In 1997, when I was in seventh grade, I stood in front of our bathroom mirror and admitted to myself that I was gay. While I’d been coming to understand that about myself slowly, it was the first time I said those words out loud to myself. I cried, silently, and then went to bed and stared at the ceiling. Terrified.
For as long as I could remember, I knew that I was different. That there was something about me that wasn’t like everyone else around me. Up until then I was too young to know what it was, but it was there.
By the time I hit middle school, I knew there was a word for it.
I also knew that it was a word that I would have to hide from everyone for what, at the time, seemed like would have to be for the rest of my life. I even accepted that I would have to contain that inside, too young to even comprehend that someone ever knowing my secret could be an option.
So I went on.
I bought the clothes that everyone else bought, took the classes that everyone else took. I’d watch what I said and would do everything in my power to be just like everyone else, hiding anything that I felt could potentially set me apart.
Luckily, I had the best group of friends that I could have had make those years of middle and high school as great as they could be. And, even though I knew I had to hide who I knew I was from them for my own protection, they loved me and were there for me always. For them and all those times together, I will forever be thankful.
When I then went away to college I was very aware that I could not keep this secret inside any longer. And while it would take nearly my whole freshman year to build up the strength and courage to say three words, “I am gay,” I knew that it was time.
Ten years ago, on the eve of my nineteenth birthday, I came out to my parents and sister. While two weeks before that I had first started telling my closest of friends, I have always considered those moments alone with my mom, dad and sister to be the moments that would forever change the direction of my life.
It would mark the moment when the weight of having to hide who I was for all those years would start to lift. The walls of protection that I’d built up so tirelessly, so resiliently would finally start to come down.
It would take time for me to know how to be myself with others. I had spent nineteen years convincing everyone of who I was not. But now I had the freedom and power of being honest. I had the power of being real.
No more convincing would be needed.
From those days forward, I was a new person experiencing life in ways that I’d never known. Even something as simple as being able to finally play a favorite CD around a friend, the same CD that up until then I had hid for when I was in my car alone because it had Cher’s All or Nothing on it, was something not to be taken for granted.
Now today, on the eve of my twenty-ninth birthday, I still do not for one second take what I have or who I am for granted. I’ve grown to proudly live my life with honesty, kindness and integrity. But most importantly, I am able to live a life where I am just who I am.
I am blessed that I can do so at work. That I can do so with friends. That I can do so with family. And while we live in a world where there is still much progress to be made, it is being made. Progress that hopefully one day gets us to a place where to “come out” will be a thing of the past. Where children can grow to become who they are, never having to think about how they may be “different” or thinking that they have to hide from who they are. Where it doesn’t matter who you grow to love, but that you love. Where acceptance is inherent.
We’ll get there.
Until then, I will continue to appreciate and learn from the history and struggles of those who bravely stood up and battled for me to be able to live as openly as I do today. I will stand up for myself and others to continue the push forward. And hopefully I will also one day set an example and provide hope for someone who is just beginning their own journey—someone who may come across this writing who is lying in bed tonight, unsure of what the future holds.
To that reader, I will tell you that it may be hard. It may seem impossible. But it doesn’t just get better. It gets fabulous.
And if you are as lucky as I am, you’ll be able to fill your life with people that are full of spirit, happiness and joy. You’ll live a life where there is nothing you would change about who you are. Not for a single minute.
Today, ten years later, I am proud of who I was.
I am proud of who I am.
And I will always listen to All or Nothing whenever and as loudly as I want.
To all the fabulous people in my life – I want you there listening with me.