I don’t really know how this is going to go. I’ve never really sat down and thought about the entire tumultuous period that was my coming out. It seems so simple now, but it never did back then.
The first “gay” feeling I had was when I was 7. I watched Batman & Robin. In this adaptation of the classic series Poison Ivy and Mr. Freeze, like any good supervillians, are out to bring Gotham to its knees. However, that wasn’t the only thing they brought to to their knees. Poison Ivy’s pheromones completely entranced our heros, to the point that through her sheer sexuality she brought them to a halt. Her seduction angered me. I can’t explain it any other way. I was upset and frustrated and my crotch hurt and I didn’t know why and everything was so confusing and… I just wanted it all to stop.
Flash forward five years and I’m singing songs at my church. We had this 18 year old lead singer for the band named Jason. Jason was very attractive. I couldn’t stop looking at Jason, and then when we read scripture about kneeling naked before the throne of God… and, well I didn’t imagine myself.
Like any adolescent I was curious, but I grew up in a strong Christian family, with morals, and respect for the bible, and a strong aversion to whatever “liberals” were (my stepmother refused to tell me, she said I didn’t need to know. All I needed to know was that we were good and they were bad). So, with no outlet for my feelings in the real world I turned to the virtual world. At first completely by accident, and not in the way you would expect.
I really liked trading cards (like Magic & Pokemon, total dork, I know) and when I was 13 there was this local gaming store called the Dugout. One day I went to try to find their website only to discover this bizarre website with topless girls sitting around in a circle talking. Naturally I was horrified. I hit the main power supply button on my computer and ran to the living room to think. I was terribly afraid of what might happen if my parents found out.
But they didn’t… so then over the next few years I explored the web. I didn’t like it, and almost everything creeped me out. But in some weird way it helped me compartmentalize all of my confusing feelings. I downloaded my gayness onto my computer, and outside of that medium I never had to think or talk about it.
Of course, all of this developed parallel to the other defining facet of my adolescent life. As a child I basically grew up on my grandparents’ farm. My Dad would take me down there every other weekend to have a family weekend with him, his siblings, my cousins, and my grandparents. It is, aside from MSA, the happiest memory I have. That farm was my refuge, and my grandfather, though ornery and intimidating, loved me a lot. He had fought in World War II and helped in the liberation of Japan. His time in the Navy had been the greatest experience of his life, and I was his dream for the continuation of that. I was raised amongst mounds of Naval paraphernalia: books, drawings, charts, maps, cards, models, and basically anything else Grandpa could his hands on. Then, he suddenly died when I was 8, and for me the Navy died with him.
Why is that relevant? Well, in 7th grade my Algebra I teacher’s son was graduating third in his class at the Naval Academy. The Cocos were a hardcore Navy family, and Mrs. Cocos always had some delightful Annapolis anecdote, some dollop of naval lore to light up even the most boring of mathematical concepts. She was one of my favorite teachers in middle school, and she reawakened my passion for the Navy. I still had all of the old books and things, and I knew in my heart of hearts that I truly loved this stuff. It just felt right for me.
Now if you know me you know how obstinate I can be. Once I set my mind to something, well it’s happening. So, in the summer after 7th grade year I started preparing for my future at the Naval Academy. I read every book I could find, started running, planned out all of my high school extra curriculars, and hired a personal trainer. Over time my dream changed thanks to a small footnote in “The Naval Academy Candidate Handbook,” In case you are unable to secure a nomination your first time applying to the Naval Academy, Naval ROTC offers an alternative. It is not as intensive as the Naval Academy, but NROTC graduates commission as Naval Officers the same as USNA graduates. Skeptical, I wrote the acronym down and continued reading about how exactly I should convince a Congressman to nominate me and the intricacies of Plebe Summer.
However, by the time I had finished a year of high school I started to doubt how good of a fit the Academy was for me. I googled NROTC. At first I was not impressed, of the ~130 schools almost the entirety of the list was RANDOM STATE U A&M TECHNICAL UNIVERSITY SOUTH, but I started writing down the schools that I might enjoy attending, “UCSD, UCLA, UW, UVA, UT, Harvard, UPenn, Cornell, Duke, UNC, USC, Stanford, Berkeley, Northwestern, Tufts, BU, BC, Georgetown, GWU, Vanderbilt.” This made my college search pretty easy. From the get-go, over 60% of America’s Top 50 schools were eliminated. However, after a road trip I narrowed my list down further to about 10 and applied for the scholarship.
Which brings me to the relevance of ALL of that. I was terrified. Absolutely terrified that somehow the Navy would find out. I imagined this all pervading big brother state that would flag my computer and instantly eliminate me from contention. DADT might not have been face to face discrimination, but the mental prison it put me in was so inescapable that it actually cost me Stanford. Coming out was so impossible that I actually had a wonderful complacency about the whole thing. In all of high school I was only ever asked if I was gay once, and I was definitely never bullied. I had no external problems because of my homosexuality. I just had to outlast DADT, and once I came to terms with that I became a much more stable, happy human being. Within the cocoon DADT forced me into, I developed alone. I had no gay friends, no gay interactions, and no gay drama. While the whole episode was draining, and the fear of the Navy finding out was crushing, I actually was able to come to terms with things and had a much easier time later coming out because I had already accepted myself. I just needed it to be legal to express myself first.
So now you have the two parts that made up my gay world from 12-18, the internet and the Navy. Of course, there was one hiccup in that fabric, one that was the worst moment of my life. I blocked out most of it, and even now I find it so terribly embarrassing that I can only bring myself to sketch the roughest of outlines. Basically, my mom did find out what I was doing on the computer, and at 14 she confronted me. What follows is why I said that is impossible to forcibly out someone in my last post, yes you can expose their identity, but until they accept who they are they are not truly “out.” And so it was for me.
She asked me to come to the dining room to talk. I acquiesced and made my way through our cozy little two-bedroom ranch, my childhood home, to a large circular oak table. My mom just stared at me for a few minutes, clearly trying to say something, but unsure how to. I caught on quickly, and my heart felt like it had literally fallen out of my chest, and taken my stomach with it. At this point in time, I still prayed every day to God that this was a phase, that boobs and vaginas would suddenly drive me wild with desire. I was not gay, I just couldn’t be. God could never be that cruel.
She started by saying that no matter what she would always love me, that I was the most important thing that had ever happened to her, and our relationship could never be broken. She then said that she had found things on my computer, and that if I had any questions she was there to talk. During her teen years she had sometimes wondered if she liked girls, and had even had a lesbian crush. She was trying so hard to reach me, to comfort me, to pull me out of the inner turmoil that had engulfed me, but to no avail. I crossed my arms so tightly that I was sure they would snap at any moment. I glared off into the distance, refusing to answer or acknowledge anything. I would not move, and eventually she left. I ran to my room and deleted everything. I thought I had covered my tracks well, always clearing my history and deleting my cookies, but obviously my amateurish attempts at concealing that part of me failed.
And so, life went on. She never brought it up again. I didn’t tell anyone in high school, ever. I didn’t have true best friends until near the end of my high school years, and even then, that part of me was just something I couldn’t share with them. I was independent, I was strong, and I would not allow myself to be vulnerable and potentially jeopardize my future.
After I finally left Oakville and arrived at Duke, I met my first real gay people (we had a token gay at Oakville, but he was horrid and universally detested for reasons aside from his sexuality). I felt comfortable on campus, but now I was officially in NROTC, which provided the near full ride that even allowed me to attend Duke in the first place, and I could not let my gay predilections cost me Duke & the Navy. So I kept quiet. I enjoyed the other aspects of life and reveled in my first year in college.
However, there was a world outside of Duke, and after years of stagnation the DADT issue was suddenly catapulted back into the limelight after an appellate court ruled against its constitutionality. With that one verdict my entire life was upended, suddenly there was a life at the end of the tunnel. Obviously there had been many false starts before, but this push had vigor to it. Through many ups and downs over roughly three months DADT was finally repealed by Congress on Dec 18, 2010. Now I had to truly think, what would I do? My cocoon was gone.
I almost came out to that day to my friend Laura, but after so many years in the closet I couldn’t bring myself to say the words. Instead I just hugged her and wished her a great winter break. Soon after my plane touched down in St. Louis I decided who I wanted to come out to first, the person that I idolized in high school, the friend whose opinion and help I most wanted, Samm. We had a wonderful night together and walked around a lake near my old house (my mom had moved to Texas). Gathering the nerve to tell her took forever. Every moment felt like a missed opportunity. I wanted to say it so badly, but the words just wouldn’t come. Then at one point I told her I had something important to tell her. Oh shit, I can’t believe I’m really doing this… I can’t turn back now. Just say it, say it please, just let it out, release it, do it before I throw up. And then, I said it, in the simplest, most unassuming way that I could, “Samm, I’m gay.” She just kind of stared at me with this adorable smile and then told me that she was proud of me, that everything was all right. She gave me a hug, and we talked about it for a little bit. She had been perfectly nice, comforting, and accepting. However, I guess after all of those years holding it inside, I expected fireworks, shock, surprise, awe, tears, raw emotion crashing on the rocks of reality. Luckily, my friends are not like that.
In all of my future coming outs over the course of 2011 I had the same feeling. I was never rejected, and they were never indifferent, but some did say the most awful “nice” things someone can say, “Oh yeah, I assumed,” or “Oh, ok, well that’s good.” I did officially come out to my mom the Christmas of 2011, but since she already knew that was also very anticlimactic and rather disappointing as well. I still haven’t told some people, not because I can’t, but just because I don’t see the point. Hence after a certain point I stopped coming out officially. My private business is just that, and if I don’t think it’s relevant to our relationship then I’m not going to bring up it just because. I am so much more than gay, and while I love it, I don’t want to be defined by it.
To leave you with one parting idea about my gay journey, we live in a marathon, and sometimes it is a marathon through a hailstorm. However, the downhills come and the storms blow over. Being gay is not a lifestyle, it is a sexual preference, no more, no less. What you interpret it as and how you incorporate it into your life is how you do your brand of gay. Be your authentic self. The fear of a result is often far worse than what actually comes to pass.
And remember, you are never alone.
Your humble blogger,