That’s when I knew

Lately I have heard the question repeated, “when did you know” referring to when did you realize that you’re gay. It’s fascinating to me when I hear all the different answers. Myself, I realized very early in life that I was gay […] I can remember clearly the exact moment I realized I was gay and how much it frightened me. […]  I assumed it was the same for everyone but later I would find out that was not true. […] What about you, when did you know?
— from: “When Did You Know?” on Sooo-This-Is-Me

I’ve learned that each coming out story is different, personal. No two people do it the same way, and when they do come out it’s for different reasons and under different circumstances.

Some guys come out early, when they’re in high school. They break out of their shells, throw caution to the wind, and become the traiblazers we remember when we open up our yearbooks and look back in time. Others wait until they are old enough or feel safe enough to do so. I think fear of rejection (from family, friends, or society) plays a role in a person’s decision when they’ll come out. Religion, too, is a big influence on a person’s coming out, especially if one is brought up in a faith that frowns upon homosexuality and stifles a person’s coming out with images of hell, fire, and brimstone.

Oddly enough, in the pagan world, some gay men and women run toward those images of hell, embracing the “dark” religions and making a go of it thinking, “Well, if the Christian god won’t have me, what do I have to lose?” Others, take to kinder religions that are more open and accepting. And then there are the ones who, fraught with guilt, turn to the very church they feel oppressed by and join the priesthood hoping that God will forgive and embrace them with the kind of love they need if they forsake the one thing that makes them who they are. Sadly, we know what happens to those men who don’t find the love and healing they are looking for and end up feeling worse because, even with the sacrifice they make, the Christian church does not fully embrace them. Those men, sadly, continue to live in a closet that is often far more sophocating and confining than the one they hoped to escape.

If I had words of advice for anyone coming out, I’d say:

Don’t worry about the when or how of your coming out. It’s your experience that matters and no one else’s. This is your story and you do things your way.

After all, if you’re going to be the hero of your story, why not do things the way that is best suited to you? Do things without regretting them. If you make a mistake, so what? Who hasn’t? That’s how we learn. I’ve yet to meet a gay man or woman who hasn’t made a mistake either in coming out, dating, or choosing a sexual partner. We all do it. It happens to all of us, and that’s why this tribe’s flag, our gay tribe’s flag, dons so many colors.

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Come out the way you want, how you want, when you want – on your terms and no one else’s. When you do, there’ll be plenty of us waiting to help you through the process and embrace you when you come out of your shell. I can promise you that even with all the challenges and personal fears you have to confront, it is a worthy quest to take on. Don’t compare yourself or your coming out to anyone else’s. This is as personal a journey as you’ll ever take. It’s yours and yours only. Own it. Treasure it. Make it all yours.

Above all, be kind to yourself. Don’t judge or be harsh to yourself. It doesn’t work. Berating oneself only digs you deeper and keeps you stuck further back in the closet. Once you learn to be your own best friend, you’ll find the courage to take the steps necessary to go further on your journey. (Shit, that’s a lot of advice. Note to self: learn to be succinct.)

Here’s a story:

X-man 4 (I name and number the men I’ve dated accordingly) did not come out of the closet until he was in his late 40s. He married, had three kids (all of whom I met), and divorced his wife when he turned 50. I met him a year before his divorce, when he was already separated from his wife. We met online, on what used to be the AOL’s chat rooms, and after a few chats we decided to meet for a drink. To this day, X-man 4 is the best man I’ve dated and known. He is solid, honest, caring, sweet and anything you’d want to find in a partner or a friend.

Coming out is a journey of becoming, of stripping layers of falsehoods, and coming to terms and embracing the real you.

I never thought I’d date someone who came out so late in life, or who would come with children…but we each have our stories to live. His story and coming out were different than mine. We were together for four years, until we broke up because I was not mature and honest enough with myself to know what a real relationship is like. I had not grown or learned to care and love myself enough to realize that a good man does not come wrapped in a body made at the gym. We broke up because he’d done his work; I’d yet to do my own…and many years later, I’m still in the process of learning to love and accept myself.

You see, coming out is not about telling the world you’re gay, how many men you’ve slept with, how hung your dick is, or how many parties you are invited to on a weekend. Some of those things may be part of the process, but a big part of coming out is also learning to love yourself for who you are, and learning to be soft, kind, open, and friendly to yourself because of who you are. That’s a lesson many gay men miss, skip, or forget to learn in the process. We’re so crazy, in such a hurry, to fit in and make up for lost time that we forget what’s most important in the process: self-love!

When we come out, we want it all: a house, a lover, a dog, best friends, perfect job, travel, gym body…we want to best Martha Stewart at being Martha, but we forget it all starts with discovering the kind of person we are. We’d been beaten down by religion, family, friends, society and so many other institutions for so long, that we forget we need to take time to grow into our new skins. How can you be nice or kind to others when you can’t be good or kind to yourself? Ever wonder why gay men can be so mean to each other? You can only treat others the way you treat yourself. Coming out begins with you, and how you treat yourself!

My coming out is on-going. Just when I think: “Whew! Well, I’m done with that,” something or someone happens that makes me think I’m only just beginning to come out.

I had my first gay sexual experience when I was in high school. I had sex with men when I was in college. I came out, or at least told myself, “Give it up, you’re gay,” (late one night in Gainesville, FL, in the parking lot of a shuttered gay bar) when I was a senior in college. Before then, I was in and out of the closet more often than a broom in a witch’s den. I went through every bisexual, asexual, nonsexual, poly-sexual, confused-sexual, drunk-sexual, toy-sexual phase I could imagine before finally realizing there was no running or escaping from who I am and what I like. I like men; I like dick; and – dammit! – I love being kissed and held by a man. From that moment on, the years-long coming out process began. And I’m still on that journey. Coming out is a journey of becoming, of stripping layers of falsehoods, and coming to terms and embracing the real you.

Another story:

Six months after I moved to New York City, I met X-man 1. He was everything I thought I wanted in a guy: successful, handsome, blonde, blue eyed. He volunteered for a gay community organization in the city, and the first summer we were together he invited me to NYC’s Gay Pride.

Imagine my first Gay Pride in NYC! I had never seen or lived anything like it before. Say what you will of NYC’s Gay Pride: it’s big, loud, intimidating, obnoxious, a drug fest, the best party in the world…whatever. I believe every gay man and woman should experience a NYC Gay Pride at least once in his or her life, if only to witness the sheer number of people clamoring along the sidewalks supporting and cheering us on. Oh, and to witness the tourists baffled faces.

I did not know yet what made the two men different from all the others, but I knew then that there were others like me out in the world. I was not alone!

NYC Gay Pride has to be experienced if only for the incredible diversity of our community; if only so we can see we are not alone! There are so many of us, in so many different flavors and colors, that it barely registers in your mind when you first see it. It has to sink in, slowly, over time. A NYC’s Gay Pride parade should be compulsory for any gay man getting his gay card.

X-man 1 and I watched the parade from the sidelines. We stood on Broadway and 22nd Street watching the floats, bands, drag queens, go-go boys, and families (yes! families!) walking down Manhattan’s grandest street. Then the most unnerving thing happened: X-man 1’s organization paraded right in front of us, and without warning, X-man 1 took my hand and pulled me on to the street. Before I knew it, I was in the middle of Broadway, walking along the parade route! I was part of NYC’s Gay Pride parade!

Of course, I wanted to run. I wanted to faint. Had I known how to invoke the Titans and call on the gods of yore, I would have called out to the heavens and asked for the earth to open up and swallow me whole there and then. But nothing happened. There I was, thinking my face would be the main story in the evening news, the poster child for Gay Pride. But that didn’t happen either. Mine was just a face in the crowd, and nothing makes for a better headline than dykes on bikes.

Instead, I saw everyone on the sidewalks cheering, applauding, encouraging us on. I saw nothing but love, joy, happiness, and support. Episcopalians lined the sidewalks giving out free water bottles to anyone walking the parade route. Store fronts waved rainbow flags and sold beads, t-shirts, and every sort of queer paraphernalia you could imagine. Leathermen walked holding hands together and kissed in front of churches. I turned to X-man 1 and he beamed at me. “Isn’t it incredible?” he said. It was; and from that moment on, I’ve come to believe everyone, and I mean every gay man and woman, should have a parade experience like that one.

My coming out began when I realized I was different. I was not like other boys who liked to play ball in the park, kill frogs in the backyard, or scrape their knees playing rough games. I didn’t know what gay or what the word maricon meant at the time. I knew I was different. I knew there was something about me my parents and other’s didn’t quite get, something that kept me separate from the other boys playing baseball or going camping with their dads. For many years, I thought I was the only boy in the world like this. I was alone, afraid, confused.

Then, around the time when I was seven or eight, while on a trip to Disney World, waiting for everyone to finish their business at a rest-stop, I saw two men enter the building walking together. They were – different. They vibrated differently from everyone  else at the stop. They wore tight jeans, plaid shirts, long hair, mustaches, and western boots. My eyes grew as big as saucers, and I followed their every move from where I stood. They spoke differently, moved differently, than every other man in the building. They walked in and out together, got back into their car, and drove off.

That’s when I knew, that’s when I realized, I was not the only boy in the world who felt the way I did. I did not know yet what made the two men different from all the others, but I knew then that there were others like me out in the world. I was not alone! I was not the only one! All I had to do was wait, grow up, and go off in search of those men who were like me. And thus, my coming out story began. On that day, the seed to a longer journey of coming out to myself was planted.

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It’s been years since all of these stories happened, but my story is far from over. And just like your blog documents your story, the Sacred Bonfire documents mine, one post at a time, spinning the story that makes my coming out. And that exactly is what I dreamt the Sacred Bonfire to be…a safe, sacred place for men to come together and share each of our stories, so we realize we are not alone. We’re not the only ones. There are many bonfires burning out in the world where we come and tell our stories. That is why coming out, and telling our coming out stories, is so important. Each one of our posts tells one of the many stories of our tribe.

And as part of this tribe, you will always travel in good company.

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