The older I get (and the more time removes me from my initial coming out), the more I can't help but wish that coming out wasn't a thing that we had to do, aside from coming out of the womb. It has been nearly 15 years since I initially announced to my friends and family that I (at the time) was gay. The news wasn't met with the usual clamor and noise that is so often the case, for that I am grateful. Growing up, since about kindergarten, all my classmates had told me I was gay; a word that I had no definition for, I couldn't understand it. All that I knew at that time was that I wanted to be the pink Power Ranger during recess, that I loved coloring (and did so INSIDE the lines) and would rush home to watch Sailor Moon. As the years progressed and we all got older, the taunting got worse, the names got nastier and words suddenly had meaning. I can never recall a moment where I didn't want to be what they were calling me; there wasn't a moment of "I wish I weren't gay." or "Why are they saying that I'm gay?" I've never been able to pinpoint why this was, though it undoubtedly has to do with (at the time) being a cisgender, white gay man. I grew up in a small town in the middle of Illinois that was filled with all the traditional types that would have it out for me. I was also the child of two older parents who had had me unexpectedly late in life (my mom was 40 when she had me and my father 51), by all accounts I was in prime position for scrutiny, harassment and disapproval.
Eventually, high school happened. Middle school had been fairly uneventful, I mean, everyone is miserable in middle school with our hormones running wild. But, once in high school, I became aware of the hierarchies, the cliques, the politics of it all. The first time I was chased home by upperclassmen, freshman year, they had only yelled and thrown rocks and threatened me. The next time, things got physical. I was pushed down and had dirt kicked in my face and taunted with words like "fag" and "fairy" (words I would happily go by today, #reclaimingmyidentity). While this had started happening, I started becoming aware of the things certain members of my family would say when queer people were seen on television, usually a mundane disapproval as opposed to anything wicked or nasty, but it still stuck and struck a chord. By the end of my freshman year, I was cutting myself out of anxiousness and worry about coming out to my family. One day, a classmate and friend took notice of the cuts and told my school counselor who then told me he would have to call my parents in because this was a serious event. Sitting there, at the end of my first year of high school, in my (very attractive) male counselors office, I came out to my mom and dad as gay. They weren't angry, they weren't disapproving, they simply didn't want me to hurt myself anymore. We talked a little bit more about how long I had been aware (since I started having thoughts and feelings and could daydream) and how they may not have come from an era where it was acceptable but they loved me and wanted me to have a good life. It is not lost on me that this is a godsend of a coming out to your parents story. I am grateful every day for their love and support at that time.
Sophomore year there was one more instance of bullying. I was chased home again by some seniors but this time I didn't let them get away with it. As they were pushing and kicking I simply said, "Hit me harder, I like it.", at this they were completely stunned, if not disgusted. They stopped, word spread and not one single unfriendly straight man ever bullied or laid a hand on me during the remainder of high school.
Since then I've been in a few relationships (equally fantastic, dreadful and necessary) and have cultivated a chosen family of beautiful LGBTQAI2S individuals and allies that I never imagined possible. That chosen family and my community have been lifesaving over the years.
Recently, after over a year of soul-searching, researching, communicating with others and having intense conversations with myself; I have discovered that I exist outside the gender binary and now identity as nonbinary. This was a much less stressful and tumultuous journey than the one I had in high school. I love wearing makeup and heels and a fierce outfit. I don't adhere to dominant cultures ideas of masculinity. Yes, I was born with a penis and I love my penis, but that doesn't dictate my gender identity; "male" just doesn't encompass all of the ways I see (or express) myself. The use of they/them/their pronouns allows me to live freely from these constructs and to be whatever and whoever I want to be at any given time.
A sign of the times is the fact that I took to my Instagram to announce my "new" identity, a feat that I had little to no worry in doing. The presence I've created on my social media is one where I feel safe expressing my every thought, opinion and facet of my identity. My mom (being nearly 70 now and my father having passed) may have a hard time adjusting to the use of my new pronouns and wrapping her head around the idea of what being nonbinary is, but that is something that we will communicate through and I will be just as patient with her as I expect her to be with me.
I would like to leave with this: The most important person to come out to is yourself. Treat yourself with care and compassion as you discover how you identify and understand that you don’t HAVE to come out to others if it feels unsafe. It is ok to wait until you’ve found a community or people that you can trust and rely on and feel safe around. Your SAFETY and autonomy are what matter most.
Our identities are fluid, from the beginning of time. We are infants, then toddlers, then adolescents, teens, twenty somethings (and so on) and this same fluidity is found in our sexuality, gender identity and expression and in just about every aspect of our lives until we die. My experience has shown me that I have the power within myself to define myself and my life, to live as I am free of worry (in part thanks to the privilege of having white skin) and that no matter what the word says about me or people in my community, we are capable of such incredible feats of resiliency, strength and beauty.
Keep going, keep living as you are. Don't let anyone define you, except for you.
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