Coming out of the closet can be difficult. Some of us even repress a lot of emotions, live a lie, or even live a double life (and I don’t mean as a secret agent for the CIA – although that sounds so cool!). But the experience is about liberation and knowing that we deserve to be happy. It’s not impossible, it’s a journey.
Like Frodo’s journey in “The Lord of the Rings” – he managed to destroy that Ring that was weighing on his soul. And so can we.
Here’s my account of how I pushed those notions away and said: “I’m coming out and I’m cleaning out my closet!”.
Learning how to hide in plain sight
To set up the context, I grew up in a small town where everybody knows everybody’s business and privacy only exists as a notion. Being gay, I had to teach myself to guard my feelings and who I was for a long time.
I grew up knowing I was different from the others.
Sure, I was what most people call “normal” but I felt different. I wasn’t attracted to most things people expect a boy to enjoy, like playing with cars, playing sports and, of course, girls. I just wanted to play Catch or Hide and Seek, read my books, watch my favourite tv shows or films.
Of course I had friends. People I knew since kindergarten would hang out with me a lot and we’d have a great time!
But as we grew up, I realized that the person I really was is someone that society mocks, sets aside and, in some cases, even kills.
I got scared
I knew of other people in my town that were also inside the LGBTQ+ spectrum but they were always the subject of mockery and bullying by others. Apparently, it’s not “normal” – which still boggles me.
So I hid myself away. I’d act straight, change my voice inflections so that I’d sound straight, I’d be with male friends and if they started to talk about girls, I’d comply with the expected remark.
Remember that Lord of the Rings reference? This was when I found my Ring.
Instead of coming out, I’d just put on the Ring every time I wanted to be invisible while everyone could see me. Hiding in plain sight, if you will. I still got bullied, mind you. Never for being gay, although some offensive homophobic names got thrown into the mix, as they usually do.
A bully using homophobic words against an outnumbered, harmless person? Groundbreaking.
Living as a double agent
As the years went by, this double life became second nature to me. The Ring felt strong, indestructible. While living this double life, I kept investigating about what it’s like being part of the LGBTQ+ community. I read about the Gay Rights Movements, the fights, the losses and the accomplishments.
Then I started meeting people. I wanted to know who else was out there that felt and thought like me. Luckily, I met people that were friendly enough to tell me about their experiences on what it is to live as a gay man.
Then, I started to date men. This is when the Ring started to become heavy. As I started to go out on dates, hanging out with my friends became harder. I was finally discovering who I was in the company of my peers, while I was feeling separated from my friends by an invisible wall.
There just was a side of my life I was not letting anyone in.
And the Ring kept feeding on that energy.
So my life became a tiring struggle. A balancing act between being with my friends and secretly going out with a man I’d been seeing for months now.
I would always come up with an excuse as to why I couldn’t be with my friends on a certain weekend and then secretly sneak out, to go meet said man. All this because I was afraid of being seen for who I was, being rejected, humiliated, and losing my friends. Because all of my life I’ve lived in that town where people like me were not welcome. And I knew what the world has done to people who had the “audacity” to be who they were.
That’s the keyword: fear.
Coming Out, Breaking free
(not a High School Musical reference)
Finally, at college, I’d had enough. At that point, I had already seen people of the LGBTQ+ community living their lives as they really are: unapologetically not afraid of who they were. I was thinking about how I wished I was like them.
Then I realized: I can be like them!
I can be who I am and still keep my friends!
I have to love me for me and if any one doesn’t agree, it’s because they were never really my friend.
Why am I depriving myself of the chance of being happy?
The weeks that followed were nerve-wracking. I knew what I had to do but I didn’t know if I had the strength to do it. So the words I wrote in the above paragraph kept replaying on a loop in my head while mixed with the voice of the Ring saying “You’ll lose them. They will hurt you and abandon you!”.
Finally I decided I had to get it out of my system. This is no life for me or anyone! So I called upon my best friend, the person that I felt more comfortable with and slowly, nervously, and even in tears while the Ring kept telling me to stop, I told him I was gay. He listened while I explained why I didn’t say anything sooner.
When I finished, he simply just stared at me and said “What matters most is your happiness. You are and will always be my friend, gay or not. It’s who you are, it’s normal and it’s ok”. Those final word were all I needed to hear: I’m gay, i’m normal, it’s ok.
The Ring started to crack
After this, I came out to everyone else.
One by one, the nerves began to fade and the fears I had were assuaged by everyone who understood and was happy for me. One of my friends had the funniest reaction of thinking I was going to introduce her to a girlfriend I’ve been hiding. There was also another one that was so happy she immediately wanted us to go shopping. To that, I just replied “I’m not that gay, sweetie.”
When I was done coming out to everyone, including family, I came to realize that the Ring was gone. I was free.
Free to be with my friends and family, free to live, but most of all, free to love.
If you can’t love yourself, how are you going to love somebody else?
This is what I wish all my dear fellow LGBTQ+ people out there who are still on their journeys to know on this Pride Month. Go on your own path, don’t apologize for who you are, don’t let your own fear and doubts cast a shadow on your life.
It’s ok to protect yourself but also knowing when to put down that wall – don’t get into a Cold War with yourself!
Just know: you are not alone, you are loved, you are free to live, laugh, love and shine as the special person you are. The truth shall set you free and then you’ll see there’s no reason to be afraid.