Over on Instinct Magazine (you guys know I’m a regular contributor there, right?), our editor suggested the writers share our coming out stories for National Coming Out Day. I found my colleagues’ experiences really compelling to read. Click over to here and here to see how they fared.
It wasn’t until I sat down to write it that I realized I’d never really thought about my coming out. In truth, coming out isn’t a ‘step’ but a process. It happens in stages.
I grew up in Fort Worth, Texas, in the 1970s. Trust and believe, it was not a welcoming environment for the gays.
As I thought back to the idea of ‘coming out’ I realize there were aspects of life that kept me in the closet, even when I didn’t know I was in one. And those episodes are part of the story as well.
I remember being drawn to a boy named Chris in 1st grade. Nothing sexual – I just knew he was funny, charismatic…people liked him. And so did I.
Nothing ever happened between us, but something drew me to him.
Is acknowledging attraction a part of coming out?
When I got to middle school, things started to get complicated. Kids were hurtling toward puberty, and guys I’d gone to school with for years seemed to view things differently than I did.
I was interested in singing and performing on stage. I auditioned for and was accepted into, the world-famous Texas Boys Choir.
That would prove to be problematic for middle school social circles. It wasn’t softball or football – it was ‘other.’
Boys I’d known since Cub Scouts now openly called me ‘fag’ on the playground. There were incidents where they would chase me, punch me, kick me. I honestly didn’t know I was gay, but I knew it was something I certainly didn’t want to be if this is what life would be like.
By 8th grade, I was asked to join the touring company of the TBC which meant traveling around the entire country for weeks at a time. In a different city practically every day, we would bunk two boys to a hotel room.
Now, most of us being about 13-years-old, it won’t come as a surprise there was some ‘experimenting’ among some of the guys, but it was done in secret. We were all pretty much locked in that closet we didn’t know existed.
High school years were pretty much hell. Not a day went by I wasn’t called ‘faggot’ in the halls or in class. In that environment, I fiercely tried to convince myself none of this had anything to do with me.
I dated girls but rarely took romance any further than kissing. I remember telling myself I was being ‘a gentleman.’
The most surprising thing about those four years was being befriended by two popular jocks at school.
John and David – both tall, strapping guys who played sports in school – included me in their circle and we became best friends. There was never anything sexual in the mix, they just liked me for me. I’ve never forgotten how much their friendship kind of saved me during those years.
Their unconditional friendship would eventually spark the confidence in myself I sorely lacked.
p.s. John and David and Randy are still tight today. States apart, we can pick up the phone and the years fall away.
The summer after I graduated from high school, I was cast as a performer at a professional summer stock theater about four hours away from my hometown. When I arrived at my new job, I came to realize I was the youngest in the company.
Being musical theater, there were openly gay guys in the shows. They were older, had ‘dealt with themselves’ and didn’t seem conflicted about it.
Like I was.
Throughout the summer, one guy continually flirted with me. It didn’t seem like flirting at the time, more like dressing room banter, but I figured it out later.
One night after a performance, I gave him a ride to the house he was renting, and as he got out of the car I went to kiss him on the cheek (which is what theater people did back then).
He stopped me, paused, and then kissed me for real.
‘For real’ for real.
Time stopped. Suddenly, attraction, romance, and sex all clicked together.
Today I think of that kiss as the moment I came out to myself. It was so full and authentic, there was no denying it.
And coming out to yourself is really the first step in the journey.
Of course, nothing lasting would come from that ‘flirtation,’ but we did have something of a fling for the remaining weeks of summer. And the other guy, understanding the closet door he had unlocked, would handle my young soon-to-be-broken heart very well.
I went on to college, got a degree in musical theater and moved to New York City. In all that, there really wasn’t any progress in coming out as I was busy with school.
It was after a year in NYC I was cast in a new national touring company of a big hit Broadway show, CATS. During rehearsals, I became smitten with another actor in the show, and we became ‘romantical’ almost immediately after hitting the road.
Our second city on tour was Dallas, near where I’d grown up. I stayed with my dad during those weeks of the run and feeling empowered by my new job and new boyfriend, I decided to ‘share.’
Watching TV together, I told my dad I was ‘seeing someone’ in the show. He asked if it was a particular cast member he had noticed at the opening night party.
“No, his name is David.”
My dad, a bit lost in whatever it was we were watching, took a second and then looked up at me. With a confused expression, it took a moment for him to eke out, “Aw…you don’t want that, son, do you?”
I said I did.
The moment took a breath.
I added that I was nervous to tell him because I didn’t want him to disown me (or something). THAT got a reaction out of him.
My dad moved the TV show out of his head, turned to focus on me and firmly announced, “Randy, don’t ever think you don’t have a place here. You always belong here.”
And that was that. I had crossed the coming out bridge, and my Texas Republican father took that trip with me – with no hesitation.
It would be a decade before my dad would meet the man who is now my husband (together 25 years now). Having traveled to Texas for my grandmother’s funeral, my husband walked into the room, and my dad – in his big, broad Texas way – walked right up to Michael, shook his hand and said, “You must be Michael – hey, you’re good-looking!”
Over the years, I found working in the theater made for a safe place for gays, so I never really had to come out to co-workers.
I think about the only friends I ever felt the need to ‘come out’ to were my besties, John and David, from high school.
But, like out of a TV movie, both of those ended up being non-events where I barely got the first sentence out before they were nodding, smiling, and asking why it took me so long to bring it up.
So, in the end, while childhood taught me to be afraid of who I intrinsically was, the people who were most important showed me I was fine the whole time.
Coming out is: frightening, unnerving, a process.
But most of all, one of the most authentic and empowering things you’ll ever do for yourself.
Here’s to everyone who takes even a first step today! In the immortal words of Dr. Seuss:
Today you are you
That is truer than true
There is no one alive
Who is you-er than you