Today, October 11, is National Coming Out Day. Over the years, countless individuals, young and old, have taken to YouTube, Facebook, the Internet, and face-to-face relationships to reveal their sexuality in this month and on this day. Coming out is a pivotal moment in any gay or SSA (same-sex attracted) person’s journey, and we gathered our featured authors together for a conversation on our own coming out experiences this Coming Out Day.
Whether you’re fully “out” or not or somewhere in between, we hope you enjoy our coming out stories and perspectives.
How did you first come out? To whom and when? What were your feelings before, during, and after you first came out?
DEAN: I had a couple “first times,” because I usually ended up not speaking to the person ever again. The first person I told face-to-face was one of my hallmates at college freshman year. I told Aaron about it, and he then actually came out to me as bisexual. We grew closer until one night we turned innocent loving touch into sex. After that, he and I never spoke again.
I told a friend or two from high school a few years later but lost relationships with them. Same with a few guys in college. My first time coming out to someone who actually stayed in my life was my best friend, John. One of the reasons I feared telling him was because in all my past experiences, every other person had left my life.
Before each time coming out, I was always scared, sad, nervous, yet hopeful. It’s like somehow I knew coming out was the right thing to do. But I wasn’t always sure it would work out.
MARSHALL: The first person I told about my same sex attraction was my father when I was around 14 years old. I knew I should tell someone, and I decided he was the one because I loved and trusted him. I was a little nervous before we talked.
My father responded to my coming out confession by lovingly grabbing my arm, looking me in the eye, and saying, “I am WITH you!”
I understood my father’s words to mean he would be praying for me and believing the best about me.
Unfortunately, that was the only time we ever talked directly about my sexual issues. For more than 45 years since, we have dropped hints and spoken very indirectly about the topic. That is the way he prefers communicating about the subject, and out of respect for him, I have done the same with him.
My father simply comes from a generation and cultural background that views anything related to homosexuality as too shameful to speak aloud.
EUGENE: The first person I ever came out to was my Christian pastoral counselor. I was eighteen, and it was extremely hard. I had kept myself in denial about my sexuality for a long time. But to sound it out loud to another person sorta made it sink in even more. I felt embarrassed and ashamed for a long time, but I’ve gotten over it and realized coming out to him was the right thing to do.
Coming out to my parents was a much bigger deal. I couldn’t bring myself to say it to their faces, so I wrote them a letter instead.
I explained my whole sexuality in the letter — that I was completely attracted to men but avoiding homosexual relationships because of my beliefs. I left my letter on their bed before leaving for my first YOBBER meetup (I lied to them about who I was meeting). At the end of the letter, I asked my parents not to contact me about its contents until I returned home.
When I did get home, we had such a calm and understanding conversation over it with no drama. They told me that they loved me, were proud of me, and that this didn’t change anything. My announcement to them “wasn’t a huge surprise” (I guess my lack of dating girls had something to do with it). I couldn’t believe how well it went!
The letter-writing method worked so well with my being gone a few days helping them digest the heavy news. Overall, I’m very glad I came out how I did, and it improved my relationship with my parents.
RYAN: It was the February of my freshman year of college, so I was 18. I had spent the previous month coming to terms with the idea of accepting my sexual attractions for what they were, but the secret was burning me up. I didn’t feel truly known by anyone, and any affirmation or acceptance I did feel was filtered through the silent, internal reminder: But they don’t know you’re attracted to men.
I selected someone from my Bible study to tell my story to (back then, I would not have described it as “coming out”). I picked him not because I was 100% sure how he would react or because I was absolutely sure he wouldn’t tell anyone, but because I wanted a deeper, more honest and vulnerable friendship with him. He lived a few floors above me in the same dormitory, so I asked him to meet me in one of the common areas, sharing that I wanted to talk about something burdening me.
Once my friend and I met up, it took me a few minutes to muster up the courage; eventually, I stammered it out. He reassured me that he loved me and still wanted to be my friend, and he didn’t try to tell me what to do about it or give me any advice.
He even shared a deep, dark secret of his own, and we prayed together. It was a huge relief to tell someone about my sexuality.
However, I grew frustrated finding myself wanting to talk more about sexuality but either not knowing what to say or not having a good time and place to bring it up again. I think it was all too easy for me and my friend to carry on as if nothing happened, but I desperately wanted something to change.
Eventually, it did. But it took a lot of patience, persistence, and continued courage.
JACOB: When I was 16 years old, my older brother confronted me about some stuff he had seen on the family computer. I was beyond horrified. I still remember the whole event with rather vivid detail. In my attempt to “soften” the blow, I told him I was bisexual, even though I’d never experienced any sexual attraction toward a woman. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t until years later that I finally corrected that part of my story with him.
Regardless, my brother told me he loved me and that I was still his brother — which was huge.
In the following days, I think there was some relief that someone knew this part of me, but it didn’t quite feel wholehearted since I’d lied about being attracted to women.
TOM: I was 19 and also followed Eugene’s strategy of writing something to my parents. Except instead of writing them a letter, I wrote more for myself in my journal. It was the first time I ever penned those words.
I think it’s absolutely critical that before you come out to anyone, you first come out to yourself. To God.
Maybe that sounds obvious or stupid. But I felt it strongly upon handing that journal over to my parents. I couldn’t have dared approach them without first approaching those shadows myself.
Are you fully “out” or only to certain people? Do you want to be fully out one day?
TOM: As the cofounder and editor of this website, it’s safe to say . . . I’m out. All the way. For better or worse, til Kingdom come.
Some days, I wish I weren’t out. It’d be nice to regain some privacy or avoid some awkwardness. A lot of awkwardness naturally comes with coming out like I’ve done. Among extended family members and otherwise.
But being robbed of all the folks who’ve reached out to me over the years — that would be a devastating thing to lose. I feel honored that another person would trust me with his story, online and more often offline, and I never want to lose sight of that honor.
DEAN: I wish I were fully out. I’m basically cracking the closet door open, peeking out. My church where I work has asked that I not come out publicly just yet. However, I have the right to come out to whomever I deem appropriate. So, if in a conversation I feel it would be beneficial to share my story and sexuality, I do so without fear of what my pastors will think.
I eventually want to be out completely. Most of my family, all my coworkers, and a majority of my friends know at this point. I’m simply waiting for the freedom to speak openly about it at will.
I want to be out simply to avoid rumors. I know some people speculate. Being out would mean I could nip those rumors in the bud right away.
So, instead of having people think: I wonder if Dean is . . . you know . . .
I can say, “Call me Dorothy, ’cause I am over the rainbow, sweeties!”
I am excited about being out, but I know there will be downsides. I know some will think I’m a pedophile.
And I know others will mock me, harass me, or even hate me.
But I would rather be hated for who I am (queer) as opposed to being liked for something I am not (straight).
MARSHALL: I am out to most people in my church and definitely to my close friends. Many people do not know my story but already assume I deal with same-sex attraction because I am over 50 and have never married. I post here without using my last name so that people who Google me won’t discover YOB as the first thing they know about me.
I don’t mind anyone knowing about my sexuality, but I prefer it not be the first thing anyone knows about me. Indeed, we are all “more than our sexuality“! My issue with same-sex attraction is not the most important thing about me; my identity as a child of God, a follower of Jesus Christ, is.
EUGENE: Apart from folks online, I’m only out to my pastoral counselor, my parents, and a straight friend. I haven’t really considered coming out to everyone. Even though I’m far less insecure about my sexuality now, just the prospect of some of my aunts and uncles knowing feels kinda weird.
I don’t think my family would react negatively per se; it would just feel awkward. An elephant in the room at the next Thanksgiving dinner, you know?
RYAN: My official stance is that I’m out publicly (that is, I’m not actively managing that part of my public image anymore), but I feel like “fully out” or “out to everyone” is kind of an illusory category. I’m out, but who knows about my orientation? I don’t know. Being known is different.
You can come out, but you’ll only be known to the extent that you live authentically day in and day out.
One day I’d like to be the kind of person who speaks frankly about matters of faith at work, or who at least gets close to a coworker or two. But I struggle with letting people in within that context.
JACOB: I guess you could say I’m “fully out” since my name is on YOB and you can literally Google me to learn some of my darkest, most intimate secrets. That being said, I’m not really afraid of people “finding out” even though many extended family members and childhood friends still don’t know my story.
The important part of my story came after college when I moved to a city where I didn’t grow up, and I grew more intentional and open than I’d ever been about my sexuality. I’m now out to all of my closest friends and a substantial number of people from my church.
After having experienced what it feels like to be fully known and fully loved, anything else feels disingenuous.
Based on your personal experience, do you have any suggestions for those still in the closet? What would you say to the 15-year-old or 25-year-old or 55-year-old secretly wrestling with his or her sexuality?
DEAN: Remember that you have the right to control how and when you come out. No one should take that from you. If you want to remain completely in the closet, you have that right. If you want to come out to every person on the planet, you again have that right. Don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise. This is your life, your sexuality, your gender identity. Own it.
MARSHALL: It is good to share your struggle with others, but at first only tell those you are sure you can trust! It is fine to remain silent with those who may use the information to harm you or bully you. Be extremely cautious sharing while you are still under 18. Schoolmates and others may be in a position to do you great damage.
If you believe your story will help others, then you may want to go public. But consider sharing anonymously at first.
TOM: Anonymous sharing is a great place to start. It’s how I first started fleshing out my own story, and it’s how several of my other gay/SSA friends started theirs in the good old Xanga blogging days. Choose a poetic and appropriate pseudonym, start a secret blog, post on Reddit, or even comment here on YOB! We welcome anonymous posters and would love to assist you on your journey toward possibly coming out one day.
Writing out your story in some context first — a thousand times yes.
EUGENE: I know some folks out there who are so ashamed of their sexualities that they would vow never to tell anyone. I used to be one of those people.
But now look at me! It’s really unhealthy to keep such a struggle bottled up inside. A good starting place would be coming out to a trusted therapist/counselor and see how you feel from there. If you want to come out to family members and you’re really scared of their reactions, the letter-writing option that I used may be a good choice. It gets the information out in an easy to digest manner which may avoid some drama.
Of course, the decision of if and when to come out is up to you; pray and use your intuition on who, where, and when to do so.
RYAN: Be warned that there’s never an easy, convenient time to come out. Don’t wait for ideal circumstances; they’ll never come. Once you’ve decided you can trust someone, you just have to bite the bullet, meaning you might need to carve out the time and place or settle for what you’ve got.
The park or coffee shop might be more crowded than you’d like.
Your friend might seem distracted.
You might be in the middle of a completely unrelated conversation.
It might suddenly seem like too early in the day or too late.
But you have to go for it. Tell your friend, no, sorry, he can’t bring his girlfriend along; you need this one-on-one time. Or settle for the crowded coffee shop where someone might overhear you.
The reason this sort of thing is bound to happen is because you’ve lived your whole life keeping your sexuality from occupying time and space in conversation, in your friends’ lives, in the world. Certain patterns have formed.
You’re changing that now by coming out, and it’s going to push on some things, shift them around, and that’s okay.
JACOB: Start small. I get the sense that some people view coming out as an “all or nothing” reality where either they stay totally in the closet or march in front of the Pride parade, waving a giant rainbow flag. The culture will tell you that if you’re not ready to shout it from the rooftops then you’re living in shame and fear of not being fully yourself.
This is a lie. Sexuality has always been and will always be a precious and sacred part of your human experience, and it deserves to be treated with honor and care. Start by telling someone you trust implicitly, someone whose work of the Holy Spirit is made manifest. Someone who exudes compassion and grace.
Try not to get overwhelmed thinking about telling everyone you’ve ever met.
Just start with one.
How did you first come out? Are you fully out, or do you even want to be? If you’re not out yet, feel free to share whatever you’re comfortable, or ask us a question about the process! You are not alone.