I always knew that I liked boys.
I just didn’t know that liking boys meant I was gay until probably around the seventh grade. For most of my adolescence, I thought it was normal for all boys to like other boys. Truly, I would say it was about the time that I hit puberty, really, before I figured out I was different.
And it made me scared. Really scared. Other boys at my school had already come out of the closet, and I saw the way they were treated. Most of them were bullied. And the ones that were socially accepted, were still introduced with, “Oh that’s Jimmy, he’s gay.” Kind of like it was a sweater they were wearing. Like, you know, you had to wear this sign that you were gay. You couldn’t just be you. You couldn’t just be Jimmy, or Steve, or Luke. You had to be those things with a qualifier. You had to be you, in spite of you.
So, like most youths, I kept it a secret. I was never very good at dating girls, so instead I covered my sexuality up with good grades and extra-curricular activities. I was in plays, I was in clubs, I played instruments. I did a lot. Anything, really, so that my family and friends could see everything about me except for my sexuality.
I’ve always had a loving family. I’m lucky. I know that. Both my mother and father have always supported everything- every thought, action or otherwise that I’ve ever had. But when you’re keeping a secret, you don’t see those things. You don’t hear the, “Good job’s,” and the “Way to go’s”, all you think about is how you can be better at keeping your secret. And eventually it starts to wear you down. You become exhausted, really, and you start to make very bad choices.
In the hopes of possibly saving someone else from those very bad choices, I wanted to offer some words of encouragement. Some steps, I guess, that maybe will help open your closet door.
1. Love yourself. Corny. I know. But true. You don’t have to love everything about yourself. I mean, honestly, I hate my receding hairline and resent the fact that I never got braces. But, you have to have a certain level of self-respect. You have to know that you’re not a second-class citizen. You have to know that you’re more than just your secret.
Trust me, there will be people that don’t love you for being who you are. But there would be people that wouldn’t love you if you were straight, too. People hate that I wear cut-off jean shorts and wayfarers, but that doesn’t make me a lesser person. What I’m trying to say is that there will always be something about you that people don’t like, but being gay doesn’t have to be one of them.
2. Come out to yourself. If I hadn’t come out to myself first, I never would have been able to come out to someone else. And it took years, really. It took many, many years of me wishing and praying and hoping that I would change. But then you sort of start to embrace it. And it’s really healthy too. A friend of mine once said that the first thing he did when he came out of the closet was got a haircut and automatically lost 15 pounds.
And I believe it. Being in the closet is stressful. And stress does nasty things to your body. It screws up your judgement, you gain weight, your skin gets wrinkled and gross. Coming out is a great way to instantly relieve a world of weight from your shoulders.
3. Find a friend. There is always someone on your side. I came out to my best friend one night on a long walk around our neighborhood. I grabbed her hand, mostly out of nervousness, and I said, “So, you know the way that ____ is? Well, I think I am that way too.”
She paused for a minute, looked at me, and said, “I know. And it’s okay. I still love you just the same.” It was the single best feeling of all of my high school years. Of course, there was like a long embrace, and some more Lifetime-movie, gooey stuff, but I’ll spare you the details. Needless to say, just having one other person know your secret can make it all the easier. And really, it gets easier.
4. Do it in your own time. There’s no rush, and there’s certainly no obligation to coming out. But, coming out is something that you should want to do for you. It’s not something that you should feel like you need to keep a secret. I feel very strongly that it’s completely unnecessary to have a huge “coming out” party, because frankly, my sexuality is my business. However, there is a closeness and honestness with people that is afforded to you once you can be totally open with yourself and others.
In closing, there’s no real right way to come out. It’s different for everyone. Some people will have really terrible struggles with it, and others will come out of the womb and the closet at the same time. That’s just life. You can’t change how other people perceive you, the only thing you have control over is you. And once you can truly know that for yourself, your world will become filled with so much light.
Life is so much more fabulous on the other side of the closet.