Oct. 12th, 2016

jakebe: (Reading Rabbit)
Happy birthday to [livejournal.com profile] weremoose!

Yesterday was National Coming Out Day, and I shared my story on Twitter -- well, as much as 140 characters at a time would allow. I thought I'd spend a little more time on it here, maybe cross-post to Facebook. Here goes.

I've known I was gay ever since I was capable of being sexually attracted to anyone. While I have been in love with women before -- in that young, first-crush kind of way -- I've only ever really been attracted to men. However, growing up as one of Jehovah's Witnesses, I thought that I would never be able to act on that attraction and romantic love simply wouldn't be for me. Through middle school and most of high school, I had planned to be the JW equivalent of a missionary -- someone who lived at a special place at Witness headquarters called Bethel, who would travel around and try to turn people towards Christianity as Jehovah's Witnesses see it. It wasn't until the end of high school and my first, disastrous stint at college that I had begun to see other options for myself. Once I was out of the influence of my family and congregation, I could see that there was nothing wrong with being gay -- that I could be happy in a same-sex relationship, and it wasn't immoral to think that.

There was a big problem in college, though -- I was in one of the worst depressions I have ever been in. I couldn't function well enough to go to class, let alone do schoolwork, and I had to withdraw from classes for an entire semester. I knew that I couldn't continue on this way, so I went to a therapist for counseling while trying anti-depressants to get myself back on an even keel.

I talked about my sexuality and background with my therapist, and after working through a number of things we talked about the possibility of coming out to my mother. I agreed that it was probably something that I needed to do. That evening, I get a call in my dorm room from my therapist. "I have your mother on the other line," he said, "and I've told her everything."

She said she figured out something like that, and that was OK. I didn't realize just how big a breach of confidentiality this was until much later; mostly, I was relieved that my mother seemed to accept me. That Thanksgiving, when I went home, I went to hug and kiss her, but she stepped back. "Don't kiss me. I don't know where your lips have been."

That holiday was spent with a phone, calling every member of my family to tell them I was gay. My mother insisted. Most people said "Yeah, we knew, and it's OK." My mother said "It's a good thing we aren't closer; if we were and you told me you were gay, I would have hated you."

I didn't spend Christmas vacation with her; instead, I travelled across the country to Grand Coulee, WA to spend it with a close friend of mine at the time. When I came back home that summer, my mother told me that I probably shouldn't come back when I left for college in the fall. A week later, another few friends came by and I packed up everything I could fit in their car to live out the rest of the summer with them. This was in 1998, and I haven't seen my family since.

What my mother said and did after I came out is not something I will ever forget or forgive. After some time, we've gotten to the point where we talk on the phone several times a year. But she still doesn't even know that I've been happily married to a wonderful man for eight years, and she'll never meet my husband. At this point, she's very old and her mind is fading; she says she doesn't remember saying anything remotely like that to me, so we can't talk about it. I can't get closure. This will always be an open wound for me.

I was outed by someone else before I was ready to do it, and the consequences that followed were...terrible. For a while, I was homeless. It was only through the kindness and generosity of several friends that I made it out of that. I dropped out of college, and to this day I'm paying back student loans for basically nothing. Severing ties with my family cut the last link I had to my background and culture, and that's taken decades to repair. I'm in a good place right now, but the summer of 1998 was the worst time of my life.

That's what coming out was like for me. It went about as bad as it could possibly go, but you know what? I survived it, and things got better. Now I have a loving husband, a good job, a wonderful support network and a strong sense of myself and my capabilities. I still have scars, and they'll never go away; but I can deal with that too. Coming out is a very important step in claiming who you are. But it's important to understand that we all become ourselves at our own paces, and that pace can be dictated by so many things. Be respectful of other people's experience, and trust that they know what's best for themselves. Be encouraging, be supportive, and help them in any way you can.

Here's to everyone who knows who they are, and to that process of self-discovery.

November 2016

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