I am a gay teen living in a town of eight thousand people, almost all of which are white, catholic, and conservative. The first time I began to realize that there was something different about me, that I could actually put my finger on, was when I was hanging out with my older sister and a few of her friends. I was maybe ten or eleven. They asked me, as a joke, who I thought was hotter, Jacob or Edward from Twilight. Immediately I responded Jacob, because I found him very attractive. They seemed shocked, and incredulously asked me “Wait, you think a guy is hot?!” I was confused, I had always been able to appreciate attractiveness in my same gender, and never until that moment has I thought there was anything wrong with that.
From there things just spiraled. I went into sixth grade, confident in my heterosexuality. Throughout the year, things started to change a bit for me. My gaze began to wander away from women that the other males in my grade found attractive, and started to linger on the males themselves, this fact scared me, a lot. I thought it was a disease or something, I believed it was wrong, and gross, and I hated myself for it, spending countless hours wondering why I couldn’t just be normal. Eventually, when I realized what it was, and with my minimal research, discovered that it seemed to be against everything in the christian faith, a belief system that I was raised in and my entire family pledges to wholeheartedly, I began trying to pray.
I spent every night of the next two years, the better part of my middle school career lying awake at night, crying, begging for God to change me, make me normal, or at least give me a sign that I wasn’t an abomination as I had read from people who claimed to be well-read in scripture. My self esteem dropped, my social life was non existent, and I learned to put on the face. The face of someone who is doing okay, but inside is dying, and screaming for help.
As early as sixth grade I learned that I couldn’t rely on others, because if I told anyone, I would be cast out and shunned for it. Once I moved into eighth grade, I lost my faith in the God I had always bought into without question, but I still wasn’t okay with who I had finally forced myself into accepting. While I accepted my reality, I still sought to fight it. At this point in my story, I had decided that while I may be an atrocity, no one would ever know. At the ripe age of thirteen, I decided that I would rather live a miserable life, doing things that wouldn’t make me happy, such as finding a wife eventually, and making a “good christian family” than admit to anyone who I really was. I had decided to put my walls up permanently, and block myself off from anyone.
Let’s just take a moment to understand the gravity of that decision at that time. At an age where you’re still supposed to be a kid, starting to transition into the teenage years, when you’re still supposed to be carefree and fun loving, I had condemned myself to a life full of misery and fear.
Well, things changed a bit once I entered high school. I experienced more freedom, more people outside of my family’s beliefs, and got more and more comfortable with myself. I then met a person who would change my life. It was a girl, and she was the first person I had ever heard talk openly about a gay person, without mentioning it as being weird. She was talking about the year earlier, when she was a freshman, and she went to prom with a senior, who was her friend, and also happened to be gay. This blew my mind, she was a straight person, who was totally fine with a gay person. I gradually got closer and closer with her, until eventually, I don’t know why, but I decided I was going to tell her my most well guarded secret.
I Snapped her late at night, fingers trembling, heart beating faster than I had ever experience before, half hoping she wouldn’t open it. She did, and the response I got to my biggest secret was “That’s so great! I’m so proud of you for telling me, and I won’t ever tell anyone.” I was on top of the world. The thing that had kept me so isolated, so alone, all of my life, was finally a burden I didn’t have to bear alone, I wasn’t on my own anymore, I was finally accepted by someone who knew everything about me.
This led me to eventually completely abandon my beliefs about how awful I was, and let my walls down slowly over time. Over the next year, I came out to all of my close friends, and they all accepted me with open arms, and I couldn’t have been happier, I was never so free in all of my life. Then, something happened that knocked me down big time. I came out to my family. Was I ready for that? No. But the topic of gays came up with my sister, and she picked up on something, and out of the blue she just goes “You are too, aren’t you?”
I swear, my heart stopped, I felt my face flush, I tried to deny it, but I was caught, and she knew. She was fairly okay with it, but also told me that I had to tell my mom, because she couldn’t bear to know it if she didn’t. So I told my mom, and the response she had, was to burst into tears, and not talk to me for a few days. The first thing she said to me again was that I had to tell my dad, or she would.
My dad, where to start, he’s a very macho, firefighter, who was raised about as christian as it gets, and we’ve never been close. But I have to do it, but I can’t do it in person, I couldn’t bear to see the look of disappointment and shock I know I will see on his face when he hears, so I wrote him a letter, and left it for him to read one day while I was at school.
When I got home, he wasn’t there, and I locked myself in my room, fearfully awaiting his return. When he got home, the only thing he told me, was that I wasn’t allowed to tell anyone about it, because if I did, when I decided I wasn’t anymore, it would just be embarrassing.
I was hurt, I had gone from accepting myself, and starting to even love myself, back down the road of loneliness and despair that I had walked off and on all of my life. As time went on though, somewhere along the road, I split myself, I had the personality that my parents knew, and that Tanner, and the Tanner that I actually was. An ever growing rift was formed between us, that has been growing ever since. While everyone else around me worships their parents, respects them, and wants nothing more than their approval, I just keep myself hidden, lying to them, disobeying their every command, and doing it all without the slightest hint of remorse or guilt, with a smile on my face.
Their inability to accept me led to a choice for me, become who I wanted to be, or force myself back into hiding, and it has caused damage to our relationships that I’m not sure will ever be fixed. I am now out completely, which actually wasn’t a huge deal, as by the time I came out publicly, everyone who I cared about already knew. But my parents, while claiming they accept and support me, still keep it a secret from the rest of our family at all costs. At dinners with my grandparents they will joke with them about me dating girls, and speak with more pride in their voices as they spill outright lies, than they ever will when actually talking about who I am.
For me, coming out to my friends was a huge relief, a burden taken off of my shoulders, but as for my family, the burden just got heavier, as their shame added onto my own. Coming out is a wonderful thing, but it isn’t easy. While things are better nowadays, they aren’t perfect, and coming out can cause great relief, but it may also hurt you and knock you down. I don’t regret coming out, but I do regret the irreparable fractures and breaks it has caused in my relationship with the two people who I’m supposed to care about most in this world.