Now, that title is a bit misleading, but allow me to explain. I first realized I was attracted to men during my first viewing of the 1992 Disney film, Aladdin. I saw this daring, brave, scrappy, and super handsome guy who totally took my breath away (and who just happened to be a cartoon). I watched the movie over and over again under the guise of loving the story, but I secretly just wanted another glimpse at my dream man. At that point, I don’t think I fully understood what it meant that I loved Aladdin, only that I knew I couldn’t tell anyone.
I spent the next dozen years of my life dodging questions about why I never had a girlfriend or why I never seemed to notice cute girls or why I had so many pictures of naked men on my computer… I remember looking at gay porn online (and later exploring sexual acts with some male friends) and still not allowing the fact that I was gay creep into reality. I would still picture a future with a wife and kids because I knew that was what was expected of me. I had crushes on girls at school and would ask them to dances, but never so much as kiss them – or even attempt to.
Because I was so repressed and closed off, I had no confidence in my appearance and put in absolutely no effort whatsoever. I wore clothes that would be too big on me now and preferred brands such as Abercrombie & Fitch and Hollister. I favored baggy cargo shorts and a hoodie over anything else. I had a good group of friends in high school and felt close with them. I told them everything. But we never discussed my sexuality. Once, senior year, a rumor went around about me hooking up with an out gay kid at the school (for what it’s worth, I didn’t even know him!) and I denied it until I ran out of breath. It never occurred to me that it would have been easier to be open about who I was and who I liked.
I would still picture a future with a wife and kids because I knew that was what was expected of me
Time came for me to go to college and this idea thrilled me beyond belief. I was always incredibly independent growing up and this was finally my chance to start my life on my own and become an adult. I remember going to orientation and realizing that all the people I would be meeting would be an entirely new crop of potential friends. I could be myself. I could introduce them to the real me and finally get to be my genuine self. So, on the first night of freshman year I sat in my dorm’s common area with my three roommates as they all shared stories of girlfriends past. I froze up. I told them all about the time I lost my virginity to a girl at summer camp when I was 16. I felt myself sinking back into the closet as I told the story and for the next year had to lie to them when I was going to the city to go out to gay bars with my friends.
I led separate lives for so long, it was almost easier to just keep going. I made a bunch of new gay friends through Tumblr and we would go out drinking every weekend in the city – Woody’s, Urge, Eastern Bloc, Therapy, Industry… These were where I spent my weekends for the better part of that first year in college. I would be set up with girls through my main group of friends and on the weekends I stayed on campus, would flirt and make out with girls at frat parties to impress my friends. Then I would make out with a guy in my dorm when our schedules aligned and his roommate was out for the night.
After months of this going on, well into sophomore year, I realized I was tired. It was too much energy to keep my two lives separate and I began the incredibly slow process of coming out. The first person I told was my friend Dani. We were at a house party and I pulled her into one of the bedrooms and said I needed to talk to her. I told her I thought that I was into guys. She laughed and told me she thinks she is into girls. It was funny and touching and I will never forget how easy it was to talk about it with her.
The next person I told was my best friend Shira and for some reason it was so difficult. Since we had known each other (which at that point was only a little over a year) we had become incredibly close and I felt as if she didn’t know the real me. So, to tell her I was dishonest with her and actually felt a different way in regards to my sexuality felt to me like a betrayal of our friendship. I cried. I couldn’t speak the words out loud. I remember counting the words it would take to say it. “I am attracted to men.” 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5. That’s it. Say it. SAY IT! I finally broke the news and she gasped with happiness. She assumed I had some sort of inoperable brain tumor or that my entire family was dead. To this day, she is still the most accepting and open-minded person I know.
Next came my family, who I told sporadically over Winter break that year. I felt a huge sense of relief by the time it came to return to campus after that trip. I felt like I was finally being myself and could just live life from now on. But a strange thing happened. I couldn’t bring myself to tell my friends. That same fear that I would be judged or abandoned or hated for admitting to lying to them since we met kept me from being able to open up to them about who I really was. As terrible of a solution as it was, my reaction to this apprehension was to draw back and remove myself from the circle. I began hanging out with them less and less and spending more and more time with the friends I made since coming out. I was actively dating/sleeping with men and yet was so anxious to tell my friends about that part of my life that I decided to withdraw from them entirely. It happened slowly. Over time they stopped texting to ask if I wanted to hang out anymore. I was busy with my life in the city and with my friends who knew I was gay. It was not the best way for me to grow into myself and I admit to feeling intense shame and embarrassment about it, but I did what I felt I had to do at the time.
I exhibited the same behavior with the friends I still kept in touch with from high school. I remember going home between semesters my junior year and meeting up with three of my closest friends from high school and after an hour or so of hanging out they all became silent. They looked at each other and nodded. Then one asked me “So…do you know you’re gay yet?” We all laughed as I told them, “Yes! Finally!” and that was such a great moment that proved to me that most of my friends probably already knew.
So…do you know you’re gay yet?
After coming out, part of becoming more comfortable with myself included finally learning what clothes looked good on me. I think over that year I got an entirely new wardrobe. I discovered skinny jeans, cute boots and button downs. I transformed into someone who cared about his appearance and into someone who was happy with the way he looked. Eventually, I circled back and reconnected with some of my friends from freshman year and was able to open up to them more, but it wasn’t the same. I caused damage to the friendship and it couldn’t get back to where it was. So, yes – coming out made me lose friends. But it wasn’t anyones fault but my own.
As the years have gone on since graduating college and growing more and more into the person I am today, I have become so much more confident and proud of who I am. I think back to how long my coming out story is and I laugh. I wish I could go back and shake my 15-year-old self awake and yell “You’re gay!” and then everything would be so much easier. But that’s not how life goes. And I know if I didn’t struggle to become comfortable with who I am, I may not have become who I am. I stand here today (or, let’s be honest, I’m sitting in bed as I write this) as a proud gay man who is never afraid to speak his truth and be his genuine self. I am open with my friends to a degree that they sometimes ask me to stop telling them things for a little while! This story has definitely taught me to fear others’ opinions less and trust that if the people you consider friends are actually friends, they will be there for you no matter what you tell them – or more importantly, who you are.