A Coming Out Story

Happy National Coming Out Day y’all!

So, coming out is a long and lengthy process for a lot of LGBT individuals. It’s not always like there’s one, singular, grand moment where you magnificently walk outside your closet door and you officially declare, “I’m Out™.” You have different social circles such as your friends, family, and co-workers. When’s the best time to come out to each one? And of course it also depends on the individual friend/family member/co-worker. Perhaps one friend has more traditional views, or one co-worker has said homophobic comments before? There’s a lot to consider when coming out, and some LGBT individuals are more particular than others on who knows and who doesn’t.

My coming out was one of these rather drawn-out affairs, and I’m not even sure if it’s completely over yet. It’s been nearly eight years since my first year of high school when I started to confide in my friends (and then it spread rather quickly in those circles). For my family, my full coming out has been more recent, and generally more anxiety-producing. For co-workers, it all depends on the situation and the job itself.

20160608_030639000_iosBut, I’ve decided not to focus on the full, all-encompassing story of my coming out, because that would take all day (and trigger many different emotions). I would, however, like to tell you about my coming out to one particular person, and a very important one at that: my brother Kevin. He was the first person I told in my family, and one of the first people I told in general.

My brother and I weren’t always close. We had some rough patches when he was in high school, and there was also a sizable seven-year age difference between us. As I entered high school he moved back home and both the physical proximity as well as the overlap in our (artsy-fartsy) personal interests brought us closer.

I remember it like it was yesterday, even though it was 2009. Kevin was in his room on his computer, working on something art-related (my brother’s an artist, you should check him out at kevinsmalley.com), and I was in my room. We were home alone. I had been thinking about telling him for a while, and I finally mustered up the courage to do it. Kind of.

I made the first step by going into his room and simply laying down on his bed, with his back turned to me. Okay, great—I was in the room, I had located myself properly (pat on the back to me). However, I froze and couldn’t say a single word. I just laid there with a growing knot in my stomach. Moments passed, then minutes.

After a while, Kevin asked a simple “What’s up?” and I don’t really remember what I responded, but it probably was “Nothing.” I didn’t know what to say or how to say it. I stared at the ceiling of his room. More time passed.

Probably sensing the strangeness in the air, Kev asked if I needed to talk about anything, to which I replied (rather quickly) “Yes.” Yes! I had an in. My stomach knot was the size of the state of Ohio.

“What do you want to talk about?” he asked. To which I replied, hesitantly, “I don’t know.” Great, that’s going to take this conversation somewhere (idiot).

Slowly, Kevin started to ask more specifically what I wanted to talk about. “Is it about Mom and Dad?” If I couldn’t bring myself to say it, maybe Kevin could lure it out of me. This might work!

“No.”

“Is it about school?”

“No.”

“Is it about love?”

“Yes.”

Yes! Getting closer now.

“Is it about a girl?”

“No.”

Oh, he just knows how to ask the questions, man.

“Is it about a… boy?”

“Y-yes.”

Voila! Oh my god.

“Are you gay?”

“Yes.”

Thank god. Oh boy, I was getting worried there for a minute. 

And then it was out there, and I felt so incredibly light. The weight on my chest had been tremendous, it was hard to describe. Thinking about doing it was easy enough, but still came with obvious anxiety. However, when I was actually in the situation, everything became immensely difficult. The silence had become palpable.

Thankfully, Kevin was able to draw it out of me and we could talk about it. The whole affair took over an hour, but it is one of my fondest memories because that’s when my brother and I started to become very close. Which was (and is) so important to me, since in a family with more traditional views, coming out is not easy (hence, why it was a drawn-out affair). For the first time, I had a rock I could cling to in the very messy situation I considered myself to be in for most of high school. I often felt like I was living a secret double-life when I was with my family, and the fact that I could express myself openly, even to one person, made all the difference in the world.

Brothers like Kevin are a blessing, and I am so thankful to have him in my life. I don’t know where I’d be without him. National Coming Out Day is such an important day to be celebrated because coming to terms with your own identity, and being able to share it with others, literally saves lives. And makes living so much happier, healthier, and more enjoyable.

Something personal, something cosmic (an introduction)

Blog world! Hello! How are you? I hope… you are well?

Sorry, I’m not so good at this. I’ve never been the best at blogging, or keeping a diary/journal. However, as a person who considers himself a writer, I think there is value to these endeavors. You can work out problems by writing through thought processes, you can update loved ones on the daily grind, and you can use your writing as a platform, among many other reasons. So, why haven’t I committed to it before? …I’m not sure. I surely keep myself busy. My four years at Baldwin Wallace and the four years of high school before that have been filled with classes, shows, part-time jobs, summer jobs, a social life, etc. And these are all valid ways to spend one’s time, but I can’t help but feel like I’m making excuses for myself. Maybe it’s laziness. Maybe it’s a lack of focus. Or maybe I’m being too hard on myself? Ugh.

Welcome to me: a Midwestern-born-and-raised, indecisive millennial perfectionist, born from fiscally conservative Evangelical parents with three older brothers. I have a very large extended family; on my maternal side thanks to five uncles and one aunt who have had children (and their children have had children), and on my paternal side thanks to my grandmother’s large Catholic-Italian smorgasbord of a family. I have been raised with strongly-held religious beliefs on both sides (which are at odds, sometimes, but mostly cohesive), and not only am I the youngest child in my intermediate family, I am the youngest grandchild on both sides of my extended one as well. Also, I’m gay.

The combination of being a perfectionist, Evangelical (maybe), gay man is a complicated one. It also doesn’t help my indecisive personality, which is often susceptible to anxiety and tension. Throw in my choice to pursue a career as stereotypically-unstable as the arts, and you have one hot-mess-express. Perfectionist Type As are highly ambitious, organized and desire acceptance, Evangelicals typically value family and stability, gay people value openness and non-conformity, and artists reject prejudice, inequity, and bigotry. I’ve spent a large part of the last eight years sifting through these values and I’ve had one hell of a time reconciling seemingly utterly-contradictory systems of morality and belief. At times, I’ve felt extraordinary joy. At other times, I’ve felt suffocating hopelessness. Some days I outright reject my upbringing altogether, writing off that value system as hateful and hypocritical. Other days, I fear what people in my family will think of me if we talked openly about my personal life. And even still, I have moments of regret, feelings of shame and dishonesty when I begin to think with the logic I’ve been taught before: that my feelings are pure temptation and nothing more.

I don’t want to be a person who makes excuses for himself. When I do something, I want to do it honestly, purely, and right. So, do I fully commit to the Christian way of life and logic-lens that I was raised with? Or do I reject it completely for the culture that legitimizes the attractions and feelings that have risen naturally in me as early as the age of 12? Can I have both?

I doubt myself; we all do. But my particular inclination to indecision, self-deprecation, and tireless commitment has made my 8-year-long process of coming out to myself, my friends, my coworkers, and (most delicately) my family, sometimes more difficult than it needs to be. And I mentioned the seemingly-endless barrage of school, theater, work, and so on before to make it clear that in addition to the normal busy life of a growing type-A young man in the twenty-first century, I and the many, many individuals among my tribe (the LGBT community) have a whole ‘nother life on top of that filled with self hatred, self doubt, and being forced to grow up too early, forced to greet the black underbelly of human prejudice before most others. And the darkness is deeper when it comes from those you love most.

But there is hope. And I’m a lucky guy who has always had friends to build him up and offer support. Also, while my family may not understand me, they most certainly love me (and never let me forget it). Reading also helps. There are men and women, scholars, theologians, who are critical of the Church-versus-gays debate, who advocate that one doesn’t have to choose one over the other. I read and follow Matthew Vines, author of God and the Gay Christian and founder of The Reformation Project, an organization seeking inclusion of LGBT members in mainstream Christian churches. When I read his book, it opened up a whole new way of looking at things, backed by hard evidence and analysis I could logically understand and respect. With that, I’m dating a man that identifies as a gay Christian, and I have devout Christian friends that are pro-gay.

Also, the art and philosophy of seminal works such as Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, and the opinion and views of gay journalist Nicholas Benton collected in the compilation Extraordinary Hearts: Reclaiming Gay Sensibility’s Central Role in the Progress of Civilization, offer an eclectic vision that links being gay to something cosmic, natural, and essential to human life. These works offer something I’ve never heard of before: that being gay is about more than who you have sex with, it’s about more than AIDS and prejudice. Being gay is a gift that gives an individual an alternative viewpoint on life, one that allows the ability to think creatively and outside of the paradigm of the simple, dominant binary of male-female-reproduction-survival. LGBT individuals have an important role to help humankind towards progress and advancement. We are messengers of change, and at the center of our way of loving is pure empathy. I am proud to be who I am.

Eight years after my initial decision to act on suppressed feelings, I feel wholly and unapologetically myself. And I want to share my thoughts with you, blog world. So, dammit, there’s no more time to question myself and be afraid. I’m excited to delve into the large questions that come at the intersection of belief, sexuality, and artistry. I have many topics I want to talk about and quests I want to take on. I hope you join me.

Much love,
Josh