Whenever I bring it up, people say to me: ‘Wow, that must have been a huge relief!’, and it was; but the truth is, that ain’t the half of it. Not even a quarter.
It’s hard for people who’ve never had to hide their sexuality to imagine the magnitude of what it’s like. I was constantly monitoring my behavior, my words, my tone of voice — even my thoughts — for anything that might be ‘too’ gay. Anything that might give me away.
I did that for an entire decade — half of my life at that point — and I did it well. I didn’t ‘act gay’ (and still don’t — I’ve been consistently reassured), so nobody suspected my girlfriendlessness was anything more than a result of shyness or anxiety.
Even to my partner, who also had to come out of the closet, the experience of coming out in your twenties doesn’t translate. He did it when he was 14. He kept the secret for only a few years.
My partner lived in Los Angeles and went to a school with a GSA (Gay-Straight Alliance), and therefore a visible gay presence and support system. I lived in a small city and went to one of these weird, blended Catholic-public schools that, for some reason, exist here in Canada. It seemed like there were no gay people. Anywhere. None who were out, at least.
Needless to say, I didn’t have any GSA. Any community support. My teachers at school mentioned a couple of times that while Catholicism didn’t that believe being gay was a sin, having gay sex was. Thankfully, I questioned Catholicism rather than demonize my sexuality.
But coming out young didn’t seem like a viable option for me.
My tactic, in that less than hospitable school environment, was just to ‘wait it out’. ‘Deal with it when this is over’.
I suppose I’m lucky that I never encountered much overt hate; just casual bigotry — usage of words like ‘fag’ and ‘gay’ as synonyms for ‘loser’ and ‘stupid’. I was depressed as all hell, but unlike many gay youth, I never considered suicide. I saw a light at the end of the tunnel.
After high school I left town with some friends to be in a band. We moved to a bigger city that actually had some gay people in it, and I began to psych myself up for what I knew I needed to do — while self-medicating with Valium I bought from Pakistani pharmacies online. I’d been suppressing one of the most important aspect of my life since I was 11, and so I was an anxious, depressed mess. It took another couple of years for me to finally bite the bullet.
But one day, I finally did it. I was 21, going on 22. My band and I were all sharing a house, but we had one other roommate living with us whom I’d become close with. One day, home on my lunch break, I told him “I have something really important I need to tell you after work” — and then I ran away and ignored his texts asking me to ‘just tell him now.’
This was a game I played to trap myself. I knew I didn’t have the guts to just say it outright.
The work day ended. I came home, and I knocked on his door. He was napping. I said ‘I’ll come back later!’, but he shot out of bed and said through sleepy eyes: ‘No!’ Tell me what it is!?’
I don’t quite remember the words but they were something like, ‘well, that, um, I guess, the thing is, actually, that I’m gay, I guess.’
The first thing he did was give me a hug. The second thing was express relief. He had been worried that I was angry with him for some reason. He then proceeded to tell me how happy he was, because he had always wanted a gay friend, so this was perfect, for him. He had questions to ask me about what it was like to be gay, about how much of exactly what I’d done with guys in the bedroom. What that was like.
His immediate acceptance, and genuine interest in me as a person, in my experience and in who I really was, meant the world to me. It sealed our friendship as one of the most important of my life.
After we chatted for about half an hour, I excused myself. I needed to be alone.
And this brings me back to the start of the article. As I closed the door behind me, I felt an intense rush of feeling. There was relief, for sure, but not just that. Not even close.
I felt intense and overwhelming sadness. I felt the weight of all the time I’d wasted hiding myself — from my accepting, loving friend, no less (and other friends who would turn out to be just as accepting). Years of worry, the self-doubt, self-hate, depression, anxiety… I knew that they had taken their toll, and I mourned for what I had lost.
I also felt insanely proud — of my courage. I’d done what I’d feared most for literally half of my life — likely to be one of the hardest things I’d ever have to do.. I felt powerful. Unstoppable. I’d scaled my own personal mount Everest.
I felt shame and guilt and loss that the courage hadn’t come sooner.
I felt anticipation, for all the possibilities the future held. Boyfriends. Sex. Romance. Not pretending. Not self-monitoring. Was there actually a possible future where I could be comfortable in my own skin? Where I could cuddle up with a guy I loved on the sofa and watch tv?
I was pissed — at society, at the town I’d grown up in and the casual bigotry that pervaded it, at the schools I’d attended, and at myself — for robbing me of precious years not lived authentically. That something as harmless and beautiful as my sexuality and capacity for love was made shameful and disgusting by fear mongering maniacs.
And of course, while it’s tough to quantify, I’d have to say that most of all I felt joy. I’d never been so happy. I was finally peeking out the other end of the tunnel, and the world looked bright and green. And big and kinda scary.
Try feeling all of that at the same time. It was so much.
I didn’t really understand how it was possible to laugh and cry at the same time, but let me assure you — it is. I did both while also wanting to punch rage holes in my walls.
To say it was a relief, is a bit of an understatement.
And to be honest, I had it easy; compared to those who had to wait longer, whose families rejected them, whose cultures were even less accepting, my journey has been a walk in the park. I can only imagine theirs.