On Coming Out, Facing Your Friends, and Prevailing
It was October 27, 2011, almost exactly two years ago, when I officially came out.
I say “officially” because, at that point, I had told lots of close friends, as well as my family, but on this day I had only one more person to tell. One more person until I could ditch the straight persona, the image I had been working on with such a delusional, paranoid fever, and I could start living the life I had always thought unachievable. The final person was my roommate of three years, a guy who probably knew me better than anyone on the planet, except for this one major detail I had hidden from him.
It was going to be the hardest thing I had ever done, and I could not have been more scared to come out to somebody.
It had taken me my entire life to get to that moment. I had spent the years wanting to just be “one of the guys.” Talking about girls. Not wincing when a buddy told me to stop being a faggot. These became second nature by necessity. I would fall in love with a guy and silently suffer, knowing being a friend was all I could ever hope to achieve. I tortured myself with the possibility that I was so horribly alien to those around me that I would be abandoned should I choose to discard my intricate disguise.
I thought of the fissure I would cause within my social group, how my friends would split along different sides, and no matter the outcome, I would fall into the depths between. If I came out, I feared that I would be weak in the eyes of my peers, a faggot who could no longer have a valid opinion, throw a punch, or talk to another male without them thinking I secretly longed to kiss him. These thoughts were paralyzing me and in those moments I was that weak person I so feared becoming.
With every person I told, it got easier. At the age of 20, I began to tell the friends I was absolutely sure would not leave me out to dry. I told them about the few experiences I had with other boys, how in the second grade I thought Leonardo DiCaprio was the most beautiful guy in the world, and later about the effect that Brad Pitt’s rendition of Tyler Durden had on me. It felt good, and I felt a sense of liberation with each victory.
I was on a roll, my confidence hardly ever wavering, my head held a little higher in parting until I returned to my roommates and, with them, the friends of ours who I dared not tell. In these moments I settled back into the shame I felt of being a lie and not brave enough to make it right.
That is not to say that my roommates and our friends weren’t trustworthy, accepting, or some of the greatest guys and girls I have ever had the pleasure of keeping company with. They were all of those things, but I was so horrified of them suddenly seeing me in a different light, not accepting me and then having to live among them. I feared alienation, a day where they might dress in the bathroom in fear that a towel was too little to feel comfortable in the few seconds from the bathroom to their bedroom while I was in the apartment.
I knew that I would only be able to tell everyone if I had the support of the one roommate who had been through thick and thin with me for three years. If I wanted to break free and finally be myself completely, I had to tell him.
If I could tell him, I could tell anybody.
My original roommate and I had been randomly placed together freshman year and for the duration of our time together we were rarely far from one another. We shared the same friends, the same housing, the same cases of Rolling Rock, some of the same music tastes, and honestly, little else.
When I wasn’t driving him insane—and, holy hell, was I good at that—we got along well. He was grounded, logical, knew exactly what he was working toward in college, and got his work done. I was none of those things. I was always dangerously close to floating out the window or tiptoeing on the edge of self-destruction. He did his best to keep my head on straight before the task inevitably became too tiresome and unrewarding. We began to drift apart. However, I never doubted this: without him, I would not have made it through these years into college. Even when we weren’t as close, he begrudgingly had his own way of keeping me from messing up my future at Penn State.
It was when he and I were alone in the apartment that my internal pep talk began. I convinced myself that if I didn’t bite the bullet now, then I deserved the shame of the following days to come.
“Hey man, how many beers have you had?” I asked.
“Enough,” he said.
The look on his face made me think that I held in my hands a live grenade. I deserved this look. My leg was bouncing at an alarming pace. I sat wringing my hands, twisting out the sweat that pooled in my palms. I choked on my words, making strange noises with an expression on my face like I couldn’t figure out whether to cut the red or green wire on the bomb. I remembered in that moment how I had told my friend Randy that I was gay and he had thrown up immediately afterwards. (Granted, this had more to do with the alcohol than with the confession.) I pushed this experience out of my mind and forced myself to continue.
“I have to tell you something, it’s kind of big.”
He didn’t know what to do with himself either, that much I could tell. I was making it worse by postponing the words when I was already past the point of no return. He just looked at me, wondering if I was about to explode or do a backflip. I took a quick deep breath, hoping I could inhale one last bit of confidence from the air in the room.
There was a moment of silence afterwards. I don’t remember breathing, but I must have. He needed to let what I said sink in. He needed to understand that the one person he knew just about everything about, who told him everything, had kept this from him all this time. When he was ready, I knew he would choose his next words wisely and he would mean every single one of them.
“Dude, I don’t care.”
As simple, short and definitive as those words may have been, they meant the world to me in that moment.
I think I hugged him after that. I think I told him how he was the final milestone in my coming out. I think I thanked him for putting up with my shit for so long. I think I told him how grateful and lucky I was to have been randomly placed with him freshman year. I’m not entirely sure if I did any of these things though because the memory ends there.
With a newfound sense of invincibility, I promised myself I would never be ashamed of who loved anymore. If the question was asked, the answer would be given. I told the rest of my roommates later that night, all of whom took it very well. I told each one individually. I thought they deserved to hear it from me and take the news however they wanted to in privacy.
One of my roommates, without skipping a beat, responded, “Welp, I’m moving out.” This was his way of saying it was no big deal, we were still buds, and he was most definitely not moving out.
In the following days I would realize this much: I had spent so much time worrying about what my friends would do when they found out that I forgot why I was friends with them in the first place. I had befriended these people for a reason, and doubting them was the first mistake I had made. If you pick your friends wisely, they won’t let you down with the big stuff. I am blessed to say that I picked my friends very wisely.
Today is National Coming Out Day. That’s what the whole point of sharing this story is all about. It’s not easy and it’s not fun, but I’ll be damned if it wasn’t some of the most memorable and mind-blowing times of self-discovery I have ever had.
If you are out of the closet and living your life, congratulations. I mean it from the bottom of my heart when I say you are incredible, brave, and you deserve to be happy now, and happy for the years that you might not have been before.
If you are closeted, you are safer than you think, you have more friends than you know, and many more to come should you choose to accept them. Being gay isn’t a choice, but being happy is. If you aren’t happy, then it’s time to do something about it. Right now, especially if you already know the steps you have to take to get there. You will not be weaker in the eyes of your peers, you will not be some faggot who can no longer have a valid opinion, you can still throw a punch, and you can talk to a member of the same sex without them thinking you secretly long to kiss them.
Your coming out is not just your own liberation, it’s liberating to everyone and anyone around you who is holding on to the same insecurities, and they’ll have the opportunity of seeing someone prevail.