I decided to come out of the closet when I was half way through my sophomore year of college. I had just lost one person I deeply cared for because I wasn’t ready to admit my feelings for him in a public way. Having just started a new job, I found myself attracted to another man, a co-worker. Determined to not let another incredible person get away from me, I began the coming out process.
It was awkward, and I fumbled through a lot of it. I slowly told acquaintances, then friends, then close friends. I waited a long time to tell my family, even though I’m sure they must have always known. When I was finally completely “out” to the world, I felt myself panic. There was no going back now, there was no feeling of safety that being in the closet can bring a frightened boy. I was out there for the world to see. I was out, but not completely proud. Two years later, I’m at peace with myself and so happy I made the choice to open up to the people around me about my true self. If I could go back and tell myself some advice from when I first came out, this is what I would let myself know:
1. Educate Yourself.
I didn’t come out of the closet gracefully. No, I tripped out of the closet and in retrospect, I was very offensive about it. I would come out to my friends and family only with the caveat “I know I’m gay, but I’m not that gay,” as if that were supposed to make it somewhat better. I’m not even sure what I meant by “not that gay,” seeing as I was interested in having sex with other men…but I digress. If I could go back and deliver my 18-year-old self with all the gay literature, poetry, art, and various health information, I would. At the time I only had one perspective on the matter of my homosexuality, and I wish I had broadened my knowledge sooner.
2. Try Dating Around.
Although I respect and cherish the two years I spent with the first man I dated, I wish I had taken the time to get to know myself better first. Coming out, I was so confused and scared; I didn’t know what I was looking for in a partner. Some people are really lucky and can find true love in their first male/ male relationship, but some of us just aren’t sure what we’re looking for. At first, I thought I would need to look for completely different qualities in men than I did when I dated women. It took me a few years to realize that it didn’t matter- what I looked for in personality was the same regardless of gender. Maybe dating different types of men earlier on would have brought me to this realization sooner.
3. Put Stock Into Making Gay Friends.
I would tell myself, “Go to that damn wine night you were invited to.” For a while, large groups of gay men frightened me, but these were my own issues, never theirs. I was so afraid of all the gay clichés. I was afraid they would judge me, when it was actually just my own insecurities and judging of myself. I was afraid that they would think I was “bad at being gay.” I realize now just how important it is to have a group of gay friends. There are just some things you feel more comfortable with talking about with your fellow gay men. It’s not that you can’t talk to your straight friends about 69ing over brunch and mimosas, but it just feels more comfortable when you feel part of a community. A community of people who understand the homophobia that sometimes seems to close in around us.
4. Love Yourself.
When I first came out, I was disgusted with myself in a way I didn’t fully understand until years later. In a way, it’s understandable. We all grow up in a culture that teaches us that being gay is amoral and wrong. I was terrified of my own body, because the media perpetuated this ideology that if I wasn’t a Zac Efron look alike with abs you could wash a crop-top on, I would never find love. I felt so unworthy. I allowed myself to be influenced by stereotypes that just weren’t right for me. The most important thing I would tell my freshly-out self would be “ You really do need to find inner peace before you venture out to find compatibility with someone else.”
5. Don’t Tell Yourself You Are “Not Into The Gay Scene.”
I used to tell people, “I don’t know, I’m just not that into the gay scene,” and I probably sounded like a total asshole. Are you gay? Then the “gay scene” is probably your scene. Don’t be judgmental on events like Pride or Drag Shows because it may not be the most exciting activity for you. It’s just how different groups of gay men express themselves. I would tell myself that events like those are actually pretty amazing and fun. We’re all just gay men trying to make it through. The world is filled with so much confusion, I would love to go back and slap myself for contributing some internalized homophobia to it, even for a short amount of time.
6. Savor The Moment.
If nothing else, I wish I could just tell myself, “Congratulations, I’m so proud of you, you never thought you would be strong enough for this, and you have no where to go personally but up. Enjoy this new and exciting part, because soon it’s going to all feel so normal.”
Read another essay from Shawn Binder in Thought Catalog Books’ new anthology, Boys, here.
image – Mean Girls