Friday, October 10, 2008

Coming Out

I'm gay.

By no means is this news to those who know me well. And though I don't often bring up my sexual orientation unless it's relevant, today isn't even the first time it has been discussed in print. Thus, the only reason I'm devoting an entire column to such a personal matter now is that Saturday is National Coming Out Day.

Thankfully, now that we're well into the 21st century, coming out to one's friends and family is generally not quite as gut-wrenching of an experience as it was a generation ago. But for most people it's still not as easy or simple as it ought to be. My own case is not exceptional, but I hope that through sharing my experiences, I can help gay people who remain closeted realize that they are not alone in their struggles and also help straight people understand just how important their support truly is.

As is standard, my first serious sexual feelings and thoughts arrived with puberty. The vast majority of them were about other boys my age. Initially, I didn't consider these thoughts and feelings to be particularly unusual or alarming. I didn't really think about them at all. Now I realize that I was subconsciously doing my best to ignore them. Though at the time I was only vaguely aware of what it meant to be gay, I did know it was something my rural Iowa community deemed to be entirely unacceptable. And as if the provincial rural atmosphere weren't bad enough on its own, religion served to make things much worse.

I have excellent parents and I love them very much, but the church they raised me in made the process of coming out to myself exceedingly painful. However, I don't really blame them for this because they had no idea what I was going through. The Baptist church I attended twice weekly for most of my childhood could accurately be described as fundamentalist. Condemning gays or other alleged sinners isn't a common focus of the pastor's sermons, and most of its members are good people at heart, but the church does emphasize strongly that the Bible's teachings should be the basis of a person's life and that every word in it is true. Thus, reading verses such as Leviticus 20:13 (If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.) and Romans 1:27 (In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.) made me feel terrible about myself. And though I stopped believing in God in my early teens, the deep insecurities that these passages had helped to create took much longer to dispel.

When I started high school and many of my classmates began dating, I was forced to admit to myself that I was different. But out of a desire to maintain at least the possibility of fitting into the standard social mold, I convinced myself that I was bisexual. This allowed me to admit to myself that I liked guys while still planning to date girls and eventually marry one. But I never dated in high school.

One would think it wouldn't have been too difficult for me to come out and be myself as soon I had moved to Iowa City for college, but it was. If you wear a mask for long enough, it can be exceptionally difficult to pry it off your face. So I dated a few women, but it never felt right. Finally, when I was 21, I started coming out to a few people and within a year I was out to most of my friends. Then I started dating men and finally learned to be comfortable with who I am.

It wasn't until this summer that I came out to my parents. They were surprised but handled it well. The day after I told them I was gay was one of the happiest days of my life. And I've felt pretty good ever since.

(Re-posted from the Daily Iowan's main site.)

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