I’m From Muskegon, MI.

by Joshua Stephen Kartes

State Satellite overhead image from Google Earth 2022

It’s funny; but then again, pretty typical, I guess–I was “out” before I ever came out.

It started way back in high school, when I was still living in the not-exactly-entirely-open-minded suburban town of Norton Shores, Michigan. I never figured it out then; I only politely shied away from the persistent advances of a few female acquaintances (I was “too busy,” or “waiting for the perfect one”) and found myself, junior year, sharing pillows with my “straight but curious” (psshh) male friend (unbeknownst object of my lust). Most of my peers caught on; my friend and I never came to any conclusions.

It didn’t take much, then, for things to start happening that were beacons of my burgeoning sexuality once I settled myself down in the much more liberal town of Bloomington, Indiana (no, seriously; it really is the open-minded paradise–oasis, if you will–of the Great State of Indiana). I soon had most of my new friends constantly on my case: “Are you gay, yet?” “Don’t you think he’s hot?” “He’s interested in you.” Again, I was “too busy waiting for the perfect partner–a girl, I swear–and if I don’t find her, I could still be happy, single, for the rest of my life.”


Scene: a lovely sunny afternoon during the summer of my freshman year at Indiana University; I’m waiting in the grocery store checkout line with a few good friends who happen to be reading (read: staring and drooling at) the cover of a magazine that featured Brad Pitt on one of his particularly good days. Don’t laugh…we’ve all thought that Brad was attractive at some point or another. My friends were sharing the typical lustful banter associated with discussion of uber-hot celebrities. That’s when I slipped: they caught me staring and drooling along with them. One asked me if I was “interested” and I temporarily lost control of my censorship. Knowing that this small group of acquaintances had just been given the clue that broke the camel’s closet door, I replied.

I thought a lot that afternoon. Afternoon led to evening, evening to night, and I hadn’t left my dorm room. Not even for meals. I tried sleeping but knew it was hopeless. I had no idea what the consequences of my actions that afternoon would be. It was about three o’clock in the morning when I snapped. I called Chris (one member of the grocery store entourage) and, crying, left a message. “I…umm…think I like guys. I had to tell someone. I’m going crazy.” Twenty seconds after I hung up the phone, it rang on my end. I screened the call: “Josh…I knew. I’m coming over.”

After a good cry and breakfast at Denny’s (thank goodness for 24-hour restaurants), it was settled. I’d begin telling all my friends and colleagues in Bloomington, and Chris would confirm to the rest of the grocery store entourage that yes, indeed, I had come out. I figured that between the few of them, the entire Indiana University gay community would know in a matter of hours.

It was a couple years before the parents were enlightened. Well, sort of. I didn’t come out to them… Allow me to digress for just a moment. I love my parents. Love them, and the rest of my family. They’re all my heroes, each and every one. I was 20, at the end of my junior year of college, and my parents had just arrived to pick me up from my apartment. Still masquerading around my family at this point, I thought I’d taken all the necessary precautions during the preparation for “family-intrusion-into-secretly-gay-son’s-boudoir.”

I missed one photograph.

My mother sat me down on the couch, just as we were ready to leave. She’d had all the confirmation she needed. “Before we go, we want to ask you something.” Oh…oh my GOD. I already knew where this was going. “We’ve been–well, I’ve been wondering for a while now…” Heh.  Didn’t think dad would’ve garnered any clues. “You’re gay. Tell us.”

THEY outed ME! Not at all what I had been planning on. I was so incredibly thrown. I acknowledged the accuracy of their assumptions, and spent the rest of the awkward car ride to Michigan answering a myriad of questions and acknowledging the accuracy of a ton of other “observations.”

I have now been 100 percent out of the closet for seven years; I am incredibly fortunate to have the unwavering support of my parents, brothers (one of whom is also gay, having come out to an equal welcome a couple years after I did), relatives, friends, colleagues and mentors. It’s truly a liberating feeling. I continue to hear the horror stories that some of my friends go through; I silently thank my parents and friends each time.

The horror stories are what concern me–be they difficult comings-out, experiencing ignorance first-hand, whatever–and it’s the good fortune that I’ve had so far that inspire me to try and extend my acceptance and self-confidence to those who may need it.

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