Today we recognize something big, scary and hard for many of us. For some it is something that came naturally and easy. But for others, it was something they hid from and avoided for as long as they could until they couldn’t run from it anymore. Today is National Coming Out Day.
I haven’t been out of the closet for very long. I am one of those gays who came out later in life. In my case, I was 32 and married to a woman for more than ten years. I hid from my truth and built walls based on fear and brick layers thick with denial. I avoided looking myself in the eyes and accepting my true self until there was nowhere else to hide. As I’ve contemplated why my coming out took so long there is one word that sums up pretty perfectly my motivation: belonging.
Like many of us my biggest fear was rejection. Rejection by my family, by my friends, my teachers, my church, and pretty much everyone I cared about in my life. I cared more about pleasing them, earning their approval, acceptance - and what I considered love, than I cared about my own well-being. I used all the energy that I could to change parts of me that I was scared of in an effort to fit in, in an effort to belong. The ironic thing is that in the end, no matter how hard I tried, it wasn’t enough. The fruits of my labors were loneliness, frustration, confusion, and self-hatred. I felt like I wasn’t enough and I never could be.
But the fact is that I am. I always was. (And so are you!) It just took me some time to realize that. In my efforts to belong I lost myself.
Brené Brown, a New York Times bestselling author, said, “True belonging is the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness. True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.”
So often people compliment me on how brave and strong I was to finally come out, to learn to accept myself and bravely move forward in my life with courage and authenticity after all those years of living in the closet. And today is definitely a day dedicated to celebrating that. Because let’s face it. Coming out is necessary when the world we live in is heteronormative and anything different from the social norms is still somewhat taboo and frowned upon by a large majority of the population.
Everyone’s coming out journey is unique, deeply personal, and all their own. My process of coming out took decades before the layers of denial were thin enough to break free and accept the truth. When I hear stories of men and women who come out in their teens or early college years it is hard for me to not feel jealous and immediately compare myself to them. I so strongly admire their maturity, their awareness and loyalty to self, and their self-confidence and acceptance to do such a thing early on in their life.
I can’t say I feel regret concerning the choices I made in my journey because I don’t. Maybe it’s mostly a feeling of frustration. I chose to live my life trying to be something I was convinced I should be hoping to create change. I was taught from a young age that with enough faith, sweat, and tears, anything is possible - including changing my sexual attractions.
So what do I do? I married a woman. We create a family. We build a life together for over ten years. After dedicating all of my energy and focus into being a faithful, God-fearing, commandment-keeping, righteous husband and father I finally admitted to myself that I couldn’t run from it anymore: I am gay. Accepting that truth and sharing it with her was the hardest thing I had ever done at that point of my life. But it had to be done. Stepping into my truth turned the entire world upside down. Everything we had been building together shattered and she was left to fend for herself and gather what pieces of her life she could while I was publicly celebrated for my bravery and authenticity.
At the beginning of my coming out journey, we decided to try everything in our power to make our marriage work and she was one of my biggest cheerleaders. She was a rock that I needed at a very confusing time of my life. If roles are assigned in my story I will forever see her as the real hero, and one who deserves to be celebrated.
Learning to forgive myself for putting her through something no person should ever have to experience has been and will continue to be a daily exercise. But I am proud to finally feel that I have gained huge momentum in getting there. Saying “I’m sorry” will never feel like enough. And I don’t know if words exist that can communicate the thoughts and feelings I am trying to convey.
This year on National Coming Out Day I think of her. I am thankful that my coming out finally set her free. She is finally able to love and be loved in a way I could not provide. I am so happy to know that she is writing a new love story, a bigger story, and that I am free to do the same.
I think of my three resilient children. I am thankful that my coming out has only strengthened my relationship as their father. Allowing them to see me as I am and to love them as I am has been an incredible experience. I have seen their confidence grow as mine has. I have seen their desire to be true to themselves increase as I have done the same.
“I’m glad you and mom got divorced, dad,” my son Nash said one night as I tucked him in bed.
“Oh really? Why’s that?” I replied.
“Because I love having a happy mom and a happy dad.”
I am proud to know that my kids understand why. They can see it. They can feel it. And that makes it all worth it. As Brene Brown stated in her Manifesto of the Brave and Brokenhearted:
With skinned knees and bruised hearts;
We choose owning our stories of struggle,
Over hiding, over hustling, over pretending.
When we deny our stories, they define us.
When we run from struggle, we are never free.
So we turn toward truth and look it in the eye.
We will not be characters in our stories.
Not villains, not victims, not even heroes.
We are the authors of our lives. We write our own daring endings.
We craft love from heartbreak, Compassion from shame,
Grace from disappointment, Courage from failure.
Showing up is our power. Story is our way home.
Truth is our song.
This year on National Coming Out Day may each of us strive to better own our stories of struggle, bravely continue to write our own daring endings, and courageously show up and make this world a better place.