I was lucky. I grew up 10 minutes north of San Francisco, and went to school at the ultra-liberal (and pretty awesome) UC Santa Cruz. While I went through the internal struggles of dealing with my sexuality as most do, my coming out process was relatively painless.
I was active in college and became a Resident Advisor. We took our position as peer educators seriously. When my friend and fellow RA asked me to be on the panel for an educational event called “Guess the Straight Person”, I was more than happy to join. I had no idea what it would mean to me.
The setup was fairly straightforward — five of us with various sexualities were on the panel. The participants would get to ask a few questions that didn’t specifically reveal our sexuality (ie — What was your favorite toy as a kid?). After a few questions they would vote on who they thought was gay. The person with the most votes would leave the panel, and the process would repeat until one person remained — the one they thought was straight. Hopefully they would be wrong. (By the way, my favorite toy as a kid was Lego.)
During the event, I realized how much I wanted to win. This surprised me, mostly because there was no “winning” in this event. I just considered being thought of as straight as a win.
To my delight, I was the last one left. The group was shocked when they found out I am as queer as a three dollar bill. To me, it meant people didn’t see me for my sexuality. It meant I could go on a job interview and not worry that my sexuality might prevent me from getting the job.
It meant I could hide a part of who I am.
When I realized how happy I was that I could hide a part of myself, it scared me. How can I be so happy at lying about myself?
I decided at that point that I refuse to hide. I will be a visible, out and proud gay man. I may not be waving rainbow flags, but I won’t hesitate to talk about my boyfriend (or lack of one). I won’t be embarrassed by my Chippendale’s calendar at work.
We can only make progress when people know who we are, when they have a personal connection to a gay person. When it’s time for everyone I know to go back into the voting booth to repeal Prop 8 (or whatever law it is in their state), I want them to think of me before they vote. I want them to know that their actions affect someone they know.
I’m glad I’m not defined by my sexuality, but I refuse to be embarrassed or ashamed of it.