There is no poem post today. I have something very important to tell you about. I will likely post a poem tomorrow.
National Coming Out Day (NCOD) turned out to be more emotional than I could have expected. My niece, now my nephew, came out as trans (FTM) on Facebook. I don’t have the habit of checking Facebook often, but for some reason, I did check it first thing yesterday morning. At the top of my timeline was a post from my niece. While I was reading it, her name changed to his new name. I was immediately concerned for two reasons: 1) if this were true, this would not go well with his parents, and 2) if it wasn’t true, my niece was an insensitive jerk making a bad joke. I kept an eye on his Facebook page, and in a few hours, the post was gone. The name had reverted to the old name. No one commented on the post, so I am not sure how many people saw it. He’d posted it after midnight when presumably his parents had gone to bed, and I’m sure as soon as they saw it (my sister is always on Facebook), they made him take it down. I had a feeling it might be true since the terminology used was correct and the timing of the post as soon as it was officially NCOD. But I had to know for sure. I didn’t want him to be alone and scared if this was true.
I called my mom to find out what was going on, but she was in the dark about the whole thing. My mother’s response was, “I hope it’s not true.” I then told her the statistics of trans suicides and reminded her I had tried to commit suicide when I was a teenager. I told her she had to lend her support and that my sister needed to know what the consequences could be if she denied this child the necessary support. My mother told me to call my niece and ask her what was going on. My mother did say, “Don’t encourage her in this.” I said, “Mama, I will give her all the love and support she needs. I am not going to discourage her. She needs to know she is loved, accepted, and supported 100 percent.” My mother didn’t say anything more after that.
I hung up with my mother and called my niece. The phone was answered and immediately hung up. I then received a text asking if I was ok. I replied, “I was calling to see if you were OK.” He said, “Uh, physically yes.” I told him, “I saw your Facebook post. Please know you can always talk to me about anything.” He said his mom and dad freaked out, and I said, “Is it true? If it is, I love you and support you 100 percent.” He confirmed it was true and thanked me for supporting him. Then, I did something I had not planned to do until this kid went to college and was away from my sister and her husband. I told him I’d come out as gay twenty years ago and lived as an out gay man here in Vermont. He was shocked but thought that was “amazing.” How anyone doesn’t realize I am gay always boggles my mind, but he is 14 and sees me about once a year. We texted back and forth for a while, and I told him how much I supported him. I said he could always talk to me and count on me. I would do anything I could.
The good thing is that his aunt, my brother-in-law’s sister, was the first person he came out to in the family. She is, and has been, very supportive. He has always been closer to his aunt than with me probably because she lives near him. I rarely lived close by except for the six years when I moved back to Alabama after graduate school. However, my sister has never let her kids be around me unsupervised which has always made me think she suspects me of being gay and doesn’t want her children around me. My nephews both love their Uncle Joe, and you can see the excitement, joy, and love on their faces when they see me. I am glad he has his aunt as a strong ally. She is a force to be reckoned with and has always lived her life as she wanted to whether her parents liked it or not. I am glad my nephew has her support.
My nephew said it’s been getting more difficult the past two years with his parents, and he is hoping to find someone to take custody of him if he can convince his parents to sign custody over to someone. Hopefully, his aunt can be that person. She was in the legal field and has many lawyers as contacts which I am sure can help. I hope she can get custody of my nephew and give him the help he needs. I wish I had the financial ability to take him in up here. If he’d been kicked out, I would have gone and gotten him, but thankfully, they did not kick him out. I just hope he has the support network he needs. I told him if he needed anything from me to just let me know. I told him I loved him, and I thought he was a very brave boy.
Yesterday turned into an actual Coming Out Day for my family. Not only did my nephew come out to me, but I came out to him. When I wrote yesterday’s post, I had no idea that NCOD 2021 would be such an emotional day. I am so proud of my nephew. At fourteen, not only did I not understand I was gay, but I would have never been brave enough to come out to anyone.
Every year on October 11, we celebrate National Coming Out Day (NCOD) to celebrate our coming out as LGBTQ+. NCOD was first celebrated in the United States in 1988. The initial idea was grounded in the feminist and gay liberation belief that our personal experiences are rooted in our political situation and gender inequality. NCOD emphasizes the most basic form of activism as coming out to family, friends, and colleagues to live life as an openly LGBTQ+ person. The foundational belief is that homophobia thrives in an atmosphere of silence and ignorance. Once people know that they have loved ones who are lesbian or gay, they are far less likely to maintain homophobic or oppressive views. In reality, this is not always the case, but the hope is still there that one day it will be. Whether you’re lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer, we should be proud of who we are and our support for LGBTQ+ equality.
Twenty years ago last spring, I came out to someone for the first time. It had taken me a long time to just come out to myself, and honestly, I had never verbalized my own coming out until I did it that night. It was not planned, and when I did it, I was scared to death. I have probably told this story before, but I think it is important to tell it again. I was in my first year of graduate school, and I saw an accepting world around me for the first time. You wouldn’t think that would be the case because I was living in Mississippi at the time, but the History Department and my new friends were different than anything I’d ever been accustomed to being around. I felt for the first time like it might be okay to tell someone my “deep dark secret.”
It was the Friday before our first spring break in grad school, and many of the grad students had gone out for drinks that night. We often got together on Friday nights, usually with a group of our professors. We had gone to a bar downtown instead of our usual bar near campus, if I remember correctly. After being there for a while, everyone decided to go to one of the professors’ houses to continue socializing, i.e., drinking. I will admit, I was probably pretty drunk that night, and a lot of my courage had been liquid courage. A good friend, her boyfriend, and I were sitting on the professor’s couch, and it was really late. I’m not sure why we were alone sitting on the couch, but we were. I think the subject of one of the professors being gay came up. I am a little fuzzy on what was said up until that point, but I know we were talking about gay people and how someone we thought was gay was actually straight, or something like that. Anyway, however the conversation had gone, I remember saying, “Well, you know, I’m not.” My friend replied, “Joe, we know you’re not gay.” To which I clarified, “No, I’m not straight.”
She and her boyfriend said they were proud and felt honored that I had confided in them, and they would not tell anyone. They said it was my truth to tell when I was ready. I just remember that they hugged me and were so loving and kind. I hid my gayness for so long, and it was like a weight off my shoulders to finally say it out loud and to someone else. Soon afterward, everybody started going home, and we went home too. She was my neighbor, and I believe her boyfriend had driven us that night. With her living in the apartment building directly behind me, there was never any reason to take more than one car, so we went to a lot of things together. She and her boyfriend never once made me feel like a third wheel.
After we got home, we went our separate ways, and I left for the beach the next day for spring break. I met some of my family in Pensacola. Coming out to my friend was on my mind the whole time. We had been drinking, so I was terrified that she would not remember the conversation, and I’d have to do it all over again. It had taken an inordinate amount of courage to come out the first time, and I didn’t know if I could do it again, even if they had been completely accepting. I knew many people forget things when they have been drinking, even though I remember everything when I’ve been drinking, granted details get fuzzy after 20 years. I was a nervous wreck that she wouldn’t remember. When we got back, our schedules were hectic because the end of the semester was drawing near, so I could not get her alone to see what she remembered.
Finally, either the Friday after spring break or the following Friday, we all went out to the same downtown bar again. I was able to get her alone in the bar’s courtyard. I don’t know how I broached the subject, but I remember I finally came out and asked her, “Do you remember what I told you at [that professor’s] house?” Thankfully, she did. It was another weight off my shoulders. I remember we sat out in the courtyard for a while discussing cute guys at the bar that night. Never in my life had I had the chance to talk to someone about what guys I thought were cute. It was one of the most blissful moments of my life. For the first time in my life, I was able to be me. I didn’t have to pretend I was checking out some hot girl when I was actually checking out the guy she was with. I have always enjoyed people watching, but I had never gotten to openly watch and comment on guys with anyone else before. It had always been an inner dialogue in my brain. To this day, I still love to point out hot guys to my friends when it’s appropriate.
It was probably another eight months until I finally came out to the rest of the people in my graduate school, but that’s a story for another time. While I am still closeted to much of my family, my parents do know although we never discuss it. Happily, I can live openly and proudly as a gay man in Vermont. Isn’t that what National Coming Out day is all about? The ability to live authentically as ourselves and show others that we are human beings just like them. As Shylock says in Act 3, Scene 1 of The Merchant of Venice, “If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that.” Shylock was talking about being a Jew versus a Christian, but does that not apply to all groups that are discriminated against?
Couper Gunn, 20, is a captain of the men’s soccer team at Colby-Sawyer College, which is a little over an hour southeast of me, and will be graduating in 2022 with a major in History and Political Studies and a minor in Education on track for a master’s in Education. In January of this year, Couper wrote about his coming out for Outsports. He has said that wearing a Pride shirt inspired him, a gay college soccer captain, to come out.
In the video above, he talks about something that all of us have had to deal with: coming out. If you are not out, then coming out is something on your mind constantly. If you are out, coming out is on your mind every time you meet someone new. It’s not a one-and-done thing. We first have to come out to ourselves. Then, we have to come out to others in our lives. We also have to decide: Are we coming out at work? Should we come out in church? Do we come out to just friends or do we also come out to our family? When, where, how, why, and to whom are all decisions we have to make.
For some coming out is easy. They grew up in a loving and accepting environment, and they know they will be accepted. For most of us though, it’s not that simple. It seems that it gets easier for each generation, but there are still parts of the country that will always lag behind (the South, I am talking about you). It also makes a difference whether you live in an urban or rural area.
Once you do come out, it is a continuing process, and it’s not always easy for everyone. I came out very slowly. It began with telling two people I greatly trusted and admired. Then, I decided to tell a few other people, but for about a year, I was very selective of whom I told. Finally, I came out to everyone in my grad school, but that was by far not everyone I had to come out to. My parents were the hardest, but they found out before I could come out to them. Every time I have had a new job, I have had to go through the coming out process, most of the time, it has been done in a subtle way, and sometimes I never came out fully at all. Only a few people knew, like when I taught at the private school in Alabama.
Even coming out to my doctor in Vermont was a nerve-racking experience for me. I had only ever come out to one doctor before and that was a nightmare that I don’t want to discuss, though I think I have on this blog before. My doctor here never even batted an eye when I told him. Also, with my medical profile, I list that I am a gay man, so all of my medical specialists know that I am a gay man when they read my chart. The problem is that the process never really ends. I hope that one day, no one will have to go through the process of coming out. Our sexualities won’t be questioned, and we will be free to be who we are without fear of any kind. Until that day though, coming out will be a thing that all LGBTQ+ people have to grapple with.
Even once we come out, we should examine what parts of ourselves and our personalities are things we did to hide out sexuality. I told a friend not too long ago that I learned to walk without a swish and to stop talking so much with my hands. The same is true about the way I hold a cup of tea or coffee. For some, it’s the way we sit or how we cross our legs that we trained ourselves to do more “straight.” Sometimes we can’t even recognize all of the things we learned not to do or to do differently because we wanted to hide our sexuality. How many of us learned to check out men without being obvious? I know I learned to only move my eyes, not my head, but our eyes always give us away if someone is looking close enough. Do you recognize the things in you that you learned at an early age to hide or else you’d be labeled a sissy?
I saw this video and had tears in my eyes when it was over. This is very much my story. I, too, grew up in the Bible Belt. I’m not sure what part of Alabama he grew up in, but I grew up in a rural area in the southern part of Alabama. Everyone but me seemed to know I was gay. I got called faggot, queer, sissy, gay, etc., all before I knew what any of it meant. People mocked me for my voice and mannerisms. I couldn’t do much about my voice, but I did change my mannerisms to be less “effeminate” in the bullies’ eyes. Those bullies made it all sound like it was the worst thing in the world to be gay, and I “knew” I didn’t want to be gay. It was unthinkable, and no matter what I did, the bullying did not stop until I went away to college. It took me years to accept myself. Just like him, this was in the 1990s. I also was in high school from 1992-1996. While he found theater and it saved his life, I found the internet and began researching, which saved my life. I finally had access to some of the answers I so desperately needed. This blog has also helped me to “find” myself.
The story of my sophomore year was a bit different from his. My best friend was a girl. (She’s now a Trump loving Republican, and we no longer speak.) But back then she was my cover in a way. I guess she was my “beard,” but it really didn’t seem to change anyone’s perceptions of me. I was still the intelligent, effeminate teenager whose most of his friends were girls, but never his girlfriend. Instead of hiding my friendship, I tried to hide my true self using that friendship. However, during that sophomore year when I was 16, the bullying got so bad, I took a handful of pills. I’d been on Ativan for my migraines. The doctor had taken me off of them, but I still had part of a bottle. I took all I had left hoping this would end my misery. Thankfully, it wasn’t enough for an overdose, and I just became violently ill.
I hated high school, just like I’d hated middle school. I hated all my years at that small private school in Alabama. I remember in kindergarten, my teacher forced me to take a toy truck to the playground and play with the other boys. I preferred to play with the girls. All of this came together to change who I was. I was a well-behaved kid at school, I was not a nice kid to my parents at home. I backtalked a lot and was constantly in trouble for it. I hated my dad’s rule of “Do as I say, not as I do.” At one point, my parents wanted to send me away to a boarding school. I wanted to find one for the academics and opportunities it might provide, and they wanted me out of their hair. They didn’t want to send me to a school for kids with severe behavioral problems, and I didn’t want to go to a military school. We did a bit of research into boarding schools. I wanted to be sent to an all-boys school, which in hindsight would probably had been just as bad as what I was going through. Eventually, they figured out that I wanted to be sent away, and they dropped the idea.
I have struggled much of my life with my sexuality. I’d say it could be one of the reasons for my migraines, but I’ve had migraines my whole life, even before I started school. I have had some miserable periods in my life. College and graduate school were different, but I always struggled with having enough money during those years. I was the typical poor college student, which added to my anxiety. Then, as a high school teacher, I seemed to hit rock bottom. I am a good teacher, but I was teaching spoiled rich kids who made my behavioral issues in high school seem minor. I was a good kid except when alone with my parents. My students were hateful, disobedient, and lazy, and I felt like I was more of a babysitter than a teacher. My bad temper came out a lot more than I’d have wanted. I wish I could have been calmer when dealing with them, but they often brought me to the brink. Teaching at a private school was by far the most difficult and worst job I’ve ever had. I was not cut out for teaching secondary school. I always did much better teaching college.
Only in the last few years have I begun to fully accept myself. It took moving 1,400 miles away to a mostly solid blue state to be happy, and to get a fairly decent paying job. Mostly these days, I am happy. I do struggle with some health issues (chronic migraines, diabetes, my weight, my brittle teeth), but even those seem to be getting under control. The Botox treatments seem to be working; my diabetes seems to be under control; and I’ve been losing weight, though I still have more weight I need to lose. My teeth are still a work in progress (I have to go to the dentist for a broken tooth this morning), but hopefully, things will get better in the dental department as well.
The most important thing is that I have accept who I am, and I am proud of my sexuality. Yes, I still have to be in the closet when I go home in an effort to appease my family, but one day, I hope and pray this too shall pass. I live my life as an out gay man here in Vermont, and I am unapologetically gay. Vermont has laws protecting gay people from discrimination, and the university I work for has anti-discrimination policies. I don’t have to put up with homophobia here. It’s not perfect, and I’m still getting comfortable in my own skin, but it has gotten better. Isn’t that what we all hope for when dealing with our sexuality?
The It Gets Better Project is a nonprofit organization with a mission to uplift, empower, and connect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer youth around the globe.
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
—1 John 4:7-12
Today marks the 32nd annual National Coming Out Day, a cause for celebration and a time to look back on how far we’ve come. Some look forward to this day to take that big step for the first time and declare who they are to the world. But for many young LGBTQ+ people who are still questioning things, it is a time for quiet reflection and introspective exploration. The day was established to remind society about something positive in the LGBTQ+ community. If more people were aware of out and proud LGBTQ+ individuals living among them, then harmful stereotypes and laws affecting them would hopefully go away. Many hurtful stereotypes have already gone away due to the increased visibility of LGBTQ+ people in society. While LGBTQ+ people and issues are very much at the forefront of American culture today, days like this are still significant.
For every person that is out and proud in their sexual orientation or gender identity, countless others are afraid to share that information. They’re scared to share it because of fear of losing their homes, families, or jobs. Some people don’t come out because they don’t feel like their faith and their sexuality can coexist. Most Christians, myself included, grew up in a church where we were told, at the worst, that gay people are evil and going to hell, and at best (or most hypocritical), were welcome in the church, but not in leadership. Some will even claim they “hate the sin, but love the sinner,” which is a backhanded way of saying that being LGBTQ+ is wrong unless you conform to a heteronormative life. Why would any LGBTQ+ Christian come out in that environment? What does the coming-out process look like for LGBTQ+ Christians, especially when they do not feel safe, affirmed, or supported in their communities? LGBTQ+ Christians can be haunted by feelings of depression, despair, and thoughts of suicide as they try to reconcile their faith with their sexuality. These haunting thoughts are not something that God would want for His children.
Across the United States, LGBTQ+ Christians are coming out of the closet. For many of them, finding acceptance within the church can be a test of faith. Studies show that LGBTQ people of faith are often conflicted. According to a report from the Pew Research Center, many feel unwelcome within most major religions and are much less likely to identify as Christian compared to the general public. For many people who claim to be Christians, “homosexuality” is an issue, when it should not be. It is often considered a matter of “us” versus “them,” or worse, for LGBTQ+, a question of their behavior, not something intrinsic to their identity. A person cannot claim to love someone if they do not accept who that person is. Being LGBTQ+ is not a lifestyle, nor is it a choice. God created us in His image. “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:8) Christians cannot have it both ways, you either love a person or don’t and if you don’t accept a person, you do not love them. And, if you do not love them, then you do not know God. It is a pretty simple and straightforward concept.
I learned pretty early that, as an LGBTQ+ Christian, I am like a unicorn—something people have heard of but never quite seen in person. However, we are here, we are real, and we don’t navigate this journey without our own unique set of problems. I know so many that have lost their relationship with God and/or the church, not because they no longer believed, but because doing the work to free themselves from oppressive things like patriarchy and shame also allowed them to recognize the space that those same concepts occupy within religion. But as a person raised in the Church of Christ, the idea of divorcing myself from my relationship with God and my Christian upbringing seemed unrealistic.
In church, the preachers always say, “don’t just listen to me, study for yourself!” We are consistently taught to read the Bible, so we can truly understand the meaning behind the scripture for ourselves. This concept of studying is indeed the first step toward freeing yourself from religious oppression. To “rightly divide” means to adequately define what the words that you are reading mean. Biblical texts have been used to oppress. We have to deconstruct those texts for their actual meaning and apply those meanings to our lives.
Many lean on the Old Testament’s heavy-handed stories as a reason to take away love, rights, and justice from anyone they do not like. But Christ himself showed that his message was completely different from those negative messages. He loved marginalized people, underprivileged people, and people seen as unworthy by “high class” individuals. He was here for those going through tough times and living their truth even more because those were the ones that, more often, showed true love towards him. The Bible reaffirms that God loves us and created us just as we are.
I took the time to deeply examine what Christ asks of me instead of what church members asked to remember that my choice to have a relationship with Christ is personal. It is not defined by or bound to church or organization. A church is more than just a building or the group of people that gather in that building. Church is perspective and action. My relationship with God makes me feel good. It teaches me about love, charity, hope, faith, joy, strength, and peace. I chose to let those lessons provide me with a path to a more spiritually fulfilled life.
I grew up with people who were often looking down on others, taking notes of all the bad things that they did, and that was especially true of judgmental Christians. The entire church community of Christians where I grew up watched for opportunities to correct, judge, or shame you for living outside of the boundaries they have set. In deciding to study for myself, I had to be willing to take on the burden of releasing fear, shame, and conviction. I would have to believe in myself and not allow myself to be hurt or offended when homophobic Christians rejected me. It’s a tough thing to do because we all hate rejection, but we need to rid our lives of toxic individuals who would reject you for who you are.
Our spirituality is a personal decision and a relationship between God and us. The problems arise when outsiders try to create barriers and rules based on their own biases, prejudices, and ignorance. It takes just a few extra steps to learn that if you allow your heart and mind to step outside of the physical walls of organized religion, you will see that at its root is love and peace. If you have already pulled off the layers of historical oppression, then you have already started the process of defining exactly how to navigate it authentically for yourself.
On Monday, I wrote about coming out to someone for the first time. As most of you know, it’s a never-ending cycle. You come out over and over again whether to co-workers, doctors, family, new friends, etc. As for family, I’ve only come out to my parents. My mother had suspicions I was gay for years. She found gay porn once in an overnight bag and confronted me about it. I told her it was just curiosity. It was an awful scene; she reacted negatively. I realized I would probably never be able to come out to her. Years later, when I was home from grad school, she checked my email or so she said. I do know she saw an email over my shoulder from gay.com, and she probably lied to me about checking my email. I had logged out after all. It was another ugly scene, but I did not deny it this time. I was living as an out gay man in Mississippi, and I decided I couldn’t deny who I was anymore. She told my father. He told me I had to tell my mother I was being celibate or something. She took the news badly. (Imagine my eyes rolling.) They both made me promise never to tell anyone else in the family. My dad told me especially not to tell my grandmother. I never knew if he meant his mother or my mother’s mother. It doesn’t matter anymore, as they have both passed never knowing I was gay. I think my aunt knows, but we don’t discuss it. One day I plan to tell my niece and nephew, but probably not until they are adults. I have no desire to tell my sister; as long as my niece and nephew are young, I firmly believe she, or her asshole husband, would no longer allow me to see them.
My Monday post recounted how I came out in grad school. I didn’t have to keep coming out when new students were admitted. It was just common knowledge. Very few people had a problem with it at least not openly. I don’t think the leadership of the department would have allowed it; we had at least two professors who were gay. The next time I came out was when I went to a doctor for a throat infection. That doctor point blank asked me if I was gay. I said yes. He then told me I had thrush which can be a sign of an HIV/AIDS infection. Because I was gay, he was immediately convinced I was HIV positive and had me take an HIV test even though I insisted I only had safe sex. I was scared to death waiting for the results. A friend of mine insisted I go see an ear, nose, and throat doctor for a second opinion. I’m glad I took her advice. It turned out I merely had a bad case of pharyngitis. When I asked about the possibility of it being thrush, he said there was absolutely no possibility of that. He had no idea why any doctor would have come to that conclusion. The HIV test came back negative, and I never saw that first doctor again. I should have reported him for the way I was treated, but I doubt it would have done any good in Mississippi in the early 2000s.
Because of that incident, I was wary of telling another doctor my sexuality. When I moved back to Alabama, I never told my doctor because my mother worked in the same clinic and had access to all the medical records. I should have gone to another doctor for more privacy, but I did not have health insurance, and this was an income-based clinic. I didn’t have to pay to see the doctor. Even when I moved to Vermont, it took a few years before I told my doctor I was gay. I did so because I was sexually active and needed to get tested for STIs. I did not suspect I had any, but if you are sexually active you should get tested regularly. My current doctor agreed with that. He is quite good-looking and genuinely nice. I am glad I have a good relationship with a doctor for the first time in my life. I can talk to him about any problems.
The first time I came out at a job was while I was working at an environmental lab in Mississippi. There were a couple of young guys who worked there, and one of them asked me out of the blue if I was gay. I said I was and went about my business. There are a few things I should tell you about this lab job. I had gotten it because my best friend’s sister was working there and recommended me even though she knew I had no experience with science. My only scientific training was two required undergraduate classes: biology and geology. Also, the owner of the lab and his son, who helped manage it, were Republicans. They once threatened to fire someone for wearing a t-shirt of a Democratic candidate. I had not wanted to come out there because of this, but I was determined not to lie. I told the friend who got me the job about the kid asking if I was gay. She was furious he would ask because it was none of his business.
After I told her what happened, she complained to our boss about the kid asking me and making me feel uncomfortable. Honestly, at the time, I didn’t much care. He was just a curious kid, and I knew he meant no harm. However, when our boss found out, he called him into his office and took him to task for being so rude. All this went on without my knowledge. The poor kid nearly lost his job for asking me if I was gay. My boss, who it turned out could have cared less about my sexuality (he really cared nothing about his employees), was actually afraid I might sue for harassment. I wouldn’t have because this was Mississippi, and it would have gone nowhere. The main issue probably was we had numerous contracts with environmentally-conscious companies and the EPA all of whom he feared were more liberal than he was. His contracts might be in jeopardy if anyone found out a gay person was harassed at his lab.
Fast forward to me teaching at the private school, where keeping my sexuality secret was imperative to me keeping my job. Eventually, I did become good friends with the art teacher. One night we were talking, and she confessed she smoked a lot of pot (something that would have gotten her fired). In turn, I told her I was gay. Her response was she’d been waiting for me to tell her that. Eventually, I also told the school lunch lady and her husband. For the longest time, they were the only ones who knew. My art teacher friend did tell her husband who was on the school’s board of directors, but that was mainly so he could protect me if it ever came to that. Later on, I found out he was not fully accepting of my sexuality. He didn’t care that I was gay, but one night we were all hanging out. I said something gay and very suggestive, mainly to get a laugh. He said, “I know you’re gay, but I’d rather not hear about it.” I never felt comfortable hanging around with him after that. One summer afternoon, we were having a pool party. The school’s bookkeeper was there. At one point the husband of the lunch lady mentioned something about me being gay in front of the bookkeeper. It turned out she was hurt because I’d never come out to her. Her brother was gay, and she had no problem with it. The thing is I knew her husband and sons had a problem with it. I’d heard them making rude remarks about gay people.
While I had other good friends at the school, none of my other co-workers knew (officially) I was gay. One student knew; others suspected and often called me a fag behind my back. The kid I told was a distant cousin of mine. I’d always thought he was gay. We were in my classroom alone one day, and I came out to him. I don’t remember if he’d asked or how the subject came up. He never told anyone, and I knew he’d keep my confidence. For whatever reason, he kind of idolized me and would confide in me. He was a sweet kid but always in trouble. He didn’t take his ADHD medication regularly. He’s actually been to Vermont a few times, and we’ve been able to see each other. He still keeps in touch, but less so now that he has a girlfriend and is more serious about college. I still think he’s gay, though. I know he fooled around with a guy before, but it’s up to him whether he comes out or even come to terms with his sexuality. His parents would be absolutely accepting and have told him as much numerous times which may be why he won’t come out. People can be stubborn at times. I just hope he doesn’t have any major psychological troubles about his sexuality.
In my current job, they all knew I was gay when they hired me. Apparently, it was part of my first boss’ worry that my sexuality, mannerisms, and voice might be perceived as a negative by those I’d be interviewing. (Remember, when I was first hired, I was an oral historian not a curator.) The others convinced her she was wrong, that I was the best person for the job. And she was proved wrong. It has never once been an issue. However, no one said anything about my sexuality until I said something about it. The administrative assistant we had back then was bisexual, and she was the first person I told. That didn’t happen until my friend died shortly after I moved here. I was so distraught I could barely work. Through tears, I told her who he was to me, and confirmed I was gay. My university has a long-standing non-discrimination policy which includes sexual orientation. They have offered same-sex benefits since Vermont introduced civil unions in July 2000.
While most people know my sexuality, I still don’t tell everyone. Every situation is different. It is naturally easy to come out to some people; with others, it takes a bit of courage. I don’t hide my sexuality in Vermont, but I don’t scream it from the rooftops either. I know I will never have problems with my current boss. His best friends are a gay couple, and he was the best man at their wedding. The other curator doesn’t discriminate against anyone for race, sexuality, or any other reason. Like me, she was raised in the South and has seen enough discrimination to last a lifetime. The other Southerner, who works with us and is coincidentally my neighbor, is the same way. In fact, she is more liberal than I am and often votes for the very liberal Progressive Party of Vermont. Vermont may not be the perfect place to live, but I am blessed to be surrounded by loving and accepting friends.
I wanted to clear up a possible misconception about something I wrote in Friday’s post. I had written about how my graduate school history department learned I was gay. In it, I wrote:
The first time I went into a gay bar was in New Orleans. A friend took me to one while we were at an academic conference there. She had been the first person I’d ever come out to, and she wanted to take me to the gay section of New Orleans. […] This was also when everyone at my grad school found out I was gay. For about the next week, the news of my sexuality spread like wildfire. It wasn’t that I’d hooked-up with anyone that night. I was just the subject of gossip for about a week.
Going to a gay bar in New Orleans happened the first week of November 2001. I had come out to my friend and her boyfriend the previous spring (in fact, the Friday before spring break) at a party late one night where a fair amount of drinking was involved. I’m one of those people who remembers everything when they’ve been drinking. At least that was the case when I was younger and had a better memory. I spent about two weeks wondering if all the courage I’d mustered to come out would even be remembered. I was happy to learn my friend did remember it, and we were able to discuss it when we were alone. She did so much to help me get comfortable with my sexuality. She treated me no differently, and we could easily discuss our attraction to various men. That might not sound like much, but it was something I’d never been able to do before. Before coming out to her, I had always kept everything about my sexuality completely internalized.
My friend and I had met originally because we shared a desk in the graduate assistants’ office. Our graduate director told me I’d be sharing a desk with an older woman who was short so I should use the top shelf attached to the desk and leave her the bottom one. It turned out that yes, she was shorter, but only a few years older. She was, and still is, a gorgeous, compassionate, and affable person. Besides sharing a desk with her, it also turned out she lived in the same apartment complex where I did. Because of these two things, we became good friends and often went to various events together. She had been an actress in Los Angeles before she moved to New York City to work on a novel. After a few years there, she moved to Mississippi to do further research for her book. She got a second degree, this time in history, and decided to pursue a PhD. She was always interested in marginalized people which is why her focus of study was on the Civil Rights Movement. Nowadays, she is the director of a women’s resource advocacy center at a major liberal arts university in the South.
She turned out to be the perfect person to come out to first. I remember the first time I spoke with her after the initial coming out. We were at a small bar in Mississippi with a patio in the back. Most people who sat back there drank beer and smoked pot in the darker corners. She and I went out there for some privacy. My sexuality changed our friendship for the better. I was able to talk to her about things I’d never discussed with anyone. I could talk about hot guys with someone instead of keeping it all in my head and acting like I was not trying to check them out. We became so much closer because of the open nature of our friendship.
Eventually, I told another friend of mine in the department early the next fall. So, when we went to New Orleans in November for this academic conference, only three people knew I was gay, and they all kept my secret. While we were at the conference, I was staying in a hotel room with my friend and another female graduate student. The three of us were hanging out with each other a lot during that trip. On the night in question, we had been at a reception at the Presbytère, one of the buildings next to St. Louis Cathedral.
Two other guys from our grad program had latched onto us at the reception and were expecting to continue to party with us. These two guys were lecherous and obnoxious. My female friends and I wanted to get away from them. The three of us discussed what we were going to do. The guys mentioned they wanted us to go with them to Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club which had recently opened. None of us were keen to go to a female strip club so I suggested we tell them we were going to a gay bar knowing they would not follow us there. They were not secure enough in their masculinity to do that. My friend had already told me earlier she wanted to take me to the gay district of New Orleans. When I suggested going to a gay bar to get rid of them, my friend asked if I was sure. In doing so, I would essentially be coming out to these guys. I felt it was time to be out more so I said I was sure. We split with those guys and went to the gay dance club Oz at the corner of St. Ann and Bourbon.
Oz was a magical place. The men were beautiful and there was such wonderful energy there. The bartenders were hot, and they served strong, cheap drinks. They had nearly nude guys dancing on the bar; most in thongs, but one guy had only a hand towel covering his penis. For the right tip, that hand towel would be moved out of the way. It was unlike anything I’d ever experienced, and I loved every minute of it. If I’d ever had any doubts I was gay, this put them to rest. We danced for a while. I’ve never been a great dancer, but it didn’t seem to matter at Oz as long as you swayed your body to the music and “waved your hands in the air like you didn’t care.” We also sat at the bar for a while and gave tips to some of the guys dancing on the bar. I’m not sure what Oz is like these days, because I haven’t been in years, but back then it was always a lot of fun.
I knew telling the two guys we were with earlier I was gay was going to spread. There was no way they would keep that quiet. By the end of the next week, the news had spread through most of the history department, and a few professors did say genuinely nice and encouraging things to me. We went out a few weeks later for my birthday (November 30), and by the end of the month, there was no one in the history department who did not know I was gay. The reactions were mostly positive. The only negative reaction was from our one Canadian professor (ironic since Canadians tend to be more accepting) who I think was trying (and failing) to be positive, but still, I was appalled when he said to me, “Congratulations, I hear you’re a fruit.” He always was a little socially awkward and not the nicest person. Eventually, his visa ran out and he returned to Canada. He was not missed.
The point of this post is that the friends I initially came out to kept my sexuality to themselves until I decided to come out to others. I knew when I told those two guys about going to a gay bar, I was coming out to the entire history department.
So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness. But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.
Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity. He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need. Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.
Ephesians 4:17-32 (NASB)
Sometimes I read a passage from the Bible, and it has a special meaning to me. It is like God is speaking to me through His Word. I think this is one of the great things about the Bible. Not only is it God’s Word, but it is also one of the ways God speaks to us. When I read a passage, the first thing that comes to my mind is usually what God is telling me. The Bible is written in a way that allows interpretations to fit an individual person. It is also written as a guide to how we are supposed to live. The passage above is sometimes given different titles according to the translation you look at: “Instructions for Christian Living,” “The Christian’s Walk,” or “The New Life.” When I read it, it really resonated with me, in what some may consider and unorthodox interpretation.
Nearly all of us have experienced something in our life that is a major turning point. Something that changes us forever. For LGBTQ people, that is often coming out. When we come out, we “lay aside the old self” and “put on the new self.” We speak our truth as to who we are. Being gay is not the only thing we are; it is most certainly a defining part of our lives, but we are also much more than just LGBTQ. Every time we authentically and courageously speak our truth, we love ourselves a little bit more. For those of us rejected by our families because of our sexuality, we give ourselves the love our family could not give us, and we reclaim our right to be heard, valued, and respected. Being seen and heard is our inherent birthright. God created us as we are, and by speaking our truth and coming out, we are claiming our authentic selves.
When someone rejects us for coming out, we are reborn in the newness of life. It’s similar to being born again after baptism. We rise up in the newness of life. We no longer walk in the old ways. Those who rejected us are “in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart.” Their rejection is a hardness of their heart. Often those who rejected us quote Biblical scripture saying that we are the sinners (we are all sinners); however, it is they who are not walking with God and have hardened their hearts to our truth. For LGBTQ Christians, when we come out, we are walking with God and living as he created us, authentically and proudly.
When we come out, we leave our “old self” behind. That former person who was hiding in the closet was “being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit,” and by coming out, we are renewed “in the spirit” of our mind, and put on the new self, “which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.” Therefore, we are “laying aside falsehood,” and we are speaking truth to those around us. God allows us to be angry at those who rejected us. He says, “Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity.” Being rejected hurts and angers us, but we need to live our truth. The psychological damage of living in the closet can be so devastating. We have to forgive those who rejected us because God tells us to forgive. He tells us, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.”
There will probably always be people who condemn the LGBTQ community, but I think it is important that we accept ourselves and put aside our old self and live authentically. It does not matter what others think of us. Their rejection of us is their problem and not ours. They are like the Gentiles who have “in the futility of their mind” become “darkened in their understanding,” and they are “excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them.” God commands us to love one another. When people put that aside because of false beliefs, they are the sinners, not us. People who are filled with hate have no place with God. They are lost in the wilderness because they have chosen hate instead of love.
So, be true to who you are. Cast away those who are toxic in your life. Get rid of those who cause you strife. Some of us can live in a kind of cold war with our families. We still love them, but we know of their disapproval. But living in the closet can do more harm to our wellbeing. It is very hard to love ourselves fully when we hide. And it’s very hard to love others when we don’t love ourselves. Therefore, the closet is a lonely place. By coming out, we
live our life honestly.
build self-esteem by being honest about oneself.
develop closer, more genuine relationships with friends and family.
alleviate the stress of hiding one’s identity.
connect with other people who are LGBTQ.
are part of a community with others with whom you have something in common.
help to dispel myths and stereotypes by speaking about one’s own experience and educating others.
are a role model for others.
By coming out and being our true selves, we can learn to truly love God and love ourselves.
I want to thank everyone for their wonderful words of advice and encouragement on yesterday’s post. I’m still feeling a bit down and anxious over the argument with my mother. I can’t help it. Family can be so frustrating. I have lived with my agreement with my mother that I made when I came out, which was that I would not tell anyone else in the family I am gay. (I have not lived by the agreement that I would be celibate, that was just taking it too far.) While only my parents know for certain, I am pretty sure my aunt knows. I have a large collection of books that are stored in bookcases at her house. Many of those books are gay fiction or gay history that I had collected over the years. After I moved to Vermont, she took down all my books and built new sturdier bookcases. She then placed all of my books back in the new bookcases. If she didn’t notice a theme, then…. Anyway, I’m pretty sure she knows and doesn’t care. My aunt worked for a dentist that she admired and cared for a lot; he was gay and died of AIDS back in the 1980s. She has always seemed pretty accepting of things like that.
My biggest fear is not what my parents would do, but I do fear telling my sister because since she married a complete asshole in 1998, her in-laws have brought her over to the dark side. My sister used to be laissez-faire about most social issues. She just didn’t care, and she was never political at all. However, her husband and in-laws are extremely conservative, homophobic fundamentalists. She becomes more and more like them every year, so I fear if she ever knew I was gay, she would not let me see my niece and nephew. She and they are of that mentality that gay people cannot be trusted with children.
My only hope is that the world is different enough for my niece and nephew not to have the same prejudices as their family. They are growing up in a far more accepting world than I grew up in. They are growing up in a time when LGBT couples can get married, and we can’t be discriminated against in our jobs. Things are so vastly different than they were 20 years ago. (I know, there is still much to do, but we are getting there.) I hope they will have a mind for themselves about social and political issues. They aren’t old enough yet to really understand. All they know right now is that they love their Uncle Joe. I get to see the joy and excitement in their eyes when they see me, and I hear it in their voices when I talk to them on the phone.
All of my other close relatives have passed away. In fact, yesterday would have been my grandmama’s 97th birthday. I miss her so much. I think if I’d had the courage to come out to her, she would have accepted me for who I am. I may be wrong about that, but she would always listen to reason from me, even when she was unreasonable to everyone else. I had a connection with Grandmama unlike anyone else. If she had accepted me, as I believe she would have, she would also have been my advocate and told my parents they could go straight to hell if they didn’t fall in line. That may just be wishful thinking and a fantasy on my part. I will never know what her reaction would have been, but I have faith she would have accepted me.
I will make up with my mother at some point. She will probably have to be the one to call me, and if she does, she is likely to act as if we never argued. Denial is not just a river in Egypt to my mother, it’s a way of life. She has been in denial about my sexuality since she found out I’m gay. I always hoped that one day she would accept me, but she seems to have doubled down and is more homophobic than ever. It goes along with her faith which seems to no longer be the Bible but Fox News.
I have a fervent desire for something to happen that would discredit Trump and Fox News so badly that they would lose all of their support. They do more harm to American than anyone else. I hope that when/if that ever happens that people like Mitch McConnell, Lindsay Graham, Matt Gaetz, Jim Jordan, and all the other Republican idiots go down hard with them. You can also throw in the Rush Limbaughs, Franklin Grahams, and their ilk with it. The hatred in America needs to end, and November is the best time for that to begin to happen.
We need to have a great movement that will change the minds of Americans. We need something that will move America away from the right and teach the American people about love and acceptance. I just hope it isn’t a great tragedy. It will probably take the Rapture* coming and no Republicans rising into Heaven, but then they would say it was a liberal conspiracy.
*By the way, I do not actually believe in the Rapture (an event in which it is believed that both living and dead Christian believers will ascend into heaven to meet Jesus Christ at the Second Coming). It is nothing more than a postmillennialism belief/hoax dreamed up by the 19th-century theologian John Nelson Darby. I use it here in jest. The lawyer I used to work for always joked “I hope I’m standing outside when the Rapture happens. I don’t want to hit my head on the ceiling.”
I grew up in the 1980s and 1990s. Depictions of gay people were not flattering. It seemed to me and from what my mother told me (She was a public health nurse.), all gay men had AIDS. The very few gay men I knew did die of AIDS, though it was rarely spoken about. Other depictions of gay men were flamboyant queens, sissy effeminate men, etc.
Early on, I had hints I was gay, but I ignored them. I remember being enthralled by Harry Hamlin in Clash of the Titans which came out in 1981; It was years later, though, when I first saw it on TV. When I started middle school, there was a new guy in my class. As usual, people were picking on me, and he told them to stop. He was the kind of guy who you knew immediately was going to be the leader of the pack. He was athletic, and my classmates didn’t question him. He was blond and had beautiful blue eyes. I had a crush, and I didn’t even know it. We were friends all through the rest of school; not close friends, but enough that when someone tried to bully me, he’d scare them away. Even the older kids didn’t mess with him. He was not a bully, but people respected him. He was just a nice guy. I had all sorts of fantasies about him. He was my masturbation material in my teenage years, yet, I did not realize I was gay.
When I was in college, I wanted to learn more about being gay, so I went to Barnes and Noble. Not only did I know this is where a lot of gay men hung out, but B&N also had books on the subject. I had to be discreet, though. The first “gay” book I bought was Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin. In hindsight, that was not the best choice. It’s a good book, but it has a tragic ending. Early gay fiction nearly always had tragic endings. This kept the realization I was gay at bay even longer.
Slowly, however, I was coming to the conclusion I was in fact gay. I got some gay videos through the mail, and I read Brad Gooch’s Finding the Boyfriend Within: A Practical Guide for Tapping into Your Own Source of Love, Happiness, and Respect. Apparently, I had to learn to love myself. In college, I had a girlfriend. When we broke up, I realized I didn’t want to date girls anymore. Yet, I still couldn’t admit to myself I was gay. One summer I was housesitting for the dentist my aunt worked for. My college roommate (We lived together all four years.) was taking summer classes and living in the dorm. Therefore, we were both in Montgomery. We decided to get together at the house I was staying at and have some beers. We were getting drunk and started playing truth or dare. During the game, I admitted I wanted to suck a guy’s dick. I knew I was basically asking if I could give him a blowjob, but he didn’t take the bait. Eventually, we both went to sleep; me in one of the bedrooms, him on the couch.
It was during this time of housesitting when I got to really play on the internet for the first time. It was dial-up so it was slow, but I was able to find lots of pictures of naked men. I printed out a few to keep. This got me into trouble because my mother found them and confronted me. It was an ugly scene; I denied I was gay. I said I was only curious. From then on, she suspected I was gay, and it made me go into the closet even further. I wasn’t about to admit I was gay at that point.
I don’t know which book I eventually read (I did a lot of reading on the subject of being gay, and I have always been a consummate researcher.), but I remember reading you had to come out to yourself before you could come out to others. You had to accept yourself for who you were first. This was a difficult thing for me to do. I just couldn’t be gay. I couldn’t be all the horrible things I had been called growing up: fag, faggot, queer, homo, sissy, etc. I didn’t want to be that.
But then things began to change when I went to graduate school. I was finally on my own and away from everyone I knew. For the first time, I was safe. The move was only from Alabama to Mississippi, but it was so different being on a liberal university campus. I felt free.
I think my first honest moment of realization came sometime during the year 2000. The British show Queer as Folk had come out. Plus, there was an American show about sex I had been watching. It may have been Real Sex on HBO; I can’t remember. But whatever the show, it was discussing this shocking scene from British TV in which a guy is rimmed. I’d never heard of rimming, at least not being called that. I remember hearing one of my female friends talking about a boyfriend of hers who would move from eating her pussy to eating her ass. This fascinated me, but I never knew what it was called. So…when this show featured the scene from the first episode of Queer as Folk where Aiden Gillen licks down Charlie Hunnam’s back and reaches his butt, and there is a look of total ecstasy on Hunnam’s face (Yes, I know it was acting.), I was so turned on. I knew I desperately wanted to have that done to me. That’s when the realization hit that I might be gay.
Sometime in 2001, I finally admitted to myself I was gay. I was reading a lot about gay people. There was a story on Nifty Archives, an online site for posting stories (Do any of you remember it?), called “Educating Alex.” I remember I read the whole thing in one night and then couldn’t wait for future installments to come out. I joined InsightOut Book Club, a gay book-of-the-month club. I read all I could get my hands on. I mostly read in the summer months, though, because I just didn’t have time to read anything non-school related during the academic year. Reading positive stories about gay people allowed me to realize I could be gay, and, I could be happy.
Lately, Twitter has had people posting when they realized they were gay. It’s usually pictures of TV or movie scenes. Most of it is somewhat lighthearted. If I were to answer that question, it would be with the picture above of Charlie Hunnam’s face when Aiden Gillen first teaches him what rimming is.
So that’s my story. When did you realize you were gay?