It’s been five years. Five years of growth and laughter and failure. Five years of almost more change than I can handle. Five years of being openly gay. I’ve never acknowledged July 15th, 2011 and I think it’s about time.
I’ve always wondered what I’d say when I’d do a reflective essay regarding that night. What would I say? Who would I address? Would I be pissed? Would I thank anyone? How personal would I get? As I type this, I still have these questions, so let’s start with something easy: a little background.
Most don’t know how or why I came out. (Everyone has a story, right?) A combination of depression, indifference, and crushing a little too hard on my straight best friend (not necessarily in that order) led to the inevitable: the bitchiest Facebook status ever posted by a 15 year old.
I was confused, upset, and dressed as Colin Creevey from Harry Potter. Frankly, I don’t remember much about the final Harry Potter movie, just that I didn’t want to be there. But there I was, with a handful of older friends excitedly taking in every scene leading to the end of the cinematic Harry Potter series as we knew it.
It was 12:00am.
July 15th had begun.
While storyline after storyline ended nicely, I was thinking. Pondering. Why am I still in the closet? What would happen if I came out? Why am I still in the closet? It’s hard to describe how I felt during that movie but I think the word terrified comes close. I had spent the previous two years barely holding onto this image of heterosexuality, and here it was, crumbling before me. Now, I know it wasn’t a surprise to some of you and I know that I’m not the most masculine, but 9th Grade Me didn’t know that. Hell, he rejected the claim of homosexuality so strongly he almost convinced himself it wasn’t true.
It was 2:10am.
The internal questions didn’t stop; I was constantly going back and forth between my sexuality, my future, and my friends. The movie ended and we left the theater. I didn’t really notice what was happening as we entered the McDonald’s drive-thru. I remember my friend paying at the middle window and then it happened in the fucking McDonald’s drive-thru. I thought: What would I say?
It was 3:00am and the threshold was met. Something about the ambiance of McDonald’s pushed me over the edge. (Naturally.) It was impossible to back out at this point. I had never felt more alone in my life, I was 15, and this was all I thought I had. This secret, this potential for exposure. I wanted to see how far I could push this.
So I did.
The drive home was a blur. 3:30am. I was dropped off and immediately went to my laptop and started typing. It took thirty minutes. I showed a friend and she approved. Loved it, even. (Thanks, Courtney. I miss you.) The decision was made. 4:05am.
I went to sleep. (Or at least tried to.)
I woke up.
I went to the computer.
I typed the Facebook status.
I took a deep breath. (Or maybe five.)
This is it.
July 15th, 2011. 2:18pm.
I clicked post.
(Warning: this paragraph is really disgusting and sappy.) I walked downstairs, saw my sister sitting down watching TV. I put on running shorts and took one last look at her. She was 14 and she was about to find out her brother was gay. This is it. I ran on my symbolic run as a sort of rite of passage. (See, I told you.) I came back ready. (SEE, I TOLD YOU.) I went on Facebook and was flooded with love and acceptance.
This is what shocked me. There’s an paradoxical culture in the U.P. about homosexuality. (Or at least there was when I was in high school in 2011.) There wasn’t an incredibly strong LGBT presence in school, homophobic slurs were rampant, and the indifference was intoxicating. I wouldn’t mind if you were gay, I guess. It wasn’t much surprise to me that I became that kid. I wasn’t Zach Carlson, the guy who loved math and science, was a little too excited, loved running and music, and cried watching Mars Needs Moms. I was the gay guy. Although I left the closet, I was in a new imprisonment. My sexuality was my defining feature, I was different, and regardless of what anyone said or how they comforted me, the sugarcoating was clear: I was never going to be one of their best friends. One of the friends. One of the guys. I was just gay. A token character. The end.
So that’s the story. That’s how I came out, that’s why, that’s when, that’s the reaction. But why make my five month comeback to WordPress with just a history lesson? That day was important, yes, but that was just the start. In-between July 15th, 2011 and today a lot has happened. I went away to college, changed my major four times, and did a lot of things I probably shouldn’t have. I volunteered in Florida. I joined TEDxUofM. I listened to every Radiolab posted back until 2013. I ate way too many bowls of Reese’s Puffs. I developed an intolerance to tequila. (I wonder why?) I looked at things with new perspectives, I challenged myself. I grew. I changed. I lived.
I think back to before I was openly gay and I’m just astonished. I’m not trying to invalidate the lives of those who are still closeted nor am I trying to invalidate every experience I had prior to 2011, but if I’m being honest the way I’m living my life now is completely different than before. I know that being a white male I have the most privilege of anyone within the LGBT community. Regardless, it’s still hard and I’m not going to pretend it isn’t. If I had the chance to be straight versus gay, I can’t say with full confidence that I’d respond without hesitation with “don’t change anything.” I’m not this person that can feel confident in every situation, I still have feelings. I’m still insecure. Words like “gay” and “faggot” really hurt. Really. Most of the time, I wish I wasn’t gay even though my life, my friends, my personality would be completely different otherwise.
A lot has faded, though. My fear of befriending straight guys is almost non-existent. (But that’s a really generous “almost.”) I don’t consider whether someone will still like me if I came out to them. My sexuality is almost never brought up and I can even comfortably bring up my own sex life with friends and it’s almost completely, well, normal.
I didn’t realize this until I left Negaunee High School but my sexuality was always on my mind and it seemed like everyone else’s, too. Constant uses of the word “gay” in a derogatory sense, constant questions of if I have a boyfriend, constant “Oh my god.. I know this gay guy… and you’re gay… so you’re perfect for each other!” reminded me of what everyone thought I was: just a gay guy. It reminded me of how little they actually understood me. Which is kind of understandable. We were 15-17 year olds in a small, pretty homogeneous town. There wasn’t much diversity or variety. Without sounding self-inflating, someone coming out wasn’t something that happened everyday five years ago, and with that comes the time needed to adjust.
I’m not trying to blame and shame any individual I went to high school with by posting this. First off, there were those who were strong allies and those who weren’t. I truly appreciate some of the help a lot of you provided to me through 9th-10th grade. (Hi, Amanda.)
This isn’t an attack on all of you, this is a larger critique of the environment we all grew up in. Although I understand some your good intentions, they were usually drowning in the mistakes you all didn’t realize you were all making. Each time someone calls something gay or makes fun of someone feminine, your “support” for LGBT rights becomes more veiled and futile.
I think back to my years in high school and almost laugh at how awkward and ill-fitted I was in myself. I didn’t know who I was and I didn’t even want to. After this five year long journey, I’ve filled into myself, I know who I am, and I know what I like. (Or at least I think I do.) I’ve taken on the University of Michigan and the Midwest, not the easiest of competitors. I’ve been to EDM concerts and low-key venues. I’ve crammed for organic chemistry exam until 1:00am on Saturday nights. I’ve fallen in love. I’ve realized, no, I haven’t fallen in love. I’ve been kissed by those who want to kiss me. I’ve been challenged to the point of tears and then challenged more. I know what compassion is. I’ve come out of my closet.
Let’s see what the next five years bring.
Until next time.
(Hopefully a little more gay.)