College is a very transitional period of time for everybody involved. Your intellect is tested, skills are honed, voice is found, and you generally change because of the nature of your position in life–you’re malleable. I came out my Sophomore year of college, almost exactly a year after I had broken up with my beard *cough*….girlfriend from back home (which seems like an eternity ago), and it was probably my proudest moment to date. I know that might sound weird for those who haven’t had the amazingly wonderful opportunity to question their sexuality reading this, but coming out is a lot like that feeling you get when you do something right and your parents are super proud and you’re actually now the CEO/President of Cloud Nine.
Before I came to college, I was closeted. I don’t actually know why I was so closeted–coming from Southern California I knew several out and open gay men, some were even my friends, but there was something deep down that halted me from owning up to who I was and it was actually tearing me from the inside out.
Continuing to grow up in the South has been nothing short of interesting; I hear stories of many who were not well-received when they made the bold choice of owning up to who they are. Luckily, I had a great set of friends who accepted me into their hearts, and family who continued to support my “announcement.” Not a day goes by where I don’t think about how hard it is to figure out your sexual orientation, so I compiled a list of things I wish I knew while I was in that period of questionable discomfort about who I was, both for my own knowledge and possibly to help those who are having a difficult time figuring themselves out. (Bye straight people, thanks for showing up, maybe next week I won’t be feeling as homosexual?)
First, and most importantly, you have worth. No matter what a Fox News program says, the church billboard down the street, or your dumbass neighbor–you have WORTH. You were meant to be here. You have a purpose here. You have a voice here. I know there are times where you just want to lock yourself in a bathroom and cry out of frustration, (and that’s okay), but know that you mean something to this earth and you have a right to be here. People want to see you succeed. Don’t let spiteful people get under your skin.
Questioning is healthy. In all walks of your life, you will hit forks in the road that will test your once-held knowledge. This is okay. This is meant to happen. Having the courage to be vulnerable to these questions and new experiences will only expand your world. Question your beliefs. Question your standpoints and why you say what you say and do what you do. At the end of the day, you are only responsible for yourself, including your actions, words, thoughts, beliefs, body, etc. Questioning will only help you grow into who you were made to be, but it won’t be an easy thing to do if you’re stubborn.
Be open to change. This is what really kept me in the closet for longer than I had hoped. I thought “Shit, everything is going to change! People will look at me different, assess the way I walk and talk, and who I hang out with.” In a way, yes, this did happen, but we all receive as much judgment from others to the same extent of our judgments of them. Your life will change, as it is constantly doing anyway, so be open to this new era. No 80 year old is the same now as they were when they were 20. Change is good, so stop resisting it.
Honesty with friends and family will only strengthen your relationships. There was a time where I didn’t like talking about myself with a lot of my closest friends and it turned into a joke we would tell about my lack of interest in my own self. Deep down I had so much to say, but was terrified on how it would affect my friendships. Don’t let this happen to you. Those who love you will open their ears and their hearts for something you are deeply wrestling with. Those who truly love you will remain by your side, (This also clears out the shitty people in your life who choose to not accept and love you–a healthy purge, if you will).
Don’t judge yourself for who you are. This is extremely hard to swallow if you are one who is very hard on themselves. When it came to really figure out my sexuality, I had to remind myself to not judge myself for staring at men and wanting to explore those sexual attractions. If I had continued to judge myself, I wouldn’t be writing this today. Go out and experience your life without the fear of disappointing yourself. You’ll miss out on a lot of experiences if you choose to ignore what your mind, body, and self are telling you. (Note: I’m not condoning sexual behavior but if your personality warrants those actions, have at it. Wink.)
Express yourself. I threw out at least 10 trash bags full of clothes this past year. I called them my “straight clothes.” I remembered buying certain clothes to mask my sexuality and make me feel like I could fit in. If I had started expressing myself earlier, through clothing, conversation, etc. it would have been much easier to come out. Let your personality shine. Also I’m laughing at what I just wrote “masking my sexuality”…memory of 17 year old me picking up the house phone and still being asked if it was my Mom or sister on the phone just occurred. Good times, Garrett.
Stop lying and start living. The most important advice I could give to someone who is struggling with their identity is to quit lying to themselves about a made-up man they don’t see in the mirror. Gay is OK. Bisexual is OK. Pansexual is OK. No one will ever be able to tell you who you are except for you, so stop making up lies to portray a different character. You are who you are, and it’s time to wake up to reality. The sooner you come to your senses, the sooner you can take pride in loving the skin you are in. I spent too many years lying about who I was–years that could’ve been spent crafting my voice, helping others in similar situations, and living comfortably in my own skin without wondering what-if’s.
Everyone’s story is different. I don’t think I need to reiterate it enough. You are different from me. Your coming out story, life story, daily events story is so much more different than mine. Remember that. It is okay to be different and being gay doesn’t mean your story sucks. It may mean your story is more difficult to tell at some points or involves a lot of memories of the men’s underwear aisle at Target that advertised bulging men in skin tight briefs (Is that just me?). Some people come from conservative, Southern Baptist backgrounds where their parents will literally kick the shit out of them if they come out of the closet. I get it. The closet is safe from hate. But the closet is also free of light; it’s dark and dingy and only meant to be used for a quick game of hide-and-seek. It’s not meant to be lived in. Look at Harry Potter. That fucker knew he had to get out of the closet. (tldr: Be more like Harry Potter aka un-closeted BOSS)
It won’t always be this hard. I promise. I know what you’re feeling. I know the hardship–the terror–of what it is like to come out. Many before us took brave strides to make this easier for us to do. I know why you are hesitant, I know why you don’t want to make a big announcement, and all of that is perfectly acceptable. But once you come to the rainbow side (kind of like the dark side, but with clothing stores, brunch, and an interior decorator) you will finally feel at ease with yourself and comfortable in your own skin.
Lastly, to conclude this outreach to you all, do not be afraid to ask for HELP or guidance. You can be gay and religious. You can be gay and still like sports. You can be bisexual and still not feel scrutinized. You can be a lesbian and not like Mary Lambert (Re: You’re a bad lesbian but that’s beside the point.). Seriously though, reach out. To your local church, your counseling services at school, your best friend, your Mom (or another person if your Mom is your best friend). People would LOVE to hear what you are thinking about. People would be honored if you ask them for advice on what to do with your thoughts and beliefs and general discomfort. I know this one is hard, but the worse thing you can do is to keep all of your secrets bottled up inside this uncomfortable chamber in your heart. Be vulnerable and let it out. It will make everything so much easier in the long run. I really wish I would’ve talked to more people about my own struggles before just blurting those two words out in a random conversation.
While the words “I’m gay” are hard to say out loud the first 50 times you do it, the more you say it, the more self confidence you will gain. I often think back to my childhood depression where I spent many after school days crying in the backyard and talking to myself about how I knew I was different from all the other boys at school. While I wish I could go back and be who I was created to be back then, this is not the reality of the situation. The reality of the situation is that I wore a façade for many years of my childhood, pretending to enjoy conversations about Mila Kunis and Sports Illustrated, while I was really counting down the seconds to when I could return to my bedroom and sing the entire Wicked soundtrack and dance like my gayness was never an issue—because it wasn’t—and it never will be.
The confusion isn’t permanent. You will figure it out. You will make mistakes, lose sight of who you are, and possibly lose some people along the way, but it’s all apart of a greater story to tell — the story about the next chapter in your life where everything starts to make a little bit more sense.
Let me know if I can help you. Seriously.
And to conclude, ever since I typed Mary Lambert, I can’t stop singing this song. What a badass.