The coming out was quick. When it happened, there were a few breathless moments that seemed painfully extended, but once the words were said, it was pretty much over. Both my friends and family respectfully and graciously acknowledged it, asked a few questions, and then I was free.
It was the staying in that felt like it lasted forever.
The realization that I was gay came gradually; I didn’t just wake up one day and suddenly have homosexual urges. From perhaps the age of nine or ten, I would see handsome men in films or on the television and feel a little mesmerized, or I would coyly gaze at a cute boy for a little longer than I expected I would. These longing looks were quickly averted before they could be noticed. With time, the frequency and length of these stares would increase, and the intensity of the feelings in my chest would manifest itself in the clenching of my teeth.
I learned to mask these feelings. My parents and older siblings would tease me about my friends who were girls, asking if I were interested in any of them, and I would casually drop names of a few classmates who had pleasant features that I found reasonably, but not heart-thumpingly, attractive. My family’s hopes for my future; my brothers’ machismo; my mother’s religious beliefs—all of these were what i perceived as rational, if unfortunate, reasons for me to stay in the closet.
I came to realize that my family’s hopes were my own. They wished for me to grow up to marry a nice girl, and I desperately hoped and prayed for the same thing. it wasn’t so much that I grew up thinking being gay was wrong, but rather that being straight was right. It’s not that the fairy tales and Disney cartoons I worshipped show gays being violently punished for their misbehavior, but rather that straight people, the princes and their glowing maidens, are rewarded with happy endings in glorious palaces and castles. I felt powerless to rewrite those stories for myself.
So, to achieve my fairytale ending, it became necessary to lie. Saying it that way makes it sound like I was on a mission, and in a way, I was. Dating a girl was a goal for me, something to add to my list of to-dos on my road to a life acceptable by my standards and those of the people whom I cared for the most. I regrettably deceived girls into thinking I was interested in them, not out of malice, but because I wanted so badly to actually be interested in them. Eventually, the person I lied to the most was myself. I consciously and foolishly told myself that these excruciating desires to be with men would cleanly resolve themselves once I found a girl that I could feel truly passionate about; that nothing else would matter once I found my own princess who would gladly inhabit a palace or a castle with me. Thankfully, my attempts to build relationships with girls all failed—although back then, I was thoroughly ashamed and disappointed in myself for failing as a man, at least from my limited perspective. To this day, I still feel terrible about the girls to whom I swore such deep commitment, and yet failed to even feign interest in; about the indisputable fact that I lied to them so intimately and for so long.
It’s almost funny how relatively quickly I transitioned from thinking that I would have to hide my sexuality for the rest of my life to looking forward to living with it happily and publicly. Within the span of sophomore and junior years of college, I decided that I wanted to come out, actually followed through with it, and went on my first date with a guy. Surely, there were lots of cultural factors: the rise of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, the release of Brokeback Mountain, the proud announcement of Lance Bass. The film Milk was particularly instrumental; it’s probably the reason why I’m writing this in the first place. Admittedly, alcohol also made it a lot easier for me to finally verbalize that I was gay.
Perhaps the most rewarding part of coming out—and I can’t really say if it was a cause, or the result—wasn’t that I could finally love men openly, but that I realized I could finally, truly love myself for the person that I really was. When I think of the shame and the guilt or the fear and the sadness, I also reflect on how much happier and more confident and hopeful I feel than I ever did before. For me, peering deep into the closet has been just as valuable as the moment when I finally stepped out of it.
And I guess that’s where the fairy tale begins.