I was born in the birthplace of the Family Research Council and the “What Would Jesus Do” bracelets. While Holland, Michigan is a pretty city on the shores of Lake Michigan, it also has a strong evangelical Christian community. Everyone still somehow seems to know everyone else’s business, and most of us attended church three times a week. Needless to say, it’s still not easy being out in Holland, Michigan.
After graduating high school, I went to college in inner-city Detroit, joined a fraternity and first started to realize that something was different in my junior year. Fear and a little self-hatred helped bury these feelings for the next decade as the sole focus of my life was my career, which took me to Minneapolis, Israel and other points abroad. Those 60 to 70 hour work weeks did wonders for keeping those feelings keep under wraps as well as distant from too many people.
It wasn’t until I was 30 and in London on business when I had my first experience. I was 5,000 miles from anyone I knew — so there was little fear, and he was a handsome New Zealander. I started to become alive and human again.
In the year that followed, I came out to my friends, former coworkers and got active in the community as a volunteer. Three years later, I came out to the last people whom I had feared the most: my parents. It went initially well, but went south in the months that followed.
After five years, they are still struggling with their own coming-out process — as parents of a gay son. I sometimes wonder if the nine-hour drive back to Holland, Michigan, has hindered our relationship, but I know that they still love me even if they still struggle with who I am.
Today, I have the greatest job in the world. I’m the executive director of a small nonprofit that works with LGBT youth, their friends and their families. It’s still not easy to come out even if you have supportive friends and family, but my own experience has given me the empathy to help those in need — especially those from very religious backgrounds like my own.
Whether you’re 11, 33 or 99 years old, come out when you’re ready, not when you’re told to or expected to by others. This is your own life, and the “coming out” process should never be forced, but know that the longer you wait the greater the impact on those around you. And when you do, I know that you will come alive like I did.