At 16, my older brother caught me jerking off to gay porn. That’s my coming out story. Nothing romantic; nothing dramatic. No tale of leaving home and supporting myself through high school on a part-time job, a bag full of crackers and no place to sleep. Simply put, I was caught with my pants down. My two brothers blackmailed me a couple of times and crying was involved, but that all stopped once the news reached my parents a couple weeks later.
My parents took the news very lightly and reassured their love for me. My dad, a History Channel buff, tried to cheer me up by listing off accomplished gay individuals and telling me that being gay wouldn’t deter my life from success.
The pep talk didn’t work. Back then, at the age of 16, coming out of the closet was a HUGE deal. Today, I’m just relieved I didn’t hear the famous response from family members “About time! We all knew you were gay.”
The next day passed and my life returned to status quo.
I can’t calculate how often this is the case among families with a gay teenager, but I can confidently say that too many gay teens let the fear of coming out take over their consciousness and keep a part of themselves hidden from family and friends. It seems as by coming out of the closet you’re somehow asking your peers and family members to look at you in a vastly different light. Like many friends I’ve talked to, I had this same fear throughout my entire high school life.
I grew up in a progressive, working-class suburb of Buffalo, N.Y. The high school I went to was progressive in the sense that everyone had a live-and-let-live attitude about diversity, but diversity was scarce to find in the halls and classrooms. I can only remember 5 black students out of my graduation class of 260. Latinos, Arabs and Asians were just as rare to find. During my stay at high school, I only met three gay people: a gay couple who graduated the year before and my lesbian friend, Shelbi.
Any time I would seriously consider coming out, I thought of her—the loving relationship with her out-of-school girlfriend, her confident expressions, her ultra-rebel yet attractive appearance and her open manner of sharing stories about her life. I envied her life, but would coming out give me the same result, I asked myself? Shelbi was only one person, and she was a lesbian. Would I, a gay, clinically obese (at the time) high school student with low self-esteem issues, be treated in the same way? Everything I’ve watched in the media says no–I would not. I would instead struggle through high school alone without a love life, get low grades, endure harassment and become vulnerable to drug addiction. My life would be miserable, according to hip-hop culture and popular TV shows.
There was no Gay-Straight Alliance in my high school to counter these messages either. As far as I knew, being openly gay was no different than being an alien from out of space—you’re fundamentally different from everyone else you know and meet.
Coming to Kent State changed that perspective. The memories during the first PRIDE! Kent meeting I attended still linger in my mind. I felt like I walked into a gay mecca of some sort. There were so many of them—gay, lesbian, transsexual, and none of them were the same. They all looked different, acted different and came from different backgrounds. Yet at the same time, they were all so down to earth. To call any of them “a gay guy,” “a lesbian,” “a transsexual,” “a bisexual” or “a straight ally” was incorrect. None of those titles illustrated who they were. They were like me–students with so many problems, interests and skills that their sexual orientation made up only a fraction of who they were. Unlike the stereotypically gay characters in TV shows and books, their lives were mainly unaffected by coming out. They had friends, love lives, good grades (most of them) and most importantly, a future.
After a few weeks of campus living, meeting new gay people and attending numerous PRIDE! meetings, National Coming Out Day approached, and thus, I did something unimaginable—I updated my Facebook status with a comment that read “Simon Husted is Gay! Happy National Coming Out Day.”
Simon Husted is a junior newspaper journalism major at Kent State. He is the web editor for ThatGayMagazine.com.