Coming Out & Duran Duran

Recently i experienced a situation that rattled me to the core. It’s not always easy but when i can, i try to turn bad situations into times of growth and if possible i share my experience in hopes that someone else will learn from it. I suppose you could say i pay it forward. In this particular situation in order for me to pay it forward i have to tell my coming out story. To those that know me well…..you’ve already heard it. To those that don’t, maybe i can shed some light on a few things and collectively we can open minds and together be a part of positive change. Truth be told i had an idyllic childhood. I was blessed with an amazing family, i even had a stay at home mom in my younger years….what a gift! I had a typical Midwest upbringing. Throughout the years i have spent many a man hour retracing my steps to make sense of when this all began. My earliest memories date back to elementary school. To this day i have a hard time articulating exactly how i felt……all i can say is that as far back as then i knew that somehow i was different. Right around the fifth and sixth grade my girlfriends started developing crushes on boys. All i cared about was soccer practice! I chalked up my non-interest in boys to the fact that i grew up in a neighborhood fulla boys…..they were my buddies, my partners in crime, to have a crush on one of them woulda been incestuous!! It’s not that i didn’t question why i didn’t have a crush, i most certainly did. It was at this point in my young life that i realized in order to be like the others i had to pretend to be someone else….this was my introduction to Acting 101. During this time i would get invited to sleep overs at my friends houses. I paid close attention to detail…..i looked at their bedroom walls and made mental notes of all their boy posters. Mom would buy me the latest Teen Bop magazine and i would rip out the latest Rob Lowe pic and pin it to my wall…..all the while i wanted a room that looked like my brothers. I somehow knew i couldn’t tell anybody because it would set me apart from my friends so i continued to pepper my walls with the Brat Pack and Duran Duran pics. To this day i still think i shoulda been in the band. I woulda played a mean cowbell…..Union Of The Snake could have sounded SO much better in my humble opinion…..

Right around the seventh and eighth grade, friends started experimenting with boys….simple stuff like holding hands, kissing, you know “going around the bases”. Just the thought of it made my stomach do somersaults. I couldn’t understand for the life of me why anyone would wanna ruin what we had!! Actual physical contact……WHY??!!! This was when i learned of a game called Spin The Bottle. Up until this point a bottles purpose was strictly to hold fluids…..when it was empty it was meant to go in the trash, it wasn’t meant to be turned on its side, spun around a table of youth only to land on someone that you in turn had to kiss!! Weren’t our relationships fine the way they were? Why did we have to kiss each other?!! However…..at this point i was well into my Acting 101 class, i had become quite good at it AND i had created a safe place in my head that nobody knew about. I figured that as long as my eyes were closed i could pretend that i was kissing Christie Brinkley and nobody would know the wiser! Also…..i learned early on that if you were the “funny girl” guys wouldn’t take you seriously but the girls would always want you around…..WIN WIN in my book!!

Fast forward to high school. Up to this point i had heard the term “gay” but in my young mind i wasn’t even sure exactly what it meant. Again…..I knew somehow i wasn’t like the others but i was confused as to why. Homosexuality was never brought up from what i can remember. However, this was my first introduction to terms relating to gay people such as faggot, lesbo and the infamous queerbait. All i knew was that whenever these terms were used it was always to poke fun and show disgust. Somewhere in this era Rock Hudson announced he had A.I.D.S. Up to this point nobody had heard of A.I.D.S. However…. word on the street (not my house) was that he was gay and that A.I.D.S was a disease that God had created to rid the world of gay people…..a punishment if you will. Everybody seemed to buy into that including me…..i didn’t know any different. At this point i started asking questions. I wanted to understand what being gay actually meant. Deep down i suppose i knew what it meant…..was i in denial, yes. The more info i gathered the more unsettled i got, surely this couldn’t be me? I was a good kid. I hardly ever got into trouble aside from occasionally talking too much in class…..but i had alot to say!!! I received fairly good grades. I told my parents that getting straight A’s would make for a boring report card so i peppered it with all kinds of letters! By the way…..this went over like a turd in a punch bowl! Putting that aside i was a fairly good athlete and good kid…..how in the world could i be this disgusting and bad thing that people talked about? Clearly i was mistaken…..i needed to step up my game. Seeing that i had conquered Acting 101 it was time for me to take the next step and start polishing my skills. The more i polished the bigger my safe place in my head had to become. As far as i knew nobody knew my secret and nobody would ever know. What i was feeling felt so isolating. I convinced myself that somehow as i got older it would disappear….i just had to wait it out. In the meantime, i had a couple of boyfriends here and there, most of which broke up with me because they couldn’t even get to first base let alone round second! I used the excuse that i was a “good girl” and that kissing leads to “other things”. There was no way i could tell anyone that the mere thought of sucking face gave me the scoots…..i woulda been labeled a weirdo or worse yet a lesbo. I was petrified of being labeled anything that ended in “O”!!

Fast forward to college. Who knows….maybe i shoulda done what my brother did…..stayed focused, lived at home, commuted to college, worked full time and graduated in four years without taking out a single penny in student loans. I must mention here how much i looked up to him and how proud i was of him. But…. ooooooooh no….i wanted the full college experience so i packed my bag of secrets and moved on campus. I’ve never had a hard time making friends so i instantly met a few girls (shout out to Annie and Holly!) and we hit it off right away. Suddenly i was surrounded by people of all different ethnicity and backgrounds….i loved it!! I came from a town of mostly white folk so needless to say this was a much needed dose of the real world. It was also the first time i had been exposed to any “out” gay people. I remember a couple of gay girls in my classes who were feminine. This both intrigued me and confused me all at the same time. I was naive and thought that all gay women looked manly….i didn’t realize that they came in all shapes and sizes. On one hand i felt a sense of comfort….i had met people that were like me….on the other hand i was scared to death because it forced me to secretly deal with the fact that i was in fact gay. If this was true, i told myself that i would have to live two seperate lives for the rest of my days and at this point i was starting to grow very tired.

All of this time i was going on dates with guys trying desperately to be like everyone i was close to. Basically, i convinced myself to think that i would somehow grow out of this. Naively….i couldn’t wait for the day that i would wake up and be like everyone else. Living two lives is exhausting. Knowing that you’re close to people yet they have no idea what’s really going on in your head makes you feel like a fraud. It’s an extremely lonely and isolating place. On one hand i knew that i was good and descent, yet on the other hand i felt alone, less than, and incredibly isolated…..being alone wasn’t fun. However….as far as i knew nobody knew the wiser and my secret was still safe.

I spent the next few years fumbling around in college. I had no idea what i wanted to be when i grew up. I was having a hard time focusing on anything other than perfecting my facade. I knew that as long as i was having fun it took my mind off of my reality. Eventually during one of my many college breaks i found a sales job. On the outside my life looked perfect…..i had perfected my game. I made friends easy at my new job (shout out to Jonelle, Kelly, Terri and Donna). I was making good money, i was totally self sufficient…..my parents were proud. On the inside i was exhausted and it was starting to show. One day i had finished up a sales call and was on my way to meet my mom for lunch. All of a sudden i started getting tunnel vision which led to a severe panic attack. I pulled off to the side of the highway and was as frightened as i had ever been…..i thought i was having a heart attack. I called my mom and collected myself enough to get myself to the hospital. She took one look at me and knew that something was terribly wrong. After they ran a battery of tests the doctor came in and explained to me that i had had a severe panic attack. He asked me if something stressful was going on in my life. Seeing that my mom was in the room i couldn’t be honest i felt, so i chalked it up to sales quotas. This was the start of many visits to the emergency room. On top of the panic attacks my hair was starting to fall out as well as turning grey. I was losing weight rapidly and not sleeping. My friends had no idea any of this was going on to my knowledge….however….my family knows me well. They knew something was up and kept asking me what was wrong. You may find this hard to believe but i come from a family of talkers!! It was not like me to not talk to them…..my silence was telling. Although i was miserable on the inside and completely exhausted i continued to play it straight, until……my last trip to the emergency room.

Up to this point i had had many conversations with God. I was raised by two spiritual parents and i myself believe in a higher power. I had spent numerous nights begging him to help me. Sometimes late at night i would drive to a nearby church parking lot….i would sit on the hood of my car and bawl my eyes out. I somehow feared that he would be disappointed in me….i begged him to give me some sort of relief. At this point i desperately wanted to just be ME for once. He listened to me and his message came in the form of a nurse. To this day i regret that i didn’t get her name because she changed the course of my life. Because of my frequent visits to the emergency room some of the nurses knew me by name…..how embarrassing!! On this particular visit the nurse walked into the room, pulled up a chair and said she wanted to talk. I immediately knew that this visit was gonna be different. She made it clear to me that i was in a safe environment and asked me what was going on in my life. I immediately got nervous and started spewing out my usual rhetoric. She interrupted me and asked me to stand up. She proceeded to walk over to me and give me the tightest hug (not as big as my mom’s she gives the best hugs on the planet…ask anyone who knows her!). When she pulled away she grabbed my face in her hands, looked me straight in the eyes and told me that i was beautiful and perfect ….just the way God made me. Every emotion you can think of was going through my head. She then told me to say it out loud. It was the first time the words “i’m gay” had ever come out of my mouth. It’s hard to articulate how i felt other than to say i was relieved and scared all at the same time. She had a gay son…..her advice to me was to tell my family. Going through the experience herself she knew that my family was probably confused and worried about me. She sympathized with my situation but knew that was the only thing that would set me free. As relieved as i was to say it out loud….this created a whole other set of stresses. I had held this secret close my whole life. How do i go to my family who have done nothing but love me and tell them something that i felt would turn their world upside down and disappoint them. Like anybody….i always wanted my family to be proud of me, we’re a tight bunch. They had given me a beautiful life. I felt they were not deserving of this.

It would be impossible to tell the entire story of our family journey….besides i’ve already taken up enough of your time, so i’ll summarize here. I told my brother and his wife first. I couldn’t have asked for a more supportive response. My brother actually shed a tear….he was upset that as close as we were i didn’t feel like i could tell him. That hurt him and i don’t blame him. My sister-n-law said “IT’S ABOUT TIME!!” We laugh about that to this day. He wanted to be with me when i told mom and dad which meant a lot to me. That day is a day i will never forget. I was about to drop a bomb on the two people i loved the most. I felt horrible inside….the last thing i ever wanted to do was hurt them…..the two kindest and most beautiful souls i know. When i told them they both cried. They were shocked, confused, hurt, scared you name it. However….one of the first things that came out of their mouth was that they loved me and they needed time to educate themselves. Like any parent their fear for me was that i would have a harder life. I understood that completely. The next couple of years were spent talking alot…..they asked me questions, each question they asked made me feel good, it showed me how much they were trying. We were patient with each other…..any parent that learns they have a gay child goes through a grieving process. They have to grieve their idea of you. All of the things they’ve dreamt about are now going to look different…..that takes time. As they started to dig deep they learned the extent of my struggle, they learned how long i had been dealing with this on my own. They felt bad and couldn’t understand, much like my brother, why as close as we were, i didn’t feel like i could tell them. To this day that is my one regret…. i wish i had been truthful with them from the beginning and not gone about it alone. As time went on things got easier and easier. They met and liked the first couple of girls i dated. I ended up meeting an amazing woman that i spent nine years of my life with. They loved her like a daughter. All they needed to see was me happy. I’m incredibly blessed to have such a supportive family. Even my extended family have been amazing. Not a day goes by i don’t realize that i’m a spoiled gay…..if there is such a thing! I’m loved every day by my family, my amazing friends….even the company i work for, how lucky can one get!! Until just recently not once had i experienced any hatred thrown my way….notice i said until recently which brings me to the point of this novel…..

I can’t get into the details but recently i was involved in a conversation where two men started making fun of gay people, they were mocking them and saying that gay people burn in hell. They didn’t know me therefore they didn’t know i was gay. I was disgusted by their behavior and didn’t want it to go any further so i told them i was gay and asked them to stop. One of the men told me that i too was going to burn in hell and then asked me if i had excepted Jesus Christ into my heart…..which was ironic seeing how he was acting. I could see where he was going with this….clearly he wasn’t the type to have any sort of meaningful conversation so i again asked him to stop. Before he was through he repeatedly told me that he wouldn’t be seeing me in Heaven and to basically have fun rotting in hell. I later found out that the other guy agreed with him and bragged to him about how his brother is gay and he hasn’t spoken to him since the day he came out to his family five years ago. There is much more to the story but that’s as much as i can say…..however…..here are my thoughts….

That was the first time in my life i have ever had such hatred thrown in my direction. It hurt me to the core. Here were two people who knew nothing about me throwing hateful things at me and getting a kick out of it. Even though i know that everything they said was ignorant it still bothered me something awful. That night i went to bed and started thinking about what that experience taught me…..i tried to find a piece of it that i could turn into something good. What i realized is that even though that experience was awful….i’m an adult who is comfortable in my own skin therefore i can take it. I’ve already lived my hell when i wasn’t living an authentic life. But i started thinking about how that would have effected me in the Duran Duran years. Think about all of the kids that are out there who have those things thrown at them everyday. That would be hard to handle when your still hiding who you are….fearful of acceptance. I can’t even imagine. It’s no wonder gay kids kill themselves. There are some things in life that we have no control over but the one thing we do is our words. If your a miserable and hateful human being i feel sorry for you but that doesn’t give you the right to project your hate onto others. Hiding behind the bible is pathetic and a disgrace to all the good people of faith i know. I can’t pray the gay away no more than one can pray the straight away and i shouldn’t have to….my God wouldn’t want me to. When someone tells me that my being gay was a choice, they’ve completely diminished my lifelong struggle down to something as simple as a decision. To me that is nothing but blatant ignorance. I shared my personal story here to show the human side of what one goes through when they’re dealing with their sexuality. It’s a very difficult struggle…..what one needs is compassion and a place to feel safe. If your around a child or an adult for that matter who in your heart you know is struggling try to show them nothing but kindness….maybe even open a door for them to walk through…you could be that one person who changes the course of their life for the better just like my nurse….an angel. If in sharing my story i opened up just one set of eyes then it was worth it. If i opened up just one eye then i’ll be confused because why wouldn’t you just open your other eye unless you don’t have another eye and you have to wear one of those eye patches in which case that would make perfect sense. Anyway….if your still reading this thank you for hanging in there and i hate to cut you short but i need to go pee……

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