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This article has been written as part of a series to honor National Coming Out Day in collaboration with the Kutztown University LGBTQ+ Resource Center. National Coming Out Day exists because coming out is difficult, to put it mildly. Most LGBTQ+ people worry to some extent about negative reactions from loved ones, and many still fear workplace or housing discrimination. The aim of the series is to share stories of people with less represented identities or coming out stories, and to foster the kind of understanding and compassion that can reduce that fear.

Dan is a gay man. His sexual orientation is straightforward, but his identity as a whole is somewhat less so. “Identity to me is kaleidoscopic,” he explained. He feels that identity is “a totality of the individual,” and that’s not something that can be captured in labeling one’s sexuality alone. It might seem that his story would be fairly simple, but there is something about his coming out story that makes it stand out. We often hear of people who acknowledge their identities and came out at a young age, but Dan didn’t reach that point until he was 39 years old.

In the LGBTQ+ community, the concept of coming out to oneself refers to the process of recognizing one’s own identity. For Dan, even though it wasn’t hard to understand his identity due to underrepresentation, coming to acknowledge it was a long, painful process spurred on by grief. “My father had just died, and I was quite literally broken. My mother was very ill at the time, and was never going to get better, so as their son who had been caretaking for them for 10 to 15 years, I was at one of the lowest points of my life.” In that darkness, he found himself standing in front of the bathroom mirror wondering what had happened to himself, asking his reflection, “What happened to your joy? What’s really wrong?” Initially, he said, “I gave the reflexive ‘I don’t know’ answer. Then I looked again in the mirror, and said, ‘Yes you do, and you’d feel a hell of a lot better if you’d admit it to yourself.’ That’s when I embraced the one dark shadow that had power over my life, realizing it wasn’t a darkness, but just an inherent preference.”

His first coming out experiences with friends were mixed—some were surprised, while others said they already knew. It was his mother he was most scared to tell, although he thinks she also knew. “Looking back, the anxiety that lead to it was suffocatingly traumatic, but now I realize that the pressure I envisioned in the process was about 99% applied from within.” A lot of this pressure was a desire to be perfect, but he realizes now that “We’re all perfect the way we are,” and that the things that make people unique are important, beautiful qualities, not flaws. “Thank God this world has endless spices and flavors, huh? Who wants an entire world where everyone is chicken noodle soup?” 

A large part of Dan’s anxiety had to do with his faith. “What made me terrified to admit I was gay was growing up Catholic.” He worried, “How would God view that? The Bible says it’s a sin. Would I still go to Heaven? Could I still be spiritual and gay and still get a ticket upstairs when my life was ready to turn in?” Eventually, he said, “I’d had enough with looking over my shoulder in shame and worry about who knew, who suspected. I knew I had to do it before I turned 40, or I never would and [would] just let it go. I wasn’t willing to live in denial and quite frankly suffocation of the soul any longer.” What allowed him to let go of his fear and shame was realizing that “the world we live in is self-focused, and most people are to preoccupied with what’s going on in their lives rather than worrying who you have behind your bedroom door or whose hand you choose to hold.” He added, “I knew I was the one to set myself free, and it was one of the best things I ever decided to do with my life.”

His advice to those listening to someone come out is “to be patient and kind above all,” because coming out is “a very vulnerable state of the soul, and that’s a rare privilege for any of us who is trusted with such a sacred confidence of another soul who crosses our path.” He added, “If they came to you, they sense in you your capacity to already hold those traits. Support them, remind them they are valued and loved and wish them the greatest happiness life has to offer. As Ram Dass says, ‘We’re all just walking each other home.’” 

To those thinking about coming out Dan says, “The fear, trepidation, anxiety, terror you may feel is very powerful. However, what’s on the other side of embracing yourself and who you are is this: freedom, happiness, and peace.” He continued, “If anyone is reading my story, be sure that there are many who love you just the way you are, who you’ve always been and will continue to be. Your sexuality or identity won’t change that, and if it does for some people, that’s their issue, not yours.  As the saying goes, ‘those who matter don’t mind, and those who mind don’t matter.’”

I'm a writer and musician majoring in professional writing at Kutztown University. I love folk music, adaptive sports, and my dogs Roxie and Suzy Q.
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