“I gotta be honest with you. I feel like you’re making a bad life decision right now.”
“I feel like I failed you as a parent.”
“I’m sorry I ever called anyone a fag.”
It was an emotional experience the night I came out to my family, but those painful few hours were nothing compared to the decade of denial and exhausting deceit I had endured up until then.
I’m not sure if growing up in small-town Ohio as a gay male is harder or easier than it sounds, but I guess that’s a matter of perspective. If you’re from a small town in America, you already know. If you’re not, it’s exactly what you think. Every day was a battle against my self-hate and insecurity, a relentless quest for acceptance.
It was hard. I hated it. And if you’re going through that, I know how it feels. It hurts.
Writing this now is probably the first time I’ve ever admitted this, but I frequently thought about what it would mean to end my own life in those days. How might I do it? Would it hurt? Was that selfish? I don’t think about that time in my life much anymore. It seems like a lifetime ago. It really is strange to me now, as I sit in a café in Toronto thinking about the life I lead – a life I thought might never come. I couldn’t fathom it then, but life did get better.
Things started to change when I moved away to college. It took a couple years of self-exploration, sexual experimentation, and even a few visits to my school’s therapists before I couldn’t stand it anymore. I was ready to change. To start, I strategically picked a girl I was close to who I thought probably wouldn’t care.
“I think I’m gay,” I whispered to her with my head in a pillow in my dorm room. She hugged me. She still loved me.
And so did every other friend I told over the course of the next year, though I admittedly avoided telling some people, like my fraternity brothers, for as long as possible. In the end, even they didn’t care though. Most of them said they already knew. I wasn’t making front-page news.
Eventually the time came to tell my family and I feared the worst. My father is a man’s man. My mother is a devout Christian. My younger brother is the quintessential Mid-Western boy. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t one of the most emotionally painful experiences of my life. It was hard for my family to hear what I had to say. Hard to hear me tell them something that contradicted everything they thought they knew about my life and their own. I cried myself to sleep that night. In the morning though, my father hugged me and said he loved me, but that it would take time for everyone to settle down. They deserved that time and I needed it too. But as tends to happen when enough time is allowed to seep through the cracks of broken hearts, we healed and our relationships are all stronger today than I ever thought they could be.
It’s hard. It hurts. I know. Growing up in a small Ohio town pushed me to the limit – just close enough for me to look over the edge and into the abyss. But coming out in a small Ohio town also set me free – free to be my true, unlimited self and I’ve never looked back. As is the case with most of the many LGBTQ people I know, coming out allowed me to close a dark chapter in my life and begin a bright future, full of confidence, happiness, and the excitement of knowing that I was finally becoming the person I have always wanted to be.