"Step out from the mask you stand behind
Fearful lost and blind
Time to take the time
The pressure’s on you
Hide away, hide away
No tomorrow, just today"
- Brilliant, Ultravox
Today was National Coming Out Day, so of course it gives some pause for reflection on my own coming out story. It was in April 1993, my junior year of high school (go Chargers!). In the six years of writing this blog, I have alluded to how I came out, but never really delved into the intricacies of how it came about. What better day to do so than today?
My first (small) indications of homosexuality manifested in grade school. While in first grade, I thought a fifth grader looked cute. In fifth grade, I would stare, longingly, at a boy in class, until he caught me looking at him. There were some infatuations with boys in middle school, and a first sexual experience during freshman year of high school. Everything up to that point had been, for the most part, based in the physical realm. I liked the way certain guys looked. Most of them didn't care to know me and, of the ones who allowed to me float in their orbit for a bit, not many really treated me with much respect.
It is important -- for my understanding -- to note the physical attraction aspect, because I believed that, as long as it remained nothing more than physical enticement, it was something that I could possibly outgrow, and wasn't all that serious. This was ingrained through years of public and private inundation of negativity toward homosexuals. Gay men were comic fodder in entertainment. My dad once called a gay character on a TV show I was watching a "faggot." Being gay was not something to aspire to. The physical longing I felt for an increasing number of guys was, to say the least, worrisome.
After a summer spent mostly by myself, I entered junior year of high school. The lust for men had subsided for the summer, much to my relief. It wasn't until returning to school and feeling a stirring of attractions that I realized it had laid dormant due to my summer isolation, nothing more. I was also in an English class with, among others, a skinny blond kid named Kyle. For our fall semester, he made every effort to befriend me. And, as fate would have it, we would often be put into the same group assignments. At the start of the semester, when Kyle was sitting next to me and talking and smiling at me, I'd looked him over, decided he didn't do it for me physically, and dismissed him, mentally.
By the time Christmas season came around, something suddenly happened. Kyle's enthusiasm for wanting to talk to me hadn't abated and, one day while sitting in class annoyed by him, I looked over and, just like that, fell for him like a ton of bricks. Head over heels. His goofy, grinning face looking over at me as my heart did leaps inside my chest. That December began a friendship that, while it lasted only a few months, was hugely impactful on my life. I bought Kyle a Christmas present, and became a guest at his house on many occasions. I joined his (very conservative) church, which was perhaps not the best thing to do. We went to all-nighters together, saw movies, I watched him play basketball for his church. He came over and shared lunch and dinner with mom and I. He helped fix some stuff at the house that wasn't working. We spent a lot of time together.
And then it was over. Perhaps, in hindsight, it wasn't the best idea for a besotted gay boy to spend so much time with a straight friend. Or, as a young man grappling with his sexuality, to attend a very conservative church that openly asked its congregation to contact their congressional representatives and tell them to not allow homosexuals equality in any way whatsoever. Perhaps, perhaps.
What can be assured from the time spent with Kyle, and the subsequent end of our friendship and the emotional torment hat followed, was that it finally led me to accept that this attraction toward people of the same sex wasn't something that was going to just fade away. It was real and, unlike every instance up that point, it was emotional. It was romantic. It was beautiful. While there may have been teenage lessons learned through the Kyle experience, it proved to be an awakening, a realization, and an affirmation that being gay could mean loving someone of the same sex, wanting the best for them, being lifted by them, having the sun rise and set upon them, and knowing that this could be what love -- same sex, or otherwise -- was about.
During the aftermath of having the friendship with Kyle ended, of having been too honest with my feelings with, ultimately, the wrong individual, the emotional tumult needed an outlet. It needed a coming out. Who was there? Who had always been there? My mom, of course. And so, one night in April of 1993, I called my mom into my bedroom and, as I lay on the bed, tears intermittently streaking my face, I told her about the few glorious months with my classmate, the boy she had met named Kyle, and what had really been going on in my head and heart, and that it was now over. I told her about that, about the feelings welling-up inside me, and how this was something that I now understood was who I was.
Mom knew. Mothers always know, don't they? She'd observed how I'd acted around Kyle, how I looked at him, the stupid happiness on my face. And, well, she'd just kind of always known. After that night, things began to get better. Over the years, things have continued to get better. Of course, there have been bumps along the way, but there's nothing like the shackles broken and released upon coming out. The freedom begins then. At least, it did for me.
I hope people continue to come out, in their own time, of their own choosing, and with the love and acceptance that they deserve. It is a truly liberating act, not without pain, but then so many of the best things in life are not always easy to obtain. The freedom that comes with coming out is often one of them.