Identity / Life

On National Coming Out Day: A Look Back at My First Time

I had a high school reunion a few weeks ago. Twenty-five years. I can’t quite account for all that time, but there you have it. I went to bed one night and woke up the next day to find that the world of my youth, my childhood, had vanished into a distant mist of big hair, deadly toys, phones with cords, tight skin, and neon clothing. But only old people have 25th high school reunions…

Sadly, I had to miss it, but thanks to new-fangled contraptions like the interwebs and the Facebook (Ahhh, life before Facebook. So much simpler. When we had to do our bullying, or in my case, be bullied, in person.), I got to see all the pictures. Also, in the weeks leading up to the event, there was a seemingly infinite stream of pictures of us then. Every day was #TBT. And every day multiple Facebook notifications would send me on a trip through time, like Quantum Leap. (A reference you likely don’t get unless your 25th reunion is on the horizon, too.)

Nestled in with the pictures of us in all our yesteryear glory were pictures of me and my fIMG_4026riend Robin. When they first popped up, I was awestruck. I found myself looking into my eyes from both sides of the pictures, like in that A-Ha video. (Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?) I became that kid again ~ that petrified kid coming out of the closet for the first time. I re-inhabited him. Because when I looked at Robin sitting next to me, I was looking at the first person I came out to at the time I came out to her. I was looking at the very first person I ever told I was gay.

Well, not exactly. While I did come out to Robin that day at the mall in 1988, I don’t believe I ever once uttered the words I’m gay. After probably an hour or more of hemming and hawing, an hour or more of picking at the leaves of a plant until we were both fairly certain I killed it, an hour or more of heart palpitations and sweating and a voice quivering with anxiety, the closest I could come to owning who I was was to say, You know those things they say about me? They’re true. So much self-hatred festering inside me. So overwhelmed with fear. So many truths I believed that I was too far removed from myself to even utter this basic, intrinsic fact.

I was petrified of the future laid out before me. All I knew was that my life would hemorrhage with secrecy and fiction, that what I wanted didn’t exist, and that a full, happy life wasn’t possible. That was what I knew. That was all I knew. Having grown up in a world that presented me with no other alternatives, these were facts. I wasn’t creative enough to envision anything else. My future appeared to me in darkness, hollowed out and empty.

But now I had told Robin. It was out there. Someone else knew. Didn’t just assume it because of my more stereotypical characteristics, but knew. Knew knew. For real knew. It was no longer just this horrible thing rolling around inside my head. Another person knew my deepest secret, this thing that was bursting to get out but could never come out, this thing I wrestled with and tried to exorcise and separate from myself every single day. I placed all my trust in her, put my life in her hands, and asked her to take care of me. And she did. I don’t remember what she said ~ I don’t remember what she did ~ but I know I left her feeling safe. Well, feeling safer.

You always remember your first. And it could have been awful ~ could have fortified my worst fears and bolstered my already flourishing sense of alienation. But I was lucky. My first tentative, baby step out of the closet, was quite beautiful. Even when she knew what I was trying to say, she still let me find the words myself. She let me take my first step towards acknowledging, accepting, and ultimately loving the fullness of who I am. Without knowing it, it was my first step on a decades-long path of learning, unlearning, and being able to truly own all the everything and nothing that it means to be gay.

Some debts can never be repaid. Robin provided me with safety when everything felt so terribly unsafe. She greeted me ~ Nipomo all of me ~ with more love than I was capable of giving to myself. How can I ever possibly repay that???

Twenty-five years is a long time. Those pictures reminded me that I am the exact same person I was then, only completely different. I am two people separated by time. Two people fortunate enough who have walked this path with incredible friends.

Robin, I was then as I am now ~ indeed, forever will be ~ crazy for you. (Come on, people! Even if your 25th reunion isn’t on the horizon, tell me you get this reference. It’s Madonna, for Christ’s sake.)

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  1. Damn, now I feel old too. Thanks!

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