Thursday, October 11, 2012

For National Coming Out Day: My Beginnings

Hi folks, and happy National Coming Out Day!  I thought it might be an appropriate time to share one of my coming out stories, so I'm going back to the beginning.

Picture it:  East Texas, 1989.  A young TMWA (before being called TMWA) is close to graduating high school.  A young, gay, TMWA, who is not yet out to anyone, but who has known he was gay for quite some time.  (Seriously, how hard is to figure out who you're attracted to at that age? Although maybe with all the hormones, the trees probably start to look good to some people. But I digress.)

I remember being up on stage in the auditorium of my high school.  (No, I didn't come out on stage in front of the whole school. Stay with me.)  We were having some sort of rehearsal for an honors assembly, and I think the National Honor Society were all sitting on stage at that point.  I was next to my good friend Romola, and we were chatting while everyone was getting sorted out.  She was talking about a guy she had a major crush on, and she asked, "Isn't it terrible when you really like someone but you can't tell them?"  Since I also had a major crush on a guy I knew, and certain social inhibitions were definitely keeping me from telling him, I said, "I know what you mean."

Well Romola was sharp enough to zero in on that answer, so I got an immediate, "Ohh--so who is it?"  I gave that a minute's thought.  I hadn't come out to anyone yet, but I was kind of ready to, because it's really hard to constantly pretend not to be yourself.  Frankly, I was dying to tell someone at that point, and Romola seemed reasonably safe.  Granted, coming out to anyone in that place and time carried some risks, but I thought it might be worth it.  So I said I would tell her who my crush was, but that I wanted to do it in private sometime, because I didn't want anyone else to know.

So for about the next week, every time Romola saw me at school, she immediately opened with "So who is it?"  Usually in the midst of an enormous group of people, like the lunch room, which led me to defer.  "When we get a chance alone.  I'm not telling anyone else," I'd tell her.  "But these are just your friends--they won't care," she'd respond.  Oh, but they might, I thought.  Some of them liked to complain about "faggots", although I actually voiced objections when they did.  It does tend to put a crimp on how comfortable I really felt around people.  Of course, that's part of why I really wanted to tell someone: It would be nice to have at least one person I could be honest with.

Looking for an opportunity to have some time alone with Romola, I arranged to give her a ride after school one day when we were off to a gathering. I figured she would remember and ask me about my mystery person again as soon as we left.  (I wasn't quite able to just bring up the topic myself yet.  Hey, it was my first time coming out, and still pretty scary.)  But that day her mind must have been elsewhere, and she wasn't asking even 'though we were alone and I was (nervously) ready to answer.  I cast around in my head for a way to steer the conversation in the right way, and finally said something about her romantic interest.  That worked: She almost immediately remembered and asked again who I had the crush on.

Now even then I had a hard time answering.  I ended up hinting around a bit, and confirming the right person, all of which ended up with her saying, "Wait, I'm confused."  (Actually, she understood perfectly, she just wasn't expecting mystery person to be a guy.)  I did by this point recognize one flaw in telling her in the car: I was driving, so I never got to actually see her reaction when she realized who I meant, and that it was not a woman.  But I did get to hear her reaction.  I got some repeated variations of "John?", "John?!?", "JOHN?!" with varying degrees of questioning or surprise at various points, mixed in with (thankfully) statements that she was OK with this, even 'though it came as kind of a shock.

Actually, the surprise was a little surprising to me.  I kind of figured, particularly since I never dated any women, didn't really bother to try to try to "butch up", and was actually a vocal supporter of gay rights, that more than a few people probably had some shrewd guesses, but maybe not.  I think several of my friends just thought I was hopelessly naive on the issue of gays, and that maybe I only supported equal rights and fair treatment because I'd never had a chance to meet any gay people to discover how terrible they really were.  Irony, thy name is adolescence.

In any case, Romola kept my secret in high school.  (She and my parents were the only people I told before I got to college.)  We stayed friends and kept in touch.  It took only about a semester at Oberlin College (which I recall Newsweek once called a "gay mecca", to our great amusement) before I was fully out to everyone I met, and was fortunate enough to find hosts of other people who didn't care.  It was nice to finally have a group of friends--straight, gay, and bi--with whom I could feel close, and not have to feel like I had to lie and hide part of myself.  But the first did come in high school, even in east Texas in 1989, and that turned out pretty well.

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