This essay was chosen by editors in reponse to the #FirstTime prompt: What was it like coming out?
Does it even need to be said? I asked myself, standing at my parents' door on the day I'd chosen to come out. Will they accept me?
I couldn't settle on an answer.
My brother and sister realized I was gay. They didn't care. But my parents only suspected I was gay and so our relationship remained eerily constant. When I came out to them, would it all change?
My mother had grown more accepting in the 20 years since she joined the other parents of my brother's little league soccer team who demanded a gay assistant coach be dismissed "for the safety of the children." My father had become more tolerant in the 17 years since I trembled next to him at the grocery store while he unleashed a flurry of curses at a gay couple cutely flirting over which flavor of ice cream to buy. Still, I could see denial darken my mother's eyes whenever she said things like, "You'll make some woman very happy one day." And it seemed like no holiday dinner was complete without a helping of my father's dissatisfaction at the progress of LGBT rights.
I wasn't sure how my parents would react. But at that point, it didn't really matter. Coming out to my parents would be the easy part. Getting there had been the real challenge.
For nearly two decades, the question wasn't Will they accept me? It was Who am I to think I deserve acceptance? And the answer was I am not, I am trash.
I learned that answer when I was 11, low on self-esteem, and insecure - a prime target. My schoolmates threw the typical insults my way: Stupid! Ugly! Fat! Then one day, their words took on a different, more piercing tone: Faggot! Butt Fucker! Queer!
I always had a friend or family member who buttressed my confidence enough for me to reject commonplace bullying. But when I was belittled for being gay, like so many other closeted young kids, I had no one to tell me, "There's nothing wrong with you." When I was beat up in the locker room, or sucker-punched in the hall, I had no-one to reassure me I didn't deserve it. In fact, my family felt nothing, but revulsion toward people like me. My friends turned on me. Everyone was unanimous: gays are vile degenerates. I began to agree.
My conscious self-loathing lasted until I entered adulthood, when things became even worse. Instead of working to accept myself, I dove into the dark bliss of denial, hiding my self-loathing and self-rejection under a grand delusion of layered rationalizations.
I made many friends in high school and college, but went to great lengths to evade them outside of class, lest they learn my secret. I like alone time, I told myself. I'm happier without attachments. I avoided serious relationships at all costs, finding outlets for my sexual frustration that are, to this day, my greatest source of pain and regret.
I'd often wake up crying, convincing myself over and over that it was just from a bad dream.
To everyone who knew me, I appeared happy, funny, charismatic. "You always smile!" But I was dead inside--a beautiful husk--lonely, desolate and ashamed, pretending that the blistering fires of the hell I lived were the warm rays of the sun.
I kept on this way until I was 28.
My coming out began with a friendship-- just as shallow as all the others--that suddenly became very real when my friend and I both--through an accident of circumstance followed by a horribly awkward misunderstanding--felt forced to confide in each other that we were gay.
It was the first time I had ever said the words, but once I had spoken them, I couldn't stop talking. Long-imprisoned honesty exploded through the crack my confession had created.
Why did you say all that?! I was horrified I had alienated myself even further from yet another friend. But to my shock, the truth brought the two of us closer. We were soon spending days and nights together: talking, laughing, and crying for hours on end.
Still--it wasn't easy.
Every conversation was a battle fought on the charred fields of my suffering mind, my reborn self was viciously assaulted by doubt and self-hatred. But for every moment of vulnerability I achieved, my friends gave unconditional acceptance and love. The effect was profound. Over the course of a year, my doubt disappeared and the deep wound that had long-festered inside my soul closed. What hatred had inflicted, love had healed.
After years of hiding, I had finally come out to myself and found my own acceptance. It was the greatest moment of my life.
So when I stood at my parents' door on the day I had chosen to come out, I asked and I answered:
Does it even need to be said? No. It doesn't need to be said. But I'm going to say it anyway.
Will they accept me? I don't know, but I deserve it. I am worthy.
This essay was submitted anonymously.
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