Most of my friends and family are familiar with my public coming out story; I wrote an article and shared it online for the world to see and, as they say, the rest is history. That article is how I came out to virtually everyone I know, and I’m sure many assume that is the only story there is as far as my coming out is concerned.
However, before I came out in such a public fashion, I came out to a much smaller group of people in a way that was much more difficult for me than writing an article.
It’s a story I’ve shared with very few people to date, but as it’s National Coming Out Day, I figured it was a prime opportunity to share this part of my coming out experience in the hope it might help others who are going through the same thing I was.
Before jumping into my story, I want to try putting the coming out process in perspective for the heterosexual individuals reading this article. There is honestly no real way for you to understand what it is like for an LGBTQ individual to come out; to understand the before and after feelings of such a momentous (and potentially disastrous) event. You can empathize surely, but the true understanding of the emotional journey it takes to come out is reserved for those who have gone through it themselves.
Going even further, I cannot pretend to understand what it is like for any other LGBTQ person to come out either. There might be common themes, but each experience is so profound, the results so individualized, that no two experiences can possibly be the same.
So why read this? Why am I taking the time to write out my personal coming out story? Because while it’s not the same as anyone else’s and my straight friends and family do not understand precisely what I went through to get to the point of coming out, these stories help both those struggling to come out to find their way and can help guide those friends, families and peers on how to handle it.
So, without further ado, here is my personal coming out experience.
Before coming out as bisexual roughly a year and a half ago, every day was a struggle for me. On the outside, I was the picture of happiness. I was thriving in school, had a very active social life and an amazing family which completed the well-rounded, picturesque life I lived.
However, on the inside I was constantly filled with anxiety, fear and depression. It literally felt like having a weight in my chest and with each passing day, it got heavier and heavier. Some days it took a herculean effort to get out of bed and walk around with a smile on my face. I felt utterly and irredeemably alone.
In addition to those feelings, I felt incredibly guilty. I felt guilty because I thought I had no reason to be depressed, in part due to all of the things I listed above. I was doing well in school, I did have an amazing group of friends and I did have incredibly supportive family, all of whom I knew would have no issue accepting me as an LGBTQ individual.
Yet I continued to trudge on with what felt like a double life. Looking back, I wish I had saved myself the pain and suffering of that time by coming out sooner, but I think the fact that I didn’t speaks to the colossal effort it takes to come out at all.
It’s a moment where your life will change instantaneously. Your friends, your family, your support…basically your entire life can either become everything you wanted it to be or it can whisked out from under you in an instant. To put it simply, it’s absolutely terrifying.
Even I was filled with terror at the prospect of coming out, despite the fact that I knew my immediate family would accept me without a doubt. My parents let us know early in our childhood how they felt about the LGBTQ community and what they would do if they had a child who was a part of it. Their answer was simple: nothing. They would treat that child (which wound up being me) as they would any other child. As long as they were healthy and happy, my parents would be too. I had no doubts about my siblings either, but with parents like ours there was little chance of us being anything but open minded and accepting.
Still, I hesitated. It took me years to work up the courage to finally tell the first group of people, my brothers and sister.
I decided to tell them while we were all together at UofI on the night of one of our favorite events: Barndance. I spent the night working up the courage (and taking in some liquid courage as well) before texting them at the post-Barndance bar celebrations to meet me outside, as I had something important to tell them.
Once we were all gathered out there, those three sitting on a table and me standing there in front of them, I tried to say it.
I just couldn’t seem to get the words out.
It was like I couldn’t find the air in my lungs to get the information out of me. I managed to get out “I have something important to tell you,” at one point before coming breathless again, and it took several minutes before I was finally able to blurt out, “I’m bisexual!”
Their faces were somewhat surprised, somewhat relieved, and all three ran forward to give me a hug. All three said it didn’t matter, that they still loved me, and for the first time in years, that tight ball of anxiety, fear and depression unwound just a bit and got a little bit lighter.
The next day, my sister drove home with me so I could talk to the next people I wanted to tell, my parents. I texted them that morning that I was coming home to talk to them about something important and when I got home, we all immediately went to the family room and sat down.
Again, I struggled to find the words and this time, tears started leaking from my eyes while I began hyperventilating. I was in the midst of some sort of panic-induced attack, I think because I knew the point of no return was finally here.
I remember my mom starting to cry and my dad looking totally panicked, and my sister sitting by my side telling me it was OK, that I should tell them.
Somehow, I managed to find the words and again forced out, “I’m bisexual!” between my deep, shaky breath.
Their immediate reaction was relief; apparently my vague text and emotional delivery made them think there was some serious medical issue wrong with me or that I had been expelled from school. Almost instantly after their relief came the same love and support I had found from my siblings the night before.
For the first time in years, I felt free. Weightless. It was truly indescribable. The thing I had been so scared to do for years was over and it went better than I could have hoped for. Knowing that I had the irrevocable love and support of my immediate family, I knew I could take on any challenges that might present themselves by coming out.
My next step when I returned to school was to tell a group of my closest friends in our group text message (another nerve-wracking experience). However, again I need not have worried, as my friends showed nothing but acceptance after hearing the news.
It was only a week after telling my siblings, parents and small group of friends that I published my coming out article to share with everyone I knew. I was finally ready to be myself, to totally release the weight that had been dragging me down all those years.
I am forever grateful for the positive reactions that I got after my initial coming out experience because it gave me the courage to publish the article for the world to see. I won’t pretend my hand wasn’t shaking when I hit publish on that article, but I knew I could handle anything after my previous week.
Now I sit here, confidently typing away, living the life I could have only imagined before I came out. Instead of pretending to be happy and struggling through each day, I am genuinely joyful and happy with my life. I also know that I am a very lucky man and I am sure to never take my coming out process for granted, as many individuals don’t have the same experience I do.
To those sitting there reading this, struggling to come out, I have this to say: do not come out before you are ready, do not come out for anyone but yourself and know that, without a doubt, you are not alone.
If this story resonates with you on any level, do not hesitate to reach out. Whatever may happen with your own coming out experience, know that a warm welcome awaits you from your new LGBTQ family.