Speaking with many friends about their coming out stories, a repeated theme is “I always kind of new something was different about myself.” I’m here to say, that is not always the case!
Sometimes I attribute my lack of self-awareness to my Catholic education – many people imagine that a religious upbringing is synonymous with a vitriolic repudiation of the “gay lifestyle” but for me “gay” remained mostly unmentioned in my social and educational circles. It just wasn’t an area of discussion I was really aware of. But beyond that, I was just much more concerned with Star Trek and X-Files, Sierra and Squaresoft games, and any nerdy endeavor I could get my hands on. I wasn’t interested in women, but even as deeper feelings for men emerged I remained blissfully unaware of their significance. The Catholic moratorium on discussion, combined with the societal status quo of defaulting everyone’s sexual orientation to straight, meant that the possibility that I was gay didn’t even occur to me until college. (Although, plenty of my high school friendships provided significant angst that in hindsight was clearly a symptom of this repression.)
Even in college, even as an ally member of our campus LGBT group, I was oblivious to my own sexual orientation. But then, ever so slowly, the realization began to dawn on me. I have a distinct memory of a gay guest to one of my freshman classes discussing the feeling he had when he brushed shoulders with his boyfriend. This type of interaction, especially as I befriended more and more openly gay and lesbian classmates, helped me to eventually understand those feelings within myself.
Once I came out to myself, my coming out to others did not occur as a flood, but as a trickle. As I began the slow process in the summer of 2000, I adopted a unique self-defense mechanism… I came out to people who were struggling with their own issues, like depression. I also tended to pair my coming out with some other admission, to lessen the blow. But the one constant during these conversations was a phrase I repeated over and over: “being gay is just one small part of me.” It was a phrase I used to minimize my sexual orientation and to ensure people that “hey – I’m still the same person you always knew and loved. I’m not going to change.”
I got lucky, and didn’t lose any friends or family during this process. Other people I know weren’t so lucky. That’s not to say I didn’t have some rocky moments. There were times that I handled coming out very poorly. I grew apart from my oldest friend partly because of how poorly I handled telling him. Because coming out to my parents coincided with some poor career decisions I had made, as well as the beginning of my journey away from Catholicism, it took a while for them to re-set their expectations and realize new hopes and dreams for me. But in the grand scheme of things I got off easy.
I don’t look at coming out as a single moment in time. Coming out for me is a journey, and it is one I still make every day, when I meet new people. It is something that I have truly embraced. A portion of that is the changing world in which we live. After coming out to my father in 2004 he sent me an e-mail letting me know that he loved me but urging discretion. 2004 seems recent but it was a different world. For example, at the time 60% of Americans disapproved of gay marriage. I’m so glad that that has changed, in large part because of people who were brave enough to be open. So if I could talk to myself from before I came out I would tell young Kyle that yes, sexuality is only one part of my multi-faceted personality, but it is an integral part. It is a part I wouldn’t lose if I could, because it influences so much of what makes me special… it feeds my passion, inspires my creativity, informs my empathy and defines the way I love.
I am happy to serve on the Board of Directors of Coming Out, and hope that this site provides comfort and an inspirational resource for people struggling with their journey. I hope we further the understanding of what it means to come out, and represent the many, many different backgrounds and experiences of this diverse community. And finally, as LGBT rights continue to gain mainstream traction, I hope this site shines a light on the fact there are still many people struggling with writing their own sexual orientation and gender identity life stories, and there is a lot of work to do. Perhaps one day “heteronormative” won’t be the default, and “coming out” will be a thing of the past. If and when that day comes, I hope this site will serve as an important historical archive of an important period of time in shaping a world defined by inclusiveness and understanding.