Coming out stories: destiny, and the kindness of strangers
“Years ago, my grandmother promised me my great grandmother’s ring when I was ready to get married. At the time, I was dating a woman and while I didn’t plan on getting married anytime soon, I appreciated the gift and could envision giving it to someone one day.
“This past Christmas, she sat me down once everyone else had left and told me she had something to ask me. She wanted to give the ring to another member of the family because he was getting married sooner that me. In its place, she wanted to give me hers.
“I broke down in front of her, and she was worried that I was upset by her giving this ring away. But I was crying because she imagined I would propose to a woman with that ring.
“Possessions like this hold a lot of weight in the South. I think it’s because nice things were rare for a very long time — a lot of people don’t have much. So deciding who gets what when you pass away holds a great deal of symbolism. I haven’t told my grandmother I’m gay because I don’t want her to worry about me, my soul. (That might not sound serious, but don’t underestimate the worrying capacity of the Southern matriarch.) I go back and forth about it a lot, but it just seems best.
“We praise people for coming out. We encourage them to do it. And in certain bubbles it’s difficult to imagine that it’s still really hard for some people – even me, as a gay white man. It’s hard because we have to weigh costs that straight people don’t. And we have to acknowledge that the future could look very, very different than just maintaining the status quo.
“So what’s better: being ‘my honest and most authentic self,’ or withholding my orientation because, after weighing the costs, I truly think it could crush my grandmother?
“During Pride, we celebrate who we are and we celebrate our history. I urge you to acknowledge that Pride is bittersweet for a lot of us. Who knows how many of us have a ring story.”
“When I was five years old, I told my mother I was never getting married and I was moving to New York. Prophetic! Fast forward. I’m 19 years old, a sophomore in college. My best friend from school is visiting. My parents have gone to bed, and we’re sitting alone in the kitchen. At one point in our conversation, my friend says he has something to tell me. He then says, ‘I’m gay.’ No sooner are the words out of his mouth, than I say, ‘So am I.’ Until that moment, I did not know what I knew. Was it happy? Was it painful? Was it sad? None of the above. It was relief! Finally, I knew why I was different. And why, at age five, I told my mother I was never getting married and I was moving to New York.”
“By the time 2002 came around, I was out to everyone but my mother. In talking to friends, that seemed to be the trend among us young gay folk. You told your best girlfriend who was in love with you (you were bi first), then your other friends, leaving that lie you told about being bi in the dust. Perhaps you’d then tell a sibling, then the dreaded … telling your parents. You see, my dad didn’t stick around, so it was just my brother, who is six years my senior, my loving but overbearing, very traditional mother, and me. When I came out to my brother a couple years prior his first words were, ‘Have fun telling Mom that one.’ And, ‘CAN I BE THERE?!”
“So here we were, June 2002. I’d been home for over a month as I’d graduated college and was making up every story in the book about where I was going at night. You don’t know how many times I killed some fictional friend’s fictional grandma so I could go dance my
young gay life away at Splash and Spectrum (RIP).
“Pride weekend came along and I wanted to go to the march, but I felt I’d run out of excuses and dead people. All day that Saturday I was on edge and kept asking if we could talk. Somehow she kept dismissing me. After an avalanche of tasks that put me on the back burner, I said, ‘I really need to talk to you,’ scared as can be standing in our kitchen.
“My mother replied she was on her way out and when she got back I could tell her what ever it was. As she closed the back door I blurted out, ‘MOM, I’M GAY!’
“Silence … the keys jingled … the back door opened.
“‘What?’ she replied, as if it was easier to say a second time. ‘Mom, I’m gay…’ The door closed again, then opened, and she came back in and sat down.
“‘What?’ she asked one more time. As I look back, I think she was buying time to figure out how to respond. She went on to ask all the questions a single, traditional mother would ask at the time, about my dad not being around, etc, but in the end she said, ‘I love you, it’s gonna be OK.’
“It took some adjusting because I certainly threw her in the deep end of the pool of glitter, and Gay and Proud tanks, but I couldn’t have asked for a better mother. Now she begs me to take her to the gay bar and to see her favorite drag queens.”
“I’m a 68-year-old gay male who came out in the summer of 1969 – in fact I was on my way to Stonewall the night it was raided. It happened to also be the first night I was on my own and had never been in a gay bar before. New York that summer opened so many possibilities for me and it was surely the kindness of strangers that I met that summer that I knew being here was my destiny.”
“It’s the summer of 1977. Luis, my hairdresser, invites me to his condo for a cocktail party. I’m nervous. I enter the living room and instantly notice a childhood friend and neighbor. I’m pulled toward a guy with light skin and an afro. His name is Manny – there’s something calming about him. He asks if I’ll ride back to Sacramento with him to pick up an overnight bag as he’s staying the weekend at the condo. He’s a free sprit. Without any hesitation, I get into the car that resembles a green bug. He sings, I smile, time slips away.
“Back at the condo he asks me if I’ll stay. I reply no, I have to go home. He’s disappointed and asks me if he can kiss me. I say yes, and feel weak under the starlit charcoal grey sky. I ask if I can kiss him back. You see, I’ve found my missing piece.
“At the hospital, l watch my father take his last breath. My mother pulls me aside: ‘Daddy and I are so disappointed you’re that way.’
“I heard Luis died of AIDS. I would in time break Manny’s heart because I wanted to see the world.”
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