Saturday, April 30, 2011

National Coming Out Day: Telling My Story

Originally Posted on October 9, 2006

The coming out process for me was a protracted effort. I had to wait for the right moment and the right place to do it. Once I did, I hit the ground running and was able to do more since coming out than I did beforehand.

The wish I had was the opportunity to explore my sexual orientation further when I was younger. It seemed that when I was a teenager that every time I wanted to come out, I knew I would not be accepted by everyone. I was not prepared for the “classic coming out story” that ended in total estrangement from my family, so I kept myself in the closet and held on to a fragile heterosexuality.

To put in perspective the timeframe I was living in, I was a high school senior during the first year of the AIDS Crisis. To come out at that time, I would fear a quick death from the disease. There was no real information about AIDS in the early 1980’s because no one knew how and why it was transmitted and how quickly it would spread among gay males. Instead, I lived a life of abstinence in the face of my straight friend’s promiscuous lives.

In 1987, I left Reseda and all of my childhood friends behind for a life in the Bay Area. Before I moved to San Rafael, I would visit San Francisco a lot. I knew about the Castro, Polk Street and the clout the gay community had in that city. Harvey Milk was a savior in my eyes as he was the first gay man I was aware of who led our people forward in the political realm. With that knowledge, I knew that by coming out in the Bay Area, I would do so further away from my family and hometown.

Little did I know how much I learned in the process of my coming out. I was amazed at how big the gay scene in Southern California was. It seemed that all of the sudden, my rearview mirror was full of the things I missed. In Reseda, just a mile from the house I grew up in, was a gay bar. They had youth groups in Hollywood at the Center LA at the time I was a teenager. Yet, no one had this information available for me. Though I was aware that there were gay student groups at Pierce College and Cal State Northridge, I was afraid of being associated with them in fear of retaliation and disassociation by everyone I knew. I felt as I missed a golden opportunity to come out at a younger age.

In 1992, I was a year away from graduating at Cal State Hayward when I was informed of the death of my mother. I came out to my brother a couple of months earlier, but I was advised it would not be a smart thing to come out to her. From that point, I had nothing to lose. I used the occasion of my college graduation to come out to my friends. I only had one friend who subsequently freaked out about this. Sadly, he is no longer a friend and I have no knowledge of his current whereabouts.

In subsequent years, I held true to my own development as a gay man through my activism, organizing and involvement in the literary arts. With everything I accomplished, my brother and the remaining friends from school are still in the loop in my meanderings. I know that Matthew reads this blog sometimes and knows how much I appreciate him doing so.

There is still a feeling of envy for those who come out in their teenage years. They have so much access to information so early in their lives. In contrast to 24 years ago, they are better informed on HIV/AIDS issues and are fully aware of the challenges our community is going through today. However, I know that I will be called upon to be a beacon for those who are identifying themselves not only as gay, but of an overweight gay man who is curious about the bear culture and finding a way to maintain their interests that are not stereotypically part of gay male culture.

In fact, we all need to be beacons. As a diverse community, we can guide those looking for an opportunity to come out to say “it is OK to be gay and embrace your interests and lifestyle.” As a diverse people, we will find common ground to share our lives and build community in pursuit of equality with the general populace.

But, first, all we need to do is to simply come out.

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