It was Easter morning, 2006. I was 19, naked, covered in my own vomit, and my head was pounding with the beginnings of what will go down as the worst hangover I have ever experienced.
I fumbled around the spare bedroom at my parents’ house, trying to find some sort of clue as to how exactly I came to be in my current state and at the very least, some pants. Amongst the t-shirt, jeans and underwear strewn about the floor, I found my phone. I gingerly reached for it, hoping for answers and noticed a message from one of my sisters.
“Ben, who is Andrew?”
My heart sank and the urge to throw up developed a second source. Fuck. Andrew was my boyfriend. My first boyfriend, and — most importantly — my secret-to-all-but-a-few boyfriend.
I scrambled to the sent messages whilst holding back an approaching vomit, jocks dangling awkwardly at my ankles, in a vain attempt to figure out what I had done.
I had a pretty good idea that I was gay as soon as I learnt what being gay meant. Then I got to high school, saw the male seniors at the swimming carnival, and was convinced. I assumed everyone else had a pretty strong feeling I was gay and despite being okay with it, having the actual conversation about my sexuality was something I was still avoiding, as it felt redundant.
I knew I still had to come out and unfortunately, this is not how it was meant to go. I was meant to tell my parents, then my siblings, and then rely on them spreading the word to the extended family, as I couldn’t really be bothered having the conversation more than four times.
What the hell did I say to ruin my plans?
I scrolled through message after message of awkward texts that looked like my fingers were obese and I required a dialing-wand, until I came upon a message to my sister.
“Hey. I’m so sorry but I am getting a lift home and she is hilarious. I am sorry, but I love Andrew.”
Firstly, fuck. Secondly, that doesn’t make any sense at all as a she, by definition, technically doesn’t have a penis and the message is basically sharing my love of the aforementioned appendage. Thirdly, fuck.
The burn of cheap wine and stale gin started to climb up my throat as I once again tried to figure out what had happened.
Cheap liquor and minimal food was obviously the start. Then there was a car, I was with one of my best friends and a girl from my sister’s grade was driving…a girl that I thought she didn’t like. A girl, called Annie.
I remembered sending the message.
I was in the back of the car trying to message my sister to tell her how much I loved the girl I thought she didn’t like. It was a declaration of drunken, platonic love for the girl escorting me home safely, as opposed to my premature declaration of an undying love for the more strapping, hunky sex and penis’ other than my own.
Sweet relief washed over me as I replied to my sister.
“I wrote the wrong name. I was meant to say Annie. She drove me home. I was being funny, as you hate her.”
In a state of misguided calm, I finally pulled my underwear on and washed my face/mouth in the bathroom. It was halfway through stripping my bed of the rancid sheets that I realized the flaw in my reply and my stupidity for feeling calm.
I actually had a boyfriend and his name was actually Andrew. While I didn’t mean to message my sister about him, I had, and now whenever I got around to coming out I would look like I was ashamed of being gay. Which I wasn’t.
Awkward? Yes. Uncomfortable? Yes, but honestly, what 19 year-old isn’t? Gay, straight, or otherwise. But was I shamed? No. Maybe when I was 12 and felt alone, or 15 and felt insecure, but by 19, I had developed a healthy enough level of self-confidence that I didn’t care what others thought. I just couldn’t be bothered to have the conversation.
She didn’t believe me anyway.
“No Ben, who is Andrew? It’s okay.”
In and out of consciousness while lying in the lounge room, I would write half-hearted but genuine assurances, trying to convince my sister that I meant to say Annie whilst I tried to figure a way out of the deepening, apparent gay-shame hole I was digging.
After 12 hours, we both gave up.
A month later, I came out to my parents during an ad break in The O.C. and waited patiently for the inevitable mention of my vomit-coated Easter confessions. Like I expected, they weren’t shocked, but there was no mention of what I retrospectively refer to in my mind as message-gate.
After that conversation and all the awkward explanations you have to go through that those straight kids don’t have to experience, “why yes, I am interested in penis in and around my mouth, but I’m not sure why that needs to be clarified,” I decided I had earned a couple of weeks longer in the closet with my siblings.
After avoiding the fourth call from my sister, however, I decided to bite the bullet. It didn’t take long for the conversation to turn from my sexuality, to the identity of my boyfriend.
“What is his name?”
“It is not what you think…”
“Sorry, what is it?”
The silence was deafening.
After what felt like seven years in emotional Tibet, she decided to speak up.
“So…that message at Easter…”
I reiterated my story; I was making a joke about loving Annie as I thought she hated her and I accidentally wrote the wrong name.
While it was legitimately what happened, she didn’t buy it.
I continued attempting to convince her that I was actually telling the truth for another 10 minutes before she made her point.
“You don’t have to be sorry or ashamed.”
“I know. I’m not.”
I paused before bursting like Ross Gellar in defense of the infamous break.
“IT WAS MEANT TO SAY ANNIE.”
My coming out was easy and painless. I was completely comfortable with my sexuality and my penchant for peen, and everyone in my life was comfortable and supportive. Maybe because I didn’t use the term “penchant for peen” in any of my conversations?
After keeping something hidden for such a long time, even if it is something you love, it is hard to let it out into the open. It becomes habit and is comfortable, and the thought of making change becomes the thing you fear, rather than the thing you’re hiding. Like the band-aid you know is actually a hindrance to healing, you want to leave it on, as it is the least annoying option.
To this day if you asked my sister about it, she would tell you I struggled with coming out. I would argue that I was just really lazy.