Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Coming Out Month: My Coming Out Story (Reprise)

This post first appeared here on September 17, 2009.  In keeping with the Coming Out Month theme this October, on "This Gay Relationship," I thought I'd return to it, (as it turns out) edit the hell out of it, and present it once again. 

If you have yet to come out, I hope my story inspires you and gives you strength.  If you have come out of the closet, and want to share your story to help my readers on their own journeys, please email me by clicking on Send Mail at the top right hand side. 

I was invited to attend a New Year's Eve dance to be held on December 31, 1985.  The person who invited me was a customer of the branch where I worked at the time--a tall, huge man, with a face like Shrek and an ironic name.  Tiny.  Yet, despite his intimidating (even frightening) size and appearance, Tiny was sweet, gentle, and endearing.  Over time, I came to trust him.  Without question, he sensed how tough the struggle to accept myself as a gay man had been.          

For many weeks, Tiny kept working on me, extending the same invitation over and over.  And, consistently, I refused.  One of my colleagues, Sue, whom I'd told I was gay, was on Tiny's side. I'd confided in her how difficult being gay was.  So, every time Tiny came in the branch and tried to cajole me into attending, Sue supported him.  "You should go," she'd say.  "What do you have to lose?"  Thankfully, they both persisted.  Who knows where I'd be today if they hadn't?

The night of the dance, I was scared shitless.  The idea of two men dancing together, something I'd never seen before, made me uneasy.  I was convinced I'd see a freak show when I walked into the room.  Creepy, older, gay men, some of whom had come on to me over the years, would be there and approach me.  Open sex would be going on everywhere, and I'd be attacked and sexually assaulted.  Obviously, I didn't have a high opinion of gay people in general and gay men in particular.

I'm pleased to report nothing my wild imagination invented beforehand actually happened.  I arrived at the makeshift dancehall before everyone else, except for the bartender, Ross.  My interest was piqued the minute I walked in and saw him.  Ross couldn't have been more different from what I expected to see.  Not only was he young, but also he was cuter than hell.  I hoped I'd have the chance to meet him during the evening and get to know him better (alas, Ross was already partnered).  

Over the next hours, several customers I knew from the bank showed up, confirming, in some cases, suspicions I'd had they were gay, too, and, in others, shocking the hell out of and embarrassing me. I'm not sure who was more uncomfortable--them, when they saw the teller from the bank who processed their transactions, or me, because I'd have to serve them again in the future, and pretend like we'd had no contact with each other at a local New Year's Eve gay dance.  

The music was exactly the kind I loved and couldn't sit still to.  Many of the tunes I owned copies of in my own record collection, and many others instantly appealed to me because of their persistent beat and catchy melodies.  I was scared to death someone would ask me to dance, but, the way I was bopping around, I guess it was only a matter of time before someone would.  One thing was for sure:  watching two men dance together became not only natural but fun, and I began to breath a little easier.

I met the most amazing young man that night, who told me he was from Vancouver, which sounded exotic.  I have no recollection of his name, but he sure was attractive and into me.  We spent a good portion of the evening together, dancing almost non-stop.  Occasionally, we took a breather, returning to our seats and yelling at each other over the blaring music.  I'm sure the opportunity was there for me to take him home at the end of the night, but, gratefully, the subject never came up.    

The following day, I was invited to a family New Year's dinner at my aunt and uncle's, and, when I told my mother I'd gone out to celebrate the turn of the year at a dance, rather than stay home as usual and watch Dick Clark's "New Years Rockin' Eve," she was surprised.  But I couldn't give her any details about where I'd gone or what had happened, not while everyone was able to overhear our conversation.  So I told her if she was interested to give me a call after we both returned home.  

I was on a natural high following my experience at the dance.  For the first time ever, I didn't feel as negative about being gay.  The people I'd seen or met were not the freaks I'd thought they would be.  In fact, they were regular, everyday folks just like me, and, thrilled with how the evening had gone, I left the dance in the early hours, thinking it might just be all right to be gay after all.  Perhaps my future wouldn't be as bleak as I'd always expected it would be.    

Feeling emboldened, I moved headlong into telling my mother, the most important person in my life, the one whose love I valued and needed the most, that her son was gay.  As much as possible, I tried to steer her to that realization.  I did everything I could to get her to say the word so I didn't have to, including telling her I'd gone to a place where gay people were.  I prayed she'd say something like, "So, you're gay then?" Instead, she said, "Why did you go there?" She wasn't making this easy for me.      

I hemmed and hawed for a long time, trying to draw from her what I couldn't say myself.  But she didn't budge.  It's like the thought was completely beyond her.  Finally, I blurted it out. "Mom, I'm gay."  The word I loathed caught in my throat.  It sounded so leaden, so consequential, so final.  Once uttered, it's impossible to take back.  The tone of my voice was impatient, as if to ask, how could you not get this?  I gave you all the hints I could.  Why did you make me say the word?

"Oh, Ricky," my mother whispered, finally.  She began to cry.  As a kid, watching my mother cry was one of the most difficult things for me.  I'd seen it happen many times when I was growing up.  My mother spent most of my early childhood alone with me and my sister, waiting for her husband to return from work, from being out with friends, from drinking at the Legion.  I swore I'd never hurt her, or make her cry, the way my father had.  But, here I was, doing exactly what I said I wouldn't.

"Didn't you know?" I asked her then, all the positive feelings from the night before draining from my body, desperate for her to say she'd had her suspicions over the years.  It's not that I'd never given her or my father any clues--as a boy, I'd played with dolls, gravitated to my mother in the kitchen rather than my father in the living room, never dated a single girl, couldn't play sports, wore the latest fashions and hair styles, had effeminate mannerisms, and spoke in an affected way. How could she not know?

"No," my mother answered, "I didn't know.  I had no idea."  Even more upset now, she cautioned me between sobs not to say anything to my father; she didn't know how he'd react to the news that his only son was gay.  As it turned out, I didn't have to say anything to him.  Over the next several days, my mother was so upset that my father asked her repeatedly what was wrong.  Finally, she told him.  When I asked her what he'd said, she told me his response was, "At least he's not in trouble with the law."

It's no overstatement to say that, at the time, I thought the world as I'd known it was over.  When I got off the phone from talking with my mother, I was as upset as I'd ever been.  I was certain my relationship with her would never be the same.  In tears myself, I turned to the only person I could:  Tiny.  He'd given me his phone number prior to the dance, just in case I needed to talk to someone.  Gratefully, he was available to support me while I went through the most difficult time of my life.      

In the end, my family didn't turn their backs on, reject, or disown me--by this time, my mother had told my aunt (her sister) and my grandmother (her mother)--although some time passed before I felt welcome to return home for our usual Sunday dinner.  In retrospect, I'm stunned at how quickly, relatively speaking, my parents assimilated the news about my sexual orientation. I'd struggled with it for years; in a matter of weeks, circumstances between us felt like they might get back to normal.

But I don't want to paint a completely rosy picture.  For some time after my parents knew, I felt ashamed around them.  I couldn't help but think I was a disappointment.  At the time, there was no hope of me being a father, so I thought they were concerned the family name would end with me.  Plus, while my mother and I became increasingly comfortable talking about my homosexuality--even going into detail about my first lover, Adrian--my father and I didn't bring it up until over twenty years later.  

For some time after I came out, I treaded carefully around my parents.  I always wondered what they thought of me now that they knew, if they saw me the same way.  I also worried I might antagonize them in some way, and they'd use my being gay against me, making me feel worse than I already did.  But that never happened.  If anything, I think we were more careful around each other.  I believe they knew how difficult coming out had been for me and, in their own ways, wanted to show support.  
Over the following months and years, I learned the coming out process never ends.  Some time after my parents knew, I had to consider how to tell my sister, who was half way around the world in Saudi Arabia, on a two-year work program at the hospital there.  While I could have told her over the phone, I decided to write a letter instead, partly because telephone conversations were difficult with signal delays, and partly because I thought she would not have as much difficulty with the news.

Oddly, her reaction was not at all what I expected.  When I didn't receive a return letter within a reasonable period, I suspected something was up.  So, early one morning before work, I called her on the phone and was greeted by anger.  My sister wasn't angry that I was gay, or that I'd written to tell her that.  Rather, she was angry my revelation had upset our mother.  My sister didn't want our mother to be hurt anymore than I did.  In time, though, she came to accept me as everyone did.     


  1. I believe that someday I can also remember the day I came out. I know I will. Because I get these feelings that I am tired of hiding, my world may collapse,
    I might have to make huge changes in my life, but I can't take it anymore. These feelings come and go. But every time I get this feeling, it feels stronger than the time before. I know I will hurt a lot of people (and they will hurt me too), and loosing some dreams I have, everyone and everything I hold dare, might also be the case, but life is too short. I know what I don't want: to hurt a woman who loves me, not to know love, my family to loose me because I can't take being gay anymore and...., the friends I might have and the person I might be. Come what may!

  2. Yes, elevencats, of this I am concern. You will come out, and you will have memories of your coming out experience. That, my good young man, is a certainty. And I look forward to the day when you tell me all about it, as I hope you will.

    In what you wrote, you spoke for me in terms of the increasingly intense feelings you have about still being closeted and wanting to set yourself free. I remember those emotions well, and how they became utterly unbearable. When I finally came out, I had to, or I would have exploded.

    The way you write, you appear to think most things in your life will have to change when you come out. That may not necessarily be the case. I think most of us feel that way because we anticipate the worst, but the worst doesn't always happen. So be hopeful and expect the best instead.

    Your final line is so beautiful and perfectly encapsulates how we all feel on the cusp of coming out, considering what's at stake. I'm thinking about using a version of it in an upcoming post during this month. I know all of us, out and not out, relate to your words.

    Thanks so much for your comment. Hang in there. Your time will come, perhaps sooner than you think.

    (P.S.: Just a thought. In a post I plan to publish next week, I talk about coming out to someone you trust and who you are pretty sure will receive your news warmly and offer you support afterward--this, before coming out to your family and loved ones. Do you have anyone like that, anyone you can confide in, anyone who can be there for you and help relieve some of the pressure you feel inside? Just curious. I came out to several trusted friends and even a colleague or two before I came out to my family, which made telling my mother easier in some ways.)

  3. Lately I have tried something new. I've tried to be talkative and friendly to other people. In the past I have always thought that I am not good or interesting enough to speak to. Now I like being around other people, being in a conversation. It's so much fun to talk and to be open. I have tried to put myself more in situations what are new to me, and it makes me feel alive.

    When I feel emotionally tired, I like to turn off the lights, put on “The Edge of Glory” (my favorite song at the moment) and dance in the dark. Last night I danced for twenty minutes and fell down and started crying. “I don't want to be alone anymore. I don't want this life to be only about me anymore, “ I remember saying to myself.

    I think that I would be most comfortable telling my family first. I'd like to tell my mom first, because I know she will be hurt, but I also know we understand each other the best. I have about two (truly) close friends at the moment, but I just don't find it right to tell them before I tell my mom. Because she is the only person in the world who I trust completely. I'd like to speak to hear face to face. Pour myself out to her. Listen to her. Hold her. Explain my emotions I have. Speak about what I want for my future.
    It feels too hard not to take the phone and ring her. To tell her the truth. How I am tired all the time... Because I feel so lonely with my feelings. I'd like to tell her that I'll be always there for her, for my family, and I hope that they can support me with their unchanged love.
    PS! I'm trying to be more friendly to the guy of my dreams. Show my interest. Even if we will not grow old together, we can still be friends. I'd like that. Another gay friend.

    It's friday night and I've got to learn for my exam. One lovely aspect about being a master's student: there is no day I can rest. Honestly, I don't even want to rest, I love what I learn. There's so much things I'd like to do, if only there would be enough time.

  4. I'm so pleased to hear you're taking more chances interacting with other people. I'm sure you'll discover soon enough you are interesting and people like to be around you. Keep working on developing your confidence. You know it will only help you in the future.

    I love Gaga's "Edge of Glory," and I've been known to bust a move by myself, too, but I'm distressed to hear how upset you got. Be patient. You're well on the road to coming out. At each stage of your life, enjoy where you're at. Take full advantage of it. And, when things change, let go of the past and live fully in the present. Your time will come.

    Only you know in your heart the best course to follow in terms of who you come out to first. If that's your mother, so be it. In posts I plan to publish next week, I provide a comprehensive list of things you should and shouldn't do when you come out. I hope you find that helpful in your planning. A future post will also provide a list of questions you could be asked, which you might want to prepare answers for.

    Here's just a thought: If you're anything toward your mother, as you are to me in your comments, I don't see how she couldn't continue to love you after you tell her about yourself. In your words, all I see is your generosity of spirit, your kindness, and your compassion for other people. You are a wonderful human being, and what you need to focus on is being gay and coming out to your family won't change that. You will still be the same person.

    I'm confused. Do you actually have a guy of your dreams? Is this an actual person--perhaps someone you attend school with--or is he only a fantasy at this point? Sounds like he's real. Do you talk to him? Do you hang out at all? Just curious.

    Thanks for taking the time to read my posts and write comments, despite being so busy in school. I appreciate you sharing so openly with me.

  5. Yes, he's a real person (the same person who I've talked about before). We have some lectures together. I've always had a hard time talking to him, because for some reason I can't say a single intelligent word around him. At first I found him a bit repulsive, because he's "so gay" (that's me being not that comfortable with myself back then). Now I see him as an inspiration (a young and courageous person who is out to everyone). He's friendly, he's nice, he's smart. Ok, he's out of my league, but that doesn't mean I can't be friends with him.

  6. Tsk. Tsk. This is me giving you hell for thinking you are out of your dream man's league. Smarten up. If that doesn't say low self-esteem, I don't know what does.

    The great thing is, you know from the way he conducts himself that he's gay and probably out. I can't think of a better reason to connect with him by saying hello and simply talking about the classes you share.

    At this point, you need support. Making the acquaintance of another young gay man might be just the kind of support and encouragement you need to be more yourself. Listen, nerves only last so long. Once you open your mouth and take that initial risk, the rest is easy. If he rejects you, then he wasn't who you thought he was, and he isn't worth knowing. But, if you become friends, so much the better.

    Unless I miss my mark, I believe one of the reasons why you're hesitant about approaching him is not because he intimidates you, but because you're taking that first tentative step out of the closet, and you don't know where it will lead.

    In a past comment, you said you think if you found yourself lightly playing around with a young man (sexually, of course), you wouldn't be able to stop it if it went further than you want it to. Nonsense. You don't give yourself enough credit. I believe you have a strong enough resolve and moral make-up that, if you didn't want to go beyond a little harmless touching, etc., you could put an end to it. Have more confidence in yourself, young man.

    Don't cut yourself off from all contact because you don't know where it might lead, and you don't think you'd be able to control where it goes. That's not a good reason at all. You're a smart young man with a head on your shoulders and respect for yourself. You can take control of a situation, even though what you do might feel good and you might want more to happen.

    Does your dream guy show any interest in you? Do you think he knows you're gay? Have you spoken at all? Do you think you might have anything in common? Does he physically appeal to you, or are you interested in him only because the two of you are gay and you could use a friend?

    I can't think of a better reason to connect. And, hey, he might need a friend who is gay, too. Maybe your friendship would be beneficial to him as his would be to you. Don't discount the possibility. And be more confident in yourself. No one ever got to where he wants to go by thinking little of himself and not having the courage to try.

    Thanks for your comment. I hope what I say here helps in some small way.

  7. Does your dream guy show any interest in you?
    Don't know. Maybe. I for one try really hard not to look at him during class.

    Do you think he knows you're gay?
    I think so. Because I've been myself around his company. And my feminine mannerism...

    Have you spoken at all?
    Yes, we have been studying together for years. So a little yes. But only recently have I become a bit more talkative. I mostly talk to people who start the conversation.
    He's quite easy to talk to when I start the conversation. And he is friendly towards me.

    Do you think you might have anything in common?
    Our filed of study. He's good with kids... (a family man). He's a bit shy. That's as much as I know about him...

    Does he physically appeal to you, or are you interested in him only because the two of you are gay and you could use a friend?
    He is drop dead cute. The way he talks, the way he looks, just the way he is.
    It might be the case that he isn't interested in me as I am in him (even though at the moment I am more interested of becoming his close friend). My current mission is to find out more about him, because he interests me.
    I am so tired of being alone! I need someone to share my life with. This wish is so strong that if a person would ask me this current moment if I am gay, then I would say yes. No matter the consequences. I just don't care anymore if I am fired or loose a lot of friends, or family members. My life is too short. I could die tomorrow. I don't want to die not knowing love.

    PS! I have two dads. My stepdad is gay-friendly (even though he doesn't understand why his gay friend doesn't have a hard-on when he is in a sauna with other men). And my biological dad who hates fags.

  8. Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions, elevencats. Now, I understand a lot better.

    As always, I have a few thoughts (think of these as though they're coming from your older gay brother, who cares and wants to help you):

    It's time to show your interest in this fellow from your class. You don't have to throw yourself at him (although you might want to), but you can certainly try not to avoid him. Nothing wrong with showing your interest, being nice and friendly.

    The fact this fellow is friendly toward you tells me a lot. If he wasn't the least bit interested in you, even as a friend, you'd know. Young gay men can be awful if they think you're coming on to them, and they have no interest in you. At least he hasn't put you off.

    I like that the two of you have taken some of the same classes over the years. This gives you something in common and similar interests, besides being gay and maybe finding each other attractive. See if you can work together to complete an assignment or to prepare for an exam. Do something with him, for heaven's sake. You've waited long enough already. Get a move on. You're not getting any younger (that was a joke, by the way).

    Stop being dazzled by his good looks. I know, if you're anything like me, you're intimidated approaching someone you think is better looking. In the end, looks don't mean a damn thing. They fade soon enough, and, hopefully, what you're left with is decency and intelligence and character. Look at him as nothing more than another human being who interests you. No pressure, no stress in the situation.

    I really think you should focus on the friendship right now. Yes, you may find this fellow gorgeous, and you may want to get physical with him. But I'm not sure that's what you need right now. I think you really need a good friend, someone like you, who you can confide in, about your studies, common interests, and your sexual orientation. You need to not feel alone in the world anymore with your secret. The two of you could help each other with that.

    A little secret: Despite how you've said this fellow is your dream guy, 1). You won't really know that until you get to know him much better (looks and image can be deceiving); and 2). There's a very good chance he won't be the one you have a relationship with for the rest of your life.

    It usually doesn't happen that way. In most cases, gay men need to meet lots of other gay men to find the one that's right. Don't settle. Never settle for all right when you could have spectacular. Play the field a little. Get to know a lot of people. Enjoy yourself along the way. Find the one that's just right for you. You'll know in your heart when that happens.

    Knowing, then, that dream man might not be your future husband should take the pressure off interacting with him. All you want to be is friends. Don't expect anything else. If something else develops, great. If it doesn't, hopefully, you've made a lifelong friend and confidant.

    I know you're tired of being alone. I was, too, over the many years I kept looking for Chris. But that doesn't mean you can't relieve that loneliness by meeting and being more open with people, making more friends, especially friends who are gay like you. In the absence of a relationship, friendships, especially with other gay men, can really fill a void and help relieve the isolation. Focus on the friendships for now until you're sure.

    You've already said in your comment you're more interested in this dude as a friend. You're on the right track. Work on that first and see what happens. One step at a time.

    I hope you'll let me know what happens between you and him. I'm on your side. I sincerely want everything to go well.

  9. I'm coming to realization that finding someone is an absolute coincidence! So I think it's true when people say: you should not look for love, it will somehow find you.

    Today I had the most wonderful time with my fellow students: explaining things to each other, revising for the exam, making jokes. I love to go to school because I have people there. My home is all wonderful, everything I could wish for, but it's dreadfully lonely and quiet here.
    So I'll try to be more open and friendly to people. I'll do my very best!

    Thank you for your supportive words. It means the world to me that I have someone who I can speak openly to. Someone who listens me and knows they way to reply. When I'm speaking to my family members about my problems, I leave one big part out. And even if they know that I am gay, they most probably would not have any knowledge how to deal with my issues, because it's an unknown world to them. So thank you for being my "big gay brother"!

  10. Yes, elevencats, there is an element of magic to love. I don't think you can will love to happen. I think, to some extent, you have to be at the right place, at the right time. So just go about your life in the way you usually do, be the best you you can be, and put love out of your mind for now. Focus on friendship instead. Believe me, if you can fall in love with your best friend, and he loves you back, you will have it made.

    I love hearing that you had a good day at school. You sound very stimulated by everything going on there. Sounds like you fit right in and interacted well with everyone. Good job. Keep that up.

    What you wrote in your comment reminds me of two things:

    1). Karma. What you put out into the world is what you get back. If you keep yourself separate from everyone, because you're scared they won't like you or they won't be interested in what you have to say, then they will keep themselves separate from you. And the very thing you want, friendship and human warmth, will evade you.

    2). When I was aloof and kept myself separate from everyone (for the exact reason you did/do), people told me I came across as anti-social, like I was better than them. I didn't realize that. I thought I was shy or not worthy of their company, but they thought I wasn't interested in them. So you never know how people will interpret what you do.

    Of course, I know I'm not a substitute for your family. If you can talk to your mother or stepfather about what you're going through, you should. On the other hand, if you need to talk about anything related to being gay and can't to them, then by all means come to me. I'm there for you.

    Even though we've never met, we've kept our communication going for most of this year, and I feel I know you really well through your comments. And I care very much about what happens to you. I hope I give you advice that makes sense and that is helpful. I never want to lose your confidence in me.

    Now, love yourself, stay confident, be warm and friendly to others, and get closer to your dream guy. You're on the right track, elevencats.

    Thanks so much for your comment.

  11. Thank you for you comments!

    I started to realize that maybe people can interpret my shyness as me being better than them. Even if this is not true: because I used to feel like who am I to talk to these people. They are better than me, so why would they enjoy my company.

    It's really hard for me to be warm and open, and chat with people. I often forget myself and be as neutral as I used to be. But when I will not give human warmth, then I will not receive it either.
    So I'm learning. But one thing that I will say, is that when I make mistakes (being neutral), I can't be too harsh on myself. Because I'm still learning. Hopefully, the people will be forgiving towards me, and I can correct my mistakes in the future.

    PS! I wanted to share this video: http://youtu.be/yUzaKjBX3Cw

  12. Elevencats, I have a guest post coming up on www.donnasmaldone.com that you might find helpful, in terms of looking at yourself as being on an even playing field with everyone, or, put another way, as being no better or worse than anyone else. It has to do with my own life journey, wherein the only way I was able to move beyond where I am now (that is, thinking people are better than me) was by realizing they're not, we're all equal, despite our differences. Everybody is the same.

    Donna hasn't published this post yet, but I think she plans to late this week or early next week. In advance of that, here, in part, is what I wrote:

    "All of our journeys to self-actualization begin by believing we’re worthy of the journey in the first place. For years, I thought everyone was better than me--that is, everyone was worthy of taking up space on earth--except me. But I remember one day in my late twenties when I turned a corner, literally and figuratively, and realized, for the first time, no one is better than anyone else--even those who aren’t gay. That changed my life forever."

    I hope sharing this with you will help make a difference, and that you'll check out my guest post when it appears. The bottom line is: You matter. What you feel matters. What you think and do matters. No one is better than you are. No one. We're all different, yet equal. This is an important revelation that, when you truly believe it, will transform your life.

    At least you understand that what you give out to people is what you get back. If you are cold and distant, people are cold and distant to you. But if you give out warmth and generosity, people are warm and generous to you. It's the law of the universe. Karma.

    And, yes, you are absolutely right about making mistakes. We all make them. All of us. If you never make a mistake, it means you always do only what you know how to do, what's safe to do. You never extend yourself. You never take risks. And you never learn. Who wants to stay in one place his entire life? Not me. And I hope not you.

    We have a responsibility to ourselves to keep learning, our entire lives, and that means making mistakes, lots and lots of them, depending on the complexity of what we learn. Embrace making mistakes. It means you're improving, becoming more than you are today, becoming the full human being you were meant to be. Make lots of mistakes. I mean it. Because then you'll learn a lot.

    Of course people will forgive you when you make mistakes, because that's what we all have in common. We all mistakes. And we all have to forgive one another. A common experience all of us as human beings share. We all learn, we all make mistakes, and we all forgive those who make mistakes. That's what we do.

    Chris and I are on vacation in Whistler until Saturday. I haven't had the chance to look at the video identified in your comment, but I will. Thanks for making me aware of it.

    Thanks again for your comment. I always appreciate hearing from you.