What It Feels Like to Come Out in Your Twenties

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.

Rainbow Flag License: Creative Commons

Rainbow Flag by Ludovic Bertron
License: Creative Commons (CC-BY-2.0)

4 thoughts on “What It Feels Like to Come Out in Your Twenties

  1. David Tonner says

    This is wonderful, Aaron, thank you for sharing. When I first met you, I never suspected that you were gay, and even to this day I don’t think I’ve ever detected any overtly “gay” behaviour on your part. My knowledge of your sexuality has created a bias for me, of course, so sometimes you’ll say something a certain way and my “gaydar” will go off, but I doubt it would have gone off had I not known the truth. Do you think this is simply your natural demeanour, or is it due to the effort you have made to mask your sexuality from an early age?

    I also want to add that I am thankful for people like you have come out in the face of bigotry and abuse and decided to be honest about their sexuality. This has led to greater acceptance of the gamut of sexuality which exists in the world, and it has made it safer and much easier for others to do the same at this point in time. I feel safe, for example, identifying myself as “heteroflexible” and admitting that I am sexually attracted to trans women. I also realize that if people like you had not done what you have done, and made it ok for me to be more open about my own sexuality, I would probably never have dared admit my preferences to anyone.

    • aaron says

      I definitely no longer feel as though I put any effort into monitoring how I come off to people in that way. I know that some guys who come out do experience a very palpable shift into a more stereotypically gay affectation, so I can only assume that what you have experienced is pretty much my ‘natural’ demeanour (understanding that ‘natural’ here is hard to define and probably not set in stone). The effort put forth wasn’t to prevent myself from acting highly flamboyant, it was of minute details; monitoring extended glances at guys, manufacturing extended glances or comments about girls, small changes in pronunciation.. things like that.

      I too am thankful for those who’ve come out before me. Because if I’d been born decades earlier I don’t know that I wouldn’t have ended up in my thirties, forties, or fifties, before I came out. If ever. It wasn’t easy, but the fact that it even seemed possible and doable is completely because of the brave people who’ve come before me. As your example shows, it’s not just homosexual men who benefitted ultimately. There’s a wide spectrum of non-normative preferences that are now far easier to talk about and celebrate.

      🙂

  2. Scott says

    Everything you said was spot on with the feelings I had when I came out. When I came out to my roommate, his reaction was “I thought you said that you had something important to say”. It was such a non issue for him. Like I was commenting on the weather. That rush of acceptance literally had me screaming at him, hugging him and crying my eyes out all at the same time. He had to hold me for 5 minutes just so I could make a coherent sentence. So much fear and self loathing was met with nothing but love. The human body does not know how to respond. This article brought back so many memories. That one is etched in my mind forever. It makes me so happy that your experience was just as good (if not better). 25 years of my life I hid who I was from everyone, even myself. 25 years gone. From one who has walked a mile in your shoes, I have this to say. Live your life your way and every time you encounter hate in this world just face it down with unyielding love.

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