Hey, I’m Jeff Perla. I’m from Syracuse, New York.
So, as every typical Italian-American knows, you go to your grandma’s house. Sundays, Wednesdays, whole family’s there – grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins. We have a kids table and an adult table, and one day, two of my older cousins went to the adult table and the kids were left and we were like, “Hmm. Okay.”
Somebody came over to us and said, “Guys, go into the basement,” for whatever reason. So all the kids, we went in the basement. And my cousin came out to the adult table and they just asked a whole bunch of questions. We were in the basement and we can kind of hear what was going on, but the same time we didn’t know what was going on. And I remember just thinking, “Oh my god, what if he knows I’m gay? What if he tells them this?” I just was freaking out in the basement thinking this is not what I want to happen for my own self.
My cousin had a conversation with us after the fact and was just like, “Here it is. I’m gay.” We all are very close so it was as if nothing happened but after watching that, I was like, this is definitely not how I am ever going to come out or do this.
Fast forward six years later, I’m in my senior year of college, beginning – my birthday’s in September. It was my twenty-first birthday. I was living with all my best friends from my whole life and I just was like, “We’re gonna do this tonight!” I was so excited to go out. I was the last one to turn twenty-one. So what did I do? Blacked out.
I had a grad class Saturday morning at 9:00 AM. Wake up in my bed Saturday morning 8:00 AM and I’m like, “Who’s that?” And it was this guy. Never saw him before, had no idea who he was. All of a sudden, I hear somebody coming up the stairs – I lived in the attic – and all of a sudden I see a flash. And I’m like, “Oh my god.” I’m low-key mortified.
I look over and it was my roommate and he just looked at me and was like, “What’re you doing?”
I was like, “I don’t know! I gotta go.” So he ran back down the stairs and I just remember sitting there thinking like, I’m praying that picture does not end up somewhere. I don’t know what I would even say. So I just looked at the kid next to me who was still sleeping and then I realize I was naked, he was naked, and I was like, “This is the end of me right now.” I was like, “I’m so done for.”
So then I just nudged him, I was like, “Hey, I gotta go to class. Do you want a ride?” Because I didn’t know who he was. Come to find out he was a freshman. I was a senior, so that was an awful look for myself.
I was with my friend Alyssa and this kid, driving to school. I’m so hungover. I was miserable. We dropped him off at the dorms. And I’m just sitting in the car like this is the lowest point in my life. So we parked the car, start walking to class. We’re already ten minutes late. We walk into class. I looked disheveled. I had slippers on. The only place to sit was right in the front row, like in the corner.
All of a sudden, I just hear her whisper and she goes, “So, do you have something you want to tell me?”
I just looked at her and I was like, “Nope.” Grad classes where 9 to 5. So I had to blow this off for eight hours. So I tried so hard. Next hour went by.
She just said, “You know I know and I went up stairs and I saw you with him, right?”
I was like, “What’d you see?”
And she just told me, she was like, “We’ve always known you were gay.” She’s like, “I don’t know why you’re making this a big deal. Your family would never care. We’ve all always known and, like, it’s your senior year at college. Like, don’t you just want to be happy?” The way she was asking me questions, it was like I couldn’t not answer her, so by lunchtime, I just was like spewing out words. There was no stopping me.
I just was like, “Do you think he likes me? It’s only been one day but should I text him?” Then it turned into this whole elaborate thing by 5:00 PM after class.
And then I remember sitting in the car with her and she was like, “So what’re you going to do now?”
We just started talking and I said, “Who should I come out to first?” And that was kind of the process where I never formally came out to a big group as a whole. I always tried to keep it personal and just come out to people individually because I felt like, especially my roommates, I knew each one of them for a very long time so I felt like I owed them more of a conversation.
To finally just, like, say those words, “I’m gay,” and feel accepted and appreciated and know that nothing’s going to change and everyone’s like, “Where are we going to dinner tonight?” – that was the best feeling ever.
Present-day, me and my family are all just as close. I have actually still never had a formal conversation saying, “Hey guys, I’m gay.” My parents just kind of assumed at this point. I would have a guy over. They just never brought up to me, I never brought up to them.
There’s so many different ways to come out and I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way to come out. The way my cousin came out – that was for him. I would never do that. The way I came out, I’m sure a lot of people would be mortified to ever do that and that’s fine but that’s how I came out. So I think coming out necessarily doesn’t need to be planned. I just think it needs to feel right. And I think once you feel right about it and you’re happy with your decision, I think that’s when you should come out and that person and time can’t be planned. I think it just happens naturally.
And when it does happen, you’re going to be like, “This makes so much sense.”