When I hear the phrase “coming out,” I don’t think of a loud, declarative revelation. I don’t recollect any time where I felt like I could shout “I’M GAY!” at the top of my lungs. All I can think of is how disjointed my experience has been with it. Sure, I may be “out” to most of my friends, and even to a small number of family, but I still feel the burden of a secret. Of an untold story. Of a closet door not yet fully open. I’ve never fully allowed myself that one moment in time to declare my place in the world. To tell all who I can exactly who I am. Maybe that’s why I write about this so much.
I’ve known I was gay for as long as I can remember – it has always been a part of me. When I was young, I never thought I could accept it – I tried to argue against that possibility more than once. There was a time when I would claim I “hated” Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way,” because gay people couldn’t be born that way. If that were true, it would have made it okay for me to be who I was always meant to be. Another time, I argued with a friend about how wrong gay marriage was. I had to be a good “Christian” – I couldn’t be that and support gay marriage, let alone be gay myself.
I thought I was doing the right thing. I thought I was saving myself. I hated the very idea of opening my mind to what was already there. It made me hate myself for wanting to succumb to what I was told was a sinful abomination. I detested every part of who I was. I directed all the hate I was taught to have towards people like me towards myself. I truly believed I deserved that hatred. I truly felt I had earned that pain.
But I didn’t.
It took me some time to accept that fact. For a while, my hatred turned into apathy. I thought, “what does it even matter anyway?” I tried my best to push it from my mind. To try and forget. But after I came out to my best friend Kylie, it opened a door that I couldn’t close.
I finally began my journey to loving myself for who I was, but it was definitely still a struggle. My mom once asked me if I was gay. I told her that I didn’t want to talk about it. She told me that she thought I was still deciding, and that if I decided to be gay, she would disagree with my “decision.” I need to tell her. She’s the one person I need to tell before I can finally be free of my closet. Yet when she said that to me? She didn’t know it – how could she have – but it was a blow that hurt more than anything else anyone had ever said to me. I love my mother. I always have and I expect I always will. And that is why it hurt so much.
So still, I haven’t told her. This most intrinsic part of who I am, I’ve kept a secret.
When I was sixteen, things started looking up. I met the most amazing person I’ve ever known – my best friend, and the person I can call my platonic soulmate, Emily. She helped me bear this secret. She helped me come to terms with who I was, and through her love, her friendship, and her support, she gave me the confidence in myself to be able to open up. To be able to let people in. To be able to love myself as much as I loved those close to me.
Emily saved me.
Over the next few years, I came out to some more of my best friends. I finally had a circle. A place to fall back to when bearing my secret was too hard. A place where I didn’t have to whisper the word “gay.” Yet, outside of this circle, I could still barely bring myself to even say the word. Then came my freshman year composition class I had with Dr. Linda Cullum. I don’t know if there’s ever been a class that was more foundational for my discovery of myself than this one.
Something we talked about in Dr. Cullum’s class was how damaging silence could be. How painful it was to have an untold story. Going into her course, I had no idea what I could expect. But one day, we had a journal entry assignment at the beginning of class that had us respond to a quote by Maya Angelou: “There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside you.”
This quote woke me up. It made me burn with a passion to free myself from my story. I told Dr. Cullum this, and her response surprised me. She told me she hoped that one day, I would never have to whisper the word “gay” ever again. At this point in time, I hadn’t realized that I whispered it. It was such an internalized fear. To most of my friends, I typically sound like I’m anything but whispering. So it surprised me. But Dr. Cullum’s words were a spark that lit a fuse. For the final in her class, I wrote a paper from the perspective of Harvey Milk, someone who died for a cause I was still learning my place in. I titled my paper in honor of him. “For a Day Without Whispers,” an homage to his goal of destroying every closet door.
The time is near. That day is almost upon me. I can feel it. It’s like an underwater volcano that’s about to burst to the surface and declare itself. There isn’t much left to do. I’m so close to being ready to finally throw away the last of the shackles holding me to the ground. It’s coming, and it’s coming soon. The swan song of my secret.
My last whisper.