entertained for an entirely different reason. In any case, before coming out, what I knew about being gay was that it was not commonplace. It was my assured understanding that being a gay person would come with a range of lifelong difficulties additional to what a "normal" person would have to face. This made me want to keep it to myself for as long as possible. But eventually, I would be dragged out of my closet in full-on expose.
By and large, my parents were always supportive of my authentic self-expression. My childhood household was a space they fostered to be one of acceptance, creativity, encouragement, and most prominently, love. My mother descends from Nigerian and Congolese lineage, while my father's heritage is both German and Italian. They told me stories of being an interracial couple and having to fight for the validation of their love. I think a lot of gay people can relate to those stories. I never had to fear coming out of the closet to my parents. In fact, I remember them performing deliberate gestures in their effort to make me feel comfortable enough to do so.
The best Christmas ever was in 1996, when they gifted me the coveted Barbie Dream House. I still remember the commercial so vividly: two little girls simulating a perfectly domestic paradise in the most luxurious dollhouse ever, complete with an elevator and a romantic balcony. I used to watch that ad in awe, but at six years old, the world had already conditioned me into believing that as a boy, the Barbie Dream House was not for me. My parents proved me wrong, and they hunted from store to store to do it because the Barbie Dream House was believed to be sold out everywhere. It's safe to say that Mom and Dad suspended my disbelief in more ways than one that year.
It's funny how our young courage can slip away from us so easily if we let it. I grew up with the precious permission to explore every facet of my being and to seek spiritual truths on my own terms, but the world around me was infecting my will to take full advantage of that gift. I was inhibited by the way the kids at school were perceiving me along with the messages the media was feeding me about what "normalcy" looks like.
By 17, I was finally starting to feel like I had found my tribe at school. I was a bit of a late bloomer socially. I did not have a set group of friends to rely on for an awkwardly long time. I did not feel as though there were many with whom I could relate amongst the other kids my age, so I started hanging out with people older than me. The crew I found myself rolling with was a small group of seniors in their graduating year. We were weird to most others. I remember hanging out with them after school hours at each other's houses. Our recreation would consist of video games, marijuana, Pagan rituals, and pizza. During one night of trying like hell to communicate with the dead, I remember learning about the sexuality of one of the other boys. He was beautiful and strange. Tall, long wavy hair, skinny jeans always, and lots of jewelry. He was openly gay and he was only a year older than me. I told myself, "By next year, I want to be that brave!"
We used to converse a lot via the now archaic AOL instant messenger. I would take notes from him on how to care a little less about what others thought of me. Eventually, I mustered up the courage to ask him if we could hang out one-on-one. I got invited to his house for a sleepover one night after school, just the two of us. That was when I seized the opportunity to say it for the first time, "I'm gay." He laughed and said, "I was pretty sure you were." I should have figured he was already thinking it, because everyone else at school had already pretty much assumed that about me. Still, I remember it as a liberating feeling, saying those words openly.
It was a relief until my friend's next reaction. He placed a hand on my thigh and moved in closer to me. I think we kissed, though it happened so fast, I'm still not sure of it. I pulled away and told him, "I'm really sorry. I just don't see you that way." He looked disappointed, but he said, "It's alright. I'm just glad you felt comfortable enough to tell me." We slept in separate spaces that night, and everything was cool.
But after that weekend, when I went back to school, everything would change. He spread the word out before I had a chance to. Everyone in our group knew, and somehow, it had even gotten out to people I would never normally associate myself with. I was approached about it in the hallways and at lunch in various exchanges ranging from, "Are you really gay?" to "I always knew it." For that week, whenever I got home from school, my AIM messenger would be filled with messages about it.
It became easier to just go with it. I was out, and honestly, I wasn't even angry about being outed. It saved me from having a series of scary "I'm gay" conversations, and it wasn't really news to the people who were already ridiculing me for it.
There were two people, however, who did not yet catch word, and I was genuinely excited to tell them.I sat my parents down in their bedroom one day after anxiously waiting for both of them to get home from work. I could tell they already knew what was coming, but I gave it to them anyway, "So, you know I'm gay, right?". Their smiles were so big. "Finally!"
Photo by Shea Carmen Swan, Sheography LLC
Grants Pass, Oregon
Coming out as gay in 1975 didn't go too well. To share the love, I used the context of a super 8 film night held in the family garage in Utica, New York where I grew up. In my artsy auto-biographical film, I was depicted kissing my then boyfriend, Esme. This was the first my mother heard of me being gay. After the kiss, she went storming out, slamming the screen door behind her. The next morning, I was treated to a soul crushing stream of consciousness from her that still echoes through the core of my being, even though I knew intuitively that she never meant the horrid things she said. She was understandably upset that I didn't give her any warning about my being gay or my intent to disclose it in front of an audience of our peers. The oversight on my part was born of my timidity about coming out, despite that call to action that was all around me in San Francisco where I resided and was a film student.
At the time, I fancied myself on a trajectory to fame and fortune in Hollywood, but as fate would have it, I joined a gay super 8 support group -- a rag-tag constellation of about 15 filmmakers, most of whom developed their footage at Harvey Milk's Castro Street camera store where I "worked" the front desk. The group's first public screening in 1977 was the seedling for the now prestigious Frameline LGBT Film Festival which just celebrated its 42ndbirthday. At that screening,
I showed that same-sex kiss film. The screening was exciting, a free, full-capacity, pot smoke-filled room of our joyous and boisterous peers. We were fired up with the semantics of the lesbian and gay movement, but we truly had little idea the event would grow to such poignant and far reaching proportions.
It took about a year for my mom and I to come to terms about who I was and who I loved, during most of which, I was in San Francisco, trying to co-create queer community in the heart of the newly minted gay ghetto of the Castro district. Part of that journey was helping to elect my friend Harvey Milk to public office on an "out" political platform.
The LGBT community was fighting a growing force of outspoken opponents. Former Miss AmericaAnita Bryant was a whack-a-doodle yet pivotal mouth piece for the "new right" who introduced a ballot measure revoking anti-discrimination protections for sexual minorities in Dade County, Florida. They won, and that win led to bigger revocations of protections in Oregon, Kansas, and Minnesota. California was next on the chopping block, with Senator John Briggs' Proposition 6, which would have the state fire "out" gay teachers and their allies. Thankfully, Briggs lost, which was an early significant victory for LGBT rights. The victory was way too close for comfort, but it proved to us that the ballot box was not a lost cause. It still isn't.
In this day and age of world-wide PFLAG organizations, it's good to reflect on the tentativeness about it all in the early '70s - in the press, in society's consciousness, and in our family's hearts. For those of us who were newly forming our political identities, the challenge from most of society was palpable and so we communally devoted ourselves to fighting back and changing that. Forming creative cooperative groups of all kinds became part of the way we did that. Thank you PFLAG, for expanding that tradition.
In retrospect, had I explained all this to my mom and dad in a nice sit-down, I wouldn't have had such a diplomatic mess on my hands. Because of the drama with my mom, I postponed coming out to my dad (who was not present for the screening). When I finally did come out to him, after my friend Harvey Milk was killed, my dad was supportive saying all along, he thought I might be gay and that it was fine with him - I was still his son and he still loved me. In time, both parents made periodic trips to partake in my life in San Francisco, meeting my friends and my various romantic partners, which was lovely.
My mom couldn't over-compensate for her initial misfire enough. For Christmas gifts, I kept on getting the faggiest clothes imaginable, even though I begged her to stop sending me clothes for gifts. It was hilarious, and now that she's gone (she died in 1987), I cherish the memory of those quirky gestures from her.
When my dad segued from one of his union conventions to stay with me and my husband Mike, we couldn't get rid of him (not that we wanted to). My dad and Mike got along famously. It didn't hurt that they both were major sports geeks, but that's the beauty of these shared cultural moires crossing previously entrenched boundaries. Coming out does that for us.
Not sharing those things is heartbreaking stuff. My heart goes out to the families that don't or won't. I am ever reminded that I was thatkid. You know the one, the one that operates in enough of a vacuum that suicide becomes a viable option before anybody can do the good work of mending the absence of healthy information and support. Families and friends of LGBTI people: please get it together.
My parents and I weren't perfect at it, and nobody need be. Thankfully, we made it through those rites of passage and I also found other folks that validated my worth in society becauseI was gay, and together, we share the vision to try to help make a better and safer world for LGBT people and our allies.
Daniel Nicoletta is a freelance photographer who recently published his first solo photography book, LGBT San Francisco - The Daniel Nicoletta Photographsby Reel Art Press.
Blogger/Founder & Editor-in-Chief, She's a Gent
My partner and I met in college, 15 years ago. As a freshman, I was an immature heterosexual (or so I thought) jock. She tried to gain my affection, but always fell short because I didn't know that I was gay. No seriously, I was one of those girls who entered college dating their "high school sweetheart." To this day, it blows my mind that I ever had a boyfriend, but that's a different conversation.
My partner and I met in the cafeteria of Manhattan College and hit it off right away. As my partner tells it, she saw me and thought, "Who is that?" I thought the same thing, but for a long time, I didn't know what that feeling meant.
We quickly became best friends, kicking it on a regular basis. I don't quite remember when or why, but at some point, she became my "wifey." Mind you, I still thought that I was straight. Go figure.
Looking back, there were several experiences that should have made me realize that the heterosexual societal norms that I was subscribing to were not me. For example, I vividly remember being mad at her for being late to my basketball game. Like, mad to the point that after the game, when she had been waiting for me, as she always did, I walked past her as if she didn't exist. Geez, I was such a jerk. I also used to barge into her room nightly, get into her bed, roll over, and say, "Don't touch me." Like, who did I think I was? And why did she put up with me?
It wasn't until I transferred that I came to terms with who I was and my feelings for her. At that point, it was too late. I was in love, and she was over me. I remember sending countless Facebook messages, texts, and calls in the hopes that she would give me a chance, but it never worked. She ignored every call and message. In fact, the only time she would call me was when she was tipsy or had a few too many. Now who's the jerk? Looking back, I guess I deserved it for treating her so poorly and taking her for granted for two years.
For the next 10 years, we played tug-of-war with each other's feelings. Timing was never right. One of us was always in a relationship or "situationship." A year after I launched my blog, She's a Gent, she reached out to me via DM. You would've thought that I'd be overjoyed, but honestly, I didn't respond. At that time, I was receiving so many messages and emails from old friends or acquaintances, but it seemed like the only reason they were reaching out was because of who I was becoming on social media. I wasn't sure if she was reaching out for the same reason, so I decided to just ignore it. Luckily this story has a happy ending.
Two years ago, we reconnected on Facebook via random captions. I'm a huge foodie. She wrote a random message on her page about cooking that I decided to respond to. We went back and forth on Facebook before exchanging numbers. I don't know what texting did, but it opened our Pandora's box. I remember lying in bed, blushing while we texted and anxiously waiting for her to respond back to my every message. A few weeks after exchanging numbers, I invited her to the Tribeca Film Festival screening for the documentary of The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson. That was the beginning of our beginning.
The universe has a funny way of bringing things full circle. I never imagined that after years of playing cat-and-mouse, my coming out story would be my happy ending. I guess you could say, it was meant to be.
At 15, I had a suspicion I was gay. Well, I wouldn't have called myself "gay," as that word had such a strong negative connotation to me. As a boy growing up in Georgia with a very religious family and community, being gay was not at all what I wanted to be. My heroes were country stars like Tim McGraw and the Atlanta Braves. I had a strong masculine dad who raised me to be tough. My perception of what it meant to be gay was effeminate.
I came out to my peers in my junior year of college on a study abroad trip in Europe. I had finally fallen in love for the first time that summer, with a man - and I felt feelings I had never felt before for a woman. I also witnessed two men holding hands in Paris, this was the first time I had seen this in my life. And watching them together made me realize my issues with being gay were largely a result of where I was raised. I realized that if I had been raised in Paris, my attitude about being gay would have been very different. I would not have felt so alone being gay. Maybe I wouldn't have had religious guilt about being gay.
I came out to my peers and received very positive reactions. My family's reaction was a mixture of disapproval, shock, and depending upon the person, acceptance.
I auditioned for MTV's The Real Worldthat year and was casted on the show that I had been a fan of since childhood. I came out in national TV in 2006, the same year Lance Bass came out, a few years before Adam Lambert and Ricky Martin did. I went onto the show with the hopes of making a positive representation of what it meant to be a gay man, as I needed this type of role model for myself to be comfortable being both gay and a man. I hope that I was able to do this for those who saw me on the show, and for many years I have continued to receive heartfelt messages from viewers who said my story encouraged them to come out to their own family.
Immediately after The Real World, I spent time reading books on the subject of what the bible really says about homosexuality, as I was suddenly booked to speak on the subject at more than 40 universities around the US. At times, I even debated religious teachers on what the bible said and on whether you can be gay and a Christian - I fully believe you can.
My takeaway from this education was that rules of the bible were written by man, and many are ignored today, including the forbiddance of eating shellfish, wearing clothing made of different materials, divorce, wearing head coverings when entering a church, and women's inability to teach in a church, all of which would fall into the umbrella of sinfulness as "man laying with another man the way he lays with a woman."
While speaking at my own college, Stetson University, a professor of psychology gave me a sheet of paper about the stages of coming out. In my own paraphrased words:
- You do not identify as gay - you identify as part of the "straight world," and you may not even fully be aware yet that there is such a thing as "gay."
- You begin to take notice about "gays" and begin to do some research (for me, this was hours spent at the local bookstore, browsing the gay book section).
- You finally come out, maybe prompted by a romance, or someone outs you, but you're out.
- You immerse yourself in the gay community. You begin to have gay friendships, gay romances, and develop an identity as a gay person
- You are now proud to be gay and no longer wish to be straight. For all preceding steps, there is still the desire within this person to be straight.
I feel like my years after The Real World were spent in stages 3-5, and I do feel now that I am proud and happy to be gay. Although, I still do realize the hardships for people in our community, the preconceived ideas from straight people about our community, and the limitations to career success for gay people (which I witness especially where I live in Nashville, pursuing a career in music).
I knew I was gay since I was 15. I grew up singing in my church choir, and I witnessed other straight members of this choir excel in music careers. I didn't pursue music because I didn't see a place for myself as a gay artist. I knew I was gay before Ellen DeGeneres came out. And it was watching people like Adam Lambert, Sam Smith, and Troye Sivan start their careers out of the closet that encouraged me to pursue the career I longed to take part in, as a musician and recording artist.
Today, I have music on Warner Denmark and other dance labels. As a gay singer/songwriter, I now hold a new responsibility of telling authentic stories of what it is to be a gay man, just like my role on The Real World. I aim to represent gay artists the way I want to be seen.
Photo by Silas Philips
News Editor, OUT
My coming out wasn't so much a moment as it was a process. I missed that whole "It Gets Better" era, when everyone seemed to make a profound statement to the world in a YouTube video.
I came out to my sister via text from across the table at my favorite restaurant. I came out to my brother via text from across the country, which I admit wasn't the best way. I told my dad while we were putting together a barbecue he'd just bought. And my mom found out the old fashion way - by reading my diary.
But the day I consider this process having begun was April 30, 2009. I remember because it was the night of the midnight premiere of X-Men Origins: Wolverine. I was 17 years old, a mere couple of weeks from graduating high school.
This was at least the first time I admitted to someone I was gay beyond the confines of MySpace. It was actually with a guy from Myspace that I decided to meet in person.
Brett was a couple years older than me, a sophomore in college. He played football at Mississippi College, a Christian university. He'd just come out to his parents in Alabama, and he was splitting his time between his dorm and his ex-boyfriend's apartment.
It was his ex's apartment where we decided to meet. I didn't find it odd at the time. They were still friends.
I was overcome with anxiety, meeting a gay person who knew I was gay too. For the slim pickings that was the Jackson, Mississippi gay community, I thought he was cute (looking back, I'll never understand where my adolescent taste in guys came from). I wasn't too naive to realize he wanted something to happen, but I was too innocent to make it happen.
"What have you done?" he asked, referring to sex.
"Nothing," I said. "What have you done?"
I was immediately intimidated. My mind raced with the infinite sexual possibility of "everything."
"Fisting?" I asked, bewildered.
"Well, not everything."
He put his hand on my knee, but I didn't know what to do. I knew I didn't want my first time to be with a guy I'd just met on Myspace, on his ex's couch.
Luckily, his ex came in just in time. Lewis was 32, but that didn't bother me. In fact, I always felt more comfortable around older guys. If anything, they were awkward around each other.
Lewis took us out to dinner at Newk's, a southern favorite. He offered to pay, but I sat there and ate nothing. I ate nothing for about a week, overcome with too much anxiety of what it meant to be gay.
It was my coming out, and all I had for support was a cold Myspace encounter and his ex-boyfriend. I felt lost, without direction.
A week later, I was driving down Lakeland Drive in the middle of the night with one of my oldest friends, Blaine. We didn't hang out much through high school, but during the weeks leading up to graduation, we became close. It was honestly because he was the only gay person I knew.
Only 17 and 18, there was nothing in Jackson for us to do in the middle of the night. So, we just drive around.
"So, I'm gay," I said, breaking the silence. It was like jumping off a high dive, working up the courage to say that. I knew there was something there to break my fall, but the leap felt impossible.
"I know," he said in a supportive way, as if he was waiting for me to come to that conclusion on my own.
We pulled into the Borders parking lot and talked for hours. It was the first time I felt comfortable with who I was. Although Blaine had been out for a while, we were both oblivious and hopeful.
Fashion Explorer/Visual Artist
I never really understood why anyone should keep themselves a secret. I know everyone has their own secrets or a kind of a closet for that matter. But being me, without hurting anyone, should never be anyone's problem.
I grew up in Migdal HaEmek, a small town in the northern part of Israel, not really a central or a progressive kind of town. My family is Spanish, quite religious, but not blinded by it. Every Friday evening, before dinner, I used to go with my grandfather to the synagogue and listen to people pray. I like the drama in holy places, it inspired me back then as well as today. After that, I used to run back home and watch my mom putting her make up on, it inspired me even more. Drama and make up are definitely two important motives in my several coming outs.
I was the first kid at school to dye his hair and last one to finish at sport's class. To be honest, it never really bothered me. I always felt more freedom than my surroundings, and I guess that is why I was perceived as an artist from a young age. I guess my parents didn't really know to pin down why I was different, and so they sort of branded me as "an artist." I was quiet, shy, and only my paintings would reflect my character and what I was going through.
I started dating girls at the age of 16. I only ever had two girlfriends. With one of those girlfriends, our relationship lasted a year and a half. It only lasted up until this point as this was when she began to hang Justin Timberlake posters on her wall. While I did enjoy having sex with her, I could not shake the thought of a man's body. The male body became something that I continuously fantasized about. This led me to discover more about my desires and my temptations.
In 1995, in a town like Migdal HaEmak, being gay or queer was not something you heard regularly. It took me a lot of time to dig into who I truly was. I had finally gained the courage to put myself out there on online gay chats. The feeling of inclusion, innuendo, and variety felt surreal. I had finally felt that I was being true to myself.
When coming out to my friends and family, I was very fortunate to feel supported and loved by everyone. The hardest part, as any queer person can relate, was figuring out how to share it with my mother, the person who I sought validation from and wanted to make sure that she was a part of what I was going through.
During this time, I was also recruited to the army like every other 18-year-old in Israel. I thought to myself, "If she does not accept me, I will just continue to live on the army base." Once I told my mother that I liked men, all she could ask was, "So, you're gay? How do you know?" My immediate response to that was, "Mom, I just know." And to my surprise, my Israeli mother's reaction to this was, "We won't tell your father until you've been with a man." She then took the liberty upon herself to find me one. I couldn't have been more grateful about her progressive views. To save myself the embarrassment, I concluded with, "Mom, I think I can do it myself."
I took this task very seriously. I rifted through messages and profiles on the gay chat till I finally landed on the man that would be my first. This man was 20 years my senior, made me feel comfortable, and understood that it was my first time with any man. After a five hour session, accompanied with some hits from the hookah, I was excited to share with my mother about my first encounter. My mother was able to share with my father who could not have been more supportive. They just wanted me to ensure that I lived life truthfully and remained focused on my future.
After being a photographer in the army, my interests led me to work within graphic design. Gay nightlife began to be a huge part of who I designed for. The nightlife scene fascinated me. All the colors, styles, and choices became something I wanted to be a part of. At that time, I was also a make-up artist for many drag queens and fashion productions.
Purim of 2011 (as some would call the Israeli Halloween), I thought it would be fun to use my cosmetology skills on myself. That year, I dressed up as the almighty Cher. Wig, fishnets, heels, you name it, I wore it. The compliments I received all night began to make me feel like I was at home. The costume itself electrified my being. A friend of mine began sparking the idea of drag in my head. He told me that I needed a name that was "nonchalant." That's when Nona Chalant was born.
Nona Chalant felt like my creative outlet. This was an opportunity to explore gender and identity. Once Nona was discovered, this meant that I had another closet to come out of. Thankfully, my family was once again accepting of my choice. I felt supported to create something bold and powerful.
I had my first breakthrough very early on. I was doing many photoshoots at the time, and one in particular, where I wore my own mother's clothing, was featured in Italian Vogue. It all felt like a dream to me, and I could not believe the recognition I was receiving.
My coming out story might not be the most dramatic, but I needed to confront my own barriers with society, gender, and identity. From a young age, I was taught that the truth will always set you free. I was also taught that you do not have to take things too seriously. My fluid identity also reflects on my every day appearance as Ronny. I dye my hair crazy colors, I have long fingernails, and I get a manicure on a weekly basis. Throughout the years, the gap between Nona and I became much smaller. I identify with her more and more every day. We have all kinds of identities within us. Identity is fluid, always shifting and evolving. My art is my identity, and you should always take your art out of the closet.
Photo by Ido Wolfman
"Is this all?" my mom asked, looking incredulous.
Her lack of belief seemed to stem not from the revelation itself but the idea that I made such a big deal building up to it.
"So, you're gay? Who cares? Everyone is a little gay."
Now, I was concerned that she didn't fully grasp what "gay" was.
"What do you mean everyone is a little gay?" I asked.
"You know - everyone has thoughts," she replied.
"No, mom!" I protested, "I'm really, really gay. Gay, all the way!"
"Great! I'm so happy," she responded, sounding genuinely relieved and light-hearted, "I thought something was wrong."
It would take me months to fully absorb and believe that my Soviet-born and raised mother truly didn't care I was a homosexual. She grew up in the most homophobic of cultures where gays were mythical monsters of the decadent West. There were no gay cousins, no gay acquaintances, no gay one-time neighbors or famous gay Russians that she would have had exposure to. I was literally her first. Yet, as with many other issues, my mom seemed to have a naturally open heart.
She was the first person I told. It was soon after we came to the US.
I often wonder how different my sense of self-worth would be if the woman who raised me, my best friend, had a different reaction. How much baggage would I be carrying now? Thankfully I will never find out.
A few days ago, my mom called me after watching Call Me by Your Name. She was crying. Turns out, she was really touched by the father's speech in the film.
"I've never seen a movie before where a parent has a normal reaction to coming out and treats their kid like love is just love," she explained.
I reminded she was that kind of parent to me. Then, she surprised me once again.
"That Oliver is so beautiful." It was the first time we had the same taste in men.
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Associate Editor, OUT
I've always personally struggled with National Coming Out Day. Of course, I support it. I think it's incredible that we have a day where we can rally behind one another and help those struggling to publicly embrace their identity.
But as a man who proudly identifies as bisexual, I'm always coming out, and it's exhausting.
Inevitably, I have to come out to every woman I date -- along with every man. It can be nerve-wracking getting to that point, because even the liberal queers who pride themselves in openness and inclusion have refused to date me once they learn I'm bisexual.
I remember being shocked when a recent Wellesley College grad dumped me for being bi. Fun fact: She was also attracted to women and exploring her same-sex attractions. While she didn't think anything "negative" about me so to speak, she couldn't get the idea out of her head that I was actually gay and didn't want to "deal" with the additional challenges that come with dating a bi guy. So she ghosted me. (I learned all of this after the fact from the mutual friend who set us up.)
I've come to learn that "in theory" many people are willing to date bi guys, but at the end of the day, when they're given the opportunity, they don't -- often because they, themselves, are too insecure.
There's also bi-erasure, which I won't go too much into detail here because at this point, everyone knows what it means and either you think we're complaining about a non-issue, or hopefully, you use more inclusive language and aren't assuming that every person is either gay or straight. (Come on, is it really that hard to say "same-sex" marriage instead of "gay marriage?")
Also, if you believe that gender is on spectrum, yet somehow sexuality is not, I honestly have no words for you. How so many people think one without the other is mind-boggling.
Then of course, there's the justifying that comes with being bisexual. No flaming, tongue-popping, heel-wearing, okurrrrrrr-ing man needs to justify he's gay. The world knows and acknowledges him as a gay man. No one goes up to him and says, "Are you sure you're gay?"
While people now are smart enough to not ask this question (when I came out years ago, people would ask point-blank, "Are you sure you're bi?") they do want to somehow catch me in a lie about my (bi)sexuality.
They want to "prove" me wrong. "See, you haven't had sex with a woman in over a year, so you're actually gay!"
It's a sadistic glee straight and gay people derive. They gain pleasure by "disproving" that I'm bi. It's like, wow, you attempted to strip away a fundamental part of my identity, failed in doing so, yet somehow believe you succeeded, and are now happy because of this? You're also a gay man who claims he supports his queer brothers and sisters? Dude, WTF?
More and more, I've also had to justify my sexuality to sexually fluid queers. I've been told my identity is transphobic despite the fact I'm attracted to, have dated, and loved people of all genders. I don't see the bi label as exclusionary. I view the two in bi as meaning "genders that are my own" and "genders that are not." That said, I'm attracted to all genders, but also claim the bi label proudly. I hate needing to justify why I choose this label to my fellow queers.
Now I don't meant to be a Debbie Downer on this celebratory day. I also know this isn't #allgaymen or anything like that. I've dated plenty of gay guys and straight women who have loved and embraced me for my (bi)sexuality. Not everyone is biphobic or unwilling to date a bi guy. I also do firmly believe that the younger generation is typically more accepting and better at addressing the nuances of sexuality, which gives me hope for the future.
But if I may, this National Coming Out Day, let's make sure to be kind to everyone coming out. Even if you're not entirely sure with what the differences are between gender non-conforming, gender non-binary, and genderqueer. Let's support all of our queer family in their gender and sexuality journey. (Also, seriously, Google it. It takes like two minutes to learn this stuff. It's not that hard.)
Let's alsooooooo (and I'm sorry if I'm coming off too preachy) remember that bisexuals exist. We're valid. We're not confused. (Or maybe we are, but who cares? Don't be an asshole, and let us figure everything out in our own time.) And we're going through our own struggles.
In addition to supporting us today, it would be truly incredible if you could support us when we come out -- repeatedly -- every other day of the year too.
In everyone's life, there comes a time when a significant change occurs. We each go through a spiritual metamorphosis, because we are all butterflies. We're all born in cocoons. Some people look at me and think "caterpillar," but inside, I know my truest truth is that I too am a butterfly like them, and a beautiful one at that.
It started when I was 19, and I was an insignificant speck. I didn't know what I wanted or who I was. I was an ant in a wasp's world. The city was my playground, and I had become nothing more than an androgynous clubroach, sprinkling glitter on the bricks.
Clamoring for attention, I found myself feeling like Alice, and when I fell down the hole, gender revealed itself to be an endless rabbit hole of fascination and expression. Gender is watercolors, wet, beautiful, running together down the page. The colors blend well that way, because they belong together. There's no science that can tell you why, they just do. Our identities are evocative of our mental health, emotions, and spiritual capacity.
These were only some of the truths I would learn the day I came out. Walking into the world of femininity in a masculine body was like walking into a mirror of a liquid world. I was greeted by the feeling instantly that something better lived beneath the surface of all this. All these thoughts were only in my head though. I had to act. So, I dove in.
Having done a fair amount of research, I transitioned practically overnight. Clothes, hair, makeup, everything. Whole nine yards. Once I was in, I was all in. The problem that I had faced was that even though I finally had the language I had so desperately sought out, I had a history of being a lost person. Someone who didn't have an identity.
For a few years, I sort of existed as an idea. So, it was difficult for a lot of people to accept that I had found my infinite truth. I had called my mother two weeks earlier to inform her of my decision, which she took with grace. I don't think anybody in my life was ready for me to dive right in. And to be perfectly honest, I don't think I was ready either. But are any of us ever ready when we pursue our dreams? All one can do is close their eyes and embrace the moment.
So, that's exactly what I learned to do. By no means was this easy. I spent my fair share of nights sleeping on the city bus benches, catching rides to school, playing at the bars as a minor. My mountains were painstakingly large to climb, and many called them impossible. It was part of my mentality that if I laced up my boots and believed in myself, people would believe in me too.
It was very hard immersing and asserting my new feminine identity in the world too. It was a game trying to understand how people were reading me. It made me evaluate myself. I changed my accessories, I wore more lipstick, I practiced with my voice. I thought maybe my jawline was too broad, and I'd never "pass." I fought vehemently for the world to see me for my authenticity but if I've learned anything these past six years, it's that when I was authentic, people saw it.
And like a slow spring rain, it came trickling across the dry lands. I started to be received, but it was not because I had any surgeries or went through some grandiose change outside. It was because I believed in myself, and when I believed in myself, so did others. That is the power of telling your truth to the world.
We often fear the consequences and the opinions of others but when do we stop and think about all the positives? When I stepped outside my front door for the first time and walked my block, my shackles were finally free. I no longer needed anybody's permission or approval to be myself. People turned their heads. I didn't care to assume anyone's thoughts or observe them, as I was too busy basking in the summer air. I was too busy smelling the ocean and feeling my hair brush my shoulders as the wind decided where to whip it. When one has decided they no longer need the world's approval to be themselves, with that comes a sense of agency that no amount of money can buy.
Two summers after that, I would start hormone replacement therapy. And then just a few years after that, I'd be performing at Barack Obama's White House. There is nothing more powerful than believing in yourself.
The point that I've been scratching at is this: I encourage anyone of you reading this article to release yourself of what binds you. Get cultured, and read up on the experiences of others, because when you walk past those faces every day, it might make you a little more happy to walk in your shoes.
Someone I loved once asked me, "Why do you strut everywhere you walk?"
I simply told him, "Because bitch, the world is my runway, so look out."
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