When I was 11 years old, I went to my first away camp with the Boy Scouts. It was a big deal; it cost, like, $125 for the week, and I got around $30 in spending money from my parents. Visions of candy and pocket knives danced in my head.
We arrived to a murky, muddy, and generally unpleasant camp site. I overheard one of the organizers saying that the site was meant to be closed this year, but they had so many troops coming that they had to use it anyway.
“Great,” I thought to myself, “this ought to go well.”
And did it ever. It stormed so hard that night that I fell asleep with my fingers in my ears watching a daddy long legs climb over the ceiling of our humble canvas tent. Fortunately, we had cots to keep us off the rapidly flooding ground.
When we woke up the camp site was like something out of “The NeverEnding Story,” and I fully expected to end up like the horse Artax by the end of the week. (Dead, that is.) The ground was mud, with intermittent lakes of rain water. I immediately resigned myself to having wet muddy socks all week.
* * *
The air was quiet except for the pitter patter of trees shedding the night’s rain onto our dining fly, the canopies we cooked and ate under. It was my turn to cook – lucky me – so I was lazily moving some Canadian bacon around in a pan on our patrol’s propane stove while my patrol-mates milled about the campsite trying to find a dry path to the latrine.
“It seems louder this time” was the last thing I thought before I was slammed down onto the camp stove by a falling tree.
As with a car accident, I remember the impact. I can still feel it knocking the wind out of me like it was yesterday, but in that instant following the crash pure instinct took over. Like a frightened animal I compulsively pulled myself backwards as hard as I could, freeing my head from the burning camp stove, but my right hand was pinned. I remember struggling to free my hand, while my head spun as I gasped for air, trying to figure out what the hell just happened.
I twisted myself around, got my arm free, and immediately asked the gathered crowd of fellow Boy Scouts the only question that came to mind:
"My face, what happened to my face? Is it okay?”
They assured me that I looked fine. I turned to show the other side of my face. There was a chorus of horrified gasps. My heart leapt into my throat and clung there for dear life.
“What about this side?”
I now had a scar running from my nose and upper lip to my right ear. And for the next few years every where I went I would be answering the same question, ad infinitum:
“What happened to your face?”
Even today – though I had the scar tissue excised when I was 14, there is still a faint line – I still get asked about it.
Little did I know this would just be the tip of the iceberg.
* * *
Years later coming out felt like this one-and-done momentous achievement, but it proved to be just the first step in a life-long broken record of coming out. And it’s especially arduous for gay dads, and it’s especially arduous for gay dads who were married to women before. People know it happens, but it’s not something they really expect to encounter.
“Oh, I thought you two were brothers …”
“Oh, I thought you were their uncle …”
“Oh, I thought they were adopted …”
Even people we meet, who know we’re gay, might not know the rest of our story, and everyone reacts a little bit differently to hearing that you were married before. And it’s like, “Let me sum up my first 28 years of life as quickly as possible so I can get this over with.” It can be exhausting.
It feels like this: I meet someone, and then I’m asked to strip naked and take them through a tour of every scar on my body. I want to be nice about it; I feel I have a duty to let people see, because that’s how I educate people about what it’s like being gay, how modern families are made. I don’t begrudge anyone their curiosity, it’s almost always polite, friendly or otherwise well intentioned.
But it never stops. I will be coming out for the rest of my life.
I have made my peace with this. I am not alone. You are not alone. We are not alone. By coming out over and over and over and over again we are telling the world repeatedly that we will not be quiet, that we are proud, that we accept ourselves, scars and all. And you will too.
It’s our story, it’s our kids’ story, so be ready to tell it any time, any place, because that’s what the world demands of us. And in doing so, we can change the world, one person at a time.