After watching, “My Next Guest…” with David Letterman and Taylor Swift’s “You Need to Calm Down” music video about a dozen times, I think I worked up just enough courage to put pen to paper (fingers to keyboard, who am I kidding) and write about my “coming out” journey.
I don’t have any solid memories from when I was young where I could pinpoint a time where I “knew.” Looking back, I was always what some would consider a tomboy. I just wanted to be cool like my older guy cousins. Maybe it was when I had a JNCO jean shorts phase. Anyone remember those awful pants? I felt like I had what people would consider a “normal” childhood, with “normal” childhood middle school crushes on guys. It wasn’t until I was 15 that I really started to feel different than everyone else.
I have always been a best friend or close friend group kind of girl. I had a best friend from childhood, who I was able to grow up next door to before we moved away to a different neighborhood. My best friend from middle school and I were inseparable during those crucial pre-teen years. My friends have always been important to me and I have always had someone near and dear to my heart to walk with me through different phases of my life. I met my high school best friend through a mutual friend when I was about 15. She went to a different high school than me but we hung out together outside of school due to her middle school friendship with someone I met at my high school. We became like the 3 musketeers. They went on weekend vacations with me and my family and spent school nights gossiping and eating pizza together. We even all went to youth group on Wednesday nights together. We were just your average teens, trying to make it through those first awkward years of high school together.
For story purposes, I am going to call my newfound friend, Rene. There was something about Rene that made me feel like we had an instant connection when we first met. When you’re that young and in the early 2000 era, you don’t think of it as anything other than, “this is one cool chick and we’re gonna be best friends.” It started with a few handwritten notes back and forth, as you do in 2004. We would give them to each other when we’d get together throughout the week. We would talk about how our days went, how hard it is to find true friends, and how her and I just “click.” We dropped “luv ya” a lot as friends. Seems normal, right? Pretty soon we were spending almost every night hanging out together just the two of us. It couldn’t have been 6 months into our newfound friendship that we started over using “I love you.” Really struggling to be able to find words beyond “I love you,” that could explain how we felt about each other.
One Friday night, we were gossiping before bed, as girls do, trying to put into words what our friendship has meant to each other in the short time since we had met. We kissed. My first kiss was with a girl. Even after that, for a while, we tried to convince ourselves that we kiss because we have no other way to express how much love we have for each other. That it was so abundant, that it overflows from words to actions. This was absolutely true, but for reasons other than what we told ourselves at first.
We moved through high school as “best friends.” We told no one of our relationship. We ended up meeting a few other girls from my high school and we all became very close. We all worked at a hockey rink together, spent summer nights together and I trusted these girls with all my heart, but not with Rene and I’s secret. We pretended to have crushes in high school. We made sure we both had dates to homecomings and proms. I did not allow myself to process what was going on because that meant I would have to put a name on what it was. What did liking another girl even mean? I knew of one “gay” man at our high school. He was popular, in show choir, well liked, but also a man. I knew no one who was “like me” or “like us.” I made it through high school unscathed (at least I thought I did). No one found out our secret and no one had questioned the depths of Rene and I’s friendship.
Rene was always more confident than I was. I think deep down I knew that if I were to be okay with telling the world we were in love, that she would have done it in a heartbeat. Instead, she did what she thought would make me happy. Which was to keep everything a secret and to play pretend. I thought at the time that was what was best for us. My mother’s partner was a woman, so it wasn’t that I thought she wouldn’t accept me. My mom had kept her relationship a secret from us until I was 16. I was angry with my mom for lying and I was angry that I would have to try to explain that to my friends (when I couldn’t even explain my own relationship to my friends). I was also angry that I had subconsciously learned that I needed to keep my relationship a secret, or that I should feel shame about it.
When we got out of high school it was much harder. We moved into an apartment together right out of high school. People started to notice small things. The way we argued was not just “friends” arguing, but still no one had said anything to us. We had yet to say anything to anyone either. We started having hard conversations about what our future would look like. I was still convinced we could be “best friends”, maid of honors in each other’s weddings and that this was something we would grow out of. Deep down I knew it wasn’t, but I would be damned if I was going to be considered the “big gay family” or have to deal with telling everyone our secret. I convinced myself to try and like guys. I convinced her to date guys. I would get jealous and throw a fit anytime she had to go on one of her planned dates but anytime anything happened on my end, I would expect her to take it in stride. I knew that she knew she was gay. I expected grace because I was still not convinced that I was. That expectation was a horrible one. To see her pretend was heart breaking to me because I loved her so much. Yet I expected her to see me with people, really thinking I was not pretending, and to not be crushed. I wanted to figure my shit out while she sat and waited for me. I was young, immature, confused and angry.
Boy, was I angry. Our friends still didn’t know. We’re in our early 20’s now. At this point, Rene is sick of my bullshit and by rights, I was sick of my own bullshit. I was depressed. I had no one to get advice about the situation from. I wanted so badly to be straight. I look back and think, why? I had someone who I loved so deeply and who loved me with that same amount back. Why did love not conquer all? There was no one in TV or ads that looked like us. No same sex couples plastered anywhere to let me know I wasn’t alone in my feelings. I felt how uncomfortable it was to have to tell people about my mom’s partner (even though most of the time I was the one making myself feel that way), that how I could I bear the looks and whispers people would give me if I told them. What would a “gay wedding” even look like? How would we have kids? I gave myself the worst anxiety and it created a monster in me. I treated Rene poorly the last couple years of our relationship. She finally decided she wanted to be out and proud. I couldn’t give that to her. I had broken her heart over and over those last years on my journey to be a “straight woman.”
Rene left me. She moved out after years of living together. After 7 years of being together. I was devastated to say the least. Initially I still told no one. Not my mom, not my friends. I tried to go through it alone. Eventually the pain was too much to bear and I started to tell my friends one by one. 99.9% of my friends were supportive, excluding one that tried to use religious reasons, telling me, ”can’t you just try to like guys?” Uh, duh, I tried and that’s what led me to this disastrous pit hole of a situation. I waited to tell my best friend Danielle, fellow Self Love Coffee writer, last, due to the fact that if she didn’t accept me I wouldn’t have been able to handle it. I wrote her a note during a drunken night of playing cranium with friends. She passed it back to me, and it read, “I love you no matter what.” I still have that note to this day.
I tried to get out into the dating world after Rene. I vowed that if I couldn’t be out to the entire world, I would at least be brave enough to seek out women to date and not men, even if I wasn’t able to tell everyone publicly yet. I dated a few women, one eventually for 8 months. I brought her around my family, but still as my friend. Facebook was finally a big thing and relationship statuses were all the rage. I finally made the jump with her to put it on my Facebook, while still hiding that status from family members. I never publicly announced a “coming out” post. It was not something I was super forthcoming about with strangers. I was truthfully still half closeted. For mutual reasons, we broke up, but the pain I still felt about Rene, stacked with the pain of this new failed relationship, stacked with shame, caused a whirlwind of a meltdown for me. I finally told my mom in some weird round about way via text message. She said she had known for a while now and was just waiting for me to tell her. One more person checked off the list of people I needed to tell. I decided to seek out a therapist to talk all of this through with. I went from months and months of sessions talking about needing to “win” Rene back, to finally getting to a place where I was to focus on myself and why I was there and why I carried so much secrecy and shame. I had to get to a place where I could wish Rene nothing but the best, because that’s what she deserved. I deserved to move on and be happy too, however that looked for me. As far as Rene goes, she is a huge part of my story and will always be. Much love goes out to her for her support of me during my journey, even when I didn’t deserve it. She will always be a huge part of my heart.
As soon as I considered myself in a place of healing, I got myself into a relationship with a narcissist (of course, I didn’t realize that at the time) I met in college. She was smart, “successful”, “confident” and the best I thought that I could get. We were public with our relationship. All my friends and finally extended family knew that we were together. When the emotional abuse would happen, I would tell myself that this is what I deserved, because I had been such a terrible person when I was younger. That I deserved this because I wasn’t able to “come out” with my relationship with the right person. That I didn’t handle “coming out” in a healthy way. That I caused someone else so much pain because I was ashamed of who I was. That was 5 years of my life that I can’t get back because I shamed myself one again. Although awful, going through that relationship caused so much growth in me and finally forced me to heal. I deal with my own set of trauma now from that relationship but the chapter of my life that was unhealed due to shame from myself about my sexual orientation, is no longer there. Due to the recent Trump administration and public hate that people spew regarding the LGBT community, yes I still feel uncomfortable sometimes in public with my now wife. That is something I need to continue to work on. Healing is not linear and there will be setbacks.
When and how you chose to come out, is hopefully, your decision and on your terms. Eventually, I know we will live in a world where no one has to come out. When I look back at my journey, there is still pain there. It was not an easy time for me and it was not an easy process. There were things I put on myself and others, to heavy my burden during that time and there are things that the world in the early 2000’s put on me to also make that burden heavier.
I am happy to see the progress of the world and how many people have been able to be their true selves. I do also know that there are people struggling like I did. Kids who are younger than I was, who know who they are, who are struggling due to whatever religious, worldly or internal reason being pressed against their chest. If you are someone who is making it harder for them, step back and ask yourself if you’re educated on the “topic” or situation. If you aren’t, don’t expect someone from that community to educate you. Do it for yourself. If you are educated, and you still choose to make someone else’s life a living hell because of your personal or religious views on who someone else loves, please go kindly reevaluate your life and what it is you are concerning yourself with. If you are someone who is making it easier for them, so much love goes out to you. Continue to be an ally. I couldn’t have gotten through what I did without the few people who never made me feel like I was different, even when I made myself feel that way.
Shout out to my wife and fellow Self Love Coffee writer for her support of my story and for continuously pushing me to be comfortable in my own skin. You da real MVP.