I just finished watching the movie “Love, Simon” (it’s really good and should be watched by everyone). It is amazing to watch a movie about coming out as a gay teenager today and compare it to my own experiences in life. Times have changed so quickly; instantaneous sharing with the world via the internet was a thing when I was young, but it was in a fledgling state. We had Yahoo! Instant Messenger and AIM which provided us with seedy chat rooms where we could be ourselves behind a curtain of anonymity. Today, kids live their real world lives in between visits to their virtual profiles. It is remarkable how fast rumors, stories, and life events are read and spread by the masses today.
I have done the big come out no less than 5 times in my life. I know, you’re thinking, “wait a minute, I thought the big coming out was a one time deal?” For most people, that statement is true. For me, I have made my life more difficult and complicated than has been absolutely necessary so I have found myself in the closet multiple times since I first came out when I was 17 years old. My other coming out stories will be shared in future posts. Also, it is worth pointing out that non-heterosexuals are constantly coming out – every time they meet someone new, start a new job, move to a new city, interact with new people at work, etc. It’s a never ending ordeal that (hopefully) becomes easier throughout life, but most people only want to talk about the “big coming out”.
Let’s flashback to 2001…<cue mystical chimes and a wavy fade out>…
The terror attacks on the Twin Towers hadn’t happened yet, the world hadn’t been dropped on its head, and Americans were enjoying a relatively calm existence. MySpace, Facebook, and Gmail didn’t exist yet. A majority of people only had land lines for phones and texting required dexterity and the repeated slamming of your T-9 Nokia cell phone (something I didn’t have access to).
I found myself in Midland, Texas having moved away from New Mexico (and all the friends I’d ever known) the previous year. I had established myself in this small West Texas town as “the kid that wears all black, all the time.” Yup, I was the stereotypical goth kid when it came to my wardrobe. Black jeans, black boots, black t-shirts, silver chain from my black leather wallet to a belt loop above my front right pocket, silver chain around my neck, dark, spiked hair, and a permanent grimace on my face. However, I would break the goth exterior whenever someone talked to me – responding to polite “hello”s and “how are you”s with a smile and an appropriate response.
When my mother, step-father, grandfather, and I moved to West Texas, I had internally decided I was going to be the real me. I had known I was gay for years, but couldn’t bring myself to come out to my friends in New Mexico. I didn’t want their opinions of me to change. I didn’t want to be “the gay kid”. I didn’t want to deal with all of it. I just wanted to be me and be happy.
Side note for those of you reading this who are 25 years old and younger, being gay in 2001 is not like being gay in 2018. I am the first to admit that being gay in 2001 as nothing like being gay in 1990, 1980, 1970 or before – those generations definitely had it harder than any of us post-2000 babies have had it. However, I remember watching the Ellen coming out episode in 1997 and the utter destruction that followed for Ellen’s career. The AIDS and HIV epidemics were very much alive and well with a deep seeded stigma associated with these diseases being tied to being gay. It was a scary time (as I am sure many still feel today) and I was in the west end of the bible belt surrounded by politically and religiously conservative people.
Okay, now that the scene is set a bit better, I started living life shortly after we arrived in Midland near the end of summer 2000. I started school and, after a brief period of setting up a quiet reputation, I found the group of outcasts, freaks, geeks, and goths that would end up forming my inner circle of friends in town. Life was going well. In October 2000 my grandfather passed away. I didn’t know the man very well despite his living with us for a few years (he suffered from dementia and alzheimers so he wasn’t really there most of the time) so his death didn’t affect me all that much. The night he died was the first night I got to drive without an adult in the passenger seat which is likely the most memorable thing from that night.
Once my grandfather died, I found a job as a server at the Golden Corral restaurant in town. Between school, work, and the stops at the local bowling alley after work to play pool, I wasn’t home very often. My activities outside of school and work allowed me to explore who I wanted to be rather than the image I presented to those more conservative environments. I didn’t go wild, but I also wasn’t shy. Parties, clubs, meeting new people, dating, and so on led to a reputation in town amongst the gay scene which bled into the straight scene in short order.
At some point in the Fall of 2001, I found myself in a health class with a bunch of Sophomores (I was a Senior) trying to fulfill the minimum requirements to graduate in Texas. This is about the time I experienced first-hand what it was like to be publicly outed without my permission.
The dozen or so Sophomores in the class sat in two rows of desks immediately in front of the teacher’s desk. I sat in the desk next to the door on the opposite side of the classroom. This left 4 rows of empty desks between me and the gaggle of 14 and 15 year olds. I was happy with this arrangement. I didn’t know any of the Sophomores and I didn’t want to – they seemed to be okay not knowing me either.
One day, we all walked into class to find a substitute standing next to the teacher’s desk. My mind immediately went into “easy day” mode and I started writing my bad teenage goth poetry in an old composition notebook I carried around with me at all times. The sub read off the assignment for the day: Write a personal ad for your perfect boyfriend or girlfriend, include as much detail as possible. I wasn’t sure what the hell this assignment had to do with health class, but it was an easy assignment so I didn’t care.
From across the room, a young woman I had seen a couple of times outside of school called out to me with a question: “Lucas, are you going to write it for a boy or a girl, cuz, you know, you’re gay?”
My ears began ringing instantaneously. As I looked across the room, I saw the substitute standing with her mouth open, staring at me in disbelief and no idea how to handle the situation. All dozen or so Sophomores were staring at me, no one was laughing or pointing or looking at me in a disgusted manner, just staring in shock as I reacted. The young lady was looking at me with a purely inquisitive look on her face; To this day I am certain she had no idea the complete and utter inappropriateness of her question. I felt anger crawling out of me. I wanted to scream. I couldn’t believe this is how this was happening.
In the two seconds it took for me to lock eyes with the naive and oblivious young lady, I had repressed my anger and decided to run with the situation she had created. “I’m going to write it about a guy, because I’m gay.” I swear to all that is holy, there was a collective gasp in the room (including the substitute teacher). I just smirked since I couldn’t launch into the monologue I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs.
The substitute quietly said, “get to work” and sat down at the desk where she picked up a magazine and didn’t look at the class again. This is when the questions started.
“So, you’re gay?”
“When did you know?”
“Have you had sex…you know, sex?”
“What’s it like?”
“Aren’t you afraid you’re going to hell?”
“Do you try to convert straight guys?”
“Are you actually a girl?”
“How can you stand being a fag?”
After the third question being shouted across the room, I grabbed my belongings and moved to the nearest empty row by the Sophomores. I spent the next 45 minutes being interrogated, answering their questions (no matter how embarrassing or inappropriate they were), and not doing the assignment. Despite the obviously rude, bigoted, and nasty questions this small group of kids were asking, I chose to answer them all in an effort to start changing opinions.
Life lesson: people won’t change their opinion/way of thinking if all you do is get angry, stomp away, and stop listening.
By the end of the class, I was exhausted and couldn’t wait for the last two classes of the day to finish so I could get the hell out of there.
Unfortunately, we don’t always get what we want.
By the time my last class started, people were looking at me sideways in the hallway, snickering and pointed fingers followed me, and looks of disgust met me at every turn. This was not paranoia, this was what was happening – the word was out, “the kid in all black, all the time, was a fag”.
The final bell rang to officially end the school day. I grabbed by stuff and darted out of the classroom. I was halfway across the practice football field (which was also about halfway to my truck) when I heard more than one person running up behind me. “This is it, it starts now,” I thought to myself. I waited until the thudding steps were within a dozen feet of me, dropped my bag to the ground, and turned on my pursuers, ready to fight.
It was two of the guys I hung out with at “Smoker’s Alley” (where I parked my truck and illegally smoked cigarettes). They both came to a stuttered but fast stop. Both of them put their hands up in a calming “we’re not here to fight” motion.
“Hey man, we heard a rumor today…” one of them started.
“It’s true, you guys have a problem with it?” I cut him off, still ready for a fight.
“No, no, no, we wanted to let you know, if anyone gives you shit about it, let us know, we’ve got your back.”
I was blown away. Just because I was friends with the people the mainstream had rejected didn’t mean that those people were open to being around gay people. This encounter helped me regain a little hope in humanity.
That night, I wrote a letter to my mom explaining that I was gay, I didn’t want to talk about it, and I wanted her to hear it from me before she heard it around town. Her job required her to interact with over 200 women who sold beauty products which meant she would have heard it from one of those women if I didn’t tell her first.
The next morning, I made sure to grab my work clothes so I could go straight to the restaurant after school without making a pitstop at home. On my way out the door, I handed the letter to my mom and said I’d see her that night. I sprinted out the door – I felt like such a coward for not being able to have a conversation with her about being gay. I was 17, what do you want from me?
I made it through school, went to work, went to the bowling alley, and rolled up at home after midnight. My mother was awake and waiting for me. Shit.
“A letter, really?” she said, holding it up but smiling slightly.
“Yeah,” I replied, briefly making eye contact before finding a spot over her shoulder to lock in on.
“Are you being safe?” she asked.
“Okay, I love you and always will, now go to bed.” She went down the hall to her bedroom and closed the door.
A heavy sigh would have knocked me over. I was expecting so much more, not worse, just more. For clarification, I always knew my mother would be okay with me being gay (never a doubt in my mind), but I also thought she’d want to talk it out – nope, just a “be safe” and go to bed.
I would end up experiencing very little discrimination while in West Texas for being gay. I was a little surprised at first then realized that people already knew me for who I was, being gay was just another piece of information. I would repeat this pattern throughout my life with good results overall.
Are you gay? Having issues coming out or dealing with the stress of it all? Reach out to someone you know who will be supportive of you and talk it out. If you don’t have that person, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll be your sounding board.